This paper reviews research and comments on aspects of the integration of ICT into education. The need for teachers to be skilled in ICT and the benefits this brings to teaching and learning is discussed. Blended methods are described whereby online learning is combined with traditional face-to-face teaching and learning. The benefits are of these methods are discussed.
Teachers and ICT Proficiency
Information and communication technologies (ICTs) have become a formidable force in the evolution of cultural practices in education centers and the society at large. The young in particular have embraced technology and do not exhibit any reluctance or fear that may occasionally be seen in older people. In developed economies, ICT has become an essential tool for learning and development and has provided unprecedented learning opportunities.
However, modern technology in developing economies has created additional challenges especially in transmission of quality education in schools (Steve, 2004). Educators and the school management have the central authority of tapping learning opportunities that are ICT enhanced in order to reform education. Teachers have been using the computer to prepare lesson plans, calculate and record the grades of students, prepare teaching materials, and communicate with their colleagues. Therefore, computers have become an essential facility that assists teachers to perform their duties (Fallows & Bhanot, 2005). However, many teachers especially in developing countries do not guide students in using computers for learning purposes (Abbott, 2000).
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Use of information and communication technologies (ICT) is not an automatic process of increasing the quality of learning and teaching. However, studies have shown that good use of technology in classrooms equips the student with skills that enables them to be effective citizens in the society (Lani & John, 2004). Studies have revealed that use of ICT in teaching and learning brings a huge contribution in developing a child-centered approach to pedagogy (Abbott, 2000).
Tutors who are proficient in pedagogical skills and are willing to transfer the information and assist their students in gaining knowledge make a huge difference in the process of learning. As ICT is continually being integrated into the education system, the functions of the teacher cannot be underestimated just like in the traditional systems. When teachers lack concrete ICT knowledge, a situation which is prevalent in most developing countries, the entrenchment of ICT into pedagogical practices will be highly compromised (Rupert & Dawes, 2004).
Teachers need to practice on techniques of using the ICT pedagogically. When it's used appropriately, ICT contributes to the development of essential cognitive skills, widens learning and enhances the acquisition of lifelong skills required in the modern job market (Way, 2003). In most nations, technology is imported and forced on teachers without giving them the opportunity to learn and internalize them. However, innovation can only be effective if the concerned parties-teacher and students, are parties in the process of conceptualization and planning (Richard, 2004). In addition to advancing the process of acquiring generic skills and applied knowledge, apart from transferring mere content and skills, effective integration of ICT in teachers is essential if they are to become designers and not mere transmitters of information (Dore, 2002).
Studies by Bransford, Brown, and Cocking (1994) revealed that ICT develops critical thinking, the capacity to conceptualize, the skills of handling information, and the capacity to handle problems. When ICT is integrated into the learning system, it adds value to education and develops a more effective pedagogy through provision of knowledge for students and development of communication that supports learning (Lim & Tay, 2003). The use of ICT in the learning process acts as a system that promotes gathering of information, manipulation, access, management, and communication in different forms. Loveless & Ellis (2001) describe the use of "e-portfolios" whereby instead of the traditional skill and a hierarchical format of acquiring information, learning is through an "activity-reflection circle" that leads to an efficient and applied integration between theory and practice.
During teaching and learning process, integration of ICT is only possible when the resources of the internet and related technologies appear to be well connected with formal learning, as well as access of information, application of knowledge and communication. A well planned process is essential in integrating ICT in the school curriculum, library, the school management and all educational facilities (Moore, 2003). Technology assists teachers in the conveying of information and enables students to acquire new concepts more effectively. Therefore, the changing role of teachers in the twenty first century is made up of an important mission that involves application of technological innovations in the process of teaching and learning (Cook & Finlayon, 1999). This implies that relevant skills and the ability of teachers to convey information using modern technology is essential.
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In this context, institution that train teachers has a fundamental role of preparing them to gain knowledge of integrating ICT into the school curriculum. The institution should in a position to equip teachers with technological abilities that enable them to teach in a meaningful way (Steve & Tanner, 2003). For a more effective and educational strategy of applying student-centered ICT, teachers should design modern strategies and techniques of teaching and learning which enhances the applied integration of ICT. Moreover, teachers should avoid separating technology from the planning process of the curriculum and develop an ICT-supported and effective learning activity (Leask & Pachler, 2009). Practical and activity-based learning that utilizes ICT creates the opportunity for an efficient curriculum learning that uplifts the dialogical approach to the general educational structure. This approach to educational design is more effective than the linear, hierarchical teaching process that is commonly practiced in formal education (Lim & Tay, 2003).
Challenges that accompany integration of the internet and relevant ICT in the learning process, and supporting creative and innovative thinking among students, enables the teacher to appreciate the fact that the electronic age is connected to skillful organization of concepts (Leask & Meadows, 2000). Interaction technology does not concentrate on material devices and objects alone, but it takes into consideration every communicational and interactive means used in class to enable tutors to socialize and instruct students in a meaningful way (Lim & Khine, 2006). In addition, interaction technology promotes interaction between student and teachers as well as the relationship between the school environment and each institution that is associated to it. (Monteith, 2005). ICT acts a communicational and cultural asset in social structures that manage the whole society, especially schooling, which acts as training ground for the society (Haydon & Counsell, 2002).
Blended learning is a learning method that uses a combination of online and face to face learning techniques. The aim of blended learning is to ensure that the learning process is efficient and effective by combining different learning modalities. Several delivery methods can be combined such as Web-based courses, collaboration software, and knowledge management practices. Blended learning describes different event based activities that mix live e-learning, face to face classrooms, and self paced instructions (Leas &, Pachler, 2009). There are different factors that a teacher can pick from for using blended learning over other learning options. Steve (2004) came up with six benefits of using a blended learning system: pedagogical usefulness, cost effectiveness, social interaction, personal agency, access to knowledge, and ease of revision (p.19).
Beyond this, Graham et al, found that a huge number of people used blended learning methods for improved pedagogy, flexibility and cost effectiveness. Rapid spread of modern learning technologies especially the internet has forced teachers to explore the best mix of learning styles that are efficient (Hydn & Counsell, 2002). Education ministries have encouraged the adaptation of education technologies, especially networked technologies, in expanding the learning process. Teaching and learning practices in higher learning institutions and corporate training still use transmissive instead of interactive strategies. 83% of instructors in higher learning institutions use lecture approach as the main teaching strategy (Loveless & Ellis, 2001). Moreover, students of distance learning suffer from huge amounts of information which they are forced to consume independently.
Some tutors use blended learning approach to improve pedagogy by raising the level of learner centered strategies, peer-to-peer and active learning strategies. Students pass through three phases which comprise of online self practice to learn background ideas; learning lab dealing with active learning and application strategies instead of lecture; and online learning that assist the transfer of learning to the office (Lani & John, 2004). For example, an accounting professor makes use of online modules to assist students to receive technical information and tool skills, and then uses class time to deal with applications, diverse case studies and to promote decision making skills. Educationalists have been challenged by governing bodies and funding councils to integrate learning technologies and enhance blended learning techniques in the courses they offer (Leask & Meadows, 2000).
Blending and replacing some traditional teaching methods with e-learning promotes a new relationship to occur between student and teachers. It extends them beyond the jurisdiction of the classroom, develops collaboration and assists teachers to bring modern resources into their lessons that are enabled by digital libraries. Universities and middle level colleges are learning to use a combination of modern campus and distance learning, which mix face-to-face and online methods to make learning more flexible (Lim & Kline, 2006). Richard (2004) argues that initial focus on infrastructure has allowed concentration on pedagogy, and uniting with electronic communications with different process that blend together with techniques of teaching and learning (Fallows & Bhanot, 2005).
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For most teachers, blended learning gives them the opportunity of focusing on the most efficient learning method for each student. Educational programs can be tailored into convenient delivery media that is user friendly and can serve the need of the student. TechDis is a technology that can improve the learning process of the disabled, where blended learning offer various presentation methods that can easily be revisited (Dore, 2002). Use of emails in discussion forums during group work is helpful for learners with communication disabilities. In addition e-learning is beneficial for learners with disabilities since its flexible for distance learning, and a wide variety of assistive technology can be used to access information, which would have been otherwise impossible to reach (Lim & Tay, 2003).
The best approach that can develop a blended learning pedagogy that is efficient is to assess the materials and techniques that students have been using, in order to discover how programs can be enhanced or improved with technology (Monteith, 2005). The best solution for a program and the student in particular, will depend on the balance of learning that has been enabled by blended learning mix. Success will occur when blended learning programs can be divided into smaller modules where the teacher can chose on the best medium of delivering the modules to individual students (Steve & Tanner, 2003). During the process of developing the necessary blend, the tutor should understand the needs of the student that he wants to encompass into the program. The program can be used by the individual learner or for networking among a group of students.
It's not easy to create an effective and a well balanced mix of blended learning. However, by monitoring and gradually improving the teaching methods and styles, value will come out slowly. Learning methods that mix well several learning strategies act the same way as the best traditional strategies. Consequently, the tutor must be aware of the holistic components of program development. Emphasis on the entire program design and development calls for a teacher who is proficient in the pedagogy of learning and can exploit his skills in learning technologies that they carry (Coo &, Finlayon, 1999). When e-learning and online learning are used, blended learning integration is enhanced and the abilities of new technologies are easily maximized for the benefit of learners.
Current online pedagogy is pursuing the global trend that is shifting from teaching to learning. The changes in ICT are increasing the degree of collaboration between teachers and learners by improving and uplifting their form of interactions. Spread of modern technology implies that blended learning involves a combination of e-learning and hybrid courses of educational materials (Abbott, 2000). We are living in an age of technological innovation where digital technologies are increasing and more of is being blended into the process of learning. If the purpose is to establish an efficient learning experience, reducing the cost of learning, or increasing access, it's possible that our future learning systems will be differentiated not by whether they blend, but by how they blend (Way, 2003).
Form a pedagogical perspective, designers who are mandated with blending learning systems must seek the best strategies of combining instructional process that exploit the strength
of an individual, and avoid his weakest areas (Rupert & Dawes, 2004). Reformed pedagogy should enhance learner participation in project based ICT which are supported by modules that integrate leaning in the whole curriculum (Moore, 2003). Web Forums, emails, internet resources as well as conferencing rooms should be used to enhance integration of applied learning, in advancing active learning in the current digital age.