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Through this essay I will try to analyse the impact of information and communication technology on teaching and learning practices in schools and colleges today. Simply adopting a new approach that enhances quality is not good enough; it has to be implemented effectively as well. Teachers have progressed from using chalk on a board, and handwritten notes to using PowerPoint presentations. Effective use of such techniques requires appropriate skills for implementing them. A teacher from the times gone by, would be overwhelmed with even the thought of preparing a PowerPoint presentation, while a teacher today would be challenged if we to take away the technology they have with them.
As consumers of education, the students expect a quality experience. Such expectations are primarily being fuelled by ICT, and quite often we see unfair criticism of the organizations not adopting these technologies.
ICT's are being used as a solution to two different problems in education. Computer based learning and teaching methodologies, make the entire experience more rewarding and more interesting for those who learn, hence enhancing the quality of our educational system. It further solves the problems related to long distance education, since facilities like e-mail and web make education accessible in even the remotest corners of this world. (Rahman, 2008)
During the course of our discussion we try to critically analyse the impact of ICT on our educational achievements, we then move on to discuss some initiatives taken by the government for ICT implementation in our educational system, and how these techniques have helped our system. After that we briefly touch upon the factors that affect equality of opportunity.
Impact of ICT on our educational system
It would be rather unusual to come across students who don't have access to ICT in their schools these days, and to encounter teachers who don't incorporate ICT techniques in their teaching, one way or the other.
Implementing ICT on a school campus can be seen as a simple seven step process (Andrews, 2004) -
We first have to make sure that the technology suits our educational goals and standards
There should be a vision for how the technology would support the curriculum
Provide inservice training as well as preservice training
Making sure that appropriate technology is being used
Administrative support has to be provided for, before any technology is setup
Providing adequate time to the teachers for planning and learning how to make the best use of technology
Ongoing technical support has to be provided for
Now let's have a look at how ICT helps our educational system.
Helps in investigating reality and building knowledge
With the advent of ICT, students now have a very handy tool for thoroughly investigating the real world. They now have instant access to information sources in their schools and are taught to make use of tools for analyzing and interpreting such information. Technologies such as online systems or data logging programs allow them to receive feedback, improve their understanding, learn new techniques and use their knowledge even outside the school. These things have been difficult to provide for in the past due to logistical constraints, but ICT has resolved these issues. (Kumar and Turner, 2006)
Better Learning through thorough Assessments
Typically the students are mostly passive in their classes, since they spend a lot of time on listening and reading. It is obvious that they will learn more and will be more interested in what they are learning if they are more active while they are being taught. They will be more engaged with the curriculum as they get the opportunities for creating their own information for representing their ideas. This is where the computer applications come into the picture; these can help provide students with learning experiences while they interact with computers. So this way the students now have more influence on the learning processes, since these activities tend to become more responsive to the needs of the student. (Law et. al, 2008) Such use of online systems to support learning, through feedback on forums has been proven to help achieve a greater depth of understanding by the students of different abilities. The assessment can be termed as being authentic, if only it emanates through active learning. (Barton, 2004)
Providing a Motivating and Challenging Environment
Modern computer systems are getting more sophisticated and powerful, providing the software developers with the opportunity for creating immersive multimedia features for students of all ages. Studies have indicated that students like using computers and tend to develop a positive attitude towards their learning upon being exposed to such technology. The wide range of learning experiences that the computers provide helps in generating student interest in their studies. The multimedia features actually help the students grapple with concepts and ideas. (Barton, 2004)
Provide Tools to Increase Student Productivity
In the days gone by, students used to spend a lot of time doing repetitive and low-levels tasks, those involving writing, drawing etc. Although important, these skills are usually pre-requisites for some higher-level tasks. Computer applications aid the students in quickly completing these lower-level tasks and moving on to focus on the main purpose of their activity. Applications such as word processors, database packages, spreadsheets etc. help in increasing productivity. Studies have confirmed this, by proving that the students often end up learning a lot more in less time, leading to a much higher level of productivity. (Andrews, 2004)
Higher level of learner independence
Computers are known to provide learning experiences exactly when and where they are required. Which in effect provides more independence to the students, in terms of when, where and what they learn. It no longer remains necessary for all students to do the same task at the same time; teachers can assign different tasks to different students. (Andrews, 2004) The classes can be divided into groups, and each group can be assigned different activities, later knowledge sharing among those groups can help learn a lot more. ICT tools are also handy in helping us keep records of a student's activity and in assessing their progress.
Learning through collaboration and cooperation
Studies have shown that the use of ICT has lead to more cooperation among the learners and a more interactive relationship between the teachers and the students. ICT has been known to promote team based efforts, and it supports collaborative and cooperative learning experiences.
Customizing the learning experience to suit the learner
In our more traditional educational systems it was never possible to provide every student with an instructor. Neither could the instructors design special teaching methodologies to suit the needs of every student. Since the computer applications are highly customizable through programming, they allow us to write software that can simulate the role of an instructor. Adding a bit of intelligence to these software, helps them customize the learning experiences based on the student's achievements in the past. Studies have proved that such software actually help increase the grades of the students over a period of time. So each student encounters or may encounter a different learning experience using the same software. This also helps the teachers in providing the students feedback that is more accurate than ever before. (Fallows, 2005) Computer applications are also useful when it comes to teaching the students who might require individual leaning approaches, like the handicaps or those who require distance education or even the remedial students.
Help students overcome their physical disabilities
The physically handicapped students get the opportunity to be a part of the same learning activities as other students through the use of various input and output devices. In fact for some of them, computers are the only alternative which provides tools that can help them reduce their level of disability. Specially designed keyboards and mouse buttons help these students in using the regular software packages. (Impagliazzo, 2006)
A lot of different software packages can be used as teaching aids. Let have a look at a broad classification for most of such packages. (Rahman, 2008)
1) Simulation-Based Learning
These tools will help people in their learning by carrying out so called "learn by doing" activities. Such activities place the students in stimulated situations which help replicate certain real world environments.
2) Knowledge Organization and Retrieval Tools
These tools help us organize large amounts of video, audio, textual and machine readable data that might be required for teaching purposes.
3) Teaching Tools
These tools help us implement different teaching methodologies which are appropriate in different contexts.
4) Tools to Enhance Thinking
These tools help enhance the thinking capability of the students by clarifying their thoughts.
5) Interaction Tools
These tools help enhance the interactivity level of the computer systems, using techniques such as natural language processing.
Government Initiatives and funding
The UK government has been investing large sums of money over a number of years, to provide computers in the schools.
ImpaCT2 was one of the most widespread ICT implementation projects undertaken by the Department for Education and Skills, and was managed by Becta. During the period of 1998-2002, the UK government committed more than £700 million from the Standards Funds for helping schools to connect to the National Grid for Learning. They also contributed £200 million from their New Opportunities Fund to enhance by helping the staff, the teachers confidence, and effectiveness in imparting ICT to the students in schools. (Harrison et. al, 2003)
There was a major study carried out between 1998 and 2002, which covered almost 60 schools in all over England. This was one of the most comprehensive investigations for analyzing the impact that ICT has had on the educational attainment so far in the UK. (Harrison et. al, 2003)
When a report for that study was presented to the government, the NGFL Targets were set for the year 2002 (Harrison et. al, 2003) -
Making sure that all schools, colleges, universities, and community centers are connected to the Internet.
Teachers and librarians are trained and are confident enough to take full advantage of ICT in their teaching methods.
Helping school leavers have good and in-depth understanding of ICT by putting in place certain measures for assessing their skills all along.
Administrative communication between the educational bodies and the Government should be paperless as far as possible.
Trying to make Britain a centre of excellence, in the field of networked software content.
The Government's strategy for ICT implementation has been supported by a variety of initiatives like (Impagliazzo and Lee, 2004):
Learning, Teaching and Managing using ICT -this is a school programme which provides funding in order to increase the access to technology and software for the schools, and to make available more ICT training resources to the teachers.
Computers for Pupils - this provides £60 million over a period of two years, from 2006 to 2008. The local authorities get this money for providing computers in the homes of some of the most underprivileged secondary school students in England.
Materials and training are being made available to the teachers in order to help them improve their teaching techniques, while incorporating ICT.
Laptops for Teachers - this programme helped more than 130,000 teachers gain access to their own laptops. A large proportion (two thirds) of the teachers, now have personal access to a laptop.
Hands-on Support - this provided face-to-face support to the teachers from the convenience of their own classrooms. It focused on the use of ICT in classroom teaching and student learning. Funding was delegated directly to the schools for proper allocation across various disciplines.
Curriculum Online - got a funding of £100m per year between 2003 and 2006, helping schools in buying digital teaching and learning materials from well known suppliers using certain assigned websites. Schools were even allocated e-learning credits to make sure that the teachers have access to a wide variety of innovative and professional multimedia resources that would help transform classroom teaching practices.
Broadband - almost 99% of the schools were connected to the Internet at very high speeds of 2 Mbps or more. This ensured that the teachers and students had access to a rich source of information at high speeds.
Strategic Leadership in ICT (SLICT) - this program has been provided by NCSL, Becta and DfES, it helps impart in-service training to the senior staff of the school.
The Testbed Project - it is an exhaustive evaluation, carried out by Becta, in three diverse areas. The areas were such where certain clusters of schools have been provided with ICT resources of very high quality.
Electronic and interactive whiteboards - this project entailed a lot of government expenditure, at both the primary and the secondary school levels.
Factors influencing the equality of opportunity
Our society can be equitable only if all the people have equality of opportunity to benefit equally from ICTs for educational as well as other purposes like, network strengthening, information sharing and so on. This helps us in developing skills necessary for life, and equips us to face the new challenges in this digital environment.
There is a strong correlation between social exclusion and under achieving in education, one leads to the other. Those who don't benefit from ICT in education are more likely to
face early parenthood
experience poor health over a period of time
get involved in criminal acts
face poverty and unemployment (Impagliazzo and Lee, 2004)
And when people who face such problems, raise their own children, these children get deprived of education yet again. It is a vicious circle.
Other factors which might affect the equality of opportunity and lead to social exclusion are, being a part of some minority group, children living in the day care, those living with separated parents and so on. These children can never derive the same benefits from ICT in education as compared to the others.
Adoption of ICT doesn't only require providing the right technology, but what it requires is that proper training should provided to the staff and students so that they can exploit those facilities. To achieve greater efficiency and efficacy, the quality of training and development should match the quality of equipment that we now find on our desks. Unfortunately, it is not unusual for staff to be provided with thousands of pounds-worth of equipment, and not spending a single penny on training the instructors. The government has undertaken quite a few initiatives in the recent past, and for realizing the various benefits of ICT in the real world, we have to make sure that proper training is imparted to everyone who can benefit from it.