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Our edited book focusing on Activity Theory, Authentic Learning and Emerging Technologies has been published by Routledge and is available in hard cover and e-book formats: http://routledge-ny.com/books/details/9781138778597/

Cover of Activity Tehory, Authentic Learning and Emerging Technologie

Cover of Activity Tehory, Authentic Learning and Emerging Technologie

This edited collection seeks to fill the current gap in understanding about the use of emerging technologies for transformative learning and teaching by providing a nuanced view, locating higher education pedagogical practices at an intersection of emerging technologies, authentic learning and activity systems.

The book, which is edited by Professors Vivienne Bozalek, Dick N’gambi, Denise Wood, Jan Herrington, Joanne Hardman and Alan Amory, includes case studies as examples, and draws from a wide range of contexts to illustrate how such a convergence has the potential to track transformative teaching and learning practices in the higher education sector. Chapters provide the reader with a variety of transformative higher education pedagogical practices in southern contexts, theorised within the framework of Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) and tool mediation, while using authentic learning as a pedagogical model upon which this theoretical framework is based.

The topics covered in the book have global relevance, with research paying particular attention to South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, where the authors are based. The book will be of interest to educators, researchers and practitioners in higher education, as well as those interested in emerging technologies in education more generally.

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The Inclusive Technology Enhanced Learning project was funded by the Australian Government, Department of Education, Office for Learning and Teaching in the second half of 2013 and is due to be completed in late 2015. The project is a collaboration of four Australian and three international universities, national and international teaching and learning experts in inclusive design, representatives from Indigenous communities, the not-for-profit sector and the open-source community. Team members will work in collaboration to achieve the following project aims:

  • Demonstrate the benefits of an evidence-based approach to the design of inclusive technology enhanced learning (TEL) environments;
  • Provide guidelines for academics on the design and redevelopment of inclusive TEL curricula; and
  • Develop a prototype of an open source responsive learning system (RLS), which adapts to student needs by delivering content that is personalised to meet their individual accessibility needs and learning preferences.

The project addresses several priority areas of the Innovation and Development Grants program, with the major foci being the innovative use of technology, curriculum design, and strategic approaches to student success, progression and diversity.

Further information from the project site: http://responsive-learning.org

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Digital Enterprise: Pathways to Education and Employment for Young People with Disabilities is a national programme funded by the Australian Government Department of Education under the Broadband Enabled Education and Skills Services Programme. It is a joint initiative based at the University of South Australia and involving four universities, two registered training organisations, state government and not for profit community organisations in South Australia, the Northern Territory, Victoria and New South Wales. The funded period commenced in late 2013 and concludes mid-2016. The project is led by Professor Denise Wood, Professor of Learning, Equity Access and Participation at Central Queenlsnad University and administered by UniSA, where Denise holds an Adjunct Senior Research Fellow position.

Digital Enterprise programmes are being establishing in four technology-enabled spaces, in four states, to provide high –tech learning programmes for groups of young people, aged 10 to 20, who have Autism Spectrum Disorders or Acquired Brain Injury and related disabilities. Through challenging and developing their IT skills, the program aims to foster their sense of personal initiative, reduce isolation, develop entrepreneurial skills and increase their rate of participation in further education and employment.

Digital Enterprise builds on the success of “The Lab” technology clubs, which started in Melbourne in 2011, for young people with High Functioning Autism. The evaluation of The Lab found that young people who have participated in the programme have experienced enhanced technical skills, increased self-efficacy and confidence, improved motivation at school and the sense of new possibilities for the future. Parents have also benefited in terms of mutual support from other parents.

Digital Enterprise is extending these benefits to other young people with disabilities who would like to access training that will significantly develop their technical interests and increase their technical abilities and employable skills. For those who are aged 16 or over, who will learn entrepreneurial skills, the program will open up a range of post-school options including enhanced employability, capacity to establish new businesses, and pathways to further education.

Further information available from our project site: http://digital-enterprise-pathways.net/

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I am now Professor of Learning, Equity, Acces and Participation at Central Queensland University, Australia.

My role is to play a key role in the development and operation of relevant and meaningful policies and practices that provide engaged and inclusive learning experiences for indigenous and non-indigenous students, students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, students with disabilities, and students with socio-economic barriers.

CQUniversity Australia has a unique and interesting history. The University was originally founded in Rockhampton in 1967 and was known as the Queensland Institute of Technology (Capricornia). By 1974 it was among only a few Australian institutes to commence the delivery of distance education.

Between 1978 and 1989 further campuses were established in Bundaberg, Emerald, Gladstone, and Mackay and in 1992 the Institute achieved full University status to become known as Central Queensland University. Along with locations in regional Queensland, CQUniversity has also expanded its presence throughout Australia with campuses in Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Noosa and Sydney, Study Centres in Biloela and Yeppoon, a Cairns Distance Education Study Centre, a delivery site in Edithvale, Victoria, and Partner Study Hubs in Cannonvale, Queensland and Geraldton, Western Australia.

Now more than 20 years on, and following a merger with CQ TAFE on 1 July 2014, CQUniversity is responsible for providing a diverse range of training and education programs and courses to more than 30,000 students studying qualifications from certificate to post doctorate level.

Further information: http://www.cqu.edu.au/

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After spending a week at the University of the Western Cape I returned to Gauteng Province where I conducted training in Lenasia for teachers from the schools participating in our Let us Learn project. The training precedes the implementation of trials of the 3D virtual learning environment developed in five basic schools, one Islamic school and one special needs school in Gauteng Province.

Teachers attendind 3D virtual learning training in Lenasia, South Africa

Teachers attended 3D virtual learning training in Lenasia, South Africa

On the 5th July I flew to Polokwane where I conducted training that afternoon for teachers at New Horizon Special School.

Teacher training conducted at New Horizons Special School in Polokwane, South Africa

Teacher training conducted at New Horizons Special School in Polokwane, South Africa

We then travelled to Tzaneen in rural Limpopo Province where we conducted four days of training for teachers participating in the 5 basic schools and two special needs schools located in that area. We had excellent attendance with between 25-20 teachers attending each day, including weekends.

The following photos show us setting up the new computers for the training and the teachers participating in sessions conducted over the four days.

Setting up for the training sessions in Tzaneen, Limpopo Province, South Africa

Setting up for the training sessions in Tzaneen, Limpopo Province, South Africa

Siyafunda Computer Training Centre and the South African National Zakah Fund sponsored Rashid to accompany us to work with teachers who required basic literacy training.

Rashid representing Siyafunda CTC working with a small group of teachers who requested initially basic computer skills training prior to undertaking the 3D virtual learning training

Rashid representing Siyafunda CTC working with a small group of teachers who requested initially basic computer skills training prior to undertaking the 3D virtual learning training

Rolda Rapotu from the Limpopo Department of Economic Enterprise also assisted Rashid with the basic computer literacy training of teachers from the participating schools.

Rolda from LIMDEV working with participants requesting basic computer training

Rolda from LIMDEV working with participants requesting basic computer training

There were thirty teachers attending the first day of training which was held at the Tzaneen Country Lodge.

Opening of the four day training workshop conducted in Tzaneen, Limpopo Province

Opening of the four day training workshop conducted in Tzaneen, Limpopo Province

Many participants attended the hands on training sessions each day including during the weekends – real commitment from the teachers of Limpopo Province!

Teachers attending the hands-on training in use of the 3D virtual learning environment

Teachers attending the hands-on training in use of the 3D virtual learning environment

Workshop participants were actively involved in the hands-on sessions and group sessions discussing pedagogy and how to incorporate content into the 3D virtual learning environment over the four days.

Participants contributing to one of the many group discussions held during the workshop

Participants contributing to one of the group discussions held during the workshop

We also met with representatives from the non-profit organisation (Shonaquip) during our visit. Shonaquip was established by Shona McDonald, the mother of a child with a disability,  and now provides clinical services, as well as professional and clinical training for therapists, rehabilitation workers, wheelchair users, their care providers and families, across Southern Africa. We are hoping to work with Shonaquip in the participating special schools. We had good attendance from teachers from these special schools in Tzaneen including Yingisani School for the hearing impaired and Letaba Special School. Here the teachers discuss their children’s special needs with Denise.

Teachers from Yingisani and Letaba Special Schools discuss their learners' special needs during a tea break

Denise demonstrating assisting technology software to teachers from Yingisani and Letaba Special Schools during the tea break

Teacher evaluations from the four day training workshop were overwhelmingly positive and we are confident that teachers from participating schools now have the skill to commence trials of the platform in Term 3 commencing in a few weeks time. Further training workshops are planned later in the year to introduce teachers to more advanced skills creating their own content for the 3D virtual learning environment.

Group photo taken on final day of the training workshop conducted in Tzaneen

Group photo taken on final day of the training workshop conducted in Tzaneen

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I returned to South Africa on the 24th June and spent nearly four weeks across five provinces conducting workshops, presenting conference papers and continuing our research in Gauteng and Limpopo Province schools.

My first series of commitments were at the University of the Western Cape where I presented a seminar titled “Distance Learning, Flexible Learning and Blended Learning: What’s in a Name?”  on the 25th June, followed by participation in meetings with the emerging e-learning technologies research group and a workshop I conducted in the latter part of the week focusing on 3D virtual learning (see post following this entry).

The seminar I conducted on the 25th June considered different models and pedagogical approaches underpinning the varying modes of e-learning, including distance, flexible and blended learning. The seminar began with a review of the historical developments in flexible learning and the impact that the emergence of educational technologies has had on traditional approaches to distance education and flexible learning. The confusion between terms such as distance education/learning; flexible delivery/learning and blended learning was discussed, and the implications for the appropriate choice and application of e-learning technologies and the design of curricula critically examined.

Various theoretical frameworks were presented drawing on the relevant literature to provide a scaffold for the ways in which we consider the interplay between institutional policies, implementation, pedagogy and technology (see Collis & Moonen, 2001) and the affordances of different e-learning technologies (see  Conole & Dyke, 2004; Savin-Baden, 2008; Savin-Baden et al, 2010), which impact on the ways in which e-learning can be effectively applied in different modes of teaching and learning.

During the presentation I drew on findings from several of the national funded teaching and learning projects I have been involve withsince 2007, as well as published case studies to demonstrate the ways in which e-learning technologies can support flexible and blended learning across a range of disciplinary areas. Emerging e-learning technologies were also considered including the increasing role that social media can play in supporting informal learning beyond the formal higher education curriculum.


Colis, B., & Moonen, J. (2001). Flexible learning in a digital world: Experiences and expectations. London: Kogan-Page

Conole, G., & Dyke, M. (2004). What are the affordances of information and communication technologies? ALT-J, 12(2), 113-124.

Savin-Baden, M. (2008). From cognitive capability to social reform? Shifting perceptions of learning in immersive virtual worlds. ALT-J: Research in Learning Technology, 16(3), 151 – 161.

Savin-Baden, M., Gourlay, L., Tombs, C., Steils, N., Tombs, G., & Mawer, M. (2010). Situating pedagogies, positions and practices in immersive virtual worlds. Educational Research, 52(2), 123 – 133.

Title screen from A/Professor Wood's Flexible Learning presentation

Title screen from A/Professor Wood’s Flexible Learning presentation at the University of the Western Cape on the 25th June 2012.

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With the start of a new semester we have another 35 students working with community organisations to develop websites that we host on a university server. This semester, for the first time, we also have 300 students enrolled in a first year introduction to digital media course working with not-for-profit organisations to develop video clips to promote the organisation’s services. This program, called sustainable online community engagement, is funded by the South Australian Government’s Office for Volunteers and won the Premier’s Award for building communities in 2009.

In week three of the semester we hosted a community event enabling students to meet with their community organisation clients. The photo below was taken at this community engagement event hosted at the University of South Australia on the 14th March 2012.

Denise, Alice and guests at the SOCE community event held on the 14th March 2012

From left to right: Denise, Alice, EPI student and representative from one of the community organisations attending the SOCE community event 14th March 2012

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