Whatever administrative or pedagogical needs a school has can be met by Google and Apple. Sadly, more often than not, teachers and administrators fall under the spell of the latest IT feature evident in the hardware and software that schools and colleges boast on websites and banners. Marketing has become the primary driver behind the purchase and adoption of ICT. Otherwise, it's about consolidating power to maintain control over students or more importantly, protect content to remain within. The silver lining is that marketing is becoming more dominant in an educational landscape that is veering towards corporatization rather than social transformation. While the aim leaves much to be desired, at least technologies are being brought into the classroom.
What is ICT and how is it important to teaching and learning?
The answer to the former is found in the title - information and communications technology. While it may seem absurdly simple almost to the point of insult, there is a lack of clarity to distinguish between information and communication, much less appreciate the significance those differences have on teaching and learning.
While much exposition has focused on how the teacher is no longer the 'sage on the stage', precision behind its meaning is neglected. In the most extreme of views, it would mean that the teacher is entirely replaced. For most of history, the teacher being the only one in possession of all that was to be known, was the sage. This was usually passed orally from one generation to the next. With technological progression came a way to store and transmit that knowledge - stone, animal hide, paper, printing press, computers.
The data-information-knowledge-wisdom hierarchy is fundamental in teaching and learning. Otherwise, the teacher cannot appropriately plan for meaningful learning - the difference between knowing about Shakespeare, understanding Shakespeare and knowing Shakespeare. Examining developments in information technology through the lens of DIKW hierarchy, the limits of technology become clear. IT will replace, perhaps completely, the teacher at the bottom of the pyramid, it stores more information and knowledge and is always available virtually anywhere.
When learning progresses beyond acquiring knowledge into understanding, human interaction becomes crucial. Understanding is a creative process where the individual is constructing a network that connects nodes of information into an organized hierarchy of knowledge. During understanding a student is forming connections. Seemingly disparate knowledge starts to connect and make sense - the 'ah-hah' moment. The teacher's importance is in identifying the errors, affirming success and encouraging further intellectual effort in this constructive process so as to extend understanding.
Understanding another person - a peer or a learned other - is likely to put strain on the mind when carried out properly. The listener is making the effort to re-construct the organized knowledge of the person speaking. When the listener has accurately re-constructed what the speaker has in mind, they are said to be of one mind. That is when the listener reaps the benefits from the person speaking.
The magical meeting of minds occurs when the verbal transaction above goes both ways. Both persons are sharing thoughts whilst seeking to understand one another. The understanding grows as a result of the discussion which in essence is comparing thoughts against each other, revealing what needs to be corrected and affirmed, discarded and kept.
If wisdom and understanding are necessary to qualify an educated person, conversation is required for intellectual development in those areas. The sharing of thoughts and idea through discussions and debates is how the mind is sharpened. Information and knowledge are important for without it, wisdom and understanding cannot take form as Adler succinctly puts:
Matter and form are inseparably correlative. Matter without form is unintelligible; form without matter is empty. Form gives intelligibility to matter; matter gives content to form.
With development in information technology, the teacher is no longer the source of knowledge. The internet is a greater storehouse that is always available anywhere. However, it is unlikely that machines will ever replace the teacher in the intellectual development of students. For it is through creative and reflective thinking that the teacher understands and in turn able to understand the student and help the student grow in understanding. Without thinking creatively, understanding cannot be created and without reflection, no improvement can be made on what was created.
Aristotle rightly put forth that teaching is the highest form of understanding. For the teacher has to understand both himself and the student and thereafter, create a way to help the student eventually reach the teacher's level of understanding. Understanding requires communication and this is where ICT is equally valuable, though different.
For much of human history, communication has been limited by time and space. Consider a verbal conversation: both parties must be within audible range; only one may speak at a time; what is said only exists in that instant, all of which limit the number of participants in a conversation. These limitations were overcome when written language was invented but it is in the last century that time and space are no longer of significance. Technology today enables us to communicate remotely and asynchronously at a much larger scale.
Teaching and learning is essentially a conversation and ICT is an invaluable tool in this conversation. It is a tool that liberates teachers from being providers of information and knowledge so that teachers can engage in discussion and debates with more students to develop understanding and grow in wisdom.
While my aim here is to gain clarity to the principle that guides my use in ICT, I am of the opinion that understanding and wisdom has been neglected and with it, the use of ICT in these areas. ICT enables every person in the class to be in conversation with everyone and beyond. Using ICT to engage in conversation need not be complicated. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and forums are popular choices but this blog post and the discussion below (if any) serves just as well. Even a simple group email with a good question to start discussion is an option for teachers.
However, a cautionary note to the use of ICT is that it is a tool that multiplies. It is of little value in making right the wrongs. A teacher who teaches a wrong fact will not be more or less erroneous with the use of ICT. The error will, however, extend beyond the confines of the class. Likewise, a teacher who asks poor questions should not expect to see more vibrant discussions and debates with ICT. The quality of teaching and learning still depends on the attitude, aptitude and character of a teacher - the Who in the class.
Interestingly, ICT as a tool that multiplies is particularly effective for the professional development of teachers. In multiplying the effects, it makes explicit bad pedagogy. An example that comes to mind was a Social Science module I designed some years back. I proposed using Google Forms as a way to assess student's comprehension of the assigned readings before each class. The common problem is that students turned up in class without reading or at best, skimmed through it. Neither allowed the class to engage in deep discussions. On paper, it sounded like a good idea as it ensures that students are keeping up with their readings and reveals any learning gaps the teacher might need to address. My pedagogical gap quickly became evident as I sat down with my team to design a simple multiple choice test for the first reading. I was embarrassed that we could not ask any questions beyond simple comprehension. All of us were well trained at preparing students to answer questions but never learned to ask the right questions to assess students. If not for the introduction of ICT, we'd never have seen that a possible reason that students were not keeping up with reading assignments was that we failed to provide a clear purpose for doing the task. I'm glad to say I've made improvements since then and have since taught students to always look for, if not ask for the purpose or question for the reading assigned.
In conclusion, ICT is an invaluable tool that liberates the teacher from providing content. It enables the entire class to engage in conversation with everyone by creating a space for anyone to express their thoughts and give or gain responses - a discussion. Beyond teaching and learning, ICT is an effective tool for teacher development as it makes explicit bad pedagogy or pedagogical gaps that the teacher can address.