Fine-tuned digital learning to keep kids on track rather than being distracted


Online education has helped Amber Patupis build an amazing life in Australia.

The 17-year-old completed her primary education at Eucla Air Force School, where morning lessons left her afternoons free to fall in love with horse riding.

She then spent three years at a regular high school in Esperance, but is now completing her 12th year ATAR at the isolated and distance learning school, as she prefers the more focused learning format.

This gives him time to train to hopefully one day represent the nation in the equestrian sport of eventing, as well as to arrange a farm stay at his home in Esperance in the far south. of Western Australia.

Her mother Rasa said Amber’s computer-based classes, online lectures and virtual whiteboards marked a marked difference in the tools she used as a daughter.

In the early 1970s, Rasa’s distance primary education at Eucla depended on rotary dial telephones and an infrequent courier service to deliver worksheets.

“And my parents, their native language was not English. They are from Lithuania,” she said.

“So Mom found it quite difficult.”

Despite Amber’s enthusiasm for the current model, experts say there’s still a long way to go in helping children use digital technology to learn.

Amber Patupis says the structure of her online training program gives her more time to practice.(Provided: Amber Patupis)

Can digital technology improve early education?

Small children with new technologies have always fascinated Kim Maslin.

This sets the WA educator apart from many parents and teachers who see iPads and smartphones in the hands of elementary school students with a hint of anxiety.

After all, warnings about everything from screen time to social media to cybersecurity are plentiful and swift.

She stands in a green jumper on Esperance Pier on a rainy day
Kim Maslin studies how technology can improve learning outcomes for young children.(ABC Esperance: Emily Smith)

But Ms Maslin believes that, used in the right way, digital technology can fundamentally improve the education of a whole range of children – from those in distance education like Amber to others forced to return home by closures or in disaster or war zones.

The question is – how?

Surprisingly, given the global angst over the subject, Ms Maslin said the field was largely overlooked by researchers.

“They have incredible potential”

Many believe that the golden rule for raising children is to keep them as far away from technology as possible.

But Karen Murcia, an associate professor at Curtin University and chief researcher at National Center for the Digital Childattributed this to a “dated” study that investigated the impacts of young children watching television.

She said this could not be applied to today’s interactive digital offerings.

She pointed to studies she had been involved in that showed children as young as three or four could understand coding and operate robotics.

Kim appears on a computer screen with painted galahs behind her
Kim Maslin is testing the backdrop for a virtual show based on a book she wrote.(Provided: Kim Maslin)

A few years ago, Ms. Maslin began publishing a series of children’s books called The Galah who tweets which aimed to educate children about online safety and digital citizenship.

Recently, she began working with an electronic security provider who turned the stories into live performances presented virtually to thousands of children across the country.

Now she’s going deeper into the subject with a research project of her own.

“So Many Shades”

While the shift to online learning during the pandemic has sparked a wave of research into online learning, Ms. Maslin said it was largely missing the details that would make it useful for educators.

Rather than, say, looking at the best ways to teach first-grade science or fourth-grade math online, she said researchers often bundle all forms of “e-learning” into one. study.

Her research project will focus on fostering creativity in science, technology, engineering, and math, and assess how children develop and demonstrate these skills differently online than in other learning environments.

She aims to complete the project in 2025.

“The more research, the better”

Rasa Patupis wants to see research on e-learning develop.

Although she believed distance education had been a huge benefit for her daughter, she said it was not suitable for all children, especially those who needed more social interaction and help. .

She pointed out that a focus on “fun things” online can help children learn and engage socially.

And she said coming up with more creative subjects would help, noting that it was nearly impossible for her to get into music lessons.

“I think the more research the better,” she said.

Amber also pointed out that improving online learning outcomes would require improved telecommunications, with connectivity issues causing her problems at Esperance.

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