The implications of changes in technology on the construction of
Educational Practise to Incorporate Changing technology.
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?
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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