Computers in aid of knowledge construction

Shabana Haydar

A recent survey conducted among Kolkata schools operating under four different boards, reveals the use, in various degrees, of computer aided technology in the teaching-learning process. But the question remains, is the potential of technology being fully tapped?

Teachers have always been concerned with improving and facilitating the teaching-learning process for enhancing the quality of learning experiences of the students. Technology can be used to facilitate the acquisition of skills such as critical thinking, independent learning, communication, and life-long learning involving analysis, synthesis, evaluation and organization of information. The use of various ICT and audio visual aids such as Internet, smartboards, PPT, television, videos, and computer applications can offer a more challenging and engaging learning environment for students. Teachers all over the world are concentrating on the process, factors and conditions involved in human learning so as to develop the appropriate methods of teaching and learning. ICT improves the learning process through the provision of more interactive educational material that increases learner motivation and facilitates the easy acquisition of basic skills. Classrooms are serving as places of collaboration and discovery where ICT and audio visual aids are being integrated into the teaching-learning process. ICT is viewed as a “major tool for building knowledge societies”. (UNESCO 2003) In recent years, several studies and reports have highlighted the importance and the potential benefits of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) for improving the quality of education. Research studies have shown that children retain 20 percent of what they hear, 40 percent of what they see and hear and 75 percent of what they see and do.

This article is based on an ongoing research project on the use of ICT in schools in Kolkata and provides some interesting research findings on the recent trends and dominant features in the use of ICT in school education.

Use of ICT and audio-visual aid in school education
According to UNESCO (2010), the term ICT is plural, referring to a great many technologies and it is an all-encompassing term that includes the full gamut of electronic tools by means of which we gather, record and store information, and by means of which we exchange and distribute information to others. At the international level, the policy for integrating ICT for development was first formulated in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Target 8.F. The National Policy on Education 1986, as modified in 1992, stressed the need to employ educational technology to improve the quality of education. This led to two centrally sponsored schemes, namely, Educational Technology (ET) and Computer Literacy and Studies in Schools (CLASS) paving the way for a more comprehensive centrally sponsored scheme – Information and Communication Technology in Schools in 2004. The significant role ICT can play in school education has been highlighted in the National Curriculum Framework 2005. The importance of ICT in education has also been highlighted in the government’s Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) and by the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) in its report on Universal Secondary Education, in 2005.

brain-computing ICT has the potential to innovate, accelerate, enrich, and deepen skills to motivate and engage students to help relate school experience to work practices, create economic viability for tomorrow’s workers, as well as strengthening teaching and helping schools change. (Davis and Tearle, 1999; Lemke and Coughlin, 1998; cited by Yusuf, 2005)

Educational institutions are placing more emphasis on student-driven, interactive learning environment, in which audio visual media and ICT are playing crucial roles. As the access to information continues to grow extensively, schools and colleges cannot remain mere venues for the transmission of a prescribed set of information from teachers to students over a fixed period of time. To promote the acquisition, creation and dissemination of knowledge and skills, schools should be concerned with the problem of increasing the efficacy of the teaching-learning experience of students.

This study aimed to analyze what is happening in schools regarding the integration and use of ICT and to examine teachers’ perceptions about how teaching and learning processes can be improved through the use of ICT. A multiple-case-study research methodology was applied. A total of 30 member schools of Bichitra Pathshala were taken as samples. Research findings revealed that there is a widespread use of ICT in the teaching-learning processes. Findings also revealed that teachers feel that ICT has contributed to the improvement of teaching and learning. However to attain a significant level of improvement, schools should not only equip themselves with technological tools, but also help to equip the teachers with technology enabled learning. This emphasizes the importance of making students take greater responsibility of their own learning and constructing their own knowledge.

Results of the survey
A preliminary survey among a sample of teachers in Kolkata schools has revealed that teachers are increasingly integrating ICT and audio visual aids in the teaching-learning process to help students in the creation and dissemination of knowledge.

Here is a summary of the findings:

  • 96.66 percent of teachers used both ICT and traditional chalk and talk method of teaching while 3.33 percent use only the traditional chalk and talk method of teaching.
  • 83.32 percent respondents said that their schools took interest in giving training to their teachers and made arrangement for training programmes for teachers to equip and orient them with technology enabled learning. 16.6 percent respondents said that their schools did not take any interest in giving training to the teachers for skill development.
  • 86.27 percent had computers with broadband connection, the rest had computer classes but without connection for learning computers as a part of the school curriculum.
  • 100 percent said they had internet facility/broadband connection in their schools.

In the 1990s huge investments were made to provide schools with computers (OECD, 1999; OECD, 2006). These large-scale investments were intended to help students learn how to make use of new technologies. Second, providing computers in schools would narrow the digital divide and allow children to have easier access to what was then expensive technology. Further more providing technology in schools would lead to large productivity gains and increased student performance due to increased student engagement and a reduced administrative burden on teachers. Further it was expected that increasing the availability of technology would improve student achievement.

Another important aspect of the teaching-learning process is the use of smartboards/audio-visual materials as tools of ICT. Research findings revealed that
• 50.98 percent schools were equipped with smartboards.
• 25.49 percent used the smartboard every day.
• 54.90 percent respondents said that they held their audio-visual classes in regular classrooms.

Teachers play a critically important role in providing a new generation of students with the relevant ICT skills. But how prepared do the teachers feel for this challenging task? The findings of the research study show that teachers give importance to the integration of ICT in the teaching-learning process.

  • 80 percent of the teachers reportedly felt the need to increase ICT equipment and educational resources in schools. As many as 19.60 percent teachers strongly felt the need to increase ICT equipment and educational resources in schools.
  • 96 percent of the participants felt more aware and empowered by their exposure to ICT in education.
  • 100 percent stated that the process of teaching as well as learning was directly and positively affected by the use of ICT. Teachers used ICT in the teaching-learning process such as preparation of their lessons plans.
  • 100 percent agreed that ICT present numerous opportunities for innovative and collaborative learning.

computer-lab The challenge is thus not simply improving the infrastructure of schools but cultivating an urge and capacity and confidence of teachers in using ICT. Interestingly, however there is no relationship between the average age of the teacher and how highly they rank their need, indicating that teachers of all ages felt the need to increase ICT equipment and educational resources in schools.

Teachers pointed out that using ICT in school helps to improve students’ attention and perception skills. ICT facilitates learning because it helps to create better learning conditions by raising and promoting students’ attention skills. As regards the AV facilities and teaching learning material (TLM) used in classrooms

  • 56.86 percent respondents said that they prepared their own PPT for the students.
  • 39.21 percent made clippings of videos to make teaching learning interesting.
  • 21.56 percent showed short films available in the market and
  • 21.56 percent used standard TLM available in the market.

Therefore the study shows that ICT has made inroads in almost all urban schools in some form or other, although the access to ICT remains far from uniform. While a handful of elite urban schools are equipped with smartboards, almost all schools have computer labs and at least one projector. Many schools have an audio-visual room which can be booked in advance to conduct a special class.

Now the question is, how creatively the teachers are using ICT in the child’s knowledge construction; what extent are they making their classes interactive. Here are a few examples of creative use of technology by teachers:

  1. A commerce teacher at a reputed school asks her students to analyze the annual reports of corporate houses in her ‘balance sheet’ classes.
  2. A history teacher uses ‘fake book’ to strike a conversation between historical characters.
  3. A history teacher and a biology teacher have collaborated to develop a lesson plan on deforestation.
  4. A Bengali teacher plays Bhupen Hazarika’s song Ganga on Earth Day and initiates a discussion on the pollution of the river Ganga.
  5. A Hindi teacher uses PowerPoint presentations to develop a conversation between ‘anusar’ and ‘visarga’.

These are all encouraging signs. Teachers are thinking out of the box to make their classes more exciting. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. We have a long way to go before teachers fully utilize the wealth of resource material available at the press of a button. How many geography teachers use the Google maps to teach geography? How many history teachers play the speeches of Nehru and Martin Luther King in their classes? How many statistics teachers use the data of the census report to do statistical calculations? How many teachers use the daily news and current affairs from the websites of newspapers and television channels to teach civics and political science?

NCF 2005 advises teachers to connect the school curriculum to the child’s lived experience. Computer aided technology can make that connection with ease. ICT is also a rapidly developing technology and the development is shaped by its users. Some of the more adventurous teachers can try their hand at developing apps and putting to good use open source software like Scratch in developing interactive lessons. We are living in an age of collaborative learning and collective intelligence. The collective intelligence of teachers can shape technology and tune it to the intellectual needs of the growing child.

Conclusion
The present trend in the teaching-learning process is a collaborative effort made by both the teachers and students to reach for knowledge from a wide variety of sources. Teachers stimulate active engagement of students in construction and dissemination of knowledge. Students being ‘taught’ by computers does not mean that the computer is ‘taking over’ the teacher’s job. Teachers, in order to help the students participate in the teaching-learning process, should create more effective learning environments for the students and help them improve their learning skills and habits. ICT helps in transforming the isolated teacher-centred and text-based teaching learning environment into a rich, student-focused, interactive knowledge environment.

The author is a Member, Bichitra Pathshala and Assistant Professor, Department of Education, Netaji Nagar College for Women, Kolkata. She can be reached at [email protected].

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