Integrating ICT in schools: Designing interventions for scale

Ruchi S Kumar and Jennifer Thomas

The public system of schools in India is resilient. Extremely resilient. You may wonder why?

Historically, government schools have faced an onslaught of ‘interventions’ making them among the most experimented upon public systems in the country. As outsiders who design and take interventions to schools we forget to pause and think about the disturbances we cause in the regular functioning of schools. We forget to wonder about the interventions that came before us and the ones that will come after us. We forget to applaud the teachers and students who survive interventions of all shapes and sizes with tolerance and good faith. We forget that this might be just one more intervention that fl ew past the school walls but never really stayed to take roots and grow.

As participants of a large scale technology based intervention called the Connected Learning Initiative (CLIx), we wanted to be more than a temporary disturbance. We wanted to be a disruptive force that would work with schools to bring about an educational change not just in computer labs but across the school. We journeyed with schools as they moved from resistance to slow acceptance. Like all interventions, we often got caught in the ‘here and now’ of schools. We were troubled that school timetables and schedules revolved around exam dates. Our intervention was just an aside. Our absence was of no consequence to the school. Our presence meant disruption of regular workflow that came with jostling for space and time. We were disenchanted that schools gave us limited time and space to spread our wings. How would we ever become part of the system?

However, as we enter our third year of partnership with schools, we feel differently. We realize that this journey has been remarkable for a number of reasons. Prime among them is perhaps the fact that CLIx did not become a parallel system within the highly complex public school ecosystem. CLIx is working at multiple levels within the existing school ecosystem to enable better use of Information Communication Technology (ICT) in education by reaching out to state authorities and officials, teacher educators, school leaders, teachers and students in effective ways. Recognizing the multilingual, innovative and holistic approach to ICT integration that CLIx has adopted, earlier this year it was awarded the prestigious UNESCO King Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa Prize for the Use of ICTs in Education. Presenting the example of CLIx, in this article we explore factors that change an intervention from an intrusive experience to a transformative one for all stakeholders.

What is CLIx?
CLIx is a large scale ICT in education intervention which is trying to demonstrate scalability and sustainability by taking a systems approach for adoption. The National Curriculum Framework (2005) advocated the use of ICT resources to provide opportunities for students and teachers to be ‘producers’ rather than ‘consumers’ of information. This can be possible only when students get opportunities to get hands-on time with computers to learn digital skills as well as develop deeper understanding of the subject matter. Only when students are able to use digital media to express their ideas, will they be prepared to participate equally in this digital age. It is with this vision of using ICT as a platform to groom students as producers of knowledge that the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in collaboration with MIT, Boston, Eklavya, HBCSE (Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education), a number of other strategic national partners and state governments of Rajasthan, Chattisgarh, Mizoram and Telangana, developed the design for CLIx. CLIx changes the technology for technology’s sake approach that schools currently have and brings the focus back to using technology as a tool to improve learning.

About CLIx student modules
Exemplar digital resources can play an important role in disrupting traditional teaching practices. The CLIx learning experience includes interactive modules developed in the subject areas of maths, science and communicative English. All modules have undergone a rigorous iterative design process in which several teams of subject matter experts from different institutions have collaborated. The modules are based on the philosophy of constructionism proposed by Seymour Papert wherein students use the knowledge that they already have to create new knowledge rather than learning by transmission of information. This means all students are ensured hands-on time with the computers on a regular basis. The design of the modules was optimized keeping in mind technological constraints in schools, prime among them being unavailability of the Internet. CLIx modules are hosted on an indigenously developed platform that offers a ‘connected’ learning experience using Local Area Networks (LAN) available in computer labs. The CLIx platform has features which allow students to discuss their views on the platform with other peers in the school through discussion forums and thus provide an internet-like experience in an internet-less environment.

CLIx modules aim to improve digital skills, conceptual understanding in math and science, communicative English and values for the 21st century for high school students. In the digital literacy module, students can learn digital tools like Mind map, Inkscape, spreadsheets and story-making to create their original content. The science and math modules use interactive games and simulations in novel ways to develop fundamental concepts from familiar and interesting contexts while providing opportunities to learn from their errors. The English modules focus on improving listening and speaking skills by providing access to quality audio-visual material in familiar accents and allowing them to record their own dialogues through a guided process without fear of being judged or ridiculed. The content is available in English, Hindi and Telugu.

All modules are released as Open Educational Resources (OERs) and use a learning design that promotes collaboration with peers, learning from errors, and authentic learning. OERs are considered as the best choice for widespread use in educational spaces as they provide sustainable means of supporting the development of digital skills and free access to students and teachers even beyond the school space.

Teacher Professional Development (TPD): The foundation pillar
Teachers form the most important piece in the whole education system as their beliefs and knowledge directly impact teaching-learning processes in the classroom. The failure of the cascade model in bringing about any meaningful change in classroom over the past decades has established the need for a continuous model of in-service professional development that directly connects with teachers’ practice in the classroom. Recognizing this gap, CLIx is trying to demonstrate a model of in-service education which sees TPD (Teacher Professional Development) on a continuum wherein teachers begin by developing their digital skills but go on to complete courses in chosen subjects to enhance their pedagogical content knowledge. This puts teachers on par with other professionals who engage in their own professional development by taking different courses. They earn credits for completing the course and for implementing student modules in their school and are rewarded with a certificate from TISS, Mumbai. There are three sites for teacher learning in CLIx – the face to face workshops, the community of practice supported via a social media app, Telegram, and a learning platform, TISSx, which is modelled on the lines of Open edX platform (an OER). To increase accessibility, the course is also made available on smart phones.

How does CLIx work?
CLIx works at multiple levels to develop an ecosystem that supports schools and teachers to more effectively and efficiently integrate ICT into their teaching. CLIx field resource coordinators (FRCs) discuss the approach and plan for implementation with the state officials and collaborating partners at the level of the state. As a result CLIx has been able to establish MOUs with the state governments of Mizoram, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Telangana. It works at the level of the school to develop an infrastructure and support system for the upkeep of technology. Local FRCs liaison with government officials, motivate school headmasters, collaborate with IT service providers to open up and activate ICT labs. They regularly check the health of the labs and engage groups of motivated students to maintain these activated labs. At the project level, an Implementation Monitoring Tool filled up by the FRCs on their mobile phones provides regular data about the status of labs and implementation of the modules. They can also log hardware and/or software problems that can be addressed by a central technology team.

Conclusion
CLIx has tried to disrupt traditional ways of thinking about the use of ICT in India in the teaching of mathematics, science and English at three levels – systemic level, teacher level and the student level.

At the systemic level, the disruption was the way CLIx engaged in developing the infrastructure of ICT labs in resource-poor government schools to provide hands-on opportunities for students to use computers for developing understanding rather than it being used only for demonstration purposes.

At the teacher level, the disruption was created in their beliefs and practices through their participation in the blended online course, use of student modules in schools and continuous interaction in Telegram based chat groups.

At the student level, CLIx offered opportunity for students to explore the content through problem solving and thinking of solutions on their own without being told how to solve first as is the case in the traditional pedagogy. The interactions at all three levels are connected and without attaining the change at a systemic and teacher level it is difficult to bring changes in opportunities for students in a sustained and meaningful manner.

Today, the once locked up and dusty computer labs are now open, accessible and buzzing with activity. Looking back at our journey, we realize that working at different levels came together in various ways to support the use of ICT in schools. We found that ICT implementation was better where the headmaster was supportive and where the FRCs have been able to support teachers in the first few challenging days of using the modules in computer labs. Teachers with large class strength came up with their own solutions of batching students and giving them different activities. Photos shared on Telegram by teachers of students happily engaging with the modules bear testimony to the small successes we’re achieving every day. This sharing allows teachers as well as CLIx members to learn together and think together about the challenges of using ICT for learning. CLIx, as an intervention, is still at a nascent stage of adoption. However, the little success we have experienced so far can be attributed to the fact that at its core CLIx is not just delivering technology to schools but has a larger goal of bringing about educational change in teaching-learning practices through the use of ICT.

Dr. Ruchi S Kumar and Jennifer Thomas are Assistant Professors at Centre for Education Innovation and Action Research at TISS, Mumbai. Ruchi leads the teacher professional development for mathematics teachers. Her research interests are on the role of beliefs and knowledge in the professional development of mathematics teachers and developing models for continuous professional development. She can be reached at [email protected].

Jennifer Thomas led the development of CLIx English curricular offerings at TISS. Her academic interests include issues of language pedagogy, curriculum design and teacher education. She can be reached at [email protected].

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