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Sydney Opera House's Digital Creative Learning program. Image: Cassandra Hannagan

Digital Education - The Revolution has just begun!

As we begin the 2022 schooling year looking as close to ‘normal’ as we have seen for some time, there is a feeling of relief in the air about leaving online learning behind. But Opera House Digital Creative Learning Producer Julia Doszpot doesn't think we should let a crucial turning point in education slip by.

Julia Doszpot
Associate Producer of Digital Creative Learning

After two years of uncertainty, one thing we can say with certainty is that a digital revolution is underway in education. Though digital integration was certainly happening in the classroom prior to 2020, the pandemic plunged educators around the world collectively head-first into the online world, as the only means to ensure continued learning for students. 

For the many who previously found it challenging enough getting the SMARTboard to work with no hitches - suffice it to say this has been no small feat.

Now, as we begin the school year looking as close to “normal” as we have seen for some time, there is a feeling of relief in the air about leaving online learning behind. This is, of course, understandable - it’s been daunting, hard work. Teachers have been forced away from their students for two years. And learning exclusively online isn’t ideal for anyone. 

But it’s so important that we don’t let this crucial turning point slip us by, in favour of the conventional and familiar. The fatigue is real, but sometimes you have to lean into it to overcome it - and the pandemic has only offered a glimpse of just how capable and innovative our teachers are in this space. 

We have spent the last two years setting up the infrastructure to engage in a digital revolution, exploring different technologies in the classroom in more depth than ever before.

Included in Taronga Zoo's 'Taronga TV' are 24/7 live-streaming cameras broadcasting animal exhibits from Sydney at all hours of the day.

There is no shortage of great recent examples of digital technologies being harnessed in inventive ways to benefit all areas of education - a notable one being TikTok, where the app’s inherent short form has been enthusiastically adopted to break down dense topics like climate change and calculus into clips that are easily digestible, informative, and often genuinely hilarious. 

Schools in remote areas where excursions aren’t viable options now have a boon of excellent alternatives. Originally introduced as a nice piece of living room content mid-pandemic, Taronga Zoo has kept their animal live feeds running post lockdown. 

Further abroad, world-class museums across the world including the esteemed Guggenheim Museum have transported their collections online, available to all as digital exhibits.

ER platforms like Google Expeditions not only allow learners to visit places on the other side of the world like the Louvre, but also places that are prohibitively difficult to access for basically anyone, like the Arctic Tundra. 

Our own Digital Creative Learning program gives students the chance to do a behind-the-scenes tour of the Sydney Opera House from the comfort of their home or classroom, join a live improv workshop with professional artists from our stages, or livestream talks with incredible authors, performers and experts.

Sydney Opera House's Digital Creative Learning program in action. Image: Cassandra Hannagan

There is much to gain at the educator level too. Digital resources have expanded the scope of teacher development and mentoring possibilities; resource sharing platforms like Lumio and Teacher Starter free up precious time in a teacher’s daily diary; and online teacher’s spaces like On Butterfly Wings allow teachers to support each other at no cost (not to mention the fascinating world of Principal and teacher influencers of TikTok). 

While we should be conscious of digital innovations actually adding to the student experience rather than technology for the sake of technology, the past two years have let us dip our toes into the realm of possibilities in this space, and the potential is so much bigger.

For example, why not embrace digital innovation to individualise lesson plans based on student's individual passions, as suggested by Lauren Sayer, Executive Director of Research and Innovation at Melbourne Girls Grammar?

While, yes, there is still a digital divide we need to overcome for some schools, exploring different methods of digital learning will increase equity of education, providing more holistic access.

Associate Producer of the Opera House's Digital Creative Learning program Julia Doszpot. Image: Teniola Komolafe

And besides, while we may feel nostalgic for it now, the pre-pandemic education landscape wasn’t exactly perfect. You need only to look to the mental and physical health implications of returning onsite for those living with disability, as explained by Dr Torrey Trust, Associate Professor of Learning Technology at University of Massachusetts Amherst, to begin to understand why a revamp has long been overdue. It’s time we stop thinking of the illusive “traditional” student, at the expense of treating teachers and students as the individuals they actually are.

So, the next phase of this revolution will be about integration and sustainable growth: finding a way to blend the works of traditional schooling and e-learning to create a hybrid model that encompasses the best of both worlds. 

In the past, reform and progress have often been the long term outcomes of turmoil. In the words of educationist Sir Ken Robinson: “Education doesn't need to be reformed — it needs to be transformed.”

A digital classroom will never play the exact same role as a physical classroom. Instead, we should explore using the digital space differently, and enhance real-world learning, creating opportunities for connections, self-learning and greater access. If we continue to push ourselves and play on the edge of the possible, the only way to go is up. 

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