ICT’s: Effective Pathways to Quality Education (Presentation at the 19CCEM Youth Forum, 2015, Nassau, Bahamas)

Ever notice that parents, teachers, administrators love to talk about the “REAL WORLD”:

“Make sure you work hard so that you prepare yourself for the REAL WORLD”.

“You think you have it hard now – wait till you get into the REAL WORLD”.

“Oh yeah, you can get away with that in school, but it’s a different story in the REAL WORLD”.

Wait a minute. What is this REAL WORLD? And if it actually exists does that make the world of school or college – Imaginary?

All through my schooling – this idea of a REAL WORLD haunted me. I loved school, the learning the community, the openness to ideas; but could not, or would not allow myself to imagine a career in education. Doing that would be a cop-out – I couldn’t make it in the REAL WORLD.

Truth is education has always been my calling and after thirty rewarding years in the profession, I give thanks that fate brought me to my senses.

The problem is that we confuse schools and schooling with education and learning. We know that education improves life outcomes, so our solution is education for all, well actually schooling for all: the process where we pluck little children from their homes and communities (their REAL WORLD), put them in schools for 7 to 15 years, after which out pops an educated population ready to be plopped back into the REAL WORLD.

There are several problems with this way of thinking.

  1. It confuses education and schooling: schooling is an important and very effective method of facilitating education, but certainly not the perfect nor only method
  2. It creates an artificial life path through which we travel: our formation years (before school), our learning or education years (school), and our work years (after school).
  3. It won’t get us to our goal: despite fifty-odd years trying, we still don’t have universal schooling and in many places where we do, it’s not always working.
  4. It’s based on a system of values and rewards that benefit a select few and marginalize many others.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not bashing school: remember I’ve been doing school all my life, so if I bash it I’m essentially bashing myself. I just think it’s important to be clear on what it is and isn’t, what it does and doesn’t do, what we can expect from it and what we can’t, and what are the alternatives.

School is but one of the pathways of which we can and must take advantage to achieve quality universal education.

I’ve just completed ten long years of graduate studies, in fact I just had my doctoral convocation last Monday, ten years of graduate work studying technology in education. Specifically, I was investigating the impact of one-to-one computing: programmes where every student is given a laptop computer for use at school and home. These programmes have been around for a while and are all over the world. In the US and Australia they really started to take off around the turn of the century and in 2006, Nicholas Negroponte and the MIT media lab created a small media storm with the $100 laptop and the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) programme was born. OLPC was dedicated to providing technology-enabled learning (essentially a new pathway) to every child in the world.

This approach I’m going to call the technology-integrated pathway. This is an attempt to take the existing “schooling” pathway and improve it by saturating it with technology. There are things that ICT’s are good at, much better than people. Can we take advantage of these ICT strengths in the classroom to achieve improvements both in terms of access and quality?

Yes we can. My research and previous research on ICT’s in education indicate that on average effectiveness is improved and access is broadened. BUT

Not any more or any less than any other interventions that are implemented faithfully. So instead of giving every child a computer, if you carefully implement “Reading Matters First” or the “Mastering Math” interventions you would do just as well. On average, they all improve schooling by about .33 standard deviations (or one term). So while the technology immersion approach works it seems limited by the constraints of the schooling pathway itself.

The second ICT pathway that has more recently gained favor is technology-enhanced pathway. This involves doing things a little differently. ICT’s are used to enable learning outside classroom hours. Class time is then used for debriefing, reflection, discussion, interaction and feedback. This is the idea behind the “Flipped Classroom” and while this approach is still new, early successes have made educators cautiously optimistic that this will represent a qualitative improvement over earlier ICT intervention efforts. Fuelling the Flipped Classroom approach is the explosion of Open Educational Resources (OER’s) that give teachers and students free access to quality electronic learning materials anytime anywhere. Classes no longer have to be dedicated to delivery of content, as students can now have unlimited access to electronic resources. Instead classes can focus on higher order processing such as critical thinking, analyzing, summarizing and evaluating.

The third pathway takes us beyond the classroom altogether. ICT’s have facilitated the explosion of Distance Learning opportunities and has made this a realistic educational pathway for millions. And despite concerns, studies have repeatedly shown that DE is of the same quality on average as face-to-face studies. Moreover, given the increasingly easy to use web-based learning platforms and the focus on quality delivery, more and more people will benefit. And so I’m going to call Distance education, the technology-facilitated pathway. The one hurdle that still trips up DE is completion rates that have always been and continue to be low. Apparently the knowledge that there is someone waiting for me in a classroom 3 times a week motivates me to attend and complete the course. So while DE provides the promise of increasing access to those who cannot take advantage of traditional education, until the completion question is answered, it will not be as effective as it could be.

The fourth pathway, technology-enabled pathway, is the one that excites me most. In this pathway, learners can access the instruction they need whenever and wherever they need. This is truly “Just In Time” learning. And because it is meeting a felt need it is the most effective and successful type of learning. This is one of the reasons why Khan Academy has been so successful. Moreover, this type of learning re-directs the AGENCY – the responsibility and capacity for learning back to the learner. In all the other models, the agency is with the instructor for the most part, even for the DE course where the learner is self-directed enough to pace him or herself through learning materials.

This agency does not magically appear, however. Right now, everything that we could possibly learn in school is available to every one of us in our own language, or at least a language in which we are proficient, for free. But for the most part, we aren’t taking advantage of it. You see this when people get into arguments over things that could be easily resolved with the help of Mr. Google. Why?

By forcing us to rely on a “sage on the stage” model of instruction schooling has, to a large extent, extinguished our natural curiosity, our self-belief, our agency over our own learning. In order to take advantage of the rich learning opportunities that ICT’s provide, we must commit, and not only give lip service to, fostering and encouraging agency in our students. They know how to learn on their own. Our responsibility should be to give them the tools and protect them from harm and danger.

ICT’s have fantastic potential to open at least the four pathways I’ve talked about this morning:

  1. the technology-immersion pathway: integrate technology into our school based instructional process;
  2. the technology-enhanced pathway: take advantage of ICT content delivery outside of the classroom and use classroom time for reflection, critiques, evaluation;
  3. the technology-facilitated pathway: ICT capabilities allow for instruction to take place outside of the classroom through Distance Learning modalities;
  4. the technology-enabled pathway: ICTs allow for people to access learning when and where they need it most: Just in time learning.

Finally, before closing I want us to consider one last technology pathway that’s taking place all the time, but is too often ignored by “educators and educationalists” and that is the Media (both mass media and social media) pathway. Corporations have achieved tremendous success in manipulating our wants, desires, even our value system through mass and social media. Public education campaigns have cottoned on to this and themselves have been remarkably successful in using mass media to change behavior: witness the success of the anti-smoking and the HIV/AIDS education campaigns. We must now take this one step further and use this powerful tool as our fifth technology pathway. When we do and when we master the other four, we will have made great strides towards the millennial development goals and the sustainable development goals.


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