Information Technology in Education

I INTRODUCTION

Information Technology in Education, effects of the continuing developments in information technology (IT) on education.

The pace of change brought about by new technologies has had a significant effect on the way people live, work, and play worldwide. New and emerging technologies challenge the traditional process of teaching and learning, and the way education is managed. Information technology, while an important area of study in its own right, is having a major impact across all curriculum areas. Easy worldwide communication provides instant access to a vast array of data, challenging assimilation and assessment skills. Rapid communication, plus increased access to IT in the home, at work, and in educational establishments, could mean that learning becomes a truly lifelong activity—an activity in which the pace of technological change forces constant evaluation of the learning process itself.

II DEVELOPMENT OF A STRATEGY FOR IT IN THE UNITED KINGDOM

From the early days of computers, the United Kingdom has recognized the need to develop a national strategy for the use of IT in education. England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland have developed separate but similar plans. The IT strategy for schools was initially developed in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland through the government-funded Microelectronics Education Programme, which had a research and development role from 1981 to 1986. Then followed the Microelectronics Education Support Unit, which provided professional support to local education authorities (LEAs). This merged in 1988 with the Council for Educational Technology to become the National Council for Educational Technology (NCET), with the wider remit of evaluating and promoting the use of new technologies in education and training. Scotland set up the Scottish Council for Educational Technology (SCET) to support developments for Scottish schools. NCET was a registered charity, funded primarily by the Department for Education and Employment (DfEE, retitled as the Department for Education and Skills or DfES after the 2001 general election). In April 1998 it was given a new role as the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (BECTA).

In 1988 the Conservative government set up the Information Technology in Schools (ITIS) initiative to oversee expenditure in this area. The initial strategy focused on encouraging teacher training in new technologies and the provision of hardware in schools. Grants were made to LEAs; before obtaining the grant, each LEA was required to produce a policy statement and a five-year plan for the development of IT in its area. Different but similar initiatives were developed in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, with the general aim of stimulating schools and local authorities to support curriculum and management use of IT. Of substantial importance across the whole of the United Kingdom was the inclusion of IT as an essential component of the national curriculum for every student aged 5 to 16. The curriculum identifies a core set of IT capabilities and stresses that these should be developed by applying them across subject areas.

Grants to schools for IT development in England ceased in 1994. From 1994 to 1997 government strategy was based on providing information and advice to schools and stimulating the purchase of newer technologies. Following legislation in 1988, schools and colleges became increasingly autonomous in making their own purchasing and staffing decisions. The government was concerned to ensure the growth of viable and appropriate commercial markets for new IT products for schools and colleges. Through a number of NCET-managed intervention strategies, it stimulated specific areas, for example, the introduction of CD-ROMs in schools.

Between 1991 and 1995 some £12 million of government funding was made available through NCET for the purchase of CD-ROM systems by schools and the development of curriculum materials. This strategy resulted in over 90 per cent of secondary schools and more than 30 per cent of primary schools in England having access to CD-ROM systems and in the development of an independent market for CD-ROM hardware and software for schools. Similar initiatives of varying scales and technologies, including portable computers for teachers, communications technologies, multimedia desktop computers, satellite technologies and integrated learning systems and libraries, have all contributed to keeping UK schools up to date with changes in technology. Research conducted by NCET showed clearly that IT changes what people learn and how they learn it.

After Labour came to power in May 1997, there was a marked change in government strategy in information and communications technology (ICT) for schools and colleges. Much of this strategy was based on developing a National Grid for Learning (NGfL). The concept was a mosaic of networks and content providers linked together to create a nationwide learning network for schools, colleges, libraries, and, eventually, homes. To achieve this the government set targets for the year 2002: all schools should be connected to the NGfL, all teachers should be competent and confident to teach with ICT, all students should leave school with a good understanding of ICT, and all transactions between central and local government and schools will be electronic. To support this strategy the DfEE provided £50 million in 1998-1999, matched by LEAs and schools. Scotland and Northern Ireland developed similar initiatives and by the end of 1999 all 1,300 schools in Northern Ireland were linked to the Internet. Plans were also made for substantial (costing over £200 million) teacher-training programmes across the United Kingdom; the scheme was run by the New Opportunities Fund (NOF), which reported in 2000 that, to that date, almost half of the teachers in England had registered for ICT training.

A IT in Schools

In 1996 there was an average of 96 computers per secondary school and 13 per primary school in England, for example. Expenditure on IT by schools steadily increased from £20 million per year in 1984 to £132 million in 1994, with well over half coming from schools’ budgets and the rest from central and local government sources. Despite this positive picture, hardware provision is variable, with some schools having a computer-to-pupil ratio of 1 to 3, while others have a ratio of 1 to 60. The average computer-to-pupil ratio in 1995-1996 was 1 to 19 in primary schools, and 1 to 9 in secondary schools. LEAs were set a target for the year 2001-2002 of 1 computer to 11 pupils in primary schools, and 1 to 7 in secondary schools.

B IT in Further Education

The provision of hardware and software resources varies substantially in further education (FE) colleges. Learning resource centres now often contain learning materials published on CD-ROM, and most colleges are connected to the Internet. These technologies have the potential to develop “virtual campuses” and thus increase student access and participation. Although there is a trend towards individualized programmes of study for students, little use is made as yet of computer-managed learning. A programme of training in educational technology for FE staff called the Quilt initiative was launched in February 1997 as a joint initiative between NCET, the Further Education Development Agency, the DfEE, and FE colleges.

C IT in Higher Education

All UK universities are connected to the Internet via the academic network known as JANET. A high-speed broadband version of this network, SuperJANET, is being developed. It currently links 60 universities and enables high-quality moving video to be networked for remote teaching and research purposes. In 1993, through the Teaching and Learning Technology Programme, the Higher Education Funding Council provided over £11 million for 76 projects to develop software materials to support the university curriculum. Use of such materials is encouraged by 20 university centres set up under the Computers in Teaching Initiative. The use of the Internet and CD-ROM to access information continues to grow. In 2000 the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) announced a new project, the ‘e-University’, to develop web-based learning for higher education institutions.

D IT in Training

In 1994 research by a group called Benchmark found that use of computer-based training in public and private organizations in the United Kingdom had grown from 29 per cent in 1991 to 60 per cent in 1994. The use of other educational technologies was also evident: 12 per cent using interactive video, 6 per cent CD-I (compact disc-interactive), and 6 per cent CD-ROM.

III IT AND THE CURRICULUM

As part of the IT curriculum, learners are encouraged to regard computers as tools to be used in all aspects of their studies. In particular, they need to make use of the new multimedia technologies to communicate ideas, describe projects, and order information in their work. This requires them to select the medium best suited to conveying their message, to structure information in a hierarchical manner, and to link together information to produce a multidimensional document.

In addition to being a subject in its own right, IT has an impact on most other curriculum areas, since the National Curriculum requires all school pupils from 5 to 16 years to use IT in every compulsory subject. Science uses computers with sensors for logging and handling data; mathematics uses IT in modelling, geometry, and algebra; in design and technology, computers contribute to the pre-manufacture stages; for modern languages, electronic communications give access to foreign broadcasts and other materials; and in music, computers enable pupils to compose and perform without having to learn to play traditional instruments. For those with special educational needs, IT provides access to mainstream materials and enables students to express their thoughts in words, designs, and activities despite their disabilities.

IV IT AND LEARNING PRODUCTIVITY

Using IT, learners can absorb more information and take less time to do so. Projects investigating the use of IT in learning demonstrate increased motivation in children and adults alike. In some cases it can mean success for people who have previously always failed. Learners may be more productive, challenge themselves more, be bolder, and have more confidence.

V INTEGRATED LEARNING SYSTEMS

Another use of IT in learning is currently undergoing trials in the United Kingdom: integrated learning systems (ILS). These involve learning through rather than about IT, by providing structured, individualized tuition in numeracy and literacy. Using the system for short, regular sessions, learners progress through the programme at a steady but challenging rate. The system keeps a progress record, assesses the learner’s rate of performance, and produces reports for teachers, learners, and parents. This approach provides highly structured, targeted, and assessed learning for short periods of time.

Pupils and teachers alike find the individual ILS reports helpful and motivating, and teachers have never before had such detailed and accurate analysis of children’s abilities. The learning gains demonstrated so far have been encouraging. The multimedia attributes of the system make it possible to demonstrate complex concepts, and students can proceed at their own pace free from the pressure of their peers. Similar trials are taking place in Australia, Israel, and New Zealand. Integrated learning systems are used extensively in the United States.

VI COMMUNICATION TECHNOLOGIES IN EDUCATION AND TRAINING

The use of communication tools such as e-mail, fax, computer, and videoconferencing overcomes barriers of space and time and opens new possibilities for learning. The use of such technology is increasing, and it is now possible to deliver training to a widely dispersed audience by means of on-demand two-way video over terrestrial broadband networks. The vocational training sector has been supported by developments in this area in Britain by projects funded by the Education and Employment Department and the European Commission’s Socrates and Leonardo programmes. Many schools have gained experience of communications through e-mail and electronic conferencing systems that run over the telephone network. The Education Department’s Superhighways Initiative comprises 25 projects—involving over 1,000 UK schools and colleges—that focus on the application of electronic communications in schools and colleges.

Schools and colleges are making increasing use of the Internet. In 1997 all FE colleges, most secondary schools, and some primary schools had access to the Internet but it was expected that all schools would be online by 2002. Schools use the Internet both to access materials, people, and resources, and to display their own Web pages created by teachers and students. The use of videoconferencing is growing slowly and has helped some students learn foreign languages by talking directly to other students abroad. In January 2000, it was announced that teachers taking part in information technology training schemes would receive a subsidy of up to £500 to buy computing equipment.

A Computer Based Management Information Systems

Following a government initiative with LEAs in 1987, schools have made increasing use of computers for administration. The 1988 Education Act gave schools the responsibility for budgets, teacher and pupil records, and many other day-to-day administrative tasks. Many LEAs integrated their schools’ administrative systems with their own financial systems and provided extensive training and support for this. Between 1987 and 1997 schools and LEAs spent over £600 million on equipment and support. This has led to increasingly sophisticated uses of computer-based management information systems (CMIS), and the trend continues as communication technologies offer the opportunity for schools, LEAs, and government to exchange and compare data easily.

VII IT IN EDUCATION IN THE UNITED STATES

Education in the United States is organized at the state and school district level, but significant funding for IT in schools is provided through federal programmes. While all schools make some use of computers, the level of that use varies widely. Between 15 and 20 per cent of schools make extensive use of integrated learning systems. Multimedia computers have been used by some schools to develop pupils’ skills in producing essays containing text, sound, and still and moving images. The proposed extension of electronic communications systems, such as the Internet to all “K-12” schools (kindergarten through grade 12, that is, up to age 18), has given rise to a number of pilots investigating how the education system could capitalize on the opportunities offered.

In his paper of February 23, 1993, Technology for America’s Growth, President Clinton declared that in teaching there should be an emphasis on high performance. He announced new public investment to support technology with the aim of increasing the productivity of teaching and learning in schools.

VIII IT IN EDUCATION IN AUSTRALIA

In Australia, the range and quality of IT-supported learning are comparable to that in Britain. A number of technology-led initiatives have been funded by federal and state departments. The federal government has identified the emerging information age as a major opportunity for Australian industry and society in general. A national strategy has been announced that is to explore ways of networking schools and colleges.

IX IT IN EDUCATION IN CANADA

Each individual provincial government in Canada has responsibility for running its schools, colleges, and universities. Although these may vary in their approach to education, they are all making substantial investments in IT. In particular, they are developing their use of communication technologies to support their school, college, and university systems. Provinces such as British Columbia and Nova Scotia have invested in extensive networks, which offer distance-learning programmes to overcome geographical barriers and to develop school and community use of technology. National involvement in this and the development of a national “Schoolnet” network is supported by the federal department of “Industry Canada”.

X FUTURE TRENDS IN TECHNOLOGY AND LEARNING

Radical technological developments in miniaturization, electronic communications, and multimedia hold the promise of affordable, truly personal, mobile computing. The move to digital data is blurring the boundary between broadcasting, publishing, and telephony by making all these media available through computer networks and computerized televisions (see Digital Broadcasting and Electronic Publishing). These developments are not only giving learners access to vast libraries and multimedia resources but also live access to tutors and natural phenomena throughout the world.

As technology provides easier access for students to material previously supplied by the teacher, it enhances the role of the teacher as manager of the learning process rather than source of the content. Easier access for students to information, tutorials, and assessment, together with the use of IT tools such as word processors and spreadsheets, will help them learn more productively. There will be a clear split in the way schools and colleges organize learning. In areas of the curriculum that are structured and transferable to electronic format, students will work at different levels and on different content. By removing the burden of individualized learning from schools and colleges, time will be freed for teachers to concentrate on the many other learning activities requiring a teacher as the catalyst.

Developments in communications technology and the increase in personal ownership of technology will allow learning in schools and colleges to integrate with learning elsewhere. The boundaries between one institution and another and between institutions and the outside world will become less important. Crucially, technology will remove the barrier between school and home.

The momentum of the technological revolution creates rapid and disruptive changes in the way in which people live, work, and play. As the pace of technological advance shows no sign of slowing, the challenge is in learning to adapt to changes with the minimum of physical and mental stress. To make this possible, the learning systems and those who manage them must prepare people to work with new technologies competently and confidently. They need to expect and embrace constant change to skill requirements and work patterns, making learning a natural lifelong process.

However disturbing this challenge may at first seem, the nature of technology is that it not only poses problems but also offers solutions—constantly creating opportunities and providing new and creative solutions to the process of living and learning.

Contributed By:
Margaret Bell

Reviewed By:
Peter Avis

Credited Image: aliexpress