Role of ICT in constuction of knowledge
Education is one of the main keys to economic development and improvements in human welfare. As global economic competition grows sharper, education becomes an important source of competitive advantage, closely linked to economic growth, and a way for countries to attract jobs and investment. In addition, education appears to be one of the key determinants of lifetime earnings. Countries therefore frequently see raising educational attainment as a way of tackling poverty and deprivation. In developing countries, education is also linked to a whole batch of indicators of human development. Education of women influences the health of children and family size. The experience of Asian economies in particular in the past two decades has demonstrated the benefits that public investment in education can bring. In richer countries, education is seen as important not just in the early years, but also in later life. As the pace of technological change quickens and as the workforce in many rich countries grows older, education offers a way to improve and update the skills and capabilities of the workforce. There are, however, many constraints on delivering education to the right people at the right time. In developing countries, there is frequently a shortage of qualified school teachers. People may live in scattered communities in rural areas. Money for books and teaching materials may be scarce. In wealthier countries, money is also a problem: in particular, the cost of university education has risen sharply, and students are increasingly expected to meet all or part of the cost directly. But, at the level of higher education and training, the problem is often also one of time. Students who are already in full-time employment find it hard to take part in a university course offered at conventional times of day. Finally, employers, keen to train staff, are often acutely conscious of the costs of taking people away from their main job in order to attend training courses. They are therefore eager for more efficient and flexible ways to deliver information to employees. All these factors have encouraged an interest in the use of information and communications technologies (ICT) to deliver education and training. Computers began to appear in school and university classrooms in the more advanced countries around the early 1980s. Broadband connections to schools and universities became commonplace in wealthier countries in the second half of the 1990s. In developing countries, experience is more limited. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as it should allow those countries to learn from the investments of richer countries. Initially, educators saw the use of ICTs in the classroom mainly as a way to teach computer literacy. Most now see a broader role: that of delivering many kinds of learning at lower cost and with higher quality than traditional methods of teaching allow. In addition, schools and universities increasingly use ICTs, as do other large organizations, to reduce the costs and improve the efficiency of administration. By far the largest investments so far in ICTs have been in the United States. The United States’ budget for the use of technology in schools is enormous: since 1989, the US Department of Education has invested almost US$1 billion in the use of technology in public education.1 Not surprisingly, most of the work developing educational ICTs and their most widespread applications are in the United States. And, as a result, many of the evaluations of ICTs have been carried out in the United States. Some lessons from American experience will be universal. Others will be peculiar to that country’s education system, which at the higher level involves more private money and enterprise than does higher education in most other countries. In examining the development of ICTs in schools, universities and training, an important distinction should be made. In the case of schools, teachers primarily use ICTs in the school as an instructional device. “Distance” learning is rarely part of school teaching. In the case of higher education and training, students are more likely to use ICTs partly to learn at a distance from the instructor. Different teaching techniques are thus probably required in the two areas of education. Also important to remember is the fact that most investment in education is publicly financed. Indeed, some has been driven more by politics than education policy. Computers and broadband connections have a high level of visibility; that makes them an attractive way for politicians to claim to be upgrading education with public money. 2 Even when politicians are not involved, the most measurable spending on ICTs in education is generally the result of public policy rather than private choice. However, private investment in ICTs also occurs. Some is by companies, using ICTs for training programmes. In addition, many students acquire home computers partly for educational purposes; many, especially in richer countries, use their computers for study and homework. One important question is whether public investments in ICTs in education, made at the behest of administrators or politicians, have been less successful than private investments, made by students on their own account. Certainly, public-sector investors in ICTs in education need to be aware of the way corporate employers are approaching the use of ICTs in training, in case there are lessons to be learned. In making investments in ICTs in education, policy-makers have often had conflicting goals. Sometimes, the emphasis is on teaching computer skills and literacy; sometimes, on improving the quality of
Role of ICT in constuction of knowledge
education, giving students access to a wider range of resources than they could otherwise enjoy, or teaching in a more effective way. Often, a subtext is that ICTs are a way to save money. That may mean reaching more people without a comparable increase in costs—and thus improving the productivity of the education system—or widening access, to reach students such as the housebound at a lower cost than would otherwise be entailed. In addition, ICTs are sometimes seen as a way to widen the times at which education is available. Obviously, it is impossible to meet all these goals simultaneously with a single tool. If ICTs can be used effectively to improve the delivery of education, they offer worthwhile prizes: in particular, lower costs and wider access. But policy-makers increasingly want to see value for money and clear evidence that educational investments will deliver commensurate benefits. And some of the early enthusiasts for ICTs in education have become more cautious, or even downright sceptical. This paper examines the conditions that need to be met if ICTs are to improve the delivery of education sufficiently to justify the investment involved. Where those conditions are not met, educators may do better to stick to the age-old recipe of “chalk and talk”.
INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION TECHNOLOGY
Information and communications technology or information and communication technology, usually called ICT, is often used as a synonym for information technology (IT) but is usually a more general term that stresses the role of telecommunications (telephone lines and wireless signals) in modern information technology. ICT consists of all technical means used to handle information and aid communication, including both computer and network hardware as well as necessary software. In other words, ICT consists of IT as well as telephony, broadcast media, and all types of audio and video processing and transmission. The expression was first used in 1997 in a report by Dennis Stevenson to the UK government and promoted by the new National Curriculum documents for the UK in 2000.
ICT is often used in the context of "ICT roadmap" to indicate the path that an organization will take with their ICT needs.
The term ICT is now also used to refer to the merging (convergence) of telephone networks with computer networks through a single cabling or link system. There are large economic incentives (huge cost savings due to elimination of the telephone network) to merge the telephone network with the computer network system. See VOIP. This in turn has spurred the growth of organizations with the term ICT in their names to indicate their specialization in the process of merging the two network systems.
ICT permeates the business environment, it underpins the success of modern corporations, and it provides governments with an efficient infrastructure. At the same time, ICT adds value to the processes of learning, and in the organization and management of learning institutions. The Internet is a driving force for much development and innovation in both developed and developing countries. Countries must be able to benefit from technological developments. To be able to do so, a cadre of professionals has to be educated with sound ICT backgrounds, independent of specific computer platforms or software environments. Technological developments lead to changes in work and changes in the organization of work, and required competencies are therefore changing. Gaining in importance are the following competencies: • critical thinking, • generalist (broad) competencies, • ICT competencies enabling expert work, • decision-making, • handling of dynamic situations, • working as a member of a team, and • communicating effectively
The impact of ICT on what is learned
Conventional teaching has emphasised content. For many years course have been written around textbooks. Teachers have taught through lectures and presentations interspersed with tutorials and learning activities designed to consolidate and rehearse the content. Contemporary settings are now favouring curricula that promote competency and performance. Curricula are starting to emphasise capabilities and to be concerned more with how the information will be used than with what the information is.
a. competency and performance-based curricula The moves to competency and performance-based curricula are well supported and encouraged by emerging instructional technologies (eg. Stephenson, 2001). Such curricula tend to require: · access to a variety of information sources; · access to a variety of information forms and types; · student-centred learning settings based on information access and inquiry; · learning environments centred on problem-centred and inquiry-based activities; · authentic settings and examples; and · teachers as coaches and mentors rather than content experts. Contemporary ICTs are able to provide strong support for all these requirements and there are now many outstanding examples of world class settings for competency and performance-based curricula that make sound use of the affordances of these technologies (eg. Oliver, 2000). For many years, teachers wishing to adopt such curricula have been limited by their resources and tools but with the proliferation and widespread availability of contemporary ICTs, many restrictions and impediments of the past have been removed. And new technologies will continue to drive these forms of learning further. As students and teachers gain access to higher bandwidths, more direct forms of communication and access to sharable resources, the capability to support these quality learning settings will continue to grow. b. information literacy Another way in which emerging ICTs are impacting on the content of education curricula stems from the ways in which ICTs are dominating so much of contemporary life and work. Already there has emerged a need for educational institutions to ensure that graduates are able to display appropriate levels of information literacy, “the capacity to identify and issue and then to identify, locate and evaluate relevant information in order to engage with it or to solve a problem arising from it” (McCausland, Wache & Berk, 1999, p.2). The drive to promote such developments stems from general moves among institutions to ensure their graduates demonstrate not only skills and knowledge in their subject domains but also general attributes and generic skills. Traditionally generic skills have involved such capabilities as an ability to reason formally, to solve problems, to communicate effectively, to be able to negotiate outcomes, to manage time, project management, and collaboration and teamwork skills. The growing use of ICTs as tools of every day life have seen the pool of generic skills expanded in recent years to include information literacy and it is highly probable that future developments and technology applications will see this set of skills growing even more.
The impact of ICT on how students learn
Just as technology is influencing and supporting what is being learned in schools and universities, so too is it supporting changes to the way students are learning. Moves from content-centred curricula to competency-based curricula are associated with moves away from teacher-centred forms of delivery to student-centred forms. Through technology-facilitated approaches, contemporary learning settings now encourage students to take responsibility for their own learning .In the past students have become very comfortable to learning through transmissive modes. Students have been trained to let others present to them the information that forms the curriculum. The growing use of ICT as an instructional medium is changing and will likely continue to change many of the strategies employed by both teachers and students in the learning process. The following sections describe particular forms of learning that are gaining prominence in universities and schools worldwide.
a. Student-centred learning
Technology has the capacity to promote and encourage the transformation of education from a very teacher directed enterprise to one which supports more student-centred models. Evidence of this today is manifested in: · The proliferation of capability, competency and outcomes focused curricula · Moves towards problem-based learning · Increased use of the Web as an information source, Internet users are able to choose the experts from whom they will learn The use of ICT in educational settings, by itself acts as a catalyst for change in this domain. ICTs by their very nature are tools that encourage and support independent learning. Students using ICTs for learning purposes become immersed in the process of learning and as more and more students use computers as information sources and cognitive tools (eg. Reeves & Jonassen, 1996), the influence of the technology on supporting how students learn will continue to increase.
b. Supporting knowledge construction
The emergence of ICTs as learning technologies has coincided with a growing awareness and recognition of alternative theories for learning. The theories of learning that hold the greatest sway today are those based on constructivist principles (eg. Duffy & Cunningham, 1996). These principles posit that learning is achieved by the active construction of knowledge supported by various perspectives within meaningful contexts. In constructivist theories, social interactions are seen to play a critical role in the processes of learning and cognition (eg. Vygotsky, 1978). In the past, the conventional process of teaching has revolved around teachers planning and leading students through a series of instructional sequences to achieve a desired learning outcome. Typically these forms of teaching have revolved around the planned transmission of a body of knowledge followed by some forms of interaction with the content as a means to consolidate the knowledge acquisition. Contemporary learning theory is based on the notion that learning is an active process of constructing knowledge rather than acquiring knowledge and that instruction is the process by which this knowledge construction is supported rather than a process of knowledge transmission (Duffy & Cunningham, 1996). The strengths of constructivism lie in its emphasis on learning as a process of personal understanding and the development of meaning in ways which are active and interpretative. In this domain learning is viewed as the construction of meaning rather than as the memorisation of facts (eg. Lebow, 1993; Jonassen & Reeves, 1996). Learning approaches using contemporary ICTs provide many opportunities for constructivist learning through their provision and support for resource-based, student centered settings and by enabling learning to be related to context and to practice (eg. Berge, 1998; Barron, 1998). As mentioned previously, any use of ICT in learning settings can act to support various aspects of knowledge construction and as more and more students employ ICTs in their learning processes, the more pronounced the impact of this will become. The impact of ICT on when and where students learn
In the past educational institutions have provided little choice for students in terms of the method and manner in which programs have been delivered. Students have typically been forced to accept what has been delivered and institutions have tended to be quite staid and traditional in terms of the delivery of their programs. ICT applications provide many options and choices and many institutions are now creating competitive edges for themselves through the choices they are offering students. These choices extend from when students can choose to learn to where they they learn.
a. any place learning
The concept of flexibility in the delivery place of educational programs is not new (eg. Moore & Kearsley, 1996). Educational institutions have been offering programs at a distance for many years and there has been a vast amount of research and development associated with establishing effective practices and procedures in off-campus teaching and learning. Use of the technology, however, has extended the scope of this activity and whereas previously off-campus delivery was an option for students who were unable to attend campuses, today, many more students are able to make this choice through technology-facilitated learning settings. The scope and extent of this activity is demonstrated in some of the examples below. · In many instances traditional classroom learning has given way to learning in work-based settings with students able to access courses and programs from their workplace. The advantages of education and training at the point of need relate not only to convenience but include cost savings associated with travel and time away from work, and also situation and application of the learning activities within relevant and meaningful contexts. · The communications capabilities of modern technologies provide opportunities for many learners to enroll in courses offered by external institutions rather than those situated locally. These opportunities provide such advantages as extended course offerings and eclectic class cohorts comprised of students of differing backgrounds, cultures and perspectives. · The freedoms of choice provided by programs that can be accessed at any place are also supporting the delivery of programs with units and courses from a variety of institutions, There are now countless ways for students completing undergraduate degrees for example, to study units for a single degree, through a number of different institutions, an activity that provides considerable diversity and choice for students in the programs they complete.
b. anytime learning
In concert with geographical flexibility, technology-facilitated educational programs also remove many of the temporal constraints that face learners with special needs (eg. Moore & Kearsley, 1996). Students are starting to appreciate the capability to undertake education anywhere, anytime and any place. This flexibility has heightened the availability of just-in-time learning and provided learning opportunities for many more learners who previously were constrained by other commitments (eg. Young, 2002). · Through online technologies learning has become an activity that is no longer set within programmed schedules and slots. Learners are free to participate in learning activities when time permits and these freedoms have greatly increased the opportunities for many students to participate in formal programs. · The wide variety of technologies that support learning are able to provide asynchronous supports for learning so that the need for real-time participation can be avoided while the advantages of communication and collaboration with other learners is retained. · As well as learning at anytime, teachers are also finding the capabilities of teaching at any time to be opportunistic and able to be used to advantage. Mobile technologies and seamless communications technologies support 24x7 teaching and learning. Choosing how much time will be used within the 24x7 envelope and what periods of time are challenges that will face the educators of the future (eg. Young, 2002). The continued and increased use of ICTs in education in years to come, will serve to increase the temporal and geographical opportunities that are currently experienced. Advancements in learning opportunities tend to be held back by the ICT capabilities of the lowest common denominator, namely the students with the least access to ICT. As ICT access increases among stuednts so too will these opportunities.
A number of other issues have emerged from the uptake of technology whose impacts have yet to be fully explored. These include changes to the makeup of the teacher pool, changes to the profile of who are the learners in our courses and paramount in all of this, changes in the costing and economics of course delivery. a. expanding the pool of teachers In the past, the role of teacher in an educational institution was a role given to only highly qualified people. With technology-facilitated learning, there are now opportunities to extend the teaching pool beyond this specialist set to include many more people. The changing role of the teacher has seen increased opportunities for others to participate in the process including workplace trainers, mentors, specialists from the workplace and others. Through the affordances and capabilities of technology, today we have a much expanded pool of teachers with varying roles able to provide support for learners in a variety of flexible settings. This trend seems set to continue and to grow with new ICT developments and applications. And within this changed pool of teachers will come changed responsibilities and skill sets for future teaching involving high levels of ICT and the need for more facilitative than didactic teaching roles (eg. Littlejohn et al., 2002). b. expanding the pool of students In the past, education has been a privilege and an opportunity that often was unavailable to many students whose situation did not fit the mainstream. Through the flexibilities provided by technology, many students who previously were unable to participate in educational activities are now finding opportunities to do so. The pool of students is changing and will continue to change as more and more people who have a need for education and training are able to take advantage of the increased opportunities. Interesting opportunities are now being observed among, for example, school students studying university courses to overcome limitations in their school programs and workers undertaking courses from their desktops. c. the cost of education Traditional thinking has always been that technology-facilitated learning would provide economies and efficiencies that would see significant reductions in the costs associated with the delivery of educational programs. The costs would come from the ability to create courses with fixed establishment costs, for example technology-based courses, and for which there would be savings in delivery through large scale uptake. We have already seen a number of virtual universities built around technology delivery alone (eg. Jones International University, www.jiu.edu). The reality is that few institutions have been able to realize these aims for economy. There appear to have been many underestimated costs in such areas as course development and course delivery. The costs associated with the development of high quality technology-facilitated learning materials are quite high. It has found to be more than a matter of repackaging existing materials and large scale reengineering has been found to be necessary with large scale costs. Likewise costs associated with delivery have not been found to diminish as expected. The main reason for this has been the need to maintain a relatively stable student to staff ratio and the expectation of students that they will have access to teachers in their courses and programs. Compared to traditional forms of off-campus learning, technology-facilitated learning has proven to be quite expensive in all areas of consideration, infrastructure, course development and course delivery. We may have to brace ourselves for the advantages and affordances which will improve the quality of education in the near future to also increase components of the cost. Stakeholders and influences The ideas that have been discussed in this paper suggest that while ICTs may not have had a large impact to date, their use will grow to play a significant role in many aspects of the design, development and delivery of educational programs in the coming years. The various influences that have been discussed provide examples of an agent that has the capacity to influence education at all levels and hence to be an agent supporting and encouraging considerable change. When the future of education is considered in this way, it is interesting to speculate among the stakeholders, for whom the change will be the greatest. Table 1 lists the principal stakeholders and suggests how the various issues discussed in the paper might influence each. Clearly the stakeholders for whom technology would seem to proffer the most influence and change are the students. So while institutions are pondering how they will be influenced in years to come, whatever the outcomes, the beneficiaries of the activity and change will be the students. This would seem to be the outcome everyone would want to see.