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Posts Tagged ‘issues

Did you read last week’s Channel News Asia report on how Singapore schools plan to devote 20% of curriculum to use ICT to support learning?

I did and so did Swee Kin, a former colleague of mine, who now lives and works in Dunedin, New Zealand. He twittered his reaction:

30% in 1997, 20% in 2010 – Schools plan to devote 20% of curriculum to use ICT to support learning: http://bit.ly/ambUWf

His tongue-in-cheek remark was in reference to how we as teachers back then had to reduce syllabi by 30% in order to accommodate relevant forms of technology. In a follow up reply to me, he wondered if this accommodation might drop to 10% in 2017. Hah, who knows? It might!

What I’d like to see drop to 0% was the example that CNA chose to use as technology: “interactive” white boards [see screenshot, click to see larger version].

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. IWBs are expensive and they do not change pedagogy for the better. Even though they could serve as bridges to other more powerful and meaningful technologies, they leave teachers largely in their comfort zone. So they stay put. Embellishing tired, old pedagogies with IWBs does not make them new or effective.

Yes, some teachers might call students to walk to the front and manipulate something on the board, but how is that different from what was done with a chalkboard or whiteboard? How is it more interactive, engaging or meaningful? Why don’t learners have access to resources all the time with ICTs like Internet-connected netbooks or iPod Touches instead?

IWBs are a form of IT (information technology), not necessarily ICT (information and communication technology). Just because a teacher is using it at the front of the classroom does not mean the students are getting the message. That “C” is all important because it enables us to chat, critique and collaborate with learners, teachers and experts inside and outside the classroom. When married with progressive pedagogies, ICT can develop creative and critical discourse.

I also take issue with the role of ICT to “support” learning. ICT should also be used to also enable learning instead of being relegated to merely enhancing it. We use ICT at work everyday to enable work, so why not in school?

I feel for Chris Dawson when he describes how he has to stretch every dollar for his school, particularly in these bad times. He laments: “just how do we get on the list for retooling to meet 21st Century needs?”

In contrast, schools in Singapore have lots of money to provide infrastructure and training. I wrote about this previously and I agree wholeheartedly that cheap netbooks, wireless networks, and 1:1 computing are the way to go.


Our schools have computer labs… which remain under or improperly utilised! Computers need to be a norm in classrooms. One way is for schools to invest in mobile labs like the one offered by Apple.

Why? If going to a computer lab remains a novelty, then technology is not mainstream and integrated sufficiently. If, on the other hand, the technology can be so commonly called upon to enable or support learning, it becomes natural and transparent. I think that Dawson articulated similar thoughts (but better than I have) in another blog entry.

So it looks like we have different factors leading to the same problem. Chris might have an infrastructure problem; Singapore schools have a mindset issue. Both prevent us from promoting learning for the 21st century.

I have not forgotten that there were two more issues that my preservice teachers raised at the beginning of the course. (Here is the list of the original six). I have waited till now to address them because of the nature of the questions.

The last two issues were:

  • If students, particularly the poorer ones, do not have access to ICT, how can we be expected to implement technology-based lessons?
  • Can the things I learn in this course be realistically applied in real school environments?

I partially addressed the first question in an earlier blog entry about how schools could purchase low cost netbooks or UMPCs for every student.Teachers, heads of departments, and principals can also write in to MOE and compete for extra funding. If they are resourceful enough, they can collaborate with industrial partners to get sponsored or very low cost resources. For example, iCellWireless and i-Know have kindly sponsored 5 laptops and 5 netbooks (so far) at the MxL.

The other half of my answer is that schools already have a basic infrastructure that teachers can either ignore or take advantage of. There are technologies available in labs and libraries, and some schools lend laptop computers or PDAs to students over a period of time. One does not always need every student to have a computer for teaching and learning to be effective or engaging.

Take the MxL for instance. It has only one PC in each of the five stations. But these were put to good use for collaborative work within and between groups. While this cannot replace 1:1 computing in terms of access, 1:1 computing can bring its own set of problems, e.g., classroom management, the need to recharge batteries, wireless access and security, etc.

Finally, are the concepts and practices from QED522 (Engaged Learning with ICT) relevant to current classrooms? I believe so, but only teachers who are energetic, creative, and strong-willed can say yes to this question. This is one reason why I asked my trainees to reflect on what principles they might bring with them to schools. The technologies will continue to evolve rapidly, but I think they can take away several techology-mediated pedagogies and practices that will serve them well over their entire careers.

But they must also keep on learning because a lot more learning happens in real contexts. So I hope they keep their heads in the clouds, but also have their feet firmly planted on the ground. I just hope that the ground doesn’t get too sticky or muddy that they opt not to move at all!

I thought I’d start addressing some of the recurrent issues I identified earlier. (Mind you, I do not intend to provide clear answers because there are no absolute truths to those issues.)

The first two issues or concerns were:

  • How do I use ICT to motivate my students?
  • How might ICT promote creative and/or critical thinking?

I have two responses to the first question: You don’t need to, because ICT, if brought in as a novelty, is already motivating. My other response is that ICT should not be used merely as a motivating factor.

I have identified at least four levels of ICT use/integration in education: Use that is 1) motivating, 2) enhancing, 3) enabling, and 4) transforming. Using ICT to motivate is the lowest level and such use gets old quickly. If ICT could be used to enhance learning or to enable creative and critical thinking, its use is more powerful and thus worthwhile.

Which leads to the next question. How might ICT promote creative and/or critical thinking?

I hope that it is obvious that ICT alone cannot promote these forms of thinking. What needs to be in place is a whole learning ecology that promotes thinking. An ecology where ICT is a critical part of this ecology along with powerful instructional strategies, meaningful assessment systems, well-prepared learners, and inspired, reflective teachers.

In my opinion, the most critical component is the teacher. The teacher can define what formal or informal learning takes place inside and outside the classroom. If a teacher is a critical and creative thinker, then s/he will likely model behaviours for learners to emulate. With or without technology, it is the pedagogies that the teacher employs that can make all the difference.

It is not WHAT you teach (or WHAT you teach WITH), it is HOW you teach.

I love reading my teacher trainees’ blogs because it allows me to see what their concerns are as they relate to the ICT course. They raise several excellent issues and questions that, unfortunately, the course is not designed to address directly.

So here are some of areas that I have identified from this and previous semesters.

  1. How do I use ICT to motivate my students?
  2. How might ICT promote creative and/or critical thinking?
  3. Does using technology actually improve learning outcomes?
  4. If the assessment systems (currently mostly paper and pen-based) do not change, can using ICT in innovative ways make a difference?
  5. If students, particularly the poorer ones, do not have access to ICT, how can we be expected to implement technology-based lessons?
  6. Can the things I learn in this course be realistically applied in real school environments?

These are recurrent and real issues. I am sure that I have inadvertently left out a few more. Care to comment and remind me?

I will attempt to share some of my thoughts on these issues over the next few weeks.


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