- Beyond the school gate
- Improving student learning
- Let's teach maths and science
- What's real in a virtual world?
- Careers and transition
- Curriculum for the 21st century
- Early childhood education & care
- Teachers and Teaching
The ICT agenda
2010: a teaching odyssey
Jillian Dellit reflects on the power of ICT to transform education for the 21st century. She reminds us that it takes the skill of the highly professional teacher to harness this powerful tool.
I saw 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, in 1968, my Dip Ed year. My subsequent approach to education was shaped by the film’s early image of the ape-man picking up a bone and discovering its use as a tool, which flies through the air morphing into a satellite orbiting the earth. Humans, who reap the benefit of the ape’s discovery, then struggle to retain control of technology and its use for humanity.
I like the conceptual power and economy of the film’s opening scene. I recall it every time I hear someone say information and communication technology (ICT) ‘is just a tool’. ‘Just a …’ are words I am wary of using, especially anywhere near ‘tool’.
A universal schooling system has been a ‘tool’ to build industrialised societies, universal suffrage, mass media and civil society. So, it is paradoxical that schooling has been slow to incorporate ICT tools. Educators are suspicious of tools used so successfully for destruction: military and industrial uses. We note the loss of intermediaries in the communication chain (telephone-exchange operators, bank tellers, retailers, publishers, projectionists) rather than the creations (digitisation of whole library collections, desk-top access to patient histories and pathology, 24 hour share-trading, satellite-directed surgery). We are also wary of global transformation of whole industries by ICT.
Schooling has evaded such transformation. While some teachers, even some schools, incorporate ICT very successfully, it is still, to a large extent, an opt-in system.
The tool, however, is out there.
By the time this magazine is printed, 4500 items of digital content designed for Australian and New Zealand curriculum developed by The Le@rning Federation (TLF) will be in every jurisdiction. This is a kick-start, government investment in high quality 21st century content, marrying technological and curriculum knowledge with pedagogical purpose.
Those already using TLF content are requesting more. Teachers also use gaming technologies and participate in WebQuests, discussion groups, pod-casting, wikis, blogs and many other applications. For some teachers and schools, however, these are peripheral activities involving take-it-or-leave-it tools.
The bone is in the air—not yet morphed. We have reached the point where some of our decades-old rhetoric (personalised, transferable, child-centred, resource-based, discovery, life-long, outcomes-based) is achievable and, with the help of ICT, scaleable.
We must now decide if we are serious. We have brought ICT to school. Will we now apply it to teaching, to schooling, to learning?
Will we match ICT-enabled 21st century tools (data storage, real-time retrieval, transfer and tracking, media time-shifting, supply-chain restructure, peer-validated knowledge) to our claims about educational benefit?
The challenge for TLF is to create a sustainable supply of high quality content that puts the individual learner at the heart of schooling. The challenge for education authorities is to understand this puts the individual teacher at the heart of delivery.
The trends are there. A well-supported teacher can access data about each students’ learning history and can consider students in the context of national and international cohorts, contexts and benchmarks. There are (as yet primitive) diagnostic tools and there are digital records of research about learning styles, brain development, pedagogy and programming. Teachers will soon have the capacity to link digital content with assessment and diagnostic data.
While governments are agreeing on data management and education authorities are establishing systems for the provision of content in a classroom, only the teacher can coordinate these at the point where it matters—in the learning program and experience of the individual child.
As analysis of data in the context of an individual child’s growth is essential to 21st century schooling, the most valuable resource for a 21st century schooling system is a highly professional teacher. We need better tools to assist teachers in the task, but the tools in turn create demand for teachers who can use them to advantage.
This may mean increasing specialisation within and around the teaching profession, as few teachers will be good at all the roles required. There may be specialisation in case management—bringing together resources and services to achieve the learning of individual children or groups of children and to ensure the program is working.
Matching appropriate resources to each child creates a renewed role for teacher-librarians. There is likely to be specialisation, at a premium, in structuring programs based on the analysis of data and knowledge of individual need.
We will have to adapt to the degree of flexibility and change that schools require to organise classes, groups, cohorts and teachers work in order to meet the needs of students and their communities.
There are opportunities for the teaching profession. Already we have seen the recruitment of Australian/New Zealand teachers for international and global schools, many of which are profit-making; for English as a second language (ESL) teachers in the ‘Asian Tiger’ countries; for the USA; and for online learning in corporations and the tutoring market.
The next few years will see schools coordinating more information in a professional and consistent way from various parts of the schooling chain—program, assessment, resources, demographic and pedagogical information—to accelerate and smooth the learning pathway of individuals.
US schooling is being shaped by the need to remain globally competitive in the face of the rise of China and India as industrialised and ‘knowledge’ nations. Given population and position, Australia and New Zealand have rarely been complacent about our need to export and connect with other nations. We are familiar with the human resource driver for our schools, even if a little sceptical.
The times and the technologies offer opportunities for teachers to shape the way schooling is provided, to use the technology available to add value to the supply chain in ways that not only revolutionise learning, but expand, shape and strengthen the teaching profession.
ICT confidence is essential to this opportunity. For example, ICT-supported peer-validated knowledge is increasingly being used to balance expert knowledge. On the one hand, this means students and parents swap experiences to balance the expertise of teachers. On the other, it means teachers can use the same technologies to activate peer networks and validate their own judgements.
The profession can quickly and continuously build its own knowledge bases. The trend to self-service in electronic transactions not only means that parents and students can access enrolment, report and student management data, but that teachers can build, maintain and adapt knowledge bases, networks and services that advance student achievement.
If our vision is for child-centred, personalised schooling, it follows that teachers, confident and capable in the use of technological assistance, are more, rather than less, important. The teacher is the only one who can realise the benefit of the technology, who can bring it to bear where it counts—the individual child.
Systems, companies, programmers, content developers, engineers and governments can help construct the tools, even mandate their use, but transformation happens when teachers appropriate ICT for the journey.
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