Another dot in the blogosphere?

Addressing issues 2

Posted on: September 3, 2008

In an entry on Aug 4, I highlighted some issues that my preservice teachers mentioned in one way or other in their blogs. The two that I would like to comment on are:

  • Does using technology actually improve learning outcomes?
  • If the assessment systems (currently mostly paper and pen-based) do not change, can using ICT in innovative ways make a difference?

I do not know if MOE has conducted a system-side study on learning outcomes as a result of technology use and integration. But countries like the USA have studied the impact of technology country-wide and we can learn from their experiences. Here are two ERIC documents, both from 1999:

The first study concluded that the use of educational technologies resulted in “positive gains in achievement on researcher constructed tests, standardized tests, and national tests.”  The second study highlighted that “educational technology has been shown to stimulate more interactive teaching, effective grouping of students, and cooperative learning.”

But each study came with warnings and caveats. The first suggested that technology “is less effective or ineffective when the learning objectives are unclear and the focus of technology is diffuse.” The other study mentioned that while technology was a catalyst for changing the learning environment, it required “teachers who are well-prepared to function in more open, flexible, student-centered environment.”

A Straits Times interview with a university don painted a more negative picture, albeit with what seemed to be anectodal data or a personal point of view. The headline read “Why tech has failed education“. Reading the article carefully, it should become obvious that it is not technology that failed education, but people who misunderstood, misused, or mismanged it who did. (The headline is not accurate, but it draws people in to read the article!)

In short, technology can contribute positively to learning outcomes like test scores and the quality of certain desired forms of interaction. However, the studies suggest that these can happen only when teachers put their pedagogical prejudices behind and integrate technology in focused ways. In addition, measures of success must not be based solely on test results.

That said, I’d add that the assessment system needs to change for technology integration to have an impact. Why? Largely because we teach to the test. Our educational system is still based largely on an industrial model: Mass, standardised instruction followed by traditional tests that serve as quality control. If technology allows people to socially construct knowledge, then assessment (more properly, evaluation) should measure the value and impact of such forms of learning. Offhand I can think of peer appraisal as one form of formative evaluation. I know of at least one educator and researcher found a way to marry traditional grading with social evaluation. For more information, read this AFP article.

I have no doubt that our national assessment system will change to stay relevant. Gradual changes have already started, and I think that NIE can take the lead. Assessment here in NIE could be more progressive and meaningful if preservice teachers maintained e-portfolios instead of taking tests and writing disparate papers or doing projects that do not relate to other courses. After all, NIE is in the business of preparing PRACTITIONERS, not educational theorists. Such teachers need to show evidence that they have met standards, not in the traditional, industrial way, but in a more humanistic and meaningful way!

2 Responses to "Addressing issues 2"

I have no doubt ICT improves learning and assessment.

Perhaps educators, students and parents might have questions on cost-effectiveness and time-efficiency.

I would be good that the GCE exam board take some initiatives to change, and the rest will fall in place.

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If we factor in cost effectiveness and time efficiency of technology mediated lessons and assessments, then consider these scenarios.

Computer-adaptive testing (where the test adapts to the ability of the learner) can be efficient, but is very costly in terms of time and effort to set up.

ICT enabled learning, particularly forms that engage students, typically take a long time and are not as efficient as chalk and talk. However, cost may not be an issue given the amount of money Singapore schools have for technology.

The type of “enrichment” or drill software that many schools get from vendors does not cost much and can be quite efficient (students complete something manageable every day or week), but these are based on models of subscription and thus on profit for vendors. Such scheme keep kids busy and engaged in the layperson’s sense, but they are not necessarily valuable in the long run.

Instead, the mindset of all stakeholders is what needs to change along with the ecology of learning. But as with all forms of systemic change, it is going to take time.

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