Tuesday, May 01, 2012
Recent reports from different parts of the world show that computer / IT supported learning programmes are not yielding the learning improvements expected.
So why is this happening?
After looking at a fair number of IT-based programmes, software, and reports from different sources, this appears to be because something critical is being ignored: that improved learning requires both improved relationships and processes, and a clearer focus on outcomes considered worthwhile. Let me explain this a little.
1. IT Use Doesn't Seek to Impact Relationships
Relationships among the key stakeholders - teachers, students, parents / community, school heads, supervisors and administrators, and academic support personnel - cannot be bypassed; without improving them, it is difficult to see learning outcomes improve. Living in the hope that IT usage will make a difference here, is to be unrealistic. For relationships to flourish, apart from changing the teacher's role (and several other aspects), activities that require real group thinking would make a difference. At present the IT material has not paid sufficient attention here, though it is uniquely placed to do so, especially in gaming software.
In addition, of course, several governance changes are required (e.g. in how school 'inspection' takes place) as well as in management of learning (through better preparation for teaching, classroom organization and use of assessment). Again, a misplaced emphasis on IT will not see changes here.
2. IT Use Could - But Doesn't - Sufficiently Impact Processes:
Some parts of the curriculum require face time between teachers and students, and among students themselves. Some parts are better handled through IT - I believe such an analysis of curriculum has not been done, resulting in everything being dumped on to IT, much of which it is not really in a position to support. (Khan Academy does try to increase the face time by 'reversing' the class, but it still does not do this analysis sufficiently and could benefit from it).
3. IT Use Doesn't Always Focus On The Outcomes It Should
The tendency is to focus mainly on a limited number of scholastic outcomes. In fact, even within the subjects themselves, higher order learning objectives are often ignored, or under-represented. Believe it or not, this affects the learning of other aspects as well! E.g. children who have the opportunity to make creative use of language end up being better in grammar and spelling than children who get an overdose of grammar and spelling. A great deal of IT material is geared to towards getting children to answer tests / exams rather than help in real, long-term learning.
But other than the subjects, larger curricular goals - such as cooperation, respect for diversity, development of a scientific outlook and an ecological perspective, developing a questioning mind, democratic values - hardly figure in much of the IT based material / activities. Implying that it is, at best, supporting some parts of subject-oriented learning rather than education as such.
So is all this emphasis on 'modern technology' wrong and misguided? No, not necessarily wrong, but our expectations are certainly misplaced. In our desire to find the one single magic solution we have ignored the many other actions that need to be taken before learning improves. Perhaps focusing on IT seems easier and more exciting than than the hard work that the other stuff requires.
At any rate, IT is clearly not the silver bullet that many desperately believe it to be. It needs to be treated as just one more tool to be used, rather than as a solution for problems that it can't solve. And even as a tool, it needs to be used much better than is the case at present.