The collaboration involves Bright Red Publishing, Escrivo and Edinburgh Napier University and transforms the way that pupils learn in Scotland. The Web site fully integrates the new range of N5 (Curriculum of Excellence) books into an interactive Web site, and creates a common platform for all the books, from Maths and Physics to English and History.
As Scotland’s education system is being completely updated with new content, the integration around N5 Maths showcases how pupils can undertake their tutorial questions, and once they have completed it, with an answer, they can go on-line, and check the answer. If it is different to what they have, the Web site will then show the complete working-out. This type of approach allows for enhanced learning outside the classroom.
A key challenge face is to make sure that pupils and teachers used the printed material to guide their students, and then the Web-based material re-enforced, and supported independent learning. Prof Bill Buchanan outlines that “We want to re-enforce learning and provide support through Web material, and in no way replace anything around the classroom environment. Good teachers and books remain the foundation for learning for pupils, and this integration allows us to support and enhance, while not replacing traditional teaching, which has been proven to work for centuries. Scottish education has always been seen as one of the best in the World, and this work allows us to take some of the research that we have in different learning styles of students to create content which re-enforced teacher-led teaching. Through several studies we have found that good teachers are the core of learning at School, and the on-line material re-enforces this with material which takes their experience and re-enforces it in an on-line environment.”
With the Digital Zone Web site, pupils can navigate through pages on every topic, and take tests which are ever changing with their questions, along with integrating games and interactive material.
To fully support the collaboration, Escrivo have worked on integrating the material into an innovative Web site, where the pages change depending on different device types, which will support pupils learning from a range of devices, from accessing of simple mobile phones to take an on-line test before an exam to teachers showing on-line videos on large screens. Along with this they have integrated the material into a robust Cloud environment, and use enhanced methods to quickly deliver content to Schools.
Overall the challenge was to support the books in their printed form, and providing ways to support pupils and teachers in providing new ways for re-enforcing material. Mathematics is always a problem area for many pupils, especially when they are face with new type of problems, and do not have a teacher to support them. The novel work within N5 Maths has involved coding every single Maths equation, and creating calculators for them, where pupils can enter details, such as for a quadratic equation (ax2+bx+c), and the calculator will expand for brackets (factorizing), or calculate through the formula, or even completing a square. All of this works for every type of formula that a pupil might use. Along with this, the Web material provide ever changing tests, which have an almost infinite bank of questions (by automatically calculating new test answers which are constrained with the limits of the question to be asked). A key novel feature is the linkages for exercises to the solution, where the fully worked out solution to exercises is shown with the correct Maths mark-up.
Within Physics too, the Web site has an equation for every equation that student might use, and all the different iterations, so if a question asks for the calculation of m, given e=mc2, and values of c and e, the Web page calculator will show the complete working out, showing the derivation of the formula, and the calculations used. In way the Web content is re-enforcing the printed material, and supports pupils when the teachers are not there to help. Along with the Professor involved in the collaboration teaches in a university environment and has thus been able to add to the new N5 Computing Science material, such as creating calculators for binary conversions, for the representation of real numbers in a binary form.
Impact on Scottish Society
In terms of contribution to society in Scotland, it is hoped that the Digital Zone will considerably improve standards, especially in areas such as Maths, Computing Science and Physics, especially as N5 provides a core focal point for much of the education infrastructure in Scotland. The Web site is rich in its delivery of material, while still providing the foundation provided by the book, and it thus allows pupils to read from a topic, and go on-line, and quickly find the related videos, tests, challenges, fun material, and so on, and to thus use the book and the Web material together, and in partnerships. In Scotland, we want pupils to read books, and for teachers to teach from them, and then use Web material to enhance, and not replace anything in well proven methods of teaching.
There were many technical challenges faced on the project, and a key focus for the University team was to make it easy to update content, and that for that to appear on the main Web site. For this they have developed a unique tagging system where content and tests can be easily tagged, and then this is used to dynamically generate the pages. Overall there is no manual intervention in the porting of the content to the Web site.
Along with this the team were team to apply their MVC (Model, View and Controller) skills to an educational project. Within MVC there is clear separation between the View (the interface design and delivery), the Controller (the middleware) and the Model (the data infrastructure). Working with the Bright Red Publishing designer, and Escrivo, the team have managed to completely distil out all the design/user interface elements into a single style sheet, where any updates to the look and feel of the site can be done from a central place, and reflected across the whole site.
This approach is important as each book has it's own branding and colour set, and this has been reflected in the Web site. It is also important to use a single style change file, as there are more than 12 books, each of which can have over 5o topics, thus an update in a single place will reflect either individual book content or the whole site. As the next phase involved the new Higher equivalents, the need to manage scale, with a common platform, will be key to the success of future deliveries.
The collaboration has been supported with matched funding from the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) through a follow-on Innovation Voucher.