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Education is an essential component of achieving sustainability. All over the world, societies are coming to recognize that current development trends are not sustainable, and that public awareness through education and training is a key element to moving our increasingly globalized society towards achieving sustainability.
Education for sustainable development (ESD), education for sustainability (ES), and sustainability education (SE) are three terms often used synonymously and interchangeably in referencing sustainability educational programmes. ESD efforts may be named or described in a variety of ways because of language and/or cultural differences, but ESD is the terminology used most frequently at the international level and within UN documents, and is therefore the term used most throughout this document (UNESCO, 2006).
All education must serve some purpose or else societies would not invest in it. ESD has the capacity to secure a more liveable world for present and future generations. The nature of ESD is oriented to giving people knowledge and skills for lifelong learning they need to help them find effective solutions to their environmental, economic, and social issues, and the effective use of technology is an essential element to increasing the efficiency of education institutions to achieve these aims (UNESCO, 2006).
Diverse perspectives help societies worldwide to determine how individual issues of ESD are dealt with in individual cultures. These perspectives have significant influences on the way people live, behave, and relate to one another; and relationships to outside cultures are in a constant state of change. ESD should help us to understand ourselves as well as others better and how local sustainability issues link to the wider, global environmental view. Everyone is a stakeholder in Education for Sustainable Development; we all share in the long-term effects, both good and bad, of environmental decisions (UNESCO, 2006).
Though the benefits of environment sustainability may be relatively well defined, the effective implementation of plans of action for education programmes need to take into account specific local, regional, and national contexts (Scoullos, 1998). The practise of tailoring of ESD training programmes to individual cultures is common, yet there are specific common elements that are essential to all sustainability training programmes regardless of where they are administered. Key elements of ESD programmes include the following (Tilbury & and Wortman, 2004) :
ESD is the primary agent of transformation towards sustainable development.
The promotion of increasing the capacities of people to transform their visions for society into reality.
Education fosters the values, behaviours, and lifestyles that are required for a sustainable future.
Education for sustainable development is a process of learning how to make decisions that consider the long-term future of the equity, economy, and ecology of all communities.
Education builds the capacity for such futures-oriented thinking.
Sustainable development is a challenging concept to define, especially since the field is continually evolving. The Brundtland Commission is often credited with one of the first and most commonly cited descriptions of sustainable development: "Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs" (World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987).
Sustainable development was at one time generally believed to have three main elements: environment, society, and economy. However, in recent years, an additional "culture" pillar has emerged, complimentary to the social pillar, yet a distinct consideration. These four pillars are closely interrelated with one another and are therefore not completely separate elements. The sustainability paradigm challenges the argument that environmental and social problems are an inevitable and acceptable consequence of economic development. The perspective that advocates the concept that human development and the quality of the environment are not compatible with one another is in direct opposition to the basic the principles of sustainable development (Pace, 2009).
Dr A. Ghafoor Ghaznaw, former chief of UNESCO's Environmental Education Section, defined environmental education at a UNESCO consultation meeting held in Malta in 1989 as,"... the educational process through which is imparted to its target groups the sensitivity, awareness, knowledge, skills, attitudes, commitment for actions and ethical responsibilities for the rational use of the environment and its resources and for the protection and improvement of the environment for the present and future generations" (Schembri, Ventura, & Calleja, 1989) .
Regardless of how life affirming the high ideals of sustainability education objectives may be, and despite the significant support and many years of effort behind the work to achieve environmental sustainability ideals, the long-term record of accomplishment in achieving any significant progress in these efforts has been reported to be disappointingly less than expected by many. Although environmental education has frequently been proposed during numerous international conferences as a key element to major strategies intended to promote environmental objectives, there has nonetheless been a significant discrepancy between the efforts spent on education and the results that have be achieved to date (Pace, 2009).
Some feel that most of what needed to be said about environmental education was said in the Tbilisi Conference in 1977, and that any new elaborations are really just a repeat of the same principles under a new guise (Pace, 2010). The characteristics of and commitment towards sustainable development were reconfirmed 10 years after the Tbilisi conference at the International Congress on Environmental Education and Training in 1987 in Moscow, and again 10 years later at the International Conference on Environment and Society: Education and Public Awareness for Sustainability in 1997 at Thessaloniki.
Although the recommendations and action plans proposed by the aforementioned conferences were still valid, the question arose as to whether the framework originally developed to support environmental education initiatives had instead become an standalone of irrelevant academic exercises (Pace, 2010). Part of the problem may lie in the fact that environmental education, much like the concept of sustainable development, can never arrive at a precise definition of the concept due to its evolving nature (Pace, 2010). The issue of how best to approach environmental education has been unclear. Although it has been well established that learning is not normally a linear experience, a significant number of educational programmes have adopted linear approaches. Linear approaches fail to acknowledge the fact that individuals learn in different ways and through different experiences (Pace, 2010). Moreover, although it is widely acknowledged that degradation of the environmental is firstly due to the results of unsustainable lifestyles. Environmental education also recognises this fact and espouses the concept that the environment it is every citizen's responsibility, and therefore in order to be effective, environmental education programmes should target individuals with learner centred learning.
Environmental education programmes committed to promoting sustainable development require the transformation of principle theories into actions. Learner centred programmes, based on competency development prepare learners to take concrete steps towards discovering their own sustainable life patterns. Development of learner centred pedagogies designed to transform passive individuals into independent, critical-thinking lifelong learners committed to taking action is the next phase in the evolution of environmental education (Pace, 2010).
1.4.1 Historical Context
The origins of Education for Sustainable Development lie in two distinct areas of interest in the United Nations: education and sustainable development. The Declaration of Human Rights stated in 1948 that, "Everyone has the right to education." This right to an education was later reinforced in 1989 by the Convention on the Right of the Child (CRC), which declared that primary education should be compulsory and available free to all. In 1990, the Jomtien Declaration on Education for All (EFA) declared, "Basic education should be provided to all children, youth, and adults." International Development Targets (IDT) related to quality education have been also developed. The Dakar Framework for Action lists as one of its six important educational goals as the "Improving all aspects of the quality of education so that recognized and measurable learning outcomes are achieved, especially, in literacy, numeracy and essential life skills." The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) also address education. MDG 2 is designed to "Achieve universal primary education." Furthermore, the UNGA declared the years 2003 to 2012 to be the United Nations Decade of Literacy (UNLD).The importance of education for all has clearly been repeatedly emphasised by the United Nations repeatedly over the course of its long history.
Several milestones have marked the progress of sustainable development, including the landmark 1972 United Nations Conference on Human Environment in Stockholm, which led to the establishment of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and many other environmental protection agencies. Nations came to realize that the widespread growth of environmental degradation required international attention and collaboration rather than isolated national approaches and solutions. Within 10 years after Stockholm, the world began to realize that addressing environmental concerns separately from development needs was not an effective means to managing the welfare of the environment for human society, and by the mid 1980's the United Nations began to search for a larger strategy to address the needs of both society and the environment. This resulted in now well-known report on sustainable development from the Brundtland Commission in 1987, entitled 'Our Common Future'. This report was endorsed at all levels of government as an overarching framework for future development policy. During this time, the United Nations General Assembly concurrently explored a parallel concept of utilising education to support sustainable development (UNESCO, 2005).
The concepts of sustainable development continued to progress with committees discussing and negotiating the terms of the 40 chapters that eventually came to know as the Agenda 21, where it was presented to the public in 1992 at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). The link between education and sustainability was first conceptualised in Chapter 36 of Agenda 21. Entitled 'Promoting Education, Public Awareness, and Training,' the chapter was an enabling and implementation strategy for Education for Sustainable Development and stressed the importance of integrating education into every one of the other 40 chapters that also comprised of the Agenda 21, which was reaffirmed in each of the subsequent conventions that arose from the initial Earth Summit as (UNESCO, 2005). All nine of the major United Nations Conferences that convened in the 1990's to further address and refine sustainability issues also correspondingly identified education as a crucial element to implementation (UNESCO, 2005).
The Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), convened in 2002, helped to deepen international commitments towards sustainable development at all levels, and it was at this the Decade of Education for Sustainable development (DESD) was proposed, thereby reaffirming education as an important and central principle to effective approaches for sustainable development strategies. That same year the Rio+20 Conference 2012 was held in Rio de Janeiro. Otherwise known as the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, and Earth Summit 2012, a draft resolution entitled 'The Future We Want' was presented, which reaffirmed prior commitments to education by strengthening international cooperation to achieve universal access to primary education, which is considered an essential condition for achieving sustainable development, as well for the achieving internationally agreed upon development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals. This draft resolution also resolved to improve the capacity of education systems to prepare students to pursue sustainable development careers, which included enhanced teacher training, curricula developed around sound sustainability principles, and more effective use of information and communication technologies to enhance learning outcomes. The document further resolved to promote Education for Sustainable Development and to integrate it more actively into education beyond the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development plans, and strongly encouraged educational institutions to teach sustainable development as an integrated component across disciplines.
The importance of environmental concerns first gained international recognition with the Stockholm Declaration in 1972. It consisted of 7 proclamations and 26 principles "to inspire people of the world to preserve and enhance the worlds and enhancement of the human environment." The International Workshop on Environmental Education was held shortly after Stockholm Convention at Belgrade, Serbia in 1975. The resulting Belgrade charter was the outcome of the event and built upon the Stockholm Declaration, with additional goals, objectives, and guiding principles for environmental education programmes. An important aspect to this work was the inclusion of the public as part of the defined target audience for environmental education.
The world's first intergovernmental conference on environmental education was organized by the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in cooperation with the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) in 1977, and was convened in Tbilisi, Georgia (USSR).The Tbilisi Declaration was a result of this conference, with the declaration updating and clarifying the Stockholm Declaration and the Belgrade Charter. The Tbilisi Declaration recommended that environmental education develops the necessary skills for societies to deal with environmental challenges, and promotes the attitudes and commitments required to make the most informed decisions and responsible actions towards the environment. The declaration emphasised the important roles of education to preserving the planet's environment and balanced development of communities, and declared that, "by its very nature, environmental education can make a powerful contribution to the renovation of the educational process." The document also recommended that environmental education should be integrated into the entire system of formal education at all levels to provide the necessary knowledge, understanding, values, and skills needed for participation in devising solutions to environmental questions.
Ten years after the Tbilisi Conference, a follow-up conference was convened in Moscow, otherwise known as the Moscow Conference, to determine a specific international plan of action for environmental education and training. The Moscow Conference report was based upon input from international studies and surveys, and outlined an international strategy of action to develop environmental education and training programmes for the 1990's. The plan defined requirements for education and training programmes, and reaffirmed the Tbilisi Conference's declaration that environmental education should be made an integral part of the entire educational process and aimed at every category of the population in member states.
The Rio+5 - or Earth Summit+5 - Conference was convened in 1997 to appraise the progress the Agenda 21 plan's over the five years that had passed since its initial approval. It was determined by the assembly that progress was thus far uneven, and identified several key negative trends affecting the environment, which included continuing globalisation, widening of gaps in economic incomes, and a continuing deterioration of the global environment. This conference brought to light a new international consensus with a new vision of education that involved more public awareness and training, and conceptualised education as an essential element of sustainable development, with the support of advances in other related areas such as science, technology, and policy (UNESCO, 1997b).
Twenty years after the Tbilisi Declaration and five years after the Rio Conference, a third environmental education conference was also held in 1997 at Thessaloniki, Greece. The purpose of this conference was to reiterate the important role of education and public awareness to achieving the aims of sustainability. The declaration of Thessaloniki reaffirmed commitments, recommendations, and action plans from previous conferences, yet at the same time also recognized that insufficient progress had been made in the five years since the Rio conference had concluded. Despite this disappointment however, there was a recommitment to involving national governments, civil society, the United Nations, and other international organisations to working towards the intentions of sustainability, and established a global agenda for upcoming Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD) as declared by the UN.
In the conference, they reaffirmed that sufficient education and public awareness should be recognised as one of the main pillars of sustainability, together with legislation, technology, and the economy. It was also recommended that special emphasis should be given to strengthen teacher training programmes and the identification and sharing of innovative practices. Support was also recommended for research in interdisciplinary teaching methodologies and assessments of the impact of relevant educational programmes (UNESCO, 1997a).
1.4.2 The UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD)
Following the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002, and based upon recommendations from chapter 36 of the Agenda 21 document, the United Nations declared 2005 to 2014 the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD) in 2002. During the decade declared by the UN, many goals have been set forth in conjunction with strategies towards outcomes that are intended affect millions of people from communities all over the world for many years to come through inspiring all individuals at all levels of society to contribute to helping to make sustainable development a realistic reality. Planned outcomes during the Decade include raising public awareness, updating educational systems, and the integration of ESD into all elements of developmental planning (The United Nations, 2010).
The DESD is also linked to other international educational priorities as well. The United Nations has launched four global initiatives since 2000, all of which focus on education. The four initiatives are the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), Education for All (EFA), the United Nations Literacy Decade, and the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development. UNESCO is the coordinating agency for three of the four goals. While the initiatives are unique in certain respects, what they all have in common is a commitment to education and an emphasis on the importance of the participatory role of each individual in education and sustainable development (UNESCO, 2009).
The Fourth International Conference on Environmental Education, also referred to as the Tbilisi+30, was held at the Centre for Environment Education (CEE) in Ahmedabad, India in 2007. During the conference, several work group sessions were convened, along with special sessions for solely for government agencies. The conference was intended to promote a vision that education that prevents and resolves conflicts, and to provide assistance in building partnerships and facilitating shared experiences and a collective knowledgebase required to refine a vision of sustainability that expands its practice globally, and reaffirm that education is a crucial element to bringing about the global transitions required to make sustainability a realistic reality (UNESCO, UNEP & Govt. of India, 2007) . Environmental education supports education for sustainable development, and encourages a shift from viewing education as a delivery mechanism, to a lifelong, holistic, and all-inclusive process (UNESCO, UNEP & Govt. of India, 2007) .
The following is a list of Working Group Session Reports Recommendations and Workshop Presentations available from the Tbilisi+30 Conference:
Reorienting Formal Education towards ESD (Strategies, Pedagogy, and Assessment).
Teacher Education: A crucial contribution to the UNDESD.
Supporting Sustainable Development through Open and Distance Learning, including Technology Mediated Open and Distance Education (TechMODE).
Education for Innovation and Technology.
Integrating Values of Sustainability into education.
Monitoring and Evaluating Progress during the UN DESD.
Education for Sustainable Consumption through the DESD.
The World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development was held in Bonn, Germany, in 2009. The conference was organised by UNESCO, the German Ministry of Education and Research, and the German Commission for UNESCO. The World Conference on ESD marked the beginning of the second half of the UN Decade on Education for Sustainable Development. The purpose of the conference was to discuss and exchange best practices on Education for Sustainable Development from all world regions.
The conference had four objectives:
To highlight the relevance of ESD to all of education.
To promote international exchange on ESD, especially between the North and the South.
To carry out a stocktaking of the implementation of the UN Decade.
To develop strategies for the way ahead.
Strategies were developed during the conference to highlight key focus areas in order to put knowledge into action and promote further progress of ESD in the following five years remaining of the Decade. Post-conference strategies included:
Re-orienting education and training to address sustainability concerns.
Building and sharing knowledge, and generating new knowledge through research.
Advocating for ESD through increasing awareness and understanding of sustainability, and reinforcing/enhancing synergies between different education and development initiatives.
Extending and strengthening ESD partnerships.
As the global coordinator of the DESD, UNESCO's role is to facilitate new partnerships and encourage exchange between Member States on ESD, share best practices, encourage monitoring and evaluation efforts, encourage development of ESD research agendas, and provide strategic guidance. Many activities have been undertaken by a broad range of stakeholders since the start of the DESD, including setting up National Committees, establishing networks, developing and disseminating education materials, identifying and highlighting good practices, and arranging meetings to encourage international exchange (UNESCO World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development, 2009). Although much work remains to be done before ESD completely occupies a central place in educational and learning processes in order to realise its full potential to improve the quality of education as a whole, there has been notable progress since the beginning of the Decade in 2005.
Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) was a key outcome from the Rio Earth Summit held in 1992. A review halfway through the DESD indicated that the need for ESD had become well established in national policy frameworks and that national ESD coordinating agencies had been created almost 100 countries across all UN regions (UNESCO DESD Monitoring & Evaluation, 2012) . Networks and organisations both within and outside the UN system have been established globally to encourage and support increasing ESD in schools, universities, and communities, and in the process, ESD has gained international recognition as an education relevant to addressing today's Sustainable Development challenges, (UNESCO DESD Monitoring & Evaluation, 2012) .
More recent reports indicated that there is been an increased recognition that environmental challenges cannot be solved exclusively through technological advances and new policy frameworks, in order to achieve sustainable success efforts must be accompanied by changes in mind-sets, values, and lifestyles of societies (UNESCO DESD Monitoring & Evaluation, 2012) . ESD is being increasingly viewed as a means to renew teaching and learning in ways that allow schools and communities to more effectively address the challenges sustainable development and the environment. In some parts of the world, ESD has been a part of a co-evolution of teaching methods and has arguably become a catalyst for educational change and innovation (UNESCO DESD Monitoring & Evaluation, 2012) .
There has been a shift from viewing ESD as something to add-on to education to ESD as a mechanism for rethinking education and learning (UNESCO DESD Monitoring & Evaluation, 2012). Sustainability challenges require more integrative and exploratory forms of learning. As a result, the boundaries between schools, universities, and communities are increasingly blurring in many areas of the world now due to a number of recent trends, including increased focuses on lifelong learning; globalization; and ICT facilitated social networking education. These 'boundary-crossing' phenomena are resulting in a reconfiguration of formal, informal, and non-formal learning processes, and changing the roles and relationships stakeholders Earlier in the Decade the emphasis was on finding a niche among education institutions, whereas today ESD is viewed more as a potential umbrella for all educations (including global citizenship education) concerned with the well-being of the planet and its inhabitants (UNESCO DESD Monitoring & Evaluation, 2012).
Despite all the positive progress being made however, there are new challenges to resolve. For instance, the 'E' in ESD is conceptualized in different ways depending on the availability of individual societies for "participation, self-determination, and autonomous thinking" (UNESCO DESD Monitoring & Evaluation, 2012). Local situations may vary in these respects globally, which often leads to different interpretations and implementations of ESD. Within more restrictive environments, more transmission-oriented pedagogies are more likely, with a strong emphasis forms of instruction centred around knowledge transfer, and in more open environments, ESD is more typically characterized by higher levels of participation, self-determination, autonomous thinking, and knowledge co-creation. The latter versions of ESD require alternative forms of teaching and learning, and higher levels of stakeholder interaction.
1.5 Applying TEL Concepts in ESD Contexts
1.5.1 Uptake & Extent of Use
The eMerge One-to-One Laptop Learning Project was initiated by the Government of Alberta's Ministry of Education to explore the effectiveness of wireless computing for learning and teaching. The project was anticipated to affect 2,502 students, 173 teachers, and 47 administrators within 50 schools in the 20 Alberta jurisdictions. Data collected during the course of the research period supported the following findings (Government of Alberta, 2010):
By the end of Year Three there was a significant shift in participating classrooms toward 21st Century Learning skills, with students in the project significantly increasing their readiness to thrive in a complex, global, high-tech society.
The educators involved in the progress have made steady progress over the course of three year in their proficiency with technology and 21st Century Learning, and in the process, increased the frequency at which technology was used to keep students engaged in deep, complex, authentic, and relevant learning activities.
The eMerge project included a range of professional development models. One of the most highly valued by teachers was the community of practice that linked teachers to one another. There were also key shifts with students in their independence in learning and increased collaboration with other students.
Teachers and administrators developed a deeper understanding of and commitment to the vision for 21st Century learning. Over the course of the first three years of the eMerge, the perception of teachers on the relevance of the 21st Century Skills shifted from valuing productivity to placing more value on the use of skills in critical thinking, creativity, and ethical use.
European Schoolnet is a not-for-profit organisation comprised of 30 Ministries of Education in Europe. The organisation is dedicated to supporting collaboration and networking among schools in Europe using new technologies, and contributing to the development of technology-enhanced learning in schools. In 15 years since its founding, European Schoolnet has become one of the key organisations involved in transforming teaching and learning at schools in Europe using the integration of ICT into learning and teaching (European Schoolnet, 2011). European Schoolnet provides services through its partnerships with ministries of Education and the European Commission. The services offered to schools provide opportunities for teachers to become actively involved in exploring how ICT can enhance the teaching and learning experience. Recent initiatives have focused on raising awareness among teachers of the benefits of school collaboration activities for both the pupil's learning and the teacher's own professional development (European Schoolnet, 2011).
European Schoolnet is currently facilitating several project initiatives. The Scientix project is a European Schoolnet initiative that provides a web-based information platform for science education in Europe to disseminate knowledge and share best practices in science education. The Scientix web portal is available in six European languages and targets anyone involved in science and maths education, from policy-makers to science education teachers. The Spice project, funded by the European Commission under the Lifelong Learning programme, collects, analyses, shares innovative pedagogical practices focused on inquiry-based learning and improving student interest in the sciences (European Schoolnet, 2011). eTwinning is an online community for schools in Europe that provides a host of online educational tools for teachers from participating countries to locate potential school partnerships, arrange virtual meetings, exchange best practice ideas, and opportunities learn together with online-based projects. An eTwinning project allows at least two schools from at least two different European countries create a project and use Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) to carry out their work (eTwinning, 2011).
The "We teach together" eTwinning project is a partnership between schools in the Czech Republic and Portugal that incorporated the integration of the school subjects of Chemistry, Biology, and Environmental Education. This project brought teachers and classrooms together to teach topic of photosynthesis. The primary objective of the project was to facilitate a teaching practice in an unusual way that would enhance the motivation of students to learn otherwise less popular subjects (eTwinning, 2011).A secondary objective was for teachers to improve their language skills in the common language of English. The reported results of the project afforded opportunities for teachers learn from one another in the subject of photosynthesis and how to teach collaboratively, as well as improvements in a mutually common second language. The students also learned to work collaboratively in teams and in international environments. This was a unique endeavour since projects based on science are less common than other subjects in the eTwinning programme since science-based curriculums are less likely to allow teachers to devote classroom time on projects (eTwinning, 2011).
The "Climate Change Project" was another eTwinning partnership, which involved 100 students from Iceland, Estonia, and Denmark that collaborated on different Climate issues. Overall, the students learnt a lot from the project, especially in regards to the climate and environmental issues. According to one of the lead teachers in the project, many teachers refrain from engaging in international projects like this because they assume that the projects mean a lot of unnecessary extra work, but this not in accordance with her own experience (eTwinning, 2011). On the contrary, it was a richly rewarding experience, wherein teachers and students learned to cooperate with the other countries, and students gained knowledge of how global networks operate. The future of education and work for the students involved in this project will be all about communicating and networking, and creating new ideas with people from other countries (eTwinning, 2011).
The "Water - the source of life" eTwinning project involved a partnership between schools in Hungary and the Czech Republic on the subjects of Environmental Education, Foreign Languages, Physics. The lead teacher stated that participation in the eTwinning project had a positive impact on the teachers and the students, as well as on the reputation of the school. The eTwinning programme helped this teacher to develop more innovative teaching methods and challenged here to use more technology within her teaching than she was otherwise accustomed to using on her own prerogatives. The teachers as well as the students became more motivated and competent in cooperation and teamwork, and resulted in a better understanding of Europe and its people (eTwinning, 2011).
When Singapore gained its independence in 1965, most of its population of two million people were unskilled and illiterate. By 2009, the first year that Singapore participated in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests, its students placed near the top for all tested subjects. This was due in part to the practice of pairing all new teachers with experienced teachers for mentoring, with peer feedback also built into the schedule. Ongoing professional development was considered a key factor in Singapore's educational success (Edutopia.org & The Pearson Foundation, 2012b) . Professional Learning communities were initiated by Singapore's Department of Education for educators from around the world to share best practices with one another and offer feedback on teaching techniques. Teachers cannot teach the same way they were taught anymore, therefore have to be adaptive with new methods to reach and teach the kids. Today's new view of the worldview is that it is constantly changing one. Likewise, from an objective viewpoint of the world from this perspective, teaching methods cannot remain stagnate in education either (Edutopia.org & The Pearson Foundation, 2012b).
In 2009, Shanghai's average PISA scores were the highest in the world on all three subjects tested: reading, mathematics, and science. One the major problems with the Chinese educational system prior to this achievement was the disparity of performance between schools. This was because many of the newer schools lacked experienced and well-trained teachers. To counter this, management teams from high-performing schools were sent to assist teachers at lower-performing schools, and they provided them with lessons and strategies based on best practices. Among the many factors attributed to Shanghai's recent success was a district-wide program entitled 'Empowered Administration,' wherein low-performing schools receive long-term mentoring from high-performing schools or groups of retired expert educators (Edutopia.org & The Pearson Foundation, 2012a).
While the educational systems of some countries still emphasize practices that focus on evaluating recall and recognition of discrete facts, there is a growing use of more sophisticated approaches in many countries, which include not only more analytical response items, but also open-ended items and tasks that require students to analyse, apply knowledge and communicate more extensively, both orally and in writing. The internationally administered PISA assessment tests, explicitly focus on many 21st century skills by going beyond questions posed by many standardised tests, such as 'did the students learn what we taught them' to 'what can students do with what they have learned?' (Hammond, 2011). PISA defines literacy as 'a student's ability to apply what they have learned' (Hammond, 2012).
1.5.2 Advantages, Disadvantages, & Constraints
Although there are many benefits to the use of educational technology, it has its disadvantages as well. Some of the drawbacks to EdTech include the requirement for access to resources that might not always be available, and additional time and expenses are required for retraining when appropriate resources are available, and due to the evolving nature of technology, the recurring requirement for regular upgrades and replacement of hardware and software (Hennessy, Ruthven, & Brindley, 2005) . Incorporating computer-based educational technologies into lesson plans may require extensive resources to generate appropriate learning materials that may require more complex skills than many teachers are capable of creating themselves or do not have the time available to develop them.
Implementation of new technology systems is often a time consuming and trying experience for all those involved. The initial installation, setup, and training typically associated integrating such technologies into classrooms incur significant financial burdens as well as time to employ them. Moreover, after installation and retraining processes are complete, equipment failures may occur at any time during teaching activities, and therefore teachers utilising these technologies must always be aware of this possibility and remain vigilant to retaining backup teaching methods in the event of unfortunate technological mishaps.
Also, since technology is not the end goal of education in most cases, but rather a means by which it may be accomplished, educators need to have a good grasp of the technologies employed, as well as an understanding of the advantages of their use over other traditional instructional methods, otherwise technology may simply be viewed as a hindrance rather than a help and will not benefit overall education goals (Burns, 2010) In addition, since technology affects behaviour, in order to understand educational technology well, one should also understand theories in human behaviour. "Many schools and teachers have not yet recognized-much less responded to-the new ways students communicate and access information over the Internet. Students report that there is a substantial disconnect between how they use the Internet for school and how they use the Internet during the school day and under teacher direction (Arafeh & Levin, 2002).
A study commissioned by the Pew Internet & American Life Project and conducted by the American Institutes for Research collected data from 14 gender-balanced, racially diverse focus groups of 136 students, across 36 different schools in the U.S. The students stated they face several challenges in using the Internet at schools, and that these challenges often discouraged them from using the Internet as much, or as creatively, as they would like. They also noted that one of greatest barriers to Internet use at school has been the quality of access to the Internet. Many of the schools represented in this study also limited use of the Internet to certain times of the day or to specific areas on campus (such as in computer labs). In addition, since not every student had access to the Internet outside of school, most students reported that their teachers did not assign homework that required the use of the Internet since teachers felt it was not fair to assign tasks that required the use of the Internet (Arafeh & Levin, 2002) .
However, despite all these disadvantages and constraints, there are many advantages to technology's use as well. As an example, according to evidence provided by the Ministry of Education in Canada from the results of a research study through the Alberta Initiative for School Improvement (AISI), it was concluded that despite the drawbacks associated with implementing new educational technology systems, technology-based strategies still have numerous potentialities that positively offset any inherent drawbacks, and the study went on to conclude that educational technology was proven to positively influence high school completion rates for all students, including those at-risk and with wide-ranging diverse needs (Alberta Education, 2007). The AISI report summarised the following advantages that educational technology provided in their own specific context of use:
Improves the relevancy and richness of students' learning experiences.
Nurtures collaborative learning communities.
Motivates and engages students to learn.
Improves students' chances of academic success.
Strengthens teacher-student and home-school relationships.)
Educational technologies offer new opportunities for individualized instruction or personalized learning plans that inspire students to more active participation in the learning process than afforded through traditional methods of teaching without the use of such technologies (Roblyer, Edwards, & Havriluk, 1997; Skola, 1997) . EdTech provides a structured teaching format that is available to measurement and improvement of outcomes. With differentiated questioning strategies, computer-based education methodologies offer an immediate means of delivering feedback and scores to learners and personalised questions based on students' pervious responses to questions, and students are therefore more motivated to learn because of the instant feedback these technologies offer to help them understand why some answers where wrong and how to correct them while they learn from previous mistakes (Alberta Education, 2010).
Educational technologies also bring a social-technological element to the learning process. Incorporating technologies such as Web 2.0 tools into lesson plans allow students and teachers to work together in a collaborative fashion through interactive discussions and the promotion of ideas and information (Pacific Policy Research Center, 2010). Using collaborative tools in the classroom also helps to prepare students with social and technological skills that will be required of them for sustainable employment in today's competitive work environments grounded in requirements for 21st Century skills (Pacific Policy Research Center, 2010).
Online communities have demonstrated a convincing potential to empower educators to collaborate, share resources and practices, extend their own learning, and solve problems more efficiently and systematically (Office of Educational Technology, 2010). Online communities of practice: empower educators with in-depth and specialised knowledge and resources that not may not be available locally (Schlager, Farooq, Fusco, Schank, & Dwyer, 2009) , provide knowledge sharing opportunities for educators to learn from one another that may not otherwise been available (Y. Chen, Chen, & Tsai, 2009) , and facilitation the creation of new knowledge and solutions to problems with collaborative tools that bring together "creative geographies" of like-minded educators and educators with common interests despite living far apart geographically (Office of Educational Technology, 2010; Wang, Yang, & Chou, 2008) . In short, online communities have the capacity to support systematic, transformative change in teaching and learning (Office of Educational Technology, 2010).
The benefits of educational technology are intended to improve education experiences over what they would be without the use of such technology. Technology Enhanced Learning is clearly a rapidly growing field (Wolpers & Grohmann, 2002) , and it is doing so for a number of reasons, including the fact that the students of today learning more and through a more diverse means of methods than they ever have in the past (Wagner, 2008); and if teachers desire to continue to reach their students as effectively as possible, they need to consider the regular use of these technologies as an integral part of their lesson plans (Landis, 2012). "Like countless other professions, education is increasingly a field in which people must nourish their knowledge and skills or risk seeing them go stale" (Office of Educational Technology, 2011).
1.5.3 Key Questions & Considerations
The students of today are already networking in personal environments, but they need the facilitation of teachers to help guide them to the most appropriate learning materials and instruction on how to properly use the information they acquire. We now live in a very interconnected world where people can communicate with one another in greater numbers than ever before, and therefore students need guidance from teachers to help usher them into this virtual world in order to utilise the resources they offer as safely and effectively as possible. To be a good teacher one does not need to be digitally connected. However, if one is a good teacher and unconnected, could they be an even better teacher if they were connected?
According to the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Educational Technology (2010), the research available on online communities of practice in education is still largely in its early stages, and therefore many questions remain to be answered. A list of key questions developed in a subsequent report from the U.S. Office of Educational Technology (2011) included a list the following considerations:
How can face-to-face and online professional learning and collaboration be used together most effectively?
What types of online content, activities, and interactive features best support learning for educators?
In what ways do online communities positively impact professional practice, and how can the impact be maximized?
What drives or motivates people to join and stay involved in an online community of practice?
What strategies are effective in increasing the numbers of educators who participate in online communities and the quality of their interactions?
Technology's proven potential to improve student high school completion rates was one of the subjects of a research report conducted by the Ministry of Education in Canada. However, the report also concluded that in order to realise the full potential available from educational technologies, it is important not only to refer to the results of previous findings, but also to consider the following key questions (Alberta Education, 2007).Consider and share the lessons learned by various educators and researchers in their implementation of technology-based strategies
Determine what success will look like and how it will be measured (e.g. engaged students and facilitative teachers, authentic tasks, performance-based assessments, collaborative learning environments, equitable and flexible groupings, ubiquitous access to interoperable technologies).
Stay abreast of current technology trends (i.e. developments and uses of the Internet, and computer and emerging technologies in education and society).
Track progress toward meeting the essential conditions for meaningful technology integration.