Teachers get the PLOT

Teachers get the PLOT

A Queensland project is pushing portals into the hands of professors and teachers.

Pedagogy - the art of teaching the teachers - is enjoying a resurgence at the moment, with several stories from the latest round of high school results indicating that high-scoring students are willing to enter the profession of teaching. Education Queensland (EQ), the government body responsible for keeping professors, lecturers, tutors and teachers in the state up to date with the latest trends in pedagogy, has responded with a portal project called PLOT, aimed at getting the education sector into the “22nd century”.

Jane Carr, an education adviser for learning technology at EQ, said that PLOT - which stands for Professional Learning Online Tool - was part of a range of “systemic initiatives to further professional learning.”

”They are all visionary goals and initiatives for the future. It is based on future premise stuff, higher order thinking,” she said.

PLOT is a Web site, available at www.plotpd.com.au, to which organisations in the education can subscribe for a set annual fee and gain access to the latest pedagogy news, course materials, information on best practices and help on teaching prospective teachers. Teachers and students can also use collaborative tools like journals and message boards. Each school has its own noticeboard for staff, and each user has his or her own personal journal, and there are also team journals and school journals. Forums can be checked regularly for inappropriate content.

The portal was implemented as a partnership with Hands On Educational Consultancy, which is run by Australian experts Joan Dalton and David Anderson.

”They are known internationally as educators on the cutting edge of professional learning,” said Ms Carr. “We are joining with someone like Jane Dalton, who is an absolute guru in her field. She has written many books on higher-level thinking. She is a formative writer: not that Jane is reinventing wheels here, but she supports what we’re doing.”

Both Hands On and EQ contribute content to the PLOT site, and a lot of the value of the site comes in the users themselves providing content. One of the major themes behind the site is a “school-wide” approach to learning, and Ms Carr said that schools, universities, or entire educational systems would have access to the latest current research on pedagogy.

”For instance, Central Queensland University has subscribed to PLOT for their education department. They can get access to units of work, strategies, and ways of talking and collaborating; all the things that go together to make a learning environment,” she said.

EQ engaged the services of DCG to perform the development work, which took four months, and the resulting system was “really quick”, according to user comments.

”If we have any enhancements we want or problems we want fixed, they have a very quick turnaround,” said Ms Carr. “We did have some problems through wanting it built really quickly, as we had to do user testing on the fly, and there were problems at the start with some little things.”

One of the biggest requirements in the implementation was security, as Ms Carr said EQ wanted to allow school administrators enough access to the site to be able to perform administration duties for their own students and teachers. She said the Microsoft Content Management Server made that task “quite easy”, and that it ended up not being a “big issue” for EQ.

”We are looking at the next level, which is making use of content syndication,” she said. “Say one of the other states or universities might ask for system-level access to put content in: when students log on, they can see what assignments the have, and can link that in to PLOT content.”

The site launched on July 30 last year, the contract with Hands On lasting for three years. EQ had budgeted for the project to cover its costs over those three years, with Ms Carr saying any return on investment over a break-even point would be “a bit of a bonus”. One of the implications of this arrangement is that EQ does not actually own anything to do with the site, which means that any extension of the site would necessitate another deal with Hands On.

”We would have to have them. They own the intellectual property and the Web site. We don’t even own the Web site, but without our content, what would you want with an empty Web site? We have the right to use it at a heavily discounted price,” said Ms Carr.


The main champion of the project was the director-general of the Department of Education, Jim Varghese. Ms Carr said Mr Varghese had a “very good grounding” in the project, and had been “totally supportive from the word go”. Ms Carr said that EQ had even received “some feelers from commercial companies.”

”We have sections on how to negotiate with someone, and how to collaborate. We gave it that to have collaboration and communication in the classroom. These issues are discussed in depth. Commercial companies are interested in that because they need to have staff communicating too,” she said.

While access is available to anyone in any State or Territory, the Queensland State government has funded a 70 per cent rebate for organisations in the home state to join. ”The system is open to anyone. Good learning is good learning. Just because the site has been done in Education Queensland, doesn’t mean it can’t work in Tasmania or Canada,” she said.

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