When I was a ten year old, my family would go to the grocery store each week and buy a copy of Funk and Wagnall’s encyclopedia, hoping to someday have the whole set. That way when I had an assignment for school, I could look up “everything” I needed to know on the subject. For most of that year, when I went to look up a new word, I would find that I didn’t have the needed volume and I would have to wait until class or go to the public library to look it up. It was very frustrating!
Google has made encyclopedias all but obsolete and most children no longer have to wait more than ten seconds to look up something. One comprehensive encyclopedia, Wikipedia, still remains today, but every child has the opportunity to add content to it, not just take from it. This ubiquitous access to information, through ICT, with the ability to contribute collaboratively for the benefit of all, rather than just be an observer, reveals a much different landscape for learning.
While this new landscape provides students, parents and teachers with unprecedented opportunities in education, it also creates an almost equal number of challenges: Are today’s schools still relevant? Should the focus in education be on reading, writing and arithmetic (the 3 R’s) or should it be on the needed skills of the 21st century: Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity (the 4C’s) (NEA, 2014)? If creativity, is one of our needed skills, then why are we emphasizing standardization in curriculum and testing? How do we address inequality in access to and familiarity with ICT? This paper will consider how changing the pedagogical/andragogical relationship between learner, teacher and content through the use of ICT may address these challenges.
Calls for significant changes in education have been growing ever since the introduction of ICT. In fact, ICT provides a forum for this very discussion through social media. One of the most popular TED talks of all time was Sir Ken Robinson’s talk on “How schools kill creativity”. Sir Ken has pointed out that the predominant education model is a leftover from the industrial society, and that kids are batched through schools like an assembly line (Robinson, 2014). Schools are standardized, with the day broken into set periods, for specific subjects, with a bell ringing to signify it’s time to stop what we are doing and change to the next subject (Diamandis, 2012). Sir Ken makes the point that “Our education systems rarely give people permission to be themselves. But if you can’t be yourself, it’s hard to know yourself, and if you don’t know yourself, how can you ever tap into your true potential.” (Diamandis, 2012, p.182).
Schools provide an important role in creating the social framework needed to foster learning (Brown, 2002). As humans are social beings, learning cannot be optimized in isolation. Social presence is required for people to project themselves socially and emotionally into their learning (Garrison, 2011). Schools can assist students by enhancing their natural curiosity and promoting tolerance to allow students to learn from each other (Freire, 1997). The advantages of social presence in learning are highlighted in Mitra’s work with children in India (Diamandis, 2012). When children were given access to a computer they had never seen before, their learning improved significantly. Their increase in understanding was a result of being able to work collaboratively in a small group, and also due to the presence of an older student, who similarly had no knowledge of computers or the subject matter being studied, but whose role was solely to provide encouragement (Diamandis, 2012).
This concept of social presence is essential when utilizing ICT in the learning environment (Garrison, 2011). Two of the 4Cs, communication and collaboration, can be extended by ICT through connecting students with each other. Whether students are in remote communities in the Arctic, or in rural villages in India, ICT offers the ability to connect students with each other, with teachers, and with information. However, in order for this to occur students have to have access to appropriate hardware and software, as well as internet connectivity. Some basic instruction on how to use these may also be required. Overcoming both this digital divide (Garrison, 2011) and digital inequality (Hsieh, 2012) is critical to maximizing the opportunities available to students from ICT and helping them reach their full potential.
Inequalities in access are well documented (Wood, 2011), (Hsieh, 2012), (Alphonso, 2014). To narrow these gaps a number of initiatives have been pursued, from international efforts like Negraponte’s One Laptop Per Child (One Lap Top Per Child, n.d.) and Mitra’s Self Organized Learning Environment (SOLE) (Diamandis, 2012), to local efforts including device sharing, and sharing the resources of one school with another (Alphonso, C. & Hammer, K., 2014). Many software resources for educational use, and multimedia in general, are widely available for free from sources like the OER Commons (OER, 2014) and The Conversation Prism (Solis, 2013).
Addressing this technical inequality is one factor in reducing inequality in society in general. Improving access to ICT may have additional benefits, as Hsieh points out that more experienced ICT users are likely to engage in beneficial activities beyond the classroom, such as seeking health related information (Hsieh, 2012). However, simply providing students with access to ICT tools is no guarentee that they will be used.
In the early 1990’s, when computers were gaining widespread adoption in the workplace, a computer was installed in a regional government office in the state of Gujurat, India. However the computer was never used, because it was placed on the supervsor’s desk. Due to the prevailing culture, the workers would not go near the supervisor’s desk, and because the supervisor did not want to be seen as a clerk-typist the dust cover was never removed (S. Madon, personal communication, November, 1992). This example highlights the need to consider both personal and cultural norms as a possible source of resistance to change when introducing new ICTs. As Rogers identified, “an important factor regarding the adoption rate of an innovation is its compatibility with the values, beliefs, and past experiences of individuals in the social system.” (Rogers, 2003, p.4).
Rogers’ Theory of Diffusion of Innovations (Rogers, 2003) describes the process by which any innovation is adopted by an individual or a community. Once an innovation is introduced, people form an attitude toward it, decide whether to adopt it or not, implement it (if adopted), and finally confirm the decision on its use (Rogers, 2003, p.20). Of course each phase is affected by a number of factors, for example an individual’s opinion of an innovation may be based on its perceived benefit to a current problem, but it will also likely be affected by the opinions of the individual’s peers.
Question: More to come, but am I on the right track or have I gone off the rails? Any feedback would be extremely helpful.
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