Multimedia in Education:
The transition from Primary School to Secondary School - European Parliament STOA 1997

Executive Summary

Please note that the views expressed in this report are not necessarily the views or decisions of the European Parliament

1. Introduction

This study forms the third part of three into the "The Application of Multimedia Technologies in School: their use, effect and implications." This particular study focuses on:

The other two studies focus on:

The request for these three studies came from the European Parliament’s Committee on Culture, Youth, Education and Media. This committee specified that the project should deal with the increasing use of multimedia (e.g. Internet, CD-ROM, personal computers) in pre-primary, primary and secondary schools in the European Union.

2. Findings

2.1 Transition issues

2.1.1 Research seems to suggest that there has been little primary research into issues concerning the use of multimedia technologies in schools over the transition from primary (elementary) to secondary schools.

2.1.2 All students go through a transition period from childhood to adolescence. In most regions of Europe students actually transfer from a primary to secondary school. This tends to result in students changing from having just one teacher to having many teachers. This discontinuity is often marked by a different style of teaching, which can result in a decreased rate of learning.

2.1.3 The issues concerning the progression and continuity between primary and secondary schools are of a broader nature than just specifically related to the use of multimedia technologies.

2.1.4 Where there is close collaboration between secondary school and feeder primary schools there is more likely to be progression and continuity in all subject areas and in the use of multimedia technologies for learning.

2.1.5 However, where children go from being taught by one teacher in a primary school to being taught by many teachers in a secondary school there may be difficulties.

2.1.6 Additional difficulties may occur in regions where primary school children have a wider variety of secondary school choices. This makes liaison between the many primaries and secondary schools much more difficult.

2.1.7 Detailed profiles of a child’s experiences in using multimedia technologies could be a solution and the technologies themselves could make it relatively easy. However, processing the profile by another teacher as well as processing the profiles of other skills such linguistic, mathematical and geographical would be very complex to do manually. There is a need for better utilisation of computer technologies to assist in this process. Case studies such as BEON in the UK indicate that multimedia technologies can provide a basis for increased curricular and cultural understanding between primary and secondary schools, and so reduce the negative impact of transfer between schools.

2.1.8 Potentially multimedia technologies do offer a means for the individualisation of learning but there is a need to look into the whole learning environment within a school. In most EU countries this has seen little change for over a hundred years compared to the changes which have taken place within commerce and industry.

2.1.9 The full potential of using multimedia technologies for learning in primary and secondary schools can only be realised after there has been some re-engineering of the way learning experiences are offered in the traditional primary and secondary school.

2.2 Technology

2.2.1 A multimedia learning environment involves a number of components or elements in order to enable learning to take place. Hardware and software are only part of the requirement.

2.2.2 Having the right type of equipment, including software, will not necessarily create the most appropriate environment to enable learning to take place.

2.2.3 Access to multimedia technologies including on-line systems is currently a major problem for both primary and secondary schools. However, there are some possible connection solutions beginning to emerge from the IT industry, which need to be combined with the exploration of new systems of resource provision for schools.

2.2.4 Although there is current concern about security and access to undesirable materials via the Internet, technical solutions are beginning to become available to overcome these issues.

2.2.5 There is a need to enable software producers to develop an awareness of the range of learning styles deployed in primary and secondary schools.

2.3 People

2.3.1 Students must be able to select appropriate multimedia tools and apply them to the learning task within the learning environment in order for effective learning to take place.

2.3.2 A critical element is for teachers to be familiar with multimedia technologies in order for them to know how to use them within their curriculum areas. Both Initial Teacher Training and Continuous Professional Development in the area of multimedia in education needs to be improved.

2.3.3 The potential for having access to high quality multimedia learning resources on demand in the home as well as in school raises issues concerning the future role of the teacher and whether all children should be attending school at the same time.

2.4 Levels of resourcing

There is little comparative comprehensive data on the numbers of multimedia computers in primary and secondary schools across Europe and other parts of the world and how they are being used. This makes benchmarking difficult. There is a need for a European observatory to monitor developments in order for regions to compare their usage of multimedia technologies in schools with a European or world-wide bench mark. This will assist regions in understanding their relative position and enable them to make decisions on whether they should invest in additional resources, and how these should be deployed for greatest effect.

2.5 The way we learn

2.5.1 It is argued that the depth of knowledge required in secondary schools makes it necessary for students to have many teachers who are subject experts. The development of multimedia technologies could soon offer access to knowledge far superior than that of most subject teachers. This may result in teachers needing to develop new learning facilitation skills and reduce the emphasis on knowledge. The know-how is likely to become more valuable than the know-what.

2.5.2 Teachers primarily require access to learning resources, which can support concept development by learners in a variety of ways in order to meet individual learning needs.

2.5.3 In some regions of Europe there is no distinct transfer point between primary and secondary schools. Students retain one or a small number of teachers from 6 years to 16 years throughout their transition period, which does not result in a slowing down of the learning process.

3. Specific questions addressed by the Study

  1. Do multimedia systems being developed for primary schools take into account the transition of the child to the secondary school? - It is the finding of the authors that current multimedia systems do not take account of transition. However, issues of transition in relation to use of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) in general are beginning to be addressed by projects such as the Bristol Education On-line Network.
  2. Do such systems prepare the child properly for this transition? - There is no evidence that multimedia systems and their current use in EU schools prepare the child for transition.
  3. Is there reason to anticipate problems in this transition? - The transfer of the child between schools presents a cultural and curricular discontinuity and so has the potential to adversely affect the rate of learning and personal development of the child.
  4. Do new technologies encourage learning at home or other non standard ways of learning? - New ICT has the potential to support learning in a wide variety of locations other than the school. The home is a source of vast, largely untapped, learning opportunities. Parents need guidance on the appropriate use of ICT to support learning.
  5. Do these technologies give to students the appropriate tools to become actors in the information society? - Multimedia technologies are necessary to enable students to become actors in the information society, but are will only be effective if deployed within an ‘environment for learning with multimedia technologies’.
  6. Are multimedia systems embedded in social learning processes? - Multimedia systems are becoming embedded in the work of schools, but largely in relation to the current teaching paradigm. Increasingly schools will use multimedia technologies to support learners as individuals. Such a change of emphasis will enable students to develop the skills of the independent learner which are needed if the potential of ICT in the home is to be exploited.

4. The Key Message - towards a new paradigm for learning

4.1 Changing the Learning Paradigm

4.1.1 The development of multimedia technologies for learning offers new ways in which learning can take place in schools and the home. Enabling teachers to have access to multimedia learning resources, which support constructive concept development, will allow the teacher to focus more on being a facilitator of learning working with individual students. Such provision has the potential to reduce the need for subject specific teacher expertise and reduce the need for the traditional transfer of students from primary to secondary schools - from one to many teachers that takes place in some EU countries. Extending the use of multimedia learning resources to the home represents an educational opportunity with the potential to improve student learning across the EU.

4.1.2 Transfer between schools can adversely affect the rate of learning for children. There is a need to find ways of reducing the impact of transfer on students and ensure continuity of learning over the student’s transition from childhood to adolescence. Multimedia systems have the potential to support continuity by:

(i) Providing access to a common bank of curriculum related multimedia learning resources for both primary and secondary schools, along with non-IT measures such as transferring class teachers between schools - hence reducing the problems inherent in transfer.

(ii) Reducing the need, in secondary schools, for students to move between different classes and meet with different subject teachers, given access to an extensive knowledge base in the form of multimedia learning resources that could be provided in any classroom.

(iii) Providing a basis for cross phase project work which promotes cross phase understanding and reduces the impact of transfer for example in the BEON trial.

(iv) By enabling sharing of data across school phases.

4.1.3 With the increase in the numbers of multimedia computer systems in the home students are starting to have access to better facilities than currently provided in schools. In the uncertainty of the transfer period the home provides the stability that the school cannot. Student pressure on the school will demand that the school is as information rich as the home. Home environments that are rich in multimedia resources raise the question as to whether students need to attend school everyday. Given access to learning resources in a quieter home environment learning may become truly dependent of time and place.

4.2 Financing the change

In order to support the use of multimedia as described in 4.1.2 above there needs to be a greater number of multimedia systems and network connections available to schools. Providing finance for the increasing numbers of multimedia computers in schools and networking each classroom to the Internet is seen as a major economic problem. However, there are a number of potentially cost-effective solutions emerging from IT and Telecom companies. If a broad view of the application of IT in schools is taken it is that savings could be made on administration and management of schools with new technologies making schools more economically viable units. For example IT could be employed to save time and the effort required to work out complex secondary school timetables. Joint management of secondary schools and their primary feeder schools could enhance continuity and enable savings to be made through resource sharing. Such co-ordinated actions within and between schools could start to release resources for tackling the key issue of resourcing continuous professional development of teachers enabling them to make use of multimedia technologies as an important aid to learning.

4.3 Software development

4.3.1 The software that is required to support the use of multimedia outlined in 4.1.2 is currently not available. Teachers need to work more closely with professional software developers in order to ensure the pedagogical quality of multimedia learning resources, their relevance for individual learning needs, and that appropriate cross phase systems are developed.

4.3.2 Although holding multimedia resources on CD-ROM will remain important and often the first route of access the World Wide Web (WWW) is a more flexible medium. The WWW appears to be emerging as the most appropriate tool for holding multimedia resources either internally on an Intranet or externally as world-wide resources on the Internet. A number of software tools are now beginning to emerge which enable the easy and rapid assembly of multimedia components. These tools are likely to provide an accessible high level method of assembling multimedia learning resources.

4.3.3 The WWW has enabled thousands of people throughout the world to produce and publish information very easily and make it accessible to many millions of others. This has taken place over the last two years. Initiatives to enable teachers to produce and publish high quality multimedia learning materials with the assistance of professional software developers has the potential to create not only a vast bank of learning materials, but also stimulate teachers to utilise the resources for their own teaching purposes. Grass roots initiatives backed up with quality control systems could create the critical mass of multimedia learning resources required to enable large-scale usage.

 

Options for policy makers

The report has identified an ‘environment for learning with multimedia’ with three foundation issues and three domains, one of which is the environment itself. The table on the next page shows diagrammatically how the foundation issues relate to the domains, and also shows some options for policy makers. European policy makers should consider the following key options.

1. European observatory to enable benchmarking

A major issue in technology assessment across EU schools is the lack of comprehensive data across the whole of the European Union and other major areas of the world to enable comparisons to be made easily. Therefore it is strongly suggested that a European observatory for collecting data on the number, type, and use of multimedia technologies is urgently needed in order to enable schools and administrative regions compare themselves with others – benchmarking.

2. Further studies into transition issues and the role of multimedia technologies

All students go through a transition period from childhood to adolescence. In most regions of Europe students actually transfer from a primary (elementary) to a secondary school. This tends to result in students changing from having just one teacher to having many teachers. This discontinuity is often marked by a different style of teaching, which can result in a decreased rate of learning.

There is an urgent need for further studies to assess whether this potential "efficiency gap" does create a serious deficiency in a student’s learning. In addition further studies need to be conducted to assess and to highlight examples of good practice concerning the role of multimedia technologies in plugging this "gap".

3. Funding long term continuing professional development for school managers and teachers

The importance of continuing professional development (CPD) in achieving this cannot be underestimated. Encouraging the development of cross-phase project work between students and through continuous professional development of teachers to ensure continuity and progression between the primary and secondary phases in the use of multimedia technologies as tools to enhance learning.

At European level this can be encouraged through the funding of exemplar practices and raising awareness of the importance of long term continuous professional development. At national and regional and individual school level funding mechanisms are urgently needed to enable the right level of training to take place.

4. Stimulating awareness of the differing learning styles amongst educational multimedia producers

There is a need for developmental work with software producers in order to ensure the pedagogical quality of multimedia learning resources, their relevance for individual learning needs, and that appropriate cross phase systems are developed.

Because of the fragile and fragmented European market for educational multimedia software, studies leading to proactive awareness raising activities amongst software producers should be encouraged as part of the European Commission’s Educational Multimedia Software Task Force activities. This would encourage the production of "pedagogically sound" software leading to a higher demand, which could stimulate a more stable market.

5. Encourage innovative and sustainable ways for funding multimedia technologies

There is a need to encourage innovative and sustainable ways for funding multimedia technologies in schools and to enable every teacher to have regular access to online multimedia systems for their own professional development.

At a European level this could be encouraged by bringing together IT, Telecom, multimedia hardware and software producers, network service providers with educational managers in the form of a think tank in order to share ideas and develop innovative approaches to tackle these issues.

In addition, there is a need to bring together examples of "good practice" in the form of case studies. In particular, innovative financial models need to be developed which enable schools to regularly update the multimedia technology systems.

6. Stimulate teacher-developed high quality multimedia learning materials

There is a need to stimulate initiatives to enable the production and online publication of teacher-led high quality multimedia learning materials with the assistance of professional software developers. This has the potential to create not only a vast bank of learning materials, but also stimulate other teachers to utilise the resources for their own teaching purposes. Grass roots initiatives backed up with quality control systems could create the critical mass of multimedia learning resources required to enable large-scale usage.

This could be encouraged at European level through the European Commission’s Educational Multimedia Software initiative. But, it will also need to be encouraged at national and local levels in order to create the critical mass of learning resources and should involve teachers at both primary and secondary school levels working together to ensure progression and continuity through transfer and the transition of students.