It is going to be very difficult—if not impossible—for countries to meet the objective of effective learning, for all, anywhere, anytime. Our inability to meet this challenge, however, is self-inflicted because we tend to think of linear scaling, that is, using the same model of education (a school constrained by space and time) but more of it and on a larger scale. What we really need is to think radically and differently.
Here ICTs are offered as a solution to this dilemma. Almost every decision maker in every school system 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 many directions:
- Vendors who wish to sell the most advanced technologies
- Parents who want to ensure that their children are not left behind in the technological revolution
- Businesses that want to replicate in schools the dramatic impact that ICTs have had in the worlds of commerce, business, and entertainment
- Technology advocates who see ICTs as the latest hope for reform education
The question that many decision makers are asking is: If technologies have the potential to significantly improve the teaching/learning process and revolutionize the education enterprise, in the same manner in which they revolutionized business and entertainment, why haven't we experienced such drastic effects consistently? If technologies are the solution they claim to be, then where is the problem?
Research and experience have shown that the answer to this question is embedded in two critical explorations of the nature and use of ICTs and in two crucial applications of the potential of ICTs and the conditions for their effectiveness.
- What technologies are we talking about?
- To what use are we putting ICTs?
- Is the potential of ICTs properly exploited?
- Are the conditions for ICT effectiveness met?
The first two questions are discussed below; the second two are elaborated in the next sections.
3.1 What Technologies Are We Talking About?
Decision makers frequently talk about technology in the singular. Technologies differ in their properties, scope, and potential. An audio technology can only capture sound, while a video technology depicts sound and motion. A CD provides multimedia digital content, while a Web version adds interactivity.
Under pressures to be fashionable and adopt the latest educational innovations, the temptation is to limit ICTs to the Internet and exclude other technologies such as radio and television. These technologies use reception equipment that is readily available in homes, have proven to be effective and inexpensive in packaging high-quality educational materials, reach "unreachable clientele," and overcome geographical and cultural hurdles.
Additionally, it is important to distinguish among three types of technologies: instrument technologies, instructional technologies, and dissemination technologies. For instance, a video is an instructional technology, a TV or DVD is an instrument, and a TV broadcast is a dissemination technology. Similarly, a multimedia module is an instructional technology, the CD or Web is a dissemination technology, and a computer is an instrument. In planning for, implementing, and assessing ICT-enhanced projects we need to be clear about the types of technology we are talking about.
3.2 To What Use Are We Putting ICTs?
The impact of ICTs for education depends to a large extent on the purpose for which ICTs are used. For example, if videos are talking heads and software is digital text, we should not expect learning results significantly different from classroom lecturing or textbook use. However, these instructional technologies may extend educational opportunities to situations where there is no lecturer or textbook.
Thus the selection of a technology and the way it is used is partially determined by what is expected of it in terms of educational, learning, or teaching objectives. Educational objectives are discussed further in Section 4 below. Learning objectives expected from technologies range over the following spectrum:
Storage and Display → Exploration → Application → Analysis → Evaluation → Constructing a Project
Teaching objectives expected from technology use range over the following spectrum:
Presentation → Demonstration → Drill & Practice → Animation/Simulation → Research → Collaboration
The selection of a technology is also determined in part by whether it is meant to be used
- on location or at a distance, or
- for enrichment, an integral part of a school program, or stand-alone (e.g., virtual course or program).