ICTs for Skills Development or Educational Transformation?

Source: http://www.crossfitamrap.com

This post continues the discussion of the disappearance of the social agenda for distance education which I began in my last post. Both these articles were originally published in Spanish in Traspasando la linea, a blog edited by Albert Sangrà which appears in El País, a Madrid-based newspaper.

Another consequence of this myopic focus on information and communication technology (ICT) for skill development is that the educational agenda can get hijacked by the technologists and the emphasis shifts to IT skills as opposed to broader educational competencies that are developed and enhanced through the use of ICTs. ICT becomes conflated with IT. We see evidence of this in the sudden urgency around implementing national tablet initiatives before coherent plans have been developed for how they will be used to support the achievement of educational goals. Considerable effort is spent developing the technical specifications but much less time spent considering the educational specifications. How will the technology be used to support teaching and learning? What content will available on the devices? How will the communicative affordances of the technology be exploited? As Michael Trucano observed in his recent review and discussion of tablet initiatives, “All too often, the … question being asked is not ‘what challenges are we trying to solve, and what approaches and tools might best help us solve them?’, but rather, ‘we know what our technology ‘solution’ is, can you please help us direct it at the right problems?‘.

Also overlooked in this mad rush to jump on the technology bandwagon is the readiness of students and teachers. The uncritical acceptance of the net generation discourse has deluded us into thinking that our students will be like fish in water when they are given the devices. The evidence suggests otherwise. For example, this study concluded that the 17,000 doctoral students it investigated “operate in an environment where their research behaviour does not use the full potential of innovative technology” and that they are “insufficiently trained or informed to be able to fully embrace the latest opportunities in the digital information environment”. At least we are more realistic when it comes to teacher readiness but all too often these technology initiatives are rolled out without a sound plan for teacher development.

Massively Open Online Courses or MOOCs have also played a part in this shift by subtly appropriating the access agenda. As so simplistically articulated by Thomas Friedman in his infamous New York Times column of 2012, MOOCs represent the magic bullet. Everybody who wants an Ivy League education will be able to get one by simply enrolling in a MOOC. There will be no credit attached, and the courses will probably not deal with any of the issues of local relevance but that’s a small price to pay if you’re getting access to a prestigious American university.

Even the narrative underlying the Open Educational Resources (OER) agenda has shifted subtly from emancipatory access to access in support of the knowledge economy. We see evidence of this in the aligning of OER and ICT in Education policies, with the latter being driven by a technological/economic imperative.

Source:  http://www.xiskya.com

What can be done about this troubling trend? First, I think those of us who are working in the field of open and distance learning need to remind ourselves what we are purpose is (or should be): to educate, to open up access to education, and to foster social change and economic development. Our use of ICT in education and online learning should always be done with these principles in mind.

Second, we need to remember that, despite the talk of globalization and the rapid diffusion of technology, there are still huge differences in both the physical and, what I would call, the “cognitive” access to technology across the globe. Solutions that may work in South Africa are not necessarily appropriate for Guyana or Belize and we should not assume that the simple provision of physical access will result in the effective use of the technology.

Finally, it’s time we remembered that distance education emerged as a response to a social problem and that problem still exists today: how do we provide access to quality education for all? Allowing the focus to shift from solving the access problem to preparing for the “knowledge economy” may sound like a matter of semantics but I believe it has the potential to undermine our ability to achieve our goal to provide access for all.

What Happened to the Social Agenda for Distance Education?

This was originally published in Spanish in Albert Sangrá’s blog, Traspasando la línea in El País, a Madrid-based newspaper. This is the English version.

Source: http://estudiomundialupiicsa.wordpress.com

Modern distance education emerged in the 1960s as a response to demands for greater and more equitable access to postsecondary education. Beginning with the creation of the UK Open University in 1969, open universities were established around the world with a clear mandate to help eliminate the social and financial barriers to higher education that had effectively limited access to the middle and upper social classes. This situation was particularly acute in the developing world and the open universities that were established in countries such India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Thailand have made a significant impact on postsecondary participation rates in those regions. Until the turn of the century, the discourse of distance education was essentially about access: trying to reach the underserved populations and the second chance and non-traditional learners and trying to help developing countries address their need to educate large numbers with limited resources. This was the social agenda of distance education. But with the emergence online learning in the late 1990s there has been a gradual erosion of this social agenda and its replacement by both a functionalist and a technologically deterministic agenda.

The Functionalist Agenda

Technology-mediated forms of distance education emerged in the late 1990s and the use of the Internet as method of delivering education became increasingly popular. At the same time there were growing financial pressures on public postsecondary institutions that forced them to look for cost-saving alternatives to deal with increasing demand. Many turned their attention to the newly-legitimized online distance education because it was seen as a way of avoiding the costly construction of new buildings. However, instead of using online technology to reach the non-traditional learner, they were incorporated into on-campus teaching to create what was termed blended learning approaches and more recently has been called e-learning. This form of e-learning gradually began to overshadow the socially-oriented distance education programs.

Source: http://www.mansunides.org

Technological Determinism

The other drive force behind the growing use and pressure to use online learning and, more broadly, ICTs in education, is the idea that “new technologies are changing the world and that, in turn, educational institutions have no choice but to adopt digital technologies, designed elsewhere, for other purposes, for fear of being ‘left behind’” (Selwyn & Facer 2013, p. 9)

The dominant themes in our educational technology discourse are no longer about access but about the technological imperative, and the need to prepare learners for the 21st century, for the “knowledge economy”. Look at any recent government policy on ICT in Education and this theme is front and center. Access, in the sense of participatory access, is rarely mentioned in these policies.

This shift in the discourse troubles me. First, the access problem hasn’t been solved. It is still a major issue, particularly for the developing world. While there was a 53% increase in higher education participation globally between 2000 and 2007, very little of that growth has been in low-income countries. Participation in higher education in low-income countries increased marginally from 5-7%.

Second, this narrow focus on the “knowledge economy” overlooks the current reality of many developing world economies. They are heavily dependent on services such as tourism and agriculture and will continue to be for some time to come. It is naïve to think that there will be an economic transformation in all these countries. Yes, there will be a growing need for “knowledge workers” but a single-minded focus on educating for the “knowledge economy” may have the unintended consequence of forcing people to leave their countries to see work elsewhere, thus undermining already shaky economies.

Post 2 Bullen_2_Education-Belize-Breaking-FreeFuente: http://www.ambergristoday.com

It also overlooks the fact that in many of these countries, the basic infrastructure is still lacking. In Belize, for example, 27% of primary schools do not have access to electricity and only 31% of secondary school teachers have formal training (Ministry of Education, Belize). Investing heavily in Internet-based educational technologies clearly doesn’t make a lot of sense in contexts such as this unless it is coupled with a focus on developing the human resource and physical infrastructure at the same time. Not surprisingly, also, Internet access is low in many of these countries. In 2012 only 25% of individuals in Belize, for example, were using the Internet. But even more revealing is that there are 73 countries in the world that have even lower rates of individual Internet use.

More on this topic next week in ICTs for Skill Development or Educational Transformation.

Reference

Selwyn, N. & Facer, K. (2013). (Eds.)The Politics of Education & Technology. NY: Palgrave MacMillan.

January 2014

The course will officially open on January 6, 2014. In the meantime the site is undergoing revisions.

As of today the following changes have been made:

  1. the assignment descriptions and due dates have been updated
  2. the course schedule has been updated
  3. the readings list has been updated.