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Overview of ICT in Education

This section provides a brief introduction to the overall field of ICT in education. Eight components of this field are discussed.

1. Generic Tool

2. Computer and Information Science

3. Personal-Professional Tool for Educators

4. Edutainment and Entertainment

5. Implementing Educational Research

6. Adaptive Technologies in Special Education

7. Integral to Non-ICT Content

8. Computer-Assisted Learning and Distance Learning

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1. Generic Tool

The term "generic tool" is used in this document to represent ICT tools useful in many different disciplines and that might be taught to most or all students. Typical candidates for this designation include:

  • Word processor.
  • Database.
  • Spreadsheet.
  • Graphics (both Paint and Draw).
  • Graphing (of data and functions), using both computers and graphing calculators.
  • Desktop publication systems.
  • Desktop presentation systems.
  • Multimedia and hypermedia systems.
  • Connectivity, including email, the Web, and groupware.
  • Calculators (the full range, from low-end 4-function calculators to high-end calculators that can solve equations, graph functions, and may be programmable).

The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and a number of other people and organizations have made recommendations about students learning to use generic tools. For example, Since 1980 the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics has supported use of calculators in the curriculum. ISTE believes that all students can and should develop a reasonable level of skill in use of all of the tools in the bulleted list--by the end of elementary school, or early into middle school. Continued use of these tools should be thoroughly integrated throughout the curriculum after students gain an initial functional level of expertise.

An examination of the software for these various application areas indicates that the software is steadily improving, but it is also (typically) growing more complex. It also reveals the development of "templates" that contain substantial knowledge on appropriate use of the tool. A simple example is provided by templates for various types of letters to be used in correspondence, or templates for various types of slides (visuals) to be used in a presentation.

There tend to be two commonly used approaches to helping students learn generic tools. In one approach, instruction in the tool occurs in an ICT course or unit of instruction. For example, in an elementary school a "computer teacher" might present the instruction in a computer lab. A second approach is for the instruction to be presented as part of a non-ICT course, with the instruction being presented by the regular classroom teacher. The same approaches are often used in teacher education programs. Each approach has advantages and disadvantages. Here is a brief summary:

An ICT teacher tends to know more than a typical classroom teacher about the generic application being taught, and he or she tends to be more experienced in teaching ICT. Since the same teacher may be teaching all students at a particular grade level, or all students in a school, or all students in a teacher education cohort, this helps to ensure a common base of student knowledge about the applications being taught..

However, the instruction given by an ICT teacher in a computer lab often is not closely related to the curriculum that students are currently studying in their regular classroom. Transfer of learning to the regular classroom and the subjects being studied there may be weak, or may not occur.

In addition, it often happens that the regular classroom teacher does not attend and participate in the instruction provided by the ICT teacher. Thus, the regular teacher does not know what his or her students are learning about ICT and does not gain in knowledge of how to teach this aspect of ICT.

Thus, a good K-12 approach in the situation described above consists of:

  1. The regular classroom teacher serves as an assistant in the computer lab as his or her students receive ICT instruction on generic applications.
  2. The ICT teacher and the regular classroom teacher work together to plan the computer lab instruction so that it incorporates activities that are relevant to the current curriculum in the regular classroom.
  3. The regular classroom teacher then immediately reinforces this integration of ICT into the regular classroom curriculum by class discussions and activities.

Another approach is to have the ICT teacher come to the regular classroom and work together with the regular classroom teacher to present instruction about ICT generic applications instruction.

Still another approach is to have the classroom teacher or an ICT teacher provide instruction to a very small number of "early adopters" of a tool in a particular classroom, and then have these students provide one-on-one instruct to others in the class. Such peer instruction can be quite effective.

With some appropriate modifications, these implementation ideas can also be used in teacher education programs. The ISTE National Educational Technology Standards for Teachers (NETS-T) calls for teachers to meet the ISTE NETS for Students (the 12th grade standards) as well as having knowledge and skill in use of ICT in curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Achieving these goals requires an appropriate combination of instruction by ICT specialists, regular classroom teachers, and peer instruction.

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2. Computer and Information Science

The first computer science departments (they are now often called Computer and Information Science Departments, or CIS departments) in higher education were established during the later 1950s and early 1960s. Typically this occurred in one of three ways:

  • As a split off from a mathematics department, forming a department with a math, science, and liberal arts orientation
  • As a split off from one or more departments in an Engineering School, forming a department with an electrical engineering orientation.
  • As a split off from one or more departments in a Business School, forming a department with a business orientation.

These early CIS departments offered programs of study that included a major focus on computer programming and solving the types of problems that occur in some general disciplinary areas. Thus, a business-oriented computer science department might offer a variety of courses in COBOL programming, with the focus being on learning to develop computer systems to solve business problems. An early engineering oriented computer science department might offer courses in FORTRAN programming and courses about computer circuitry.

CIS a large and well established discipline. This discipline is important in its own right and also because it provides important tools, ways of organizing knowledge, ways of representing problems, and ways of thinking about problems in all disciplines. Here is a list of some of the areas of study that now are considered to be parts of the field of Computer and Information Science:

  • Artificial Intelligence, including Expert Systems
  • Data Representation
  • Databases, including the World Wide Web
  • Discrete Mathematics (coursework may be offered by a math department)
  • Hardware, including computer circuitry
  • Human-Machine Interface
  • Networks, including the Internet
  • Numerical Analysis (coursework may be offered by a math department)
  • Procedures, and Procedural Thinking
  • Programming and Software Engineering
  • Systems Analysis

Some high schools offer an Advanced Placement course in Computer and Information Science (CIS). This course corresponds roughly to the first year of college CIS course for potential CIS majors. It contains a strong emphasis on computer programming and problem solving.

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3. Personal-Professional Tool for Educators

ICT provides a wide range of aids to the personal-professional work of teachers. Here are some common examples.

  • Lesson plans and student handouts are stored as word processor files. They are easily modified and brought up to date.
  • Electronic grade book that includes provisions for seating charts, pictures of students, automatic emailing of reports to students, and so on.
  • Test generation software, including databanks of exam questions.
  • Access to lesson plans created by others via the Web.
  • Access to professional development and training via Distance learning.
  • Communication with students and parents. Many teachers have personal Websites and/or Websites specifically designed for courses they are teaching. Some teachers develop newsletters that their students take home.
  • Communication with one's fellow educators, including sharing of lesson plans and other instructional materials.

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4. Edutainment and Entertainment

As of 2003, about 3/4 of US households with school age children have a general purpose microcomputer. At that time, about 90% of children age 5-17 were using computers. While "education" and "business purposes" are often stated as reasons for acquiring a home microcomputer, these home machines are heavily used for entertainment. There is quite a bit of software that is designed for a combination of entertainment and education. This is called Edutainment software.

Many children have routine access to games to run on general-purpose microcomputers, and game machines. The game machines that are prices in the $200 to $300 range may well be more powerful (in terms or raw computing speed) than the typical general-purpose microcomputer.

It should also be noted that households with children of school age are more likely to have a microcomputer than households that do not have children of school age. Among elementary school age children that have ready access to microcomputers at home, it appears that the children are spending more time with microcomputers than with TV. This provides evidence of the power of interactive entertainment versus the one-way TV delivery system.

Children with computers at home often have access to three general categories of software:

  • Pure entertainment (games that are not designed to be educational). Some of these games are now played online (on the Internet) with many thousands of people simultaneously playing the same game, and with teams of players often working together toward some common goals.
  • Edutainment (lying some place on the line between pure entertainment and pure educational);
  • Communication tools and reference materials, including email and the Web.

When children grow up in an ICT intensive home environment, they may gain many thousands of hours of experience using ICT facilities. Contrast this with students who gain most or all of their ICT experience in a school setting. This situation is often referred to as a digital divide. It points to the need for careful integratoin of ICT throughout a school's curriculum, as apposed to sending students to a computer lab for an hour or two a week.

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5. Doing and Implementing Educational Research

There is a steadily growing body of educational research on the Craft and Science of teaching and learning. Nowadays, ICT plays a significant role in much of this research. ICT is used to do literature searches, gather data, process data, and write reports.

Some of this research is conducted specifically on ICT in education, and some of this research is conducted by teachers (for example, via action research).

Within classrooms, students frequently do literature-based research, and they sometimes gather and process data. The availability of the Web makes it both feasible and desirable to help students gain some of the research skills of a research librarian.

Educators have long faced the problem of how to translate accumulated research knowledge into effective, widely implemented practice. The accumulated research can be used to develop better aids to student learning, such as better books. It can be used to develop better video and audio tapes that can be mass distributed. The research can be used to guide the development of courses and other units of instruction for students, preservice teachers, and teachers.

Still, the problem remains. Our educational system is not particularly effective in translating the accumulated knowledge of the Craft and Science of teaching and learning into actual, everyday curriculum, instruction, assessment, and other professional practices.

ICT can help in this endeavor. For example, ICT can be used to develop highly interactive multimedia Intelligent Computer-Assisted Learning materials. Some of these ICAL materials currently being used and developed are more effective that conventional modes of instruction that make use of conventional aids to teaching and learning.

As another example, we understand that constructivism is an important learning theory. But, it is not possible for a teacher to understand the current knowledge of each student on the particular topic to be studied, and then to individualize the instruction so that each student is functioning in a constructivist mode, carefully building on his/her previous knowledge and skills. Some of the modern highly interactive Intelligent Computer-Assisted Learning can do a much better job of accomplishing this task than can a teacher with a class of 25 or so students.

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6. Adaptive Technologies in Special Education

There are a wide range of hardware and software-based adaptive technologies. In brief summary, a broad range of adaptive technologies are being used by students. A teacher needs to recognize when a student may benefit by use of adaptive technologies, work with specialists to secure appropriate adaptive technologies, and learn to work with the student who is learning to use and is using the adaptive technologies. Students who are using adaptive technologies in a classroom provide a unique learning opportunity for other students in the class.

Over the years, decreasing cost and increasing power of computer systems have lead to remarkable decreases and increasing capabilities of various adaptive technologies. For example, the development of the Kurzweil reading machine more than 20 years ago (initially a bulky $50,000 device that could "read" text using a TV camera, and "speak" the text as output) has led to handheld devices costing well under $500 that can do the same task as well as look up words in a dictionary. Many students can benefit from such an aid.

Somewhat similarly, voice input to computers has progressed to the point that it will soon become a routine tool of many millions of computer users.

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7. Integral to Non-ICT Content

In many disciplines, there is a very close connection between the tools of the discipline and the content/methodology of the discipline. An old fashioned example is provided by Mechanical Drawing. As the tools change, the discipline and courses in the discipline change. Thus, Mechanical Drawing has changed into CAD/CAM (Computer-Assisted Design/Computer-Assisted Manufacturing).

The changes in curriculum due to changes in tools or the introduction of new tools can be subtle. For example, it used to be that students in first and second year high school algebra courses learned how to calculate square roots using pencil and paper, how to make use of math tables, and how to interpolate in math tables. Quite a bit of this content has disappeared from the curriculum; calculators have replaced it.

Microcomputer-Based Laboratory (MBL) represents a significant change in the content of various science courses. MBL is rooted in the ideas of computerization of science labopratory equipment and the routine use of computers to represent and help solve science problems.

Process writing has long been considered an appropriate model of how to teach and do writing. The final step in process writing is the "publication" phase. Desktop publication has substantially changed this phase. The word processor, electronic outliner, and spelling checker all play significant roles in the writing process. The discipline is writing and the goal is written communication--but the technology has now become thoroughly integrated and has somewhat changed writing. (Witness, for example, a sixth grade teacher who no longer accepts a paper with a spelling error.)

Information retrieval provides another example. This has long been an important part of the curriculum. CD-ROMs and online searching have significantly impacted this field. Students have to learn to deal with multiple sources of information and they have better access to primary and up-to-date sources of information.

Music synthesizers provide another interesting example. With relatively inexpensive equipment, students can compose, edit, and perform music. Composition can be taught to relatively young students--to students who have not mastered the performance tools of music.

The whole field of Expert Systems and of Agent Technology can also be considered under this component of ICT in Instruction. We are left to ponder the question: "If an ICT system can solve or substantially aid in the solution of a category of problems, what should students be learning about this category of problems?"

8. Computer-Assisted Learning and Distance Learning

Computer-Assisted Learning (CAL) involves an interaction between a person and a software-based course or unit of study. There are literally thousands of these types of CAL units. Often they are a combination of CAL and entertainment and are called Edutainment. (See Component 4 given above.) Several companies have developed extensive sets of CAL materials that cover substantial amounts of the curriculum. These are called Integrated Learning Systems. These sets of CAL materials typically contain a record keeping system. They can print out individualized reports for the various students using the system.

There is a substantial and growing research base on CAL. In brief summary, on average, for a wide range of subject matter areas and a wide range of students, CAL works. Specifically (on average) students learn significantly faster and better. A 1994 meta-meta study by James Kulik reported an average effect size of about .35 (a 50th percentile student becoming a 65th percentile student) and time savings of about 20%.

Distance Learning existed long before computers came on the scene. Most common was the use of the postal service to carry on a "correspondence" with the course instructor, and such distance education was called a Correspondence Course. Some pre-computer alternatives included use of radio, telephone, and television in either a one-way or a two-way communication mode. Now, the Internet makes possible email courses, and the Web makes possible Web-based courses

A particular Distance Learning course (or unit) can usually be classified as synchronous or asynchronous. In a synchronous communication, there is relatively quick interchange between the course instructor and the students, and perhaps among the students. Two-way audio, two-way video provides an example.

In an asynchronous Distance Learning course (or unit), the instructor and the students are not typically online all at the same time. For example, students may view a video tape or a television broadcast, and then send in materials to the instructor via postal service, email, fax, and so on. Students might interact with Web-based materials and then email to the instructor. At a later date, the instructor may email back to individual students.

Often an asynchronous course will have a synchronous component (for example, all participants will come together in a "Chat Room" at a specified time). Or, perhaps all students will come to the campus for a face-to-face meeting with the instructor for a day or more.

Similarly, a synchronous Distance Learning course is apt to have asynchronous components. Students do assignments that they mail in via postal service or email. The instructor grades these assignments and provides feedback.

Distance Learning and Computer-Assisted Learning substantially overlap. It is clear that the combined area of Distance Learning and CAL is prospering and will continue to grow in importance. (I am currently using the name Technology Enhanced Learning, or TEL, to represent this learning environment. The reader should be aware that this term has not yet gained widespread acceptance.)

We also need to keep in mind that TEL is increasingly being built into software tools. We are moving beyond User-Friendly Tools, with a new target being Learner-Centered Tools. The important educational idea is that increasingly, when a person is trying to accomplish a task using a computer, the computer (and connectivity) can provide just in time instruction that may help the person learn to do the task. Notice the importance of a student having learned to learn in this environment--of being an independent self-sufficient learning in a TEL environment. This is an emerging new and very important goal in education.

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