Thomas Edison, the father of electricity and inventor of the motion picture, predicted in 1922 that "the motion picture is destined to revolutionize our educational system and ... in a few years it will supplant largely, if not entirely, the use of textbooks."
Since then high levels of excitement and expectation have been generated by every new generation of information and communication technologies (ICTs): compact discs and CD-ROMs, videodiscs, microcomputer-based laboratories, the Internet, virtual reality, local and wide area networks, instructional software, Macs, PCs, laptops, notebooks, educational television, voice mail, e-mail, satellite communication, VCRs, cable TV, interactive radio, etc. The list of "hot" technologies available for education goes on and on.
Twenty years ago, Seymour Papert, when he was at the MIT Technology Lab, predicted that, "there won't be schools in the future…. I think the Computer will blow up the school, that is, the school as something where there are classes, teachers running exams, people structured in groups by age, [who] follow a curriculum—all of that."
Where are we today?
ICTs have definitely revolutionized business processes and organizations, created a worldwide network of e-commerce, and turned the domain of entertainment into a fascinating experience. But can ICTs have a similar impact in education?
There are the believers, the skeptics, the agnostics, and the pragmatists.
- Believers think that under the right conditions technologies can have a monumental impact on the expansion of learning opportunities to wider populations, beyond the confines of teaching institutions and over the lifetime of the individual. Also, technologies can improve the teaching/learning process, enhance higher levels of cognition, and facilitate institutional management.
- The skeptics have been told many times before that certain technologies, from filmstrips to tape-recorders to television, would remake their world. Why is it any different this time?
- The agnostics are not sure. They have an open mind but do not think that there is enough evidence to incorporate ICTs into educational systems. They think that our empirical knowledge of the effectiveness of different ICTs is spotty, and that our experience with what works and does not is still tentative.
- The pragmatists are holding back. The technologies are changing so fast and prices are dropping so rapidly, that they are waiting for the technologies to stabilize and prices to hit bottom.
Yet almost every decision maker in every school system across the world is under tremendous pressure to provide every classroom (if not every student) with technologies, including computers and their accessories and connectivity to the Internet. The pressures are coming from vendors who wish to sell the most advanced technologies; from parents who want to ensure that their children are not left behind in the technological revolution; from businesses that want to replicate in schools the dramatic impact that ICTs have had in the worlds of commerce, business, and entertainment; and from technology advocates who see ICTs as the latest hope to reform education.