CHAPTER 4: PERSPECTIVES ON SEAMLESS LEARNING IN THE CONTEXT OF NEW ZEALAND
Seamless learning supports the integration of “learning experiences across various dimensions including formal and informal learning contexts, individual and social learning, and physical world and cyberspace” (Milrad, et al., 2013, p. 298). While the concept of seamless learning is still emerging, especially within the New Zealand (NZ) context, its potential, to support better engagement with digital technologies, is high. Within NZ, there is a strong emphasis on supporting teachers to integrate digital technologies in a more meaningful way. Recently, NZ redeveloped the Digital Technologies areas of the NZ Curriculum (Ministry of Education, 2017). This redevelopment has reframed the use of digital technologies to be more integrated, throughout the curriculum to drive diverse learning outcomes. The repositioning of digital technologies, as a fundamental and integrated topic throughout the schooling curriculum, will mean that teachers (from schooling and upwards) need to explore new ways to integrate digital technologies into their teaching. By exploring the relative affordances (MacCallum, 2019) and principles of seamless learning (Wong & Looi, 2012), highlights opportunities for effective learning driven by digital technology.
This chapter explores the results of a small explorative study conducted with a group of education staff at a polytechnic institute in a regional center in NZ. While the study explores the attitudes of these educators towards seamless learning, it captures the context and issues faced by educators in NZ as we start to explore the wider issues and opportunities of supporting a more engaged and connected educational system facilitated by digital technologies. To frame this research, a literature review was undertaken exploring EBSCO-database to explore the NZ-based literature and related policy documents on seamless learning.
The New Zealand Context and policies on integrating digital technologies
Before exploring the NZ-based literature of seamless learning the following section provides a brief overview of NZ as a country and the issues we face which would drive the successful integration and adoption of seamless learning.
NZ is an island country in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. It comprises two significant landmasses, the North Island and the South Island. There are also around 600 smaller islands, covering a total area of 268,021 square kilometres. Overall, NZ enjoys relatively good Internet services, and as a result, NZ has recently been recognised as being one of the top digital economies in the world (Chakravoriti & Chaturvedi, 2017). While NZ enjoys relatively good Internet connectivity, the geography of the country as being remote and hilly has meant that digital access is not always consistent. Though most New Zealander has access to the Internet in some form, the quality of this connection can vary considerably (Internet NZ, 2017). Compounding this is, NZ also has extremely high poverty levels in some parts of the country and especially in some populations of the country. In the latest NZ Statistics (2020), about one in seven NZ children (168,500) lived in households with less than 50 percent of the median equivalised disposable household income before housing costs are deducted (Statistics NZ, 2020). Therefore, while access to the Internet is overall good, not all New Zealanders are equipped to engage due to quality of access and overall affordability with 20% of NZ homes having no Internet connection (InternetNZ, 2017). Alongside this, NZ had 3.8 million mobile phones with active internet connections by 30 June 2017 (Statistics NZ, 2018). So while New Zealanders may be accessing the Internet using their mobile devices the cost of mobile data in NZ is still prohibitive.
In 2005, NZ unveiled a country-wide digital strategy, which set the focus for the priorities of NZ for the next decade. Though this strategy was not primarily focused on education, many of the key initiatives had a fundamental link to education. Of prime importance was the need to support engagement within the digital economy. To facilitate this, the strategy identified the need to improve infrastructure and develop skills and confidence of all New Zealanders to increase their access and therefore engagement with technology (NZ Government, 2016). As an outcome of this, a number of national initiatives were launched focusing on developing infrastructure and services for all New Zealanders.
In 2011, the Ministry of Education launched the Network for Learning (N4L) initiative. This initiative focuses on providing schools and tertiary institutes with quality ultra-fast broadband connections which were uncapped and included online content filtering and network security services (Ministry of Education, 2019). By providing all educational facilities with faster and more reliable Internet connections, this has meant better access to online educational content and services. Though the N4L initiative focused on schools, the wider Digital Strategy included providing fibre-to-the-premise connections to businesses and public institutions (such as tertiary and research institutes, hospitals and libraries) in major centres, and significantly increased bandwidth connections throughout the entire country (Ministry of Economic Development, 2008).
Alongside this focus of improved infrastructure and services, the Digital Strategy recognized the importance of also improving digital literacy. Within the strategy, it specifically referred to the need to develop the “confidence” of all New Zealanders for using ICT (NZ Government, 2016). Though this priority has many aspects, the strategy underlines the need to build the capability and competence of all NZ people “in regard(s) to having the requisite skills and knowledge to make use of digital connections and content” (Williams, & Thompson, 2008, p. 7). While this development will take many forms this, however, leads back to the need to educate and support all New Zealanders in engaging with this ever-increasing digital world, especially young children.
In response to this need and as a direct result of the N4L initiative, the NZ Ministry of Education has refocused on developing more digitally literate students. In 2020, the Ministry launched a revised digital curriculum. This revision saw two new areas added to the NZ curriculum which focus on strengthening the Digital Technologies area of the curriculum. The new areas focus on supporting better engagement with 1) Computational thinking for digital technologies, and 2) Designing and developing digital outcomes. The revised technology curriculum has focused on strengthening and actively embedding digital skills at all levels of the schooling system, from the first year upwards. This revision has meant that all schools will need to integrate digital technologies and skills across the curriculum and not just within a stand-alone ICT subject discipline. These changes have focused on developing ‘digitally capable individuals’ and learners who are ‘innovative creators of digital solutions’, and not just ‘users and consumers of digital technologies’ (Ministry of Education, 2017). This new curriculum highlights the focus on providing opportunities for learners to use digital technologies with critical and creative thinking to solve authentic real-world problems. The focus has been strongly placed on students being creators of digital experiences not just the consumers of technology.
Overall, alongside these and other more regional initiatives, NZ is starting to focus on developing and supporting New Zealanders becoming more connected. The role of digital technologies in the curriculum has become more crucial in supporting engaged and a more effective educational experience. Digital technologies play an increasingly more embedded role in education. The adoption of digital technologies is strengthening within schools, however, the concept of seamless learning is still emerging in NZ. The following section discusses the relatively limited research within NZ focusing on seamless learning.
The awareness of seamless learning as a concept within NZ based research is still developing. In a search of the literature using the EBSCO Discovery Database service with the following terms [seamless learning + New Zealand or Aotearoa or NZ] only identified three articles which were NZ-based and focused on seamless learning. On further analysis, one of these articles was removed, as it did not specifically relate to education. The two remaining articles, both focused on NZ and seamless learning, however, only addressed the concept of seamless learning in a narrow way. The following briefly discusses how each article conceptualised seamless learning.
The first article focuses on an Australasian study, with educators from both NZ and Australia, exploring key attributes for effective online education as perceived by these tertiary educators (Rose, 2018). These perceptions were gathered through semi-structured interviews with a small sample of university academics (n=5). The study identified five attributes for effective online teaching: avoid didactic delivery, vary pedagogy, use productive failure, facilitate the learning process and lastly provide a seamless structure to the online content.
In the context of this article, seamlessness is expressed in terms of the experience of the learner and how they navigate through the online environment. In this article, seamlessness is considered in a fairly one dimensional way, particularly in terms of layout and arrangement of a course. Rose (2018), discusses the need for “providing students with a clear path for success, coherent course content, and an easy-to-follow and well-structured online course” (p 41). The author, however, does hint towards a wider concept of ‘seamless’, in her final point;
Another point raised in relation to this particular theme, is the fact that technology plays an important part in the learning process. In two interviews it was emphasised that “technology in online learning needs to work seamlessly” (Dr Young) because “students do expect a high quality now because that is what they are exposed to” (Rose, 2018, p. 39).
Though the author fails to further unpack this point in the article, the comment raises the requirement for seamless learning to occur that technology needs to work. The alignment of learning and the integration of technology needs to enhance the learning and not make it harder for the learner. The author links this need for learning to be “seamless” and the need for facilitators of learning to be competent in their digital literacy and new technologies in general to support the effective integration of learning supported by technology. These themes of supporting effective learning environments and the need for appropriate digital and technical skills of educators is a recurring theme in research focusing on seamless learning.
In a similar manner as Rose (2018), the second article by Carnaby, (2005), links the concept of seamless access to resources, in particular digital resources stored in national libraries. Taking from the newly conceptualised 2005 Digital Strategy, Carnaby, discusses the need for an increasingly “open systems, standards-driven architecture which achieves high levels of interoperability between e-learning and digital library experiences” (p.1). Discussing this idea of openness, from a library point of view, Carnaby highlights the need for a coherent national strategic framework which can support increased access and linkages to resources within the digital library. The framework proposes the development of an open strategy to the access and integration of digital resources supporting learning. This framework explores how open systems, integrated into learning management systems, can provide learners with improved access to learning content. In this re-imagining Carnaby, linked to the Library Association of New Zealand Aotearoa (LIANZA) Information Strategy, will see a national approach supported by libraries to support the learner, in particular, she sees this system in the following manner;
To a much greater extent than ever before the learner can explore and create and add to an e-learning experience themselves. The digital library in all of its manifestations is liberated into the e-learning environment and is at the fingertips of the next generation learner who now can move seamlessly from one environment to another. Learner-centric pedagogy takes on new meaning as the learner interacts with the educator and at times chooses to move from the prescribed e-learning experience into a world of discovery and exploration of their own. Previously discrete worlds of learner, educator, librarian and IT specialist are more blurred, seamless and accessible. Imagine! (p.7).
Carnaby’s vision, however, remains mainly a vision into the future, despite it being written well over a decade ago, it highlights the increasing need for interoperability between technology to support effective learning. However, how this is and will be released for our NZ learners is still up for debate and clarity.
A review of Google Scholar, using the same search terms, was used to see if more articles could be found. This additional review identified a total of 23 articles, however, only one article, Stevens, and Craig, (2012), was found to be relevant to this context of this study. However, in reviewing the article the term “seamless learning” was only mentioned once within the article. The article explored how an open networked learning environment can facilitate inter-institutional teaching and learning and local and global community engagement. However, with this article, the term “seamless” was only used once when discussing the project and focused on how the schools were linked, and therefore not on the principles of what seamless learning means. However, when discussing the project, which focused on creating a network link between schools in Wellington, NZ and to the Internet, did have similar concepts to seamless learning, but rather referred to as “open networked learning”. This therefore, highlights that the concept of seamless learning still needs to reach maturity within NZ.
In a second literature search of the same database but substituting “contextualised learning” OR “contextualized learning” OR “learning in context” instead of seamless learning, generated only one additional relevant articles was found, with many rejected for either not focused on the NZ context or not focused on technology to support the contextualised learning.
The only article that was found to be related to NZ and focused on contextualised learning was a pilot study addressing the development of a professional development programme for educators in work. The Professional Learning and Development (VPLD) program focused on supporting professional learning which was situated within the practitioner’s context (Owen, 2014). These personal learning networks (PLN) were not affiliated with any formal qualification or programme but rather focused on supporting teachers with developing their teaching capability. The program ran over three years; in the first two years education practitioners and leaders work on projects that interest them, driven by their investigation and based on the needs of their students and school community. In the third year, participants focus on transitioning into a virtual mentor role, but can also choose to continue work on their original project. In this study, the mentor played a vital role in supporting the exploration of the teachers in their context. With the technology used to support opportunities for sharing of practice within an online Community of Practice. The programme set up participants with a virtual mentor which they then engaged with monthly through an online meeting. These monthly meetings focused on supporting teachers with evaluating their teaching practice and developing ways to support and develop their teaching capabilities. The outcome of this showed that the participants demonstrated high levels of engagement, assessed through increased interaction throughout the programme, as well as changes in their teaching practice (Owen, 2014). This more informal example of learning provides an interesting example of seamless learning where support is provided through technology and that circumstances of their daily teaching practice and with the CoP to examine and develop their practice.
The review of the literature showed a fairly diverse range of articles from NZ. Each paints a fairly unique view of the body of literature within this area. The limited number of articles found in this review of the literature does not mean that there has been no research on the concepts of seamless leaning or within the broader concept of contextualised learning, but rather these terms are not within the common dialogue of researchers in NZ. NZ researchers are more likely to relate their research in more common terms, such as blended, mobile or online learning, which have similar concepts as seamless but do not place themselves within the growing body of research around seamless learning. It is expected that these concepts become more widely recognised that researchers will start to connect and evaluate their research within the wider concept of seamless learning.
In the next section, the article discusses the outcomes of the exploratory research undertaken to explore the perspectives of educators on the incorporation of seamless learning in the NZ curriculum at a regional polytechnic in NZ.
This study was undertaken at one tertiary institute in NZ. The institute in question is moderately sized, relative to others in NZ, polytechnic in regional NZ.
Within NZ there are two common types of tertiary institutes. The first are universities, which are typically large institutes that offer higher-level qualifications. Differentiating themselves from universities are polytechnics. Though many polytechnics offer higher level qualifications including Doctorates, most are focused on lower -level qualifications, such as certificates and diplomas. Polytechnics also have a strong applied focus. This focus means that many polytechnics are focused on trade and apprentices, however, they still offer degrees but with a more industry and applied focus. NZ is currently going through a review and redevelopment of the polytechnic sector. This review has resulted in the merger of all polytechnics into a single entity. Therefore in the near future, all polytechnics will be offering similar courses and programmes over the current 16 polytechnics.
The polytechnic in this study is situated in a regional area of New Zealand and has no close university accessible, therefore they have managed to maintain a stable and growing intake of students. They also have three different campuses, spread out over New Zealand. However, the study was undertaken with staff at the main campus.
The study itself was advertised with all staff working at the campus, and had some day to day involvement in the teaching of students, but was not necessarily teaching the students themselves. Therefore within the eight participants that did take part, we had three people from the services section of the polytechnic, namely one student learning support, and two from educational advisor and support. The other five participants were teaching staff from across the campus, teaching a range of levels and subjects. Of the participants that participated there was a fair spread of ages, but the majority (n=3) were in the 50-59 age bracket with no participants above the age of 70 years. The genders were evenly split with between the eight participants.
Due to the fairly low turnout, participants were placed in groups of four, where they were asked to play the role that suited them best but in such a way that each role was ‘covered’ within the group. Though the first part of the ideation stage covered set roles (dreamer, realist, critic and observer), the later part resulted in members abandoning their predetermined roles and rather undertook a general brainstorming session based on the existing concepts shared in the groups. At the end, a sharing session was undertaken where participants shared their ideas with the other group and a few extra post-it notes were written and added expressing further ideas.
The session ran for over two hours, which included an initial review of the concept of seamless learning, with examples of how this would look within the context of NZ. This initial session was valuable as all the participants had little to no concept of seamless learning. Only two participants had heard of the term in the context of education, but were unclear how it differentiated from blended or mobile learning. After this introduction session, the groups were invited to work together to share ideas through the form of post-it notes and general discussion. A total of 52 post-its were created, with the majority (22 notes) falling in the dreamer category with the other two categories evenly spread 14 in Critic and 16 in the Realist category.
The post-it notes were transcribed into one document, then coded. The same coding structure was taken and adapted from Rusman, Tan and Firssova (2018) and outlined in the Framework chapter of this book. From this original framework, each post-it note was individually coded and placed within one code.
Table 4.1 outlines the categories and factors drawn from the Rusman, Tan and Firssova’s (2018) framework. The results showed that the category related to considerations and factors affecting decision processes at organizational level were highlighted most frequently by the respondents, within this category statements related to technology with eleven (21% frequency) were highlighted more often while costs/efforts/ investments/ dangers and benefits/surplus value/results were cited slightly less often (n=9, 17% and n=8, 15% respectively). The next most cited category was related to the organisation of the design and implementation process related to seamless learning. Within this category, guidance/ support/ degree of autonomy of learners was most cited (n=7, 13%), with the experiential design of activities within school and in out-of-classroom environments/ settings and (Learning) Objectives and (learning) results cited five times each (10%). The least cited were statements related to the process-oriented design of interdisciplinary/ transboundary activities (n=2, 4%). The least cited category was the organization of change process (CP) in the educational organization, there were only five statements (10%) made related to Organizational management and planning.
Table 4.2 provides a summary of the broad categories and their overall frequency (Addendum 4.1). When comparing these statements and statement frequency to Rusman Tan and Firssova’s (2018) original framework, the results showed that while Considerations and factors affecting decision processes at organizational level towards implementing Seamless learning designs were most frequently cited in this study and within the original study (54% in NZ study compared to 40% in the original study focused on a Dutch institute). The most marked difference was that while the organization of change process in the educational organization was cited least in this study (10%) it was highlighted considerably more often in the original Dutch study (23%). The final organization of the design and implementation process of Seamless learning in educational practice were cited at the same frequency in both studies (37%). The differences in these frequencies, while difficult to compare due to the relatively small number in this study, does highlight potential differences between the perceptions of both countries and some of these differences may be due to the still emerging nature of seamless learning with the NZ context and therefore a stronger focus on broader factors around organization level, specifically the barriers that impact adoption compare to addressing factors related to the change process of organisations to adopt seamless learning.
The next section explores these results in more detail and provides some issues for future research.
Reflection and Conclusion
When analysing the results utilising Rusman, Tan and Firssova’s (2018) framework (table 2), the categories fit well with those provided. In comparison to the early study, however, there were significantly fewer statements focusing on supporting the implementation and overall change process in the organisation. This discrepancy however, could be explained in the overall “newness” of seamless learning in NZ. It may be considered that the participants represented in this group are still in the “blue sky” phase of understanding the options and possibilities of seamless learning and that the concrete actualising and enactment of this is still requiring some work. The two main concerns derived from the responses is the need for careful consideration of the philosophy of being seamless, and therefore not limiting actualising these aims through closed systems and that the process would need time and require reconsideration of our resources and methods.
In addition, when comparing the results of the original outcome by Rusman, Tan and Firssova’s (2018) social learning and networked learning was not mentioned in any of the notes. This might be again due to a narrow focus of when conceptualising seamless learning or the unfamiliarity of the group with these terms.
Participants focused on a wide set of benefits that could be seen around innovation and improved access to learning, drawing of aspects of innovation and creative and unique learning opportunities. Technology could be used to provide learning that was not constrained by time and location and other emerging technologies could support more innovative teaching opportunities (such as Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality).
The participants saw seamless learning as a way to make learning more connected, drawing on a richer learning environment and supporting differentiated learning (Themes discussed under Process-oriented design of interdisciplinary/ transboundary activities). Learning could be drawn from inside and outside the classroom, to better integrate practice and activities like work placement.
As highlighted by Sharples (2015), seamless learning “is best seen as an aspiration rather than a bundle of activities, technologies and resources” (p 41). Though seamless learning offers the affordances of a rich tool kit it is however, how we use these resources to connect and link learning inside and outside of the classroom. The participants saw seamless learning as a way to better shape the learning of our students, to make it more individual, provide new ways of learning, drawing a wider view and multi-dimensional though a variety of different approaches (Themes discussed under (Learning) Objectives and (learning) results).
These benefits, however, were tempered by significant costs and technical limitations which form a barrier that would need to be overcome. These issues are therefore further underlining the need for better infrastructure and access for institutions. The issues around technical constraints were not necessarily around national access, but rather central to the institution. Though access to the Internet has been provided, through initiatives like the N4L, institutions are still struggling with integrating technology and developing effective teaching. Interaction and compatibility between devices and platforms were highlighted by participants. Open access and open systems becoming a dominant way to support this seamless interaction, without limiting and closing down options.
Organisational support is also crucial to support seamless integration in education, this includes developing better structures to enable easier integration of technology in the teaching, but also for training, support and development of educators to better use and engage with digital technology. Additional issues highlighted were access to resources, managing distraction, prioritising the quality of learning with the technology, so technology does not become the dominant focus. Alongside support for teachers, providing support for students to learn and use the technology and supporting equity of access and learning.
Seamless learning is more than a set of novel educational practices (Wong & Looi, 2012) rather it requires a change in the culture of education to incorporate appropriate technology into the curriculum to support learning that enables learners to engage in productive self-regulated learning that spans times, locations, devices, and tasks (Sharples, 2015). This small exploratory study explores a group of educators’ perceptions towards seamless learning. The study highlights the enthusiasm of these educators towards the concepts of supporting more integrated and enhanced learning opportunities, however, many technical and philosophical issues are still needed to be overcome for this to be conceptualised within the higher educational context.
While this study includes only a small population, the perspectives are likely to be shared with other educators in NZ. However, to get a wider perspective on the perceptions of tertiary educators, especially within all forms of tertiary education within NZ, a wider study is needed. However, the issues highlighted do foreshadow significant issues that would need to be addressed for the adoption and wider conceptualisation of seamless learning within NZ.
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Addendum 4.1: New Zealand
Table 4.1: Categories and statements drawn from the feedback of the participants.
Considerations and factors affecting decision processes at organizational level
|Benefits/surplus value/results||8||15%||● Students that find it difficult to get to class can access learning (such as health issues, disability, distance and work)
● You can learn anywhere and not be restricted by location/time
● You can draw on new technologies (AR/VR) resources and materials to support learning
|Costs/efforts/ investments/ dangers
|9||17%||● Support will be needed for development of device friendly applications
● Equity of access needs to be addressed
● The time and resources to re-create assessment to match new modes of learning could become too great
● Devices introduce more distraction than learning
● There is a danger that we could focus more on technology than the actual learning
● For [it] to succeed it must be easy and better that what we have already
● Current systems needs to be enhanced to enable broader conceptualisation of learning
● Slightly different contexts may make it [more context and lead to] significant issues and ripple effect – how do you make something open
|11||21%||● Need to expand the “library” concept to allow access between platforms
● Needs a centralised interactive LMS which is adaptable
● An open system is needed to provide universal access that is learner focussed
● How do we handle a complex system that aligns to different type of resources and makes it adaptive
● Too many choices or [different] platforms will lead to [student] confusion and interoperability [between platforms]
● Need to avoid closing down or limiting ways of engaging
● Ensure that resources are open-sourced/ creative commons to avoid issues especially when no longer closing access
Organization of change process (CP) in educational organization
|Organizational management and planning
|5||10%||● A philosophy of open education must be adopted (OER)
● Cannot just replace device with online but have to redesign the process in light of the learning goal this will take time
Organization of design and implementation process
|Experiential design of activities within school and in out-of-classroom environments/ settings
|5||10%||● Can use what learners have with them (i.e. Mobile devices)
● Has the potential to intergrade practice and work placement learning into the classroom (and vice versa)
● Learning can happen without being aware of it being monitored (assessment does not alter the experience)
● Be able to bring learning outside the classroom
● New modes of learning (such as AR and VR) provide powerful abilities for contextualised and real experiences
|Process-oriented design of interdisciplinary/ transboundary activities
|2||4%||● It will [support] more connected learning – educational institute the home and community/work environment. Can connect to your class anywhere, possibly at little to no cost
● We have students with different learning styles – it could be difficult to accommodate all of these
|Guidance/ support/ degree of autonomy of learners
|7||13%||● Some students would need support to learn and use the technology
● How will we ensure we “set the bar” at the right level that gives students the same chance to succeed (constancy of experience)
● Training is needed around the variety of technologies and appropriate use
● Guidance is needed to support teachers and student to learn to learn and teach [in] a seamless way
|(Learning) Objectives and (learning) results
|5||10%||● Learning can be tailored to the individual (own pace or experience)
● New ways of learning will result – [this] may [lead to] learning [being] more connected and real
● Change from one-dimensional learning to multi-dimensional where new ways to engage learners can be used
● Common learning outcomes are supported but can utilise different approaches
● Will encourage innovation and creative and unique learning opportunities
Table 4.2: Categories of statements mentioned as affecting implementation of seamless learning in tertiary institutes in NZ
|Frequency of statements||Percentage of statements (of total)|
|Considerations and factors affecting decision processes at organizational level towards implementing Seamless learning designs||28||54%|
|Organization of change process in educational organization: from current learning designs towards implemented Seamless learning designs
|Organization of design and implementation process of Seamless learning in educational practice