The education connection between schools and the internet has long been a point of contention in Australian education policy, and students are still grappling with the issue in their third year of university.
In March, the Australian Education Union released a report claiming that schools were becoming increasingly reliant on the internet, with more than a quarter of the schools in the nation now relying on a digital infrastructure.
However, while the AAP found that the majority of students in Australia were now using the internet to learn, there was no evidence to support this notion.
“The data show that students are using the school network for a variety of reasons, including to get information, to study, to engage with students, and to check their work,” it said.
In some ways, the AAP’s report was more of a ‘conspiracy theory’ than a credible account of what was happening in schools, with a number of its claims being backed up by research from other sources.
In 2015, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) published a report that estimated that half of all tertiary education in the world is dependent on online learning, with almost 40 per cent of students at least one year behind in their studies.
While the AAP was careful to state that its findings did not contradict the research, it did raise questions about the quality of the research.
“[The study] does not prove or disprove the findings in the AAP report,” said Dr Rebecca O’Brien, an associate professor at the Australian National University and an expert in online learning at the Queensland University of Technology.
“What it does suggest is that some schools have made some significant changes to their online learning systems in recent years and that they have not yet been reflected in the statistics.”
However, Professor O’Brien said that it was important to remember that there were other factors at play in how students were accessing their education.
It was the same for the Australian Human Rights Commission, which last year published a damning report into the use of social media and mobile apps in the education sector.
The report said that while schools were taking a number from the internet and moving it into the classroom, the use was “inadequate” and “not aligned with the Australian education system”.
“Students are still learning on their own, and in many cases, they are struggling with what they have learned and what they want to do in their final year,” it concluded.
However while the Australian Federal Police are investigating claims of child abuse, some educators say they are concerned that students in particular may not be using the right platforms for their learning.
Dr O’Meara from the University of Queensland said students are learning online in an environment where there are “zero accountability mechanisms”.
It’s also important to keep in mind that a digital education is just as much a part of the Australian experience as an online education, so students should always take the time to make sure they’re using the correct platform for their needs, she said.
“If students are looking to learn on mobile devices or using apps that are not in sync with their own school curriculum, that’s not OK.”