Ours is a world where everything seems to revolve around technology, including social relationships. Many of our everyday actions involve the use of IT - withdrawing money from an ATM machine, driving your car (it uses an electronic display) and shopping in a supermarket (using the barcode for billing). It is impossible to mention all the ways that internet has and is effecting our lives - from communicating with loved ones using Skype to shopping for the silliest things on ebay. Technology has revolutionised our lives and those of us who are "digital immigrants" (Prensky, 2001) can compare the present with a past having no mobile phones, no electronic games, no iPads; the list is endless. Our students the "digital natives" (Prensky 2001) cannot.
Our schools need to reflect the real world, a technologically evolved world where computers and internet have influenced profoundly our way of life. Technology and internet provide easy access to information, at all times and from anywhere. "One defining feature of ICTs is their ability to transcend time and space. ICTs make possible asynchronous learning, or learning characterised by a time lag between the delivery of instruction and its inception by learners. With the Internet, a wealth of every subject and in a variety of media can be accessed from anywhere at anytime of the day by an unlimited number of people" (Tinio, 2003).
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Technology and internet have made communication between people much more effective and at a lower cost. Collaboration has become possible between teachers and learners and between the learners who are not physically in the same room. "ICT supported learning encourages interaction and cooperation among students, teachers, and experts regardless of where they are" (Tinio, 2003).
ICT impact on Teaching & Learning
"When used appropriately, ICTs enable new ways of teaching and learning rather than simply allow teachers and students to do what they have done before in a better way" (Tinio, 2003).
Newhouse (2002) lists the research findings on the positive impact of ICT on learning:
Investigating Reality and Building Knowledge
Active Learning and Authentic Assessment
Engage students by Motivation and Challenge
Provide Tools to Increase Student Productivity
Provide Scaffolding to Support Higher Level Thinking
Increasing Learner Independence
Collaborative and Cooperative Learning
Tailoring Learning to the Learner
Overcome Physical Disabilities.
Many of these research findings date back to the 1990's. You may view table of Newhouse's listing in the appendix section, labelled Appendix 1.
Although I agree that ICT can improve learning and can be beneficial to students in the ways listed above, I think that it is difficult to measure the impact of ICT on learning. As Freedman (2010) points out "What exactly is being measured? Are we measuring the ability of the teacher?" Are we measuring how much the teacher is effective in using ICT or are we measuring the effect of ICT? Are we inadvertently evaluating the home environment of the students?
From my personal experience as an ICT teacher, I think that the ICT impact on the teaching and learning depends on how much the teacher uses this tool effectively in class, and not when technology is used just for the sake of using computers and internet, either because of pressure from the Senior Management of the school or the Education Division. "The education effectiveness of ICTs depends on how they are used and for what purpose. And like any other educational tool or mode of educational delivery, ICTs do not work for everyone, everywhere in the same way" (Tinio, 2003).
This gets me to the question: How are teachers using ICT in class? Are they given enough professional development? Is this relevant to their classroom situation?
While I was reading Cox's report (1999) I couldn't help agreeing to the findings mentioned therein and kept asking myself; how is it that after more than 15 years that PC's were introduced in the primary classes here in Malta we have the same situation as described in this report?
Maybe it has got to do with the fact that PC's were "put" in classes and the teachers were expected to use them instantly - without any proper support and instruction. I can't agree more with Point 2.1 - teachers need to understand the need for change. It seems that in many instances when teachers resist this change, this happens because they don't know how to go about it as "teachers are not often taught how to revise their pedagogical practices" (Cox, 1999) or they are afraid of it "ICT is therefore seen as threatening their controlled learning environment" (Cox, 1999).
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Other difficulties arise when technical support is missing in schools. What can the teacher do if the internet connection fails during the lesson? Or if the sound is not coming out of the speakers during a presentation? Should she try to solve the problem and leave the students waiting?
Some teachers that I talk to in schools seem to have given up trying and have gone back to their old methods, switching on the PC's on rare occasions or for playing games during break time.
In my opinion, the best use of ICT is reflected in those schools where a whole school approach has been adopted and as Cox remarks there is "Support from the whole school" starting from the Senior Management Team.
ICT in the Maltese Curriculum
The Maltese National Minimum Curriculum published in 1999 already made reference to the benefits of ICT as a communication tool for learning. "Communications technology and information technology can help draw our students closer to other students located in different parts of the world. The idea of a global classroom is thus no longer merely a dream". (Maltese National Minimum Curriculum, 1999)
The rational of the ICT Primary Syllabus document states that "the role of ICT in the primary classroom is principally that of educational tool" which the teacher can use for more effective learning in her classroom. The teachers of Maltese primary school classes are expected to make use of ICT to teach other subjects i.e. mathematics, languages, social studies, religion and art. "It must therefore be emphasised that the use of ICT in the primary classroom must be integrated in any activity where it is considered effective, in the teaching and learning of any aspect of the National Minimum Curriculum".
Part of my work is giving support to classroom teachers to help them integrate ICT in the curriculum. Many teachers still find it difficult to change their way of teaching as they are conscious that integrating ICT requires a lot of time and work. They remark that they are already strained by changes in syllabi of many of the subject they teach. Effective technology integration "requires planning and effort, however, and understanding the process behind integration can improve the changes for success"(Colburn, 2002) and "requires an investment of teacher's time and energy" (Sandholtz, Ringstaff &Dwyer, 1997).