Jiansheng has been researching e-learning environments since 2014. He decided to focus on the subject for his PhD at the University of Auckland after working with a management consultant company in China, which used e-learning effectively in its induction and training process.

He has also studied in environments where e-learning has been an actual barrier to learning, saying that, in one environment, he and his classmates were meant to conduct group discussions online, but “the system was so frustrating to use that we ended up having in-person meetings then transcribing our notes onto the discussion board”.

“Done right, e-learning is a fantastic tool in raising educational outcomes, but if you don’t get it right, you’re better off not doing it at all.”

His PhD research, which is nearing completion, involved studying over 200 New Zealand schools’ BYOD (bring your own device) policies, surveying over 70 teachers and interviewing 12. Most schools, he found, are adopting BYOD policies and many teachers are enthusiastic about the opportunities that having access to devices in the classroom brings; but there are also challenges that need to be addressed.

Right now, he says there is a need for more support for teachers around understanding the potential of technology and helping them make decisions on when and when not to use technology, based on the learning objectives and instructional needs.

“The need for teachers to troubleshoot students’ devices is real and can chew up a substantial amount of time and effort. Teachers are having to help with everything from setting students up with software to making sure they’re able to connect to school wi-fi. It was, and still is, mainly the task of school IT departments, but teachers in BYOD classrooms inevitably need to address technical issues with students’ devices and I’ve seen cases where it has as much as doubled teacher workloads.”

The current environment, from NCEA to the ubiquity of personal devices, passively pushes us to adopt technology into the classroom, he says.

“Because technology is so ubiquitous, it’s easy to assume that nothing needs to be done and many professional learning and development programmes use terms like ‘tech-supported learning’ so people have a perception that it is innately good.

“But while bringing technology into the classroom will definitely bring change, it’s not necessarily good change unless we use it to its utmost potential and well address the learning needs. If we can get good systems in place, they’ll spread, but if we fail, then e-learning could come to be seen as a barrier to learning and we’ll see push-back against technology in schools.”

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