Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and Education: Opportunity or Necessity?
When I was ten years 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 encyclopaedias all but obsolete and most children no longer have to wait more than ten seconds to find information on any topic. 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 Information and Communication Technology (ICT), with the ability to contribute collaboratively for the benefit of all, rather than just being an observer, reveals a much different learning landscape.
While this new setting provides students, parents and teachers with unprecedented opportunities in education, it also creates a 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? And if we are to use ICT, how do we address resistance to the adoption of it? This paper will consider how changing the pedagogical/andragogical relationship between learner, teacher and content through the use of ICT may address these challenges.
Is School Relevant?
Calls for significant changes in education have been growing ever since the introduction of ICT. In fact, ICT social media tools provide a forum for this very discussion. One of the most popular TED talks of all time was Sir Ken Robinson’s talk on “How schools kill creativity”. Robinson 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). The traditional model of public education was established to provide mass education in order to give young people sufficient knowledge to be productive factory workers (Toffler, 1980). In addition to teaching reading, writing and arithmetic, the education system emphasized punctuality, obedience and rote, repetitive work (Toffler, 1980). These skills were appropriate for piece work in factories, but today’s information based, global economy requires creative thinkers who work best together.
Schools still 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 & Kotler, 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 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 & Kotler, 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. 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 the specific ICT tools 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.
Using ICT to Address Inequality in Education
Inequalities in access are well documented (Wood & Howley, 2011), (Hsieh, 2012), (Alphonso & Hammer, 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 & Kotler, 2012), to local efforts including device sharing, and sharing the resources of one school with another (Alphonso & Hammer, 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 also have additional benefits. As Hsieh points out, 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 guarantee that they will be used.
Resistance to ICT Adoption
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 supervisor’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 unsuccessful attempt to introduce ICT 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).
As evidenced by the above mentioned example, the introduction and subsequent adoption of a new ICT is no simple task. Most people resist change. People primarily resist change either because they don’t see the value in it, or they are not sure they will be successful in implementing the change (Williamson & Blackburn, 2010). As Maslow identified, following satisfaction of our physiological and safety needs, people seek a sense of belonging and self-esteem (Maslow, 1943). Therefore, adoption of something new is not guaranteed, even if we see benefit in it, if there is uncertainty as to whether it will improve either our sense of belonging or our self-esteem.
Due to the importance of managing change, a number of theories have been proposed to describe how individuals and groups react to the introduction of innovations. Adoption theories, including the Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) and the United Theory of Acceptance and Use of Technology (UTAUT), have been developed to explain what influences an individual’s decision to accept or reject an innovation (Straub, 2009). Roger’s Theory of Diffusion of Innovations attempts to explain how innovations spread through a population (Rogers, 2003).
The TAM considers how perception of the usefulness of an innovation, and its perceived ease of use, influence a person’s decision to adopt a new technology (Teo, 2009). The decision to adopt or reject an innovation is not simply based on the properties of the innovation itself, but also on the view the potential adopter holds on their own self-efficacy with the innovation (Teo, 2009). For example, if someone is not confident in their general computer skills, she is not likely to adopt an application that would assist her with a problem she are trying to solve.
The UTAUT expands on the TAM, identifying additional determinants to the successful adoption of an innovation. In addition to the TAM’s perceived ease of use and usefulness of the innovation, the UTAUT considers the impact of social influence and facilitating conditions. Social influence refers to the degree of social pressure a person feels to adopt, or reject, a particular innovation. While, facilitating conditons consider the level of support an organization provides to making the change. The UTAUT also identifies additional moderators, including gender, age, experience, and voluntariness of use, that can strengthen or weaken the impact of a determinant on a person’s decision to adopt an innovation (Straub, 2009). Awareness of these determinants and moderators may assist the change agent in the successful introduction of ICTs into the classroom setting.
Rogers’ Diffusion theory describes the process by which any innovation is adopted. Once an innovation is introduced, people form an attitude towards 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 shaped by the opinions of the individual’s peers.
The decision to adopt ICTs in the classroom is most often determined by the teacher, although administrators serve a role in making resources generally available and creating guidelines, eg. rules on social media use at school. In order for ICT to be properly implemented in education, teachers will have to develop new skill sets; blending technological, pedagogical and content knowledge (TPCK) (Banister & Reinhart, 2011). Developing these skill sets, especially in older teachers, will require signficant professional development. Reverse mentoring, where junior teachers assist older veterans may assist in increasing awareness of the utility of ICT tools (Koulopulos & Keldsen, 2014). It is not sufficient to merely use PowerPoint, YouTube or a podcasts to spice up a lecture (Clark, 2010); a new pedagogy, which uses ICT tools to meet specific learning needs is necessary to engage students and develop 21st century skill sets.
The idea of testing to establish a standard is not a new one. As early as 200 BC, tests were administered for entrance to the civil service in China to prevent patronage. Testing was used in England, France and Italy in the 15th century to establish standards of performance (Madaus & Russell, 2010). Today standardized tests are used for a variety of purposes: as selection critieria for university admission (SAT college admission exams); to indirectly influence instruction by the granting or withholding of awards to teachers based on results; as a way of monitoring student performance; and as a vehicle for driving change in curriculum (Madaus & Russell, 2010). With the importance we have assigned to standardized testing, we must ask the question: Are we justified in using the results of these exams for decision making?
It is not possible to see inside a student’s mind to verify what they know and understand. Instead we can only make inferences based on their response to a very small sample set of questions. However, if we sample only the core part of the curriculum, and the teachers have emphasized this part in class, there will likely be little differentiation in student response. Therefore, each test item is selected, such that it is only answered correctly by roughly half the students (Popham, 1999). Tests also include items that are not taught in school, but test the student’s native intellectual ability and out of school learning. This ensures differentiation in the test results, but also makes the results less reliable.
Today students live in a world of multimedia, that provides both auditory and visual stimulation. Yet, the current crop of standardized test instruments generally use pen and paper, with questions presented in black and white, often without sufficient context. Additionally, standardized test results don’t yield any information about barriers to student learning and performance such as student health, nutrition and living conditions, class size, etc. (Madaus & Russell, 2010).
ICT tools can be leveraged to not only assist students to perform to their potential, but can also reveal additional information that teachers and parents can use to assist students in the post-test period. ICT allows customization of the test for each student. Tools including audio text or text-to-speech, magnification, sign language and auditory calming are examples of ICT that can improve accessibility (see http://nimbletools.com for more examples). This allows students the opportunity to demonstrate what they actually know and can do (Madaus & Russell, 2010).
ICT has additional advantages in the field of assesment. Simulator based assessment systems allow candidates to feel that they are not always being watched, which can lessen anxiety (Andrews & Wulfeck, 2014). The immersive interfaces available in virtual worlds, such as Second Life and World of Warcraft, can present complex situations allowing virtual experimentation, alone or in teams, that adapt to the student’s responses, generating data that is captured for analysis. One tool, the Diagnostic Algebra Assessment System, can measure students understanding of a concept and identify misconceptions. The system then provides immediate feedback and can provide links to lessons and activities to assist the student to correct a misconception (Madaus & Russell, 2010). With all these available tools, it doesn’t make sense to set a sterile test, taken either on paper or on a screen, which doesn’t allow the student to fully demonstrate their understanding and offers no feedback for improvement.
My granddaughter watches YouTube, listens to podcasts and constantly interacts with her friends online. This media rich environment provides her with tremendous access to information and constant stimulation. She and her friends use Minecraft to build a virtual world full of potential, only restricted by their imagination. Why should her academic life be any different? Learning should be fun, even addictive. ICT is transforming the way we live, it must also transform the way we learn.
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