Title: The implications of changes in technology on the construction of curriculum.

Subtitle: Changing Educational Practise to Incorporate Changing technology.  

Index

Introduction 

Curriculum and Technological Change

Technology and Vocational Preparedness

Curriculum Models and Technological Resources

Statistics and Demographic Data

Technology and Issues of Equity

Conclusion

Introduction

Introduction

In 1995, Dede made an interesting comment about the progression of communications technology, claiming that this technology had progressed so rapidly in the previous fifteen years that, calling the world-wide-web an ‘information superhighway’ was, "… the equivalent of someone in 1896 declaring that the airplane will be the canal system of the 20th century" (Dede, 1995).  In recent years a synthesis of communication technologies has been occurring, serving to continually extend the capabilities of communication networks. The scale of this trend suggests that many of the central issues for education in the coming years will be driven by technological change. Indeed, the influence of these new technologies is such that they may well form an underlying mechanism for the future of education. From the perspective of curriculum development, these technologies create new challenges. Their impact is shifting educational focus from getting enough information, to the challenge of surviving amid so much information. A consequential change is that one of the core literacies now required for social and vocational fitness is the ability to filter and decipher knowledge. This is a fundamental change. Hardin puts it this way, 'Technology is affecting education in revolutionary ways, and the momentum toward these changes is irreversible (Hardin, 1998). What impact does this have on the social construction of curriculum?

Curriculum and Technological Change

Curriculum and Technological Change

Technological change is redefining not only how we communicate, but in turn, is redefining how we need to educate.  The ready availability of information has lessened the necessity of ROTE learning, but raises new issues in terms of effective searching and the development of an ability to evaluate information. The development of analytical skills and higher order thinking is increasingly an important focus. The stakeholders and interest groups in this process are many and varied, with pressure for change and reform brought from teachers, schools and school councils, government authorities, industry and students themselves. All have differing perspectives on the best curriculum planning models to deal with this change.

 

The roots of change are in an increase in technological and networking capacity, but what are the ramifications for curriculum development, and interpretations necessary for the classroom? Many educators hold the view that computers and Internet connectivity are "tools" for learning and thus, believe an increased grade point average is often the only measure of value for technological resources. However, an important perspective for all educators, government administrators and school boards to consider is, that networking represents not just a new set of tools, but a new environment for learning and teaching. New communications technologies encourage new possibilities and develop new requirements. An outcomes based education policy must accept that the new communications technologies must impact upon core curriculum requirements and will influence diversity, context, assessment issues and practice. It is important to place our interpretation of current curriculum into as strong a future-proof context as possible and eventually, but not in the distant future, every student will need access to the information represented on the web in order to be competitive in their workplace.

Technology and Vocational Preparedness

Technology and Vocational Preparedness

 

While there are still liberal-humanist influences on our education system, a fundamental orientation of  state secondary education is directed towards an economic-rationalist agenda of vocationally orientated educational outcomes, which in theory target industry needs. Brady refers to this as, "… human-capital theory" (Brady and Kennedy, p67, 1999).  Whether or not education based on this framework is a sound policy is in itself a topic for detailed analysis, but for the purpose of this dialogue I will not contest that vocational preparedness is a central preoccupation of the education system, and instead, focus on the way curriculum addresses this agenda. In what ways do the possibilities of technology influence curriculum designed and developed to address vocational outcomes?  Traditionally, major decisions related to education course content arrive top down from administration. They are then implemented by teachers who, frequently, spend all but a small portion of their day confined to a room in which students are rewarded for working quietly and independently. In contrast, success in business relies on collaboration and teamwork. The traditional education system is just beginning to transform into an environment that encourages collaboration as a focus in learning. Emerging technologies can catalyse this change and in fact encourage new systems of collaborative development. This is a fundamental transformation, in which the archetypical education system, in both theory and practice, now has the tools, not just the incentive, to facilitate a transition from a focus on providing information, to a focus on developing collaborative conceptual frameworks for educational activities. Educational practise should be located in a way that incorporates the demands of a vitally changing world, increasingly dominated by the technologies of electronic communication and collaborative networking.

Curriculum Models and Technological Resources

Curriculum Models and Technological Resources

Kennedy states that, "…curriculum developers must reflect on actual practice to understand …(appropriate)…curriculum development practice" (Kennedy, 1984). There is a debate about the cost / value relationship of technology implementation in secondary education. While much technology may provide long-term advantages in educational budgeting, provided resources are allocated towards efficient collaboration, this is, however, dependent on a curriculum focus which identifies the need for collaboration and supports its' implementation. 

A cost factor is obsolescence which is an important consideration in technologically related curriculum especially, due both to the cost factor of hardware, software and support. The power of change that technology supports means that the contexts applied to developing technological (and 'information') literacy become ever more important. Whatever choices are made, it is important to give serious consideration to the factor of rapid obsolescence, and design learning units that interpret curricula appropriately and are sensitive to the constantly changing nature of technology and consequent literacy demands. In response to this, educators can and should build courses that interpret curricula using tools and modalities that are as far as possible 'future proof', while still having sensitivity to current social context.

If this shift in curriculum focus is achieved, then technology can become a 'virtual' benefactor, providing the means to access greater resources than could otherwise be afforded, by virtue of the fact that resources so obtained can be broadly shared. A wide-band networked infrastructure with access to appropriate software tools allows students, classes, and teachers to access and produce online materials, do extensive collaborative work, and share instructional resources. The Internet, for example, provides online information and is a medium by which students and schools can communicate and collaborate, opening opportunities for broad consultation. In this way, Information Technology infrastructures can impact on conventional instruction processes by expanding learning resources beyond individual teacher and school materials, providing lower cost sourcing of information and expertise, and providing communication links for isolated students.

These advantages are only accessible however, if curriculum models facilitate their implementation, if the funding levels match the rhetoric, and if expenditure decisions are appropriate. Decisions which are not collaborative risk degeneration of the process of effective implementation of technological facilities and can cause overall degeneration in educational resources. Very few areas are more expensive than technological infrastructure. Education Queenslands' collaboration with educators, in providing funding assistance develop appropriate electronic resources, illustrated in the Education Queensland Curriculum Resource Exchange is laudable, and demonstrates in it's details the power and strength of collaborative and supported electronic information development processes. However assessment of current efforts in regards to collaborative decision making show mixed results. 

This is important consideration, as the cost of technology is frequently raised by advocates of barriers to incorporating technology into the educational environment.  Blocks to the implementation of a strong technological infrastructure, associated with an appropriate curriculum, are largely psychosocial rather technical or directly economic. It is about what we choose to spend money on. The issue reflects the complications inherent in the social construction of curriculum, to which solutions can only be found through effective collaboration between community, educators and administrators. 

Statistics and Demographic Data

Statistics and Demographic Data

In assessing the impact of technology it is unfortunate that no comprehensive national surveys have been done in Australia, at least that this author could locate as of May 2000, however some analysis may be afforded of this issue by observing the following statistics from the Teaching, Learning, and Computing: 1998 National Survey Report #1, by the Centre for Research on Information Technology and Organizations at the University of California and The University of Minnesota, which was published in February, 1999. While the statistics relate to the United States (research was funded by the U.S. Department of Education) they do reflect a global trend in which Australia is a strong participant.

 

This first graph indicates the growth of public schools with Internet access between the years of 1994 - 1998. The growth pattern is quite obviously one of acceleration and increasing connectivity. 

This second graph indicates perceptions on the value of Internet connectivity and demonstrates the high level of  preference for classrooms to be connected to the Internet.

Equity in Information Technology Resources

Equity in Information Technology

The resource sharing and collaborative communications extensions provided by new technologies can only do so on a broad scale if the problem of resource equity be addressed.  If not, the benefits will only be provided to a few and create more disparity. Resources required include not just hardware and software, but training so that educators can manage these new tasks, and IT support staff to operate and maintain the networks that are developed. The issue of inequitable distribution of these resources lead Brady and Kennedy refer to, "…multiple forms of disadvantage…" (Brady and Kennedy, p 27, 1999). It  is due to awareness of the realities of disadvantage, that the principle of equality of distribution and access to technological resources becomes a central issue for educators. Teachers, who currently undertake roles of implementers of curriculum, of providers of civics and citizenship education, as progenitors for school review processes and in facilitating aims of continuous improvement, must now vitalise and actualise another aim, that of realising appropriate curriculum development relevant to the collaborative environment of electronically networked information and communication facilities, cooperatively in a shared environment. Argghhhhhh....I feel tired just thinking about it :-)

Changes to Queensland curricula such as the Schooling 2010 Project reflect the new mandate for integration of technology through the curriculum. It is important that teachers do not find that they are working towards this alone. It must involve input from all sectors of the community, and particularly those directly concerned with administration and decision making for educational budgetary allocations. It is important that there is no increase in the gulf between the information rich and the information poor, and to do this it is necessary to ensure that all educators, as far as possible, are working towards the incorporation of the tools of technology in a manner that facilitates equitable and broad distribution. Achieving this demands a broad consultative process and the elimination of short-term political agendas. 

  Conclusion  

Conclusion  

Rapid change is occurring, inequitably, with difference of opinion on how best to respond and what solutions to implement. But one thing that perhaps can be agreed to by all is that education does need to adapt to the changes at least as they are occurring. Current educational philosophies support processes which facilitate students development of willingness to experiment, comprehension of abstract concepts, advanced skills of problem solving, reasoning, awareness of social justice and ecological-sustainability issues, all within a framework of integration of technology in cross-curricular activities. I believe that the changes we witness in technology mean that these processes have become even more valuable. I suggest that the most needed practical application for knowledge gained at school, in the industrial and technological 'real world', appears to be the ability to manifest higher-order skills within a context of thoughtful social awareness. While a background in basics remains important...what is basic is changing.

 

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