By now, most of you have probably heard of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) – courses by universities like MIT and Stanford that are available for free online.
But what about Massive Open Online Kindergartens (MOOKs)? Or Massive Open Online Primary Schools (MOOPS)?
MOOCs have seen a lot of hypothesising about the future of higher education and what it means for universities. But if these ideas about online and blended learning are taken to their logical conclusion, the impact of technology in education could extend beyond universities to every stage of education.
Development in a digital world
Today, customised educational technologies are available across developmental stages, from pre-natal to higher education. Children grow up with using technology nearly everyday.
A case in point is this viral Youtube video which shows a 12-month old baby successfully navigating an iPad while finding the same movements on a hard copy magazine don’t work – one is clearly more familiar than the other.
To give you a sense, let us briefly take you through the technology filled world of our respective progeny (a 5 year-old, and 9, 10 and 12 year-old children).
For these children, familiarity with the cause and effect of keyboard, mouse and screen was introduced at a very early age. Augmenting other developmentally appropriate activities like play group, books and parental engagement, were access to websites like ABC 4 Kids, Nick Jr and cBeebies.
In schools, educational websites such as Studyladder, BrainPOP, Mathletics and even Minecraft are part of their learning experience. Socialisation and group work is also encouraged by teachers as part of learning through online environments, school-based learning management systems and web-based social learning software. And ABC’s subscription only Reading Eggs and related work books has many kids on the cusp of commencing school already reading.
Desktop or laptop computing is but one element – these children are also proficient in smart phones and tablets, complete with a vast array of apps specifically targeted at childhood development. There’s apps for languages, maths, science, history, geography, art, and music. There’s even an app to help your child appreciate the night sky.
Our respective children in this example are not alone. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Australian Social Trends report in 2011 shows the extent of integration of technology into the lives of children.
The study states that in the 12 months prior to April 2009, the most popular use for the internet was educational activities. The vast majority (85%) of children who used the internet at home used it for educational purposes, up from 82% in 2006.
A tertiary student in 2020 is today’s super-connected 10 year-old primary school student.
Technology plays a large role in the neurocognitive development of today’s children, and will provide them with an array of life and education options that may include participation in higher education – fate, hard work and happenstance permitting.
A technological education
So where do massive open online tools and educational materials come in?
Perhaps funding and facilitation for a Massive Open Online Literacy Programs might reverse some of the disparities evident in language and literacy development.
At the other end of the schooling spectrum, a Massive Open Online Course for final year of school biology students could be developed to complement school-based curriculum.
From cradle to university, technology is present in childhood education and development. It can help children to develop literacy and numeracy. It can foster specific problem solving and critical thinking skills.
Much of this technology is already embedded in the classroom. Aside from the cost of maintaining functional computing and reasonable bandwidth internet connections, the massive online education experience can be achieved through open access approaches, for comparatively low cost.
At this point, policy priority for structured use of educational technology resides at the level of the school and the teacher. Technology is referred to in terms of a skill to be acquired, or as a cost driver for school funding.
The potential for educational technology as a disruptive force to the traditional models of schooling is absent.
Schools do, of course, function as more than a device for the sequential development of skills and knowledge, and social and emotional development is a critical component of their role. The state sanctioned compulsory nature of school means that even in the context of innovation and the digital economy, we still need to send our children to school.
However, as with MOOCs, the impact of digital technology and innovation legitimises questions about how the nature of schooling could, and should, adapt.