Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Enabling Conditions For Effective & Sustainable Technology Integration in Schools

Inspite of spending crores of rupees on building a technology infrastructure over the last decade, schools in India (private and government schools alike) have made woefully slow progress in leveraging these assets for better teaching and learning. Conscious observations of classrooms leave educators trained in technology integration wondering whether technology usage in its current form will have any impact on the realization of the universal objective of 21st century schooling - to create lifelong learners who are able to survive in today’s knowledge and creative economy. If the current practices continue, fast forward 5-10 years from now and what will we have? Either a bunch of disillusioned schools that will be unable to justify the enormous price-tag that accompanies ‘unproductive’ technology solutions, or a bunch of ill-advised schools that will continue to bumble through technology investments with no cognizance of how under-utilized their technology investments are.

With corporates such as Intel, HP and Microsoft (whose long-term fortunes directly correlate to PC penetration in schools) making commitments to the education sector, technology largesse and spending are poised to grow. Besides, the tech-savvy new generation of kids exposed to the ‘read & write’ web (web 2.0) and new media digital tools deserves an education that leverages this exposure and comfort with technology that they enjoy. Unless all the stakeholders involved become cognizant of certain ingredients that are needed within schools for sustainable & effective technology integration in the classrooms, all this effort and expense will not result in commensurate betterment of technology-enabled teaching & learning.

Much like Larry Cuban provided a reality-check of the state of technology in U.S. schools in the late-90’s (in his book Computers in the Classroom: Oversold and Underused), this article, based on a real, hard look at the current state of technology use in the Indian K-12 education, aims to detail some critical ingredients that are so critical to achieving durable success in this realm.
The suggestions presented here take the form of a set of enabling conditions that must be in place for schools to succeed in their goal of effective technology integration that is sustainable as well. A short-fall in any of these ingredients can and will result in inefficient, ill-conceived or even inappropriate use of technology.
What is heartening is that implementing these ‘enabling’ factors will cost a fraction of the typical capital technology investment. To implement these will not require a huge financial outlay. What it will require is for all parties concerned to be aware of these factors, budget any attendant expenses attached to implementing these as ‘operating expenses’ for incorporating technology in their schools, and attempt to ensure that these are all in place, most, if not all, of the time.

‘Enabling conditions’ for successful technology integration in schools -

  • ‘Digital Fluency’ among Teachers or in other words, their comfort level with technology. How often have we seen teachers throw up their hands at a paper jam in a printer, or wonder about a ‘hung’ system (which is quite often the case when the system in question is Microsoft Windows), or call for help to connect a data projector to a computer?

    All these point to a basic lack of comfort with computers. What is needed among teachers is not simply digital literacy, but digital fluency. Just as fluency with a language takes one beyond mere literacy and helps one understand the nuances of a language, digital fluency helps one handle the unexpected when it comes to technology – which, as it turns out, is quite often the case. This does not mean that teachers need to be trained computer professionals. It does mean that teachers should move beyond viewing the computer or any other piece of hardware as a mysterious object that only the very exalted can handle. They should be able to playfully explore a piece of technology (be it a digital camera or a new piece of software) without fear or intimidation. Unless they achieve this comfort level with technology, they will constantly be faced with situations where they have to abort a technology-based lesson due to a problem that they could have handled with some fearless ‘poking around’.

    In today’s networked world, digital fluency also means teachers harness the power of technology (the internet in particular) for communications (email, blogs, e-groups) and productivity tasks, in addition to using technology in the classroom.
  • Good ‘educational technology’ infrastructure. The most common mistake schools make is to equate ‘technology’ with ‘computers’. The term ‘Educational Technology’ may include a wide gamut of hardware such as digital cameras, audio and video recorders, scanners, printers, Internet, TV, radio, graphing calculators, GPS (for GIS in schools), handheld probes and sensors, robotics and other science kits; and software that goes beyond the usual Microsoft Office Suite to include image processing software, tools for ‘brain-based’ learning for children such as concept-map makers, GIS for mapping and such. All these work (with or without computers) to enhance teaching and learning and allow teachers to truly ‘leverage’ technology to allow teachers to do things they cannot do otherwise.

  • Teacher-training that is aimed specifically at how to leverage technology for better teaching and learning. Teachers need to understand the very basic distinctions between ‘teaching about technology’ and ‘teaching with technology’ in order to design curriculum that uses technology meaningfully. Since this is still a yawning gap in the current pre-service teacher education programs, the need must be met through in-service training.

  • Engagement with ‘technology integration specialists’ or ‘instructional technologists’ i.e. trained professionals who can help teachers with the tasks of meaningful integration of technology into the curriculum.

  • Good systems administrators & technical support staff to be at hand to perform the crucial help-desk functions for teachers, while also maintaining school systems and setting up the necessary security infrastructure for networked computers.

  • Time table scheduling that is conducive to the use of technology. Unless teachers are able to use a ‘block’ of 2 periods, the usual 40 minutes allotted to a subject is usually grossly insufficient for a technology-based lesson, for the simple reason that it takes about that long to get a class of 50 going on a particular computer-based task!

  • Appropriate physical spaces for students in which to use technology. Computers locked away in a sanitized ‘computer lab’ and accessible to students for brief periods will not make for the fun, exploratory learning environments, which computers are supposed to engender.

  • Convenient access for teachers to technology that exists in the school. In addition to students, teachers must also have spaces and equipment to work with for lesson planning, administrative tasks, internet research, printing, scanning, and such. They should be able to conveniently download, print and scan, and generally use the wealth of materials already available in print and electronic media, or create their own.

    Such spaces are also essential for the open exploration of technology that is needed to make the teaching staff ‘digitally fluent’.

  • Vision of the school management that strives for good teaching & learning fueled by the use of technology. Such a vision will most likely translate into a digitally literate, if not ‘digitally fluent’, school management that is conversant with the lay of the land, and empathetic towards the nature of the technological needs of the school, its teachers and students that will result in good classroom practices.


Zephyr said...

I am assuming you are restricting yourself to the system of private schools which can at least think about addressing some of the issues you bring out.
Do you have some thoughts on technology in education as known to a vast majority of India - that of the government school variety ? If you were the education minister of India, what measures would you take knowing the reality of how these schools function ?

Shuchi Grover said...

While I am restricting myself mostly to private schools that are at liberty to effect any change in their schools, certainly some of these issues could be kept in mind when the government budgets for teacher training and human resource allocation in government schools especially since a fair percentage of the government schools esp. in the urban areas do have some technology infrastructure.

Inspite of the proliferation of computers now in India, does any preservice teacher education program deal with how to equip techers on how to use technology effectively in their teaching? The DIETs use technology-aided distance education (of the passive "tele-education" variety) for (in-service) training of teachers. I just think that the area of effective use of technology is an area completely ignored even where schools (government or otherwise) do have a technology infrastructure.

a.v.koshy said...

zephyr's point is valid to an extent...
my comments after reading your post are two practical ones/doubts

i agree fully with the idea of tech/comps in class - not in a comp lab -

poking around with equipment for fun is the right way to learn how to do things but here what zephyr said becomes slightly relevant even in private schools - while in class im scared to fool around with equipment or let students do it - something im not scared to do at home - because of the prohibitive cost of such gadgets and the fear that if something gets spoiled i'll end up paying for it from a salary that cant afford such a strain - the idea of students having to pay for "it" sounding just as bad -
the takeaway was the idea of digital fluency -something i really want to achieve :)