Which country has had e-learning, in a range of subjects, aligned
with the curriculum, with full CPD support for teachers, supported by good
research, in almost all of its schools for well over a decade? Answer –
I was involved with this initiative some time ago and was
delighted to keynote at their annual conference this week, as it’s probably the
most important example of sustained, successful e-learning in schools, in the
Heriot Watt University set up SCHOLAR
in 1999 and it is now in
almost all secondary schools, public and private. Targeted at 16-18 year olds
it is designed to stimulate independent study and prepare students for a career,
college or university. What I admire is the fact that students lie at the heart
of the project. At the conference we had four students present, and then a teenage
mum on video, to explain, confidently, how SCHOLAR had allowed her to continue
with her education. This is what SCHOLAR IS really all about – creating confident
For me, this is what the flipped model should be. It gets rid of the whole concept of 'homework', that hideous word, too often used by teachers (where's your homeWORK, have you finished your WORK...). Guy Claxton showed how destructive this can be with students. This is about encouraging self-study, with useful content that is packed with useful, formative feedback.
SCHOLAR is also great case study in how to create a successful, sustainable e-learning initiative. If you want a blueprint on how to do it –
Lesson 1: Political
SCHOLAR was supported by central government and the team have
always made sure that politicians and civil servants understood its importance. Strong and dedicated leaders, like Professor Cliff Beevers and Professor
Phillip John, have relentlessly supported the project and made sure that rigorous
research took place to underpin its adoption.
Lesson 2: Create
Education, with its auteur belief that ‘every teacher must be allowed to create
their own course
’ is often hostile to external content. This is a
catastrophic mistake. Teaching is far too difficult a job for the dull parts,
like marking and work outside of the classroom, not to be automated. This is
not ‘homework’ it’s independent study. Good content and formative assessment is
a godsend, not a threat, to teachers.
Lesson 3: Strong on
Make sure that the formative assessment is fulsome, based on
good research and relevant. It must be diagnostic, allow for non-recorded, self-testing
as well as tracked tests, all finely tuned to the actual curriculum,
and of genuine help in
moving students forward.
Note that discussion boards are part
of this process, where students help other students.
Lesson 4: Buy-in from
From its inception, teachers were consulted, used as champions
and CPD is available from an experienced team who will go anytime, anywhere to
get their message across. The courseware needs to be demonstrated and the
advantages of animations, strong assessment and curriculum coverage needs to be sold. Teacher adoption is a necessary condition for success.
Lesson 5: Subject
After 32 years of teaching, a brilliant Physics teacher, full of dry wit
and brilliant examples, showed us how he wished SCHOLAR had been available when
he was in the classroom. These subject ‘champions’ travel across Scotland and
advise educational authorities, schools and teachers. They are the bridge to the
teaching profession. Good practice guides in each subject are also available.
Lesson 6: Keep focus
There’s e-learning induction for students.
The courseware and assessment is constantly updated with data from
students fed back into the design process. It is important that the system is
easy to use and really does meet the needs of students. Teaching, after all, is
only a means to an end. Student learning is always the end goal.
Lesson 7: Do
Rigorous research has helped sustain the project and give it
legitimacy, not only among teachers and students but also with funders,
politicians and government. The fact that the project originated in a
University (no accident that this was a STEM focused University) was a good
thing, in that hard questions were asked about effectiveness, and subsequently
Research has been a strong feature of the programme from the
start. Several studies have shown a positive correlation between SCHOLAR use
and attainment. One study showed that students who used SCHOLAR performed on average
half a grade better in their final end-of-year examinations.
The research has also confirmed the fact that SCHOLAR encourages
extra learning at all times of the day (and night). Every hour on the 24 hour
clock has been used. Additional positive findings around students acceptance,
the willingness of students to recommend SCHOLAR to others and even research in
3 regions in England with A-level students (I was involved in this LSC study),
is also available.
We have a
lot to learn from SCHOLAR. First, it works. We have to move beyond this idea
that there’s no proof that e-learning works. We also have to commit to the
creation and use of quality content and assessment. In an age of austerity, and
huge amounts of angst around quality in education, the only way forward is to
use technology to provide, scale, consistency and, above all, the opportunity
for students to learn where and when they want. We MUST free learning from the
tyranny of time and location. The budgets for initiatives like this are minuscule. Why England and other countries have not taken this content and adapted it for their curriculum is beyond me.
Cliff E. Beevers & Phillip John A Case Study
: How Scotland Has Leveraged e-Learning to
Improve Student Outcomes (excellent overview).
Phillip John, “The SCHOLAR
Programme in Scotland,” in Flexible Delivery: An Evaluation of the Use of the
Virtual Learning Environment in Higher Education across Scotland (Gloucester,
UK: Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, 2006): 33-44.
Kay Livingston and Rae Condie,
Evaluation of Phase Two
of the SCHOLAR Programme (Glasgow, UK: University of
George McGuire, Martin Youngson,
Athol Korabinski, and Douglas McMillan, Partial Credit in Mathematics Exams: A
Comparison between Traditional and CAA Exams, Proceedings of the Sixth International
Computer Assisted Assessment Conference, Loughborough University, UK (2002):
John Winkley, What Can
e-Assessment Do for Learning and Teaching?
Paper delivered by John Winkley on behalf of eAA expert panel,
International Computer Assisted Assessment Conference, University of
Southampton, UK (2010). http://caa.ecs.soton.ac.uk/Papers/A Case Study: How
Scotland Has Leveraged e-Learning to Improve Student Outcomes 15