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Impacts of ICT in education. The role of the teacher and teacher training.

A.K. Jager and A.H. Lokman
Stoas Research, Wageningen, The Netherlands

Paper Presented at the European Conference on Educational Research, Lahti, Finland 22 - 25 September 1999

1.1 problem definition

The use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in Dutch education is lagging behind expectation and desire. Hence, the advisory ‘Commitee On Multimedia In Teacher Training’ (COMMITT, at present PROMMITT), established by the Dutch Minister of Education, has drawn up recommendations on the design of the learning process in the future and the role of ICT to support this process, with a focus on teacher training. The committee argues for a powerful role of teacher training in the process of educational innovation and the implementation of ICT. The teacher training institutes are providing the teachers of the future and the committee assumes that teachers are the keyfigures in arranging learning processes. The institutes, therefore, have to anticipate new developments and prepare prospective teachers for their future role. The nature and extent to which ICT is being used in education is considered to be a result of synergy between ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom up’ processes. In the latter especially, a contribution of the teacher training institutes can be expected. According to commit, teacher training institutes therefore have to shift their focus from dealing with present education to that of ‘future education’.

Within the PROMMITT action-programme, Stoas Research analyses the future educational practices of the vet-professional. Accordingly, teachers can be as much as possible prepared and thus, can encourage the implementation of ICT in secondary vocational education.

The main research question is: What is the teachers’ prospective role in a richly ICT-designed learning environment and what competences are required for this role?

1.2 Research questions

The following questions are posed in our study:

1.3 ICT in dutch vocational education

ICT is a generic term referring to technologies which are being used for collecting, storing, editing and passing on information in various forms (SER, 1997). A personal computer is the best known example of the use of ICT in education, but the term multimedia is also frequently used. Multimedia can be interpreted as a combination of data carriers, for example video, CD-ROM, floppy disc and Internet and software in which the possibility for an interactive approach is offered (Smeets, 1996).

Generally, the following functions of the use of ICT in education are described in literature (SER, 1998, Moonen and Kommers, 1995, Pilot, 1998).

  1. ICT as object. It refers to learning about ICT. Mostly organised in a specific course. What is being learned depends on the type of education and the level of the students. Education prepares students for the use of ICT in education, future occupation and social life.
  2. ICT as an ‘assisting tool’. ICT is used as a tool, for example while making assignments, collecting data and documentation, communicating and conducting research. Typically, ICT is used independently from the subject matter.
  3. ICT as a medium for teaching and learning. This refers tot ICT as a tool for teaching and learning itself, the medium through which teachers can teach and learners can learn. It appears in many different forms, such as drill and practice exercises, in simulations and educational networks.
  4. ICT as a tool for organisation and management in schools.

In 1998, OCTO (a Dutch educational research institute) studied the extent in which ICT is actually being used for realising the above-mentioned functions. The research was carried out on all educational levels in The Netherlands. The present work concentrates on vocational education.

However, given the lack of a sufficient response, a reliable image for the entire sector cannot be given, but an impression of the status quo of the use of ICT in vocational education is possible. (Janssen Reinen, 1999). ICT is never being used as a (learning) objective by 33 of 55 teachers; 27 teachers do not use ICT as teaching material and 21 teachers do not use ICT as an aid. If the computer is being used, then this is mainly for the purpose of word processing and exercising the lessons. Thus, it seems that the computer is being used especially for supporting more traditional educational settings (Janssen Reinen, 1999).

We can conclude (present work and uncited literature) that ICT has many technical possibilities, but that the real innovative use of ICT is not broadly adopted in Dutch vocational education.

1.4 Research method

This paper will discuss the questions concerning ICT and education (not ICT in occupational practice). Several methods of data collection were used for this component of the project.

As described in the first paragraph, the main research question concerned the future learning environment and the teacher’s prospective role. To know more about this future, several scenarios on future developments in education have been studied. Because many scenarios have already been completed, we did not perform our own study, but used the available literature (e.g. Ter Woude, 1996, Van den Dool e.a., 1998, Pilot e.a., 1996). Published studies were scanned especially for the role and impact of ICT. Furthermore, experts were heard about this topic. We gathered additional information on the role of the teacher by visiting schools where ICT is already being used ‘extensively’. Information on organisational level was gathered and interviews were conducted with teachers. These interviews were aimed AT the teacher’s tasks, roles and required competences to fulfil these tasks and roles properly. In addition, literature on job profiles of teachers and implementation literature was studied.

1.5 Results

We will discuss the four main tentative conclusions of the study.

1.5.1 ‘educational designing-skills’ as the core of the future teaching profession.

Having to use ICT in an innovative manner is an important bottleneck teachers have to cope with (Van den Dool, 1998). It can be interpreted as a ‘design-question’ and allows us to formulate the proposition that ‘educational designing’ skills form the core of the future teaching profession.

Based on the scenario-studies and interviews with experts we can conclude that (to learn how) designing is necessary to be able to realise the desirable education. Furthermore, reasoned from the actual situation, it is plausible that teachers do not yet possess these ‘educational designing skills’ sufficiently at present. We will clarify this.

Given its uncertainties, we do not know what education in the future will look like. Nevertheless, it is possible to outline scenarios and to formulate expectations. From previously conducted scenario-studies, politics appear to have deduced a sort of idealised image of future education in which ICT is integrated completely. An image in which, for example, ICT is used for communication between students and teachers, in which internet, laptops and simulations are being used and (consequently) in which a variety of learning environments are possible. Teacher-centred and whole-class instruction is no longer the dominant teaching method. Other essential points are the booms in the field of ICT and the large availability of information. As a result, there will be less time for passing on information in education.

Based on this image we can actually conclude that education is nowadays lagging behind the expectations and wishes. However, in some scenario-studies, it was pointed out that external developments could prevent extensive integration of ICT in education. For example, Ter Woude (1996) has identified the wishes of the consumer and the economical developments, the situation in a boom or in a recession, as important factors.

Experts especially emphasise the strong coherence between the strategic ‘design-thinking’ of the schools and of teachers (inside these schools) and the degree in which education as outlined will be realised.

First of all, schools should, from a society point of view, reflect on the concept of learning in a future society, the part that education will play, what they will teach their students. Subsequently, schools should determine how they can realise this from an educational angle. Especially it seems to be lacking of this view on society (apart from the exceptions, Free, 1998).

Once the objectives have been determined, the question of using (if and when) ICT becomes relevant. In this process, a great variety of alternatives and choices are possible, which may arise among schools depending on the way and degree in which they will use ICT as an adequate mean to realise their educational goals. Whether or not ICT is being used, a vision and ‘educational design’ is necessary.

It seems that the attention focussed on the use of ICT in education has rather quickened and sharpened the discussion about educational development and future education.

For what characterises current education? Although teachers consult each other more frequently, the teacher eventually decides on the educational practise in his class room. He is responsible and has the opportunity, as long as the results are satisfactory, to teach in the way he pleases. However, in practice (the classical teaching situation), the teaching method usually seems to be determinative and limits the teacher in his possibilities. Education and teacher are tied to a specific content of education, timetables, amount of face-to-face instruction, instruction time, class rooms, etcetera. Even the teacher’s status is laid down (De Wolf, 1998). Legal provisions also determine the educational practice in schools.

Because of these constraints teachers are insufficiently challenged and stimulated to create powerful learning environments and guide students in their learning processes individually and therefore, the use of ICT does not take place.

Summarising, we can conclude that the implementation of ICT cannot be realised by blueprints. Schools and teachers should learn and should be able to design their own educational situation, possibly choosing from the varied potential ICT has to offer.

1.5.2 The VET-professional beyond counselling of learning processes. knowledge OF Subject matTer remains important.

Concluding from the scenario-studies and constructivistic learning theories, the profession of the teacher will shift from transferring knowledge to guiding learning processes (Van den Dool, 1998, Van Heule, 1998). It has to do with the fact that information is increasingly available in the present (knowledge) society. moreover, information is dating so rapidly that education cannot keep on focussing on the transfer of knowledge any longer. Instead, it becomes more important that students learn how to search, select, process and use information. The teacher mostly has to guide these processes.

In interviews, teachers identified this development, although it is not particularly ICT that determines their role. They point out a new didactical concept in which the student works more individually and independently. The use and impact of ICT cannot be separated from this concept.

Would the teacher ‘solely’ be a guide of learning processes in the future? We answer this question negatively. Firstly, all kinds of differentiation in functions and tasks become visible in schools, where ICT already is ‘extensively’ used. On the one hand, this differentiation is a direct result of ICT-related activities, such as the expansion of the system management or the presence of a ICT-coordinator. Conversely, differentiation may be concerned with a vision which is oriented on ‘designing education’, in which different members of the school organisation each take care of a specific part of the teaching- learning process.

According to one of our respondents, it is outdated to expect teachers to perform all aspects of this teaching- learning process equally well. Education needs more than sole guide s of learning processes; for example, there is also a need for people who are able to prepare the curriculum properly and who can create learning environments.

Another respondent expressed it in another way: ‘ Teaching and learning no longer are functions, but roles which pass to others. Each time the teacher has a different part, and sometimes he actually is a student. Schools become ‘learning communities’ in which students become teachers and teachers take place in the school desks.’

Secondly, we can argue, even if this differentiation does not occur, that the teacher will be more than a counsellor of learning processes. Discussing the VET-professional, we have to focus on the ‘vocational content’. Although ICT enables students to provide themselves with their own ‘vocational content’ and ‘subject matter knowledge’, the teacher will still have an important role, especially the VET-professional. Teachers we interview expressed this concept. The ‘Procesmanagement Lerarenopleidingen’ (a board of teacher training institutes in The Netherlands) also values this specific (oriented on the vocational content) craftsmanship of the VET-professional (PML, 1998). An appropriate knowledge base is essential for creating powerful learning environments and for an adequate provision of supporting instructional material. In the process of transforming information to knowledge, the teacher plays an important part as well. In short: vocational subject matter remains important.

1.5.3 ICT-skills partly necessary for using ICT in education.

Looking at the afore mentioned research results, it seems unnecessarily to argue for specific ICT-skills for teachers as a key for the problems experienced by the implementation of ICT in education. How to implement ICT in education mainly seems to be a design-problem (how does a teacher create a powerful learning environment?)

Required competences for solving this problem are defined within the concept of core problems. Core problems can be defined as the central problems and dilemmas in professional practice as regularly encountered by professionals and thus characteristic of the profession (Onstenk, 1997). Core problems are an interesting basis for education, because they define the professional core and structure and select the professional content. The professional, as an acting individual, is positioned in the centre.

To guide learning processes can be mentioned as one of the core problems of future education (compare paragraph 1.5.2). One of the dilemmas the teacher has to cope with is whether he should ‘direct’ students learning processes or ‘leave students at their own devices’. A student has to work as independently as possible, but when should a teacher intervene? And in what way can a student accomplish the best (independent) learning activity? How should the teaching- learning process be formed to establish the best learning achievements? The teacher has to constantly consider which teaching aids or materials are most suitable to use. Other dilemmas will arise. For example, how much a teacher has to know about each ICT application (to be aware that the application is available or to know how to use it). Another dilemma concerns the question whether the teacher develops the teaching material himself or lets someone else do it for him.

A teacher requires many educational and didactical skills to deal with questions adequately (compare Ministerie OC&W, 1998). In concrete terms, it concerns matters like:

The new learning environment differs from the one we are familiar with; the teacher has to cope with many more uncertainties. A curriculum in which lessons and content are fixed no longer exists. As a result, the teacher has to organise his work in another way (working in projects is mentioned explicitly). Moreover, the teacher cannot create new learning environments completely independently (anymore). He has to depend on al kinds of things like the technical infrastructure, timetables and the activities of other teachers. In doing so, the teacher looses a part of his autonomy (another core problem) and therefore, he is forced to collaborate with his colleagues in a way entirely different from that he was used to.

It requires skills like:

Furthermore, the interviewed teachers especially underline the teachers’ attitude concerning the use of ICT in education. New things are intimidating and are causing resistance. The teachers point out a ‘professional attitude’. Important features of this attitude are being accessible for innovations in general and of ICT in particular. In the published literature, there are indications for this as well (compare Voogt en Odenthal, 1998). Within this topic, one of our respondents pointed out the fact that ICT is the most fundamental of changes (in education) so far. For the first time, children can do something their parents cannot and which parents actually will never learn it in the same way.

Typically for vocational education in The Netherlands is the fact that schools often (called Regional Training Centre) provide small-scaled courses, mostly for the regional labour market. This requires an open attitude with a strong accent on exchanging information and a diverse offer of opportunities. Even for this, the teacher requires specific skills. It concerns skills like constructing and maintaining networks, social skills and sympathy for the problems companies are facing.

A digital driver’s licence and other specific ICT-skills.

From the literature and our interviews we picked up signals about so-called basic ICT knowledge and skills a teacher had to possess. Therefore, so called ‘ICT-driver’s licences’ have been created to serve as instruments for professional development of teachers. However, several questions can be asked about their usefulness. The opinions differ on this matter.

On the one hand, it is said that these drivers’ licences present at least a minimal mastery-level of ICT. Moreover it can diminish some uncertainty and ‘fear for the unknown’. In politics, furthermore, there is hardly any doubt about the future necessity of specific ICT knowledge that a teacher has to possess in order to function in his profession. Instruction should be compulsory if a teacher lacks this knowledge (cf., OCTO Research, Janssen Reinen, 1999)

A disadvantage of these digital driver’s licences, and of standardising specific sets of ICT- skills in general, is the temporary character of these programmes.

ICT develops rather rapidly, and hence, we do not know and use all its opportunities yet. Moreover, these opportunities are still changing. Accordingly, teachers should be equipped with competences that prepare them for these constant changes; ‘How does a teacher explore the opportunities and subsequently use them in his teaching?’

Because of the rapidly changing learning environments, teachers should be conscious of the fact that the skills they acquired, in their own training, reflect the current state of affairs. Therefore, they are expected to be responsible and act to be up to date their entire lifetime (life-long learning).

Also other counter-arguments can be mentioned:

1.5.4 a different position of Teachers and teacher training institutes.

Our results call for a re-evaluation of the research assumptions. The hypothesis was that well-educated teachers are the answer for successful implementation of ICT in education. This is but a partial requirement. Our argumentation follows below.

The teachers

In our research, we mainly focussed on the role of the teacher. Gathering from our case studies, it seems we have to do with enthusiastic teachers in richly ICT-designed learning environments, who enjoy to explore the possibilities of ICT and who like to experiment. Furthermore, they themselves take action to solve their (possible) lack of knowledge and skills.

This information may give the impression that the implementation of ICT in education will succeed merely with well-motivated and capable teachers.

In practice, it seems that a large part of the so-called ICT pilot projects are not being implemented within the broad range of the entire school. (cf., Toenders, 1998). For eventually creating ‘new’ education in which ICT is being used adequately (where possible), we need more than just well-equipped teachers.

The teacher is part of an entire school organisation. Published literature concerning implementation processes of innovations (in general and of ICT in particular) point out relevant factors within the school organisation which influence a successful implementation of ICT (cf., Ten Brummelhuis, 1995, Voogt en Odenthal, 1998). It concerns the following, related, factors:

The teacher depends on the specific situation in the school and therefore, he cannot act autonomously.

The teacher training institutes

As for the implementation of ICT in education, the PROMMITT committee assumes a great contribution of the teacher training institutes and considers them a driving force (a key-position via so-called "bottom up" processes). Presently, the teacher training institutes fulfil this key-position on only a very small scale, as we concluded from our interviews and literature analysis (Janssen Reinen, 1999). Teachers mention they are hardly prepared for new didactical teaching methods and not in the least for the use of ICT. The learning process often is organised based on the subject matter.

Even if these teacher training institutes are well-equipped and students are educated properly, we can not expect young and just starting teachers to act as ‘change agents’. They have to adjust to the situations (the typical school organisation) they encounter, and have to familiarise themselves with new concepts and new applications. This is no simple task.

To enlarge the role of the teacher training institutes in the process of implementing ICT, it is suggested to stimulate a collective approach (teachers, schools, teacher training institutes and teachers in training) of solving problems in concrete teaching and learning situations. The follow arguments support such an approach;

1.6 Continuation

The results of the study will be used for the STOAS teacher training institute and a follow-up study will take place.

 

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This document was added to the Education-line database on 19 October 1999