Technology arguably has an impact on education which extends beyond the teacher and the learner. The broader impact of technology on education has been described in various reports. In week 22, we had a look at the Horizon Report (2011 edition) from the New Media Consortium, the National Science Foundation (NSF) Cyberlearning Report (2008) and the Becta Report (Harnessing Technology: Next Generation 2008-14). I compared the key elements of these reports with the Cambodia Master Plan for ICT in Education 2009-2013 (Third Draft version, 2009).
All reports consider technology as a major contributor to improving education and to meeting upcoming challenges. In Cambodia challenges centre on dealing with an increasing influx of students as a result of demographics, reduced drop-outs and increased enrolments. In the US and the UK, they focus on globalisation and competition in a global workforce.
Both recognize the importance of aligning education with digital literacy and employability requirements for graduates. They regard technology in education as a prerequisite for improving the quality of education.
While reforming the public school system is well beyond the scope of our present task force, positive effects on schooling would certainly result from invigorating and inspiring learners through the rich new environments made possible by the Internet and developments in cyberinfrastructure.(NSF, p.12)
One might say the reports suffer from a light to severe form of ‘techno-utopia’, regarding technology as the solution for all educational ills. In this over-reliance on the role of technology in education, there is a lot of writing about ‘potential’ and ‘best practices’, but very little in the way of actual impact in real life contexts. There is hardly any discussion on the impact on students, teachers (apart from increasing training needs) and institutions. The Cambodian plan states the introduction of e-learning and a national Open University to reach remote areas and non-traditional students, but doesn’t mention deeply ingrained suspicion of e-learning and less teacher-dependent forms of education with students and the population. The NSF report considers all learners as ICT proficient ‘Millennials’ and brushes over indications that a deep digital divide persists, also in developed countries.
Ensuring effective use of technology in education requires that also content and pedagogical knowledge are sufficiently developed. Merely focusing on technology provision leads to teachers letting students copy their notes into a Word document instead of a notebook or reading from a PowerPoint presentation instead from a book. There is no strategy in the Cambodian Master Plan how teachers will be trained from basic skills up to efficiently integrating technology, content and pedagogy, through an intensive in-service programme. Lack of content knowledge leads often to a teacher-centred approach with little room for experimentation, discussion and exploration, since these activities may expose the teacher’s alleged weaknesses.
There are some striking differences between the Cambodian Master Plan and the other plans though. The NSF report stresses the need for ‘cyberlearning’. This is learning mediated by networked computing and communications technologies. Students could experience more authentic learning by using large amounts of data, like climate data sets or databases generated by sensors. They could learn finding meaningful patterns in the datasets, tweaking parameters and ways of representing the data patterns. These kinds of activities require multidisciplinary approaches and networking between educators and scientists. The NSF report refers to the relevance of the ‘long tail’ in markets for education, allowing catering for students’ interests.
The global scope of networked educational materials, combined with “recommendation engine” software, helps individuals find special, niche content that appeals to their needs and interests.(NSF, p.16)
The Cambodian ICT Master Plan on the other hand stresses the alignment with the country’s curriculum. Software, textbooks and all ICT resources are to be fully in Khmer and explicitly approved by the Ministry of Education. The focus is more on an ‘isolated’ desktop model of ICT where learners access carefully selected resources, in contrast with a ‘web 2.0’ approach to technology-enhanced learning, let alone stimulating them to create Personal Learning Environments (PLEs).
All plans are surprisingly vague in pointing out evidence or strategies in how technology may improve learning outcomes. Monitoring is focused on measuring outputs, whereas improved outcomes on learning as a result of technology seem to be taken for granted. The NSF and Becta reports argue that better data collection can allow for better individual tracking of learning progress and better information for parents and educators.
National Science Foundation (NSF) (2008) Fostering Learning in the Networked World: The Cyberlearning Opportunity and Challenge, A 21st century agenda for the National Science Foundation, report of the NSF Task Force on Cyberlearning, Arlington, VA, National Science Foundation
New Media Consortium (NMC) (2009) Horizon Report, report from the New Media Consortium and the Educause Learning Initiative, Austin, TX, The New Media Consortium
Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (MoEYS), 2010, MASTER PLAN FOR INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION TECHNOLOGY IN EDUCATION 2009-2013 , available online at http://www.moeys.gov.kh/ict_master_plan_2009-2013.php