School students in Western Australia are benefiting from a cutting-edge technology rollout, which combines standardised infrastructure with the introduction of curriculum driven online applications.

The Schools Online Curriculum Services project (SOCS) won international acclaim earlier this year with a gold award from the IMS Global Learning Consortium in the International Learning Impact Awards.

The SOCS program received the gold award ahead of 22 other finalists after evaluation by a panel of judges in Texas, USA.

The IMS Global Learning Consortium is a global, non-profit, member association that provides leadership in shaping and growing the learning and educational technology industries.

The International Learning Impact Awards recognise use of technology to improve learning across all industry segments and in all regions of the world.

The associated Learning With Information Communications Technology (LWICT) project, undertaken by DET as part of SOCS has also been recognised with a Computer World Honours Laureate in Washington. LWICT has already seen a quarter of WA’s public schools receive a standardised technology hardware assessment and upgrade.

SOCS manager Deb Newman said the project was part of the Department of Education and Training’s (DET) vision of the State’s public schools as networked learning communities, where Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is integrated into teaching and learning.

She said the 2008 IMS Learning Impact Awards provided valuable recognition outside the local context.
“People beyond WA understand the potential of this project, in terms of it being able to channel a full set of online systems and services into one place for a range of people,” she said.

Designed and integrated by teams of curriculum and information communication technology experts, SOCS provides a single, secure and authenticated point of access to digital curriculum resources, tools and services for teachers, students, administrators and parents.

After more than four years in development, 2007 saw an initial 54 WA schools assessed and upgraded with a full suite of online services. DET aims to bring the state’s 800 schools and 500,000 students on board by 2012.

She said SOCS empowered students and teachers in several ways.

“It allows them to collaborate and communicate in an interactive online environment. SOCS was designed to enable teachers to assess students and create personalised teaching and learning programs, while allowing them access to relevant syllabus materials and rich digital content.”

She said the program would foster new online communities sharing resources, ideas and experiences and allow for online professional learning anywhere at anytime.

Earlier practice locally-based ICT solutions and services were no longer sustainable because of the complexity of networks and the associated costs and Deb said the SOCS program supported a shift to the centralised provision of ICT systems, services and support.

She said when undertaking a project of such massive scale, the buying power alone of the new cross-the-board system had already brought DET considerable savings and efficiencies.

“This scale of interoperability of school information systems, learning and content management systems in a secure, identity managed environment is cutting edge in Australia,” Deb said.

The SOCS program is already winning favour with teachers, many of whom Deb acknowledges had not previously embraced ICT in their work.

The Online Teaching and Learning System (OTLS) provided through the SOCS platform provides teachers with an online environment to plan, deliver and monitor online and blended learning programs.

“OTLS also allows students to participate in self-paced, engaging online learning in a secure environment.”

An independent evaluation into OTLS in 2006 highlighted the program’s potential to improve motivation and engagement in students of all ages.

“Teachers reported students’ improved attendance at school and higher levels of engagement and motivation,” Deb said adding teachers also reported increased quality and quantity of work output.

“I liked using the computer to write much better – if I have to write on paper I only write half a page, but with OTLS I do two pages”. (Year 6 student)

“The thing I like is being able to share ideas with others – it helps to learn from other people”. (Year 3 student)

Major investments in infrastructure, policy, professional learning and resources in the past seven years has assured sustainability of the SOCS program with DET now providing one of Australia’s largest ICT organisations.

The network comprises 1210 network sites with more than 86,000 personal computers and more than 2000 servers.

“The transition to a standard, supported operating environment for computer networks is providing a firm foundation for the delivery of reliable online services to our schools,” Deb said.