ICT in Education Toolkit Version 2.0a
September 2006
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ICTs for Education: Analytical Review
1 Introduction
2 Myths and Realities
3 Challenges
4 The Role and Nature of ICTs
5 The Potential of ICTs
  Expanding Educational Opportunities
  Increasing Efficiency
  Enhancing Quality of Learning
  Enhancing Quality of Teaching
  Faciliating Skill Formulation
  Sustaining Lifelong Learning
  Improving Policy Planning and Management
  Advancing Community Linkages
6 From Potential to Effectiveness
7 Conclusion

ICTs for Education: A Reference Handbook
1 Decision Makers Essentials
2 Analytical Review
3 Resources
4 PowerPoint Presentation
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View ICT for Education Handbook
  5.3 Enhancing Quality of Learning

5.3.1 The Objective

"Whether or not expanded educational opportunities will translate into meaningful development - for an individual or for society - depends ultimately on whether people actually learn as a result of those opportunities, i.e., whether they incorporate useful knowledge, reasoning ability, skills, and values." (Jomtien Declaration, article 4).  Clearly this has implications for how success is measured. High enrollments and efficient student flow, while necessary, do not indicate by themselves whether a country is achieving an acceptable level of education.  Actual learning achievement is the real measure.

But what is learning? Studies in cognitive psychology and brain science are challenging the traditional model of learning as a matter of transmission and mastery of facts and concepts. They have identified several principles for effective learning:

  • Learning engages the entire physiology and some aspects of how the brain is wired are affected by experience;
  • Learning is influenced and organized by emotions and mind-sets based on expectancy, personal biases and prejudices, degree of self-esteem, and the need for social interaction;
  • Memory is organized both spatially (allowing for "instant" memory of experiences which build upon one another) and through a set of systems for rote learning;
  • Humans possess a need to make sense of the environment, and understand and remember best when facts and skills are embedded in natural, spatial memory, or ordinary experiences. Further, the search for meaning takes place by "patterning" or attempts to meaningfully organize and categorize information;
  • The brain downshifts under perceived threats and learns optimally when appropriately challenged;
  • Concepts are learned best when they arise in a variety of contexts, are represented in a variety of ways, and when students have a chance to use the concepts on authentic tasks;
  • Learning to do well involves practice in doing. Students cannot learn to think critically, analyze information, communicate scientific ideas, make logical arguments, work as part of a team, and acquire other desirable skills unless they are permitted and encouraged to do those things over and over in many contexts.

The implication of these understandings is that learning is an active process in which people construct their understandings, concepts and ideas of the world around them through active and personal exploration, experimentation, and discussion. To enhance such learning, the instructional environment should enjoy the following characteristics:

  • Hands-on: Students are actually allowed to perform science, math, history, etc. (directly and vicariously) as they construct meaning and acquire understanding. It takes these subjects out of the realm of the magical or extraordinary.
  • Minds-on: Activities focus on core concepts, allowing students to develop higher-order thinking processes and skills, and encouraging them to question and seek answers that enhance their knowledge and thereby acquire an understanding of the world in which they live.
  • Reality-on: Students are presented with problem-solving activities that incorporate authentic, real-life questions and issues in a format that encourages drawing on multi-disciplinary knowledge, collaborative effort, dialogue with informed expert sources, and generalization to broader ideas and application. The objective is to promote students' insight into the real scientific, technological, business, social, cultural and every-day world, and the skills needed to live and work effectively.

A shift in objectives. The globalization of the economy and its concomitant demands on the workforce requires a shift in objectives: an education that enhances the ability of learners to access, assess, adopt and apply knowledge, to think independently, exercise appropriate judgment and collaborate with others to make sense of new situations.  The objective of education is no longer simply to convey a body of knowledge, but to teach how to learn, problem-solve and synthesize the old with the new. It is worth noting, also, that the emerging economy will no longer be centrally created and controlled by national governments. This environment, which will be dominated by private sector and not government jobs, will place a premium on creativity, initiative and entrepreneurship. In addition, society is looking to the school of the future to produce good citizens. To meet these objectives, education must be engaging and authentic: Engaging in the sense that students are involved in the learning process, and not viewed simply as "receptacles" for knowledge; authentic in the sense that what their learning has meaning to them as individuals, members of society, and workers in the market place.

The hard reality. This focus on a broader concept of learning is constrained by the limitations of the educational environment in most schools.

  • The world that the student has to understand is multidimensional and dynamic, including sound and motion. Yet the learning environment is usually restricted to lectures, cluttered chalkboard presentations, static texts, and rote learning.
  • Some of the subjects, notably science and languages, cannot be taught without interaction with and manipulation of their elements through sound, animation, and simulation - activities which are rarely provided for.
  • In many schools, teachers are not well qualified to translate the curriculum into teaching/learning activities or to be the chief mediators between knowledge and learners. Their initial training, often the only one they have received, generally does not include the preparation of teaching materials or the use of contemporary technologies for teaching.  Most teachers are reluctant to invest substantial amounts of their own time and resources in bringing their knowledge and competencies up to date in these areas, and few school systems provide time or incentives for this to take place.
  • Students in any one class are at different levels - intellectually and academically - and they learn at varied speeds and paths. Research has shown that the most effective way to allow for these individual differences is to have tailored instruction - tutoring of individuals one-on-one. Under conventional setups, tutoring is neither feasible nor affordable. Alternatively, teachers tend to focus on the average students in a class and leave the slower and faster students to take care of themselves.

5.3.2 The Potential

The integration of  ICTs into the teaching/learning process has great potential to enhance the tools and environment for learning. Research and experience have shown that ICTs, well utilized in classrooms, enhance the learning process, in the following ways:

  • Motivate and engage students in the learning process. The famous astronomer Carl Sagan used to say that all children start out as scientists, full of curiosity and questions about the world, but schools eventually destroy their curiosity. Research shows that students are motivated only when the learning activities are authentic, challenging, multidisciplinary and multi-sensorial. Videos, television, and computer multimedia software can be excellent instructional aides to engage students in the learning process. In addition, sound, color and movements stimulate the students' sensorial apparatus and bring a sense of enjoyment to the learning process.
  • Bring abstract concepts to life. Teachers have a hard time teaching and students have a hard time learning abstract concepts particularly when they go against immediate intuition and common knowledge. Images, sounds, movements, animations and simulations may demonstrate an abstract concept in a real manner.
  • Foster inquiry and exploration. The inquiry process is a source of affective and intellectual enjoyment. This sense of adventure is taken away in a traditional classroom, where questions and answers are established a priori and are unrelated to students' interests, and where research is reduced to a word in the textbook. The problem for many educators is that inquiry and exploration require resources that are unavailable in traditional classrooms, such as large databases and well-equipped laboratories. ICTs have the potential to let students explore the world in cost-effective and safe ways. Videos and computer animations can bring movement to static textbook lessons. Using these tools, students can initiate their own inquiry process, develop hypotheses and test them. In a virtual reality setting, students can manipulate parameters, contexts and environments, and can try different scenarios.
  • Provide opportunities for students to practice basic skills on their own time and pace.
  • Allow students to utilize the information acquired to solve problems, formulate new problems, and explain the world around them. For instance, computer applications have the potential to store massive amounts of data, plot curves, conduct statistical tests, simulate real-life experiments, build mathematical models, and produce reports - all this with speed and accuracy.
  • Provide for access to worldwide information resources.
  • Offer the most cost-effective (and in some cases the only) means for bringing the world into the classroom.
  • Supply (via Internet) teachers and students with a platform through which they can communicate with colleagues from distant places, exchange work, develop research, and function as if there were no geographical boundaries.

Research has shown that the difference in learning between tailored instruction (tutoring) and conventional classroom instruction is very large. Perhaps the greatest potential of ICTs is their ability to make such individualized learning feasible and affordable. More specifically, research and experience have shown that:

  • Technology-based instruction will increase learning achievement by no less than one-third.
  • The level of interactivity found in technology-based instruction is comparable to one-on-one tutorial instruction
  • ICT-enhanced programs allow for materials to be presented in multiple media for multi-channel learning, so that students can learn according to their individual speeds and paths.
  • Overall, ICT-based instruction reduces the time it takes students to reach a variety of learning objectives by an average of 30%.
  • Savings in learning time reduce educational expenditures without the need to lower student/instructor ratio.

For more information on the effect of technology-based tutoring on learning, see Resource 2.2.1 - Value of Tailored Instruction.

5.3.3 Specific Solutions Radio and Television Programs

Interactive radio instruction (IRI), broadcast television and self-standing audio and video programs have the potential to enhance the quality of learning by providing enriching the learning environment with sound, color and motion and by injecting instances of the real world into the classroom. They also bring variety that offers motivation and opportunities for multi-channel learning,

For examples of use of radio, TV and videos, see Resource 2.2.2 Electronic Multimedia Learning Modules

Multimedia Modules combine conceptions of effective learning with appropriate ICTs: computer technologies (including text, graphics, digitized audio and video and interactive multimedia), and online technologies. They are multimedia (e.g., paper, video, software, World Wide Web, etc.) units on focused topics where the unique advantages of electronic technologies (including the ability to model, simulate, quantitatively analyze, and so forth) may be leveraged. Some modules may provide linear video (on videotape, CD-ROM, DVD, or possibly via the Web) to introduce the module (for instance, offering "real life" examples of a concept at work), to provide conceptual or operational instruction, or to emphasize the outcomes from an experiment or application of a concept. Because the modules must fit into existing instructional flows, each module should be carefully designed to focus on a particular skill or knowledge.

To be effective, learning modules should be developed and used under a comprehensive set of parameters:

  • They have to be well connected to the curriculum and must supplement the textbooks.
  • They should be developed by specialized teams including teachers, instructional designers, software specialists and graphic designers.
  • They should be tested for implementability and effectiveness before distribution to schools.
  • Teachers should be well trained in the use of modules as an integral part of the teaching/learning process.
  • They could be distributed over the Internet, but should also be available on CDs and proxy server where the Internet is not available or is very slow or costly.

A representative case of this approach is the International Virtual Education Network (IVEN) for the Enhancement of Science and Mathematics Learning, a pilot collaborative cross-country project in Latin America. For more information see Resource 2.2.3 - The Case of IVEN. Virtual Labs

All school systems want to provide labs because science is empirical. But few schools have them, fewer have them equipped and fewer yet are willing to risk using them. Technology allows for video and digital demonstrations as well as digital simulations of lab activities in a very real manner - but without the risks and costs associated with lab experiments. Simulations of science lab experiments could also use real data. Datalogging is a type of software that enables the use of actual sensors and probes connected to the computer. Rather than feeding the information manually to the computer, the sensor directly uploads the measurement, thus reducing the margin of error, and reproducing a situation that is closer to an actual experiment.

Computer simulations are particularly helpful for learning science in the following situations:

  • Experiments that are too risky, expensive or time consuming to be conducted in a school laboratory, such as those involving volatile gases;
  • "Tidy" experiments that require precision so that students can see patterns and trends; students may not be able to achieve the necessary precision without simulation tools;
  • Experiments that break the laws of nature, such as exploring kinematics collisions that violate conservation of momentum law; and
  • When ethical issues are at stake, such as in the case of some biology experiments.

Simulations should not totally replace hands-on activities. They should rather prepare the learner to conduct real-life experiments - in the same manner that flight simulations prepare the student-pilot for test flying.

For examples of science and math simulations, see Resource 2.2.4. Connecting with the World [4]

ICTs can take students on exciting journeys through time and space.  Movies, videos, audio technology, and computer animations bring sound and movement to static textbook lessons and enliven children's reading classes.  They also provide social studies and foreign language students with vicarious experiences of distant societies and bygone times.  The Internet offers virtual reality settings where students can manipulate parameters, contexts, and scenarios.

Videos and computer animations enable students to "witness" a volcano eruption to learn about pressure, rock formation, or psychological and sociological responses to crises. A simple radio or tape recorder can allow students in a foreign language class to listen to native speech regardless of their teachers' origin.  Better yet, with interactive technologies, such as two-way radios or videoconferencing, students can communicate with native speakers without leaving their classrooms.  Videos, DVDs, computer software, and the Internet bring to schools anywhere in the world information that can be obtained only through the use of powerful scientific instruments that no single school can afford.  For instance, at the Web site of the Space Telescope Science Institute (http://opposite.stsci.edu), students can observe planets and stars through the lens of the Hubble Space Telescope.  At the Molecular Expressions Web site (http://micro.magnet.fsu.edu), they can examine tiny insects under fluorescence microscopy or study details of DNA structure.

More than any other technology, the Internet opens new opportunities for collaborative work.  From group discussions to full collaborative research projects, the Internet has the potential to connect classrooms to research centers and students to actual scientists. For a description of some examples see Resource 2.2.5. Designing and Creating Things

Computers can be used by learners to design and create things - web pages, music, simulated environments and events, etc. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab and the Boston Museum of Science have established a network of learning centers in economically disadvantaged communities. At these centers, called Computer Clubhouses, young people use leading-edge software to create their own artwork, animations, simulations, multimedia presentations, musical compositions, websites, and robotic constructions. For more details see Resource 2.2.6 - MIT Clubhouses.

4 Excerpted from: W. Haddad and S. Jurich. 2002. " ICT for Education: Potential and Potency." In Wadi D. Haddad and Alexandra Draxler (Eds.) Technologies for Education: Potential, Parameters, and Prospects. Paris: UNESCO, and Washington, DC: Academy for Educational Development.


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