THE ROLE AND BENEFITS OF ICT IN 21ST CENTURY EDUCATION
Information and communication technologies (ICT) have become commonplace entities in all aspects of life. Across the past twenty years the use of ICT has fundamentally changed the practices and procedures of nearly all forms of endeavour within business and governance. Education is a very socially oriented activity and quality education has traditionally been associated with strong teachers having high degrees of personal contact with learners. The use of ICT in education lends itself to more student-centred learning settings. But with the world moving rapidly into digital media and information, the role of ICT in education is becoming more and more important and this importance will continue to grow and develop in the 21st century.
Higher education systems have grown exponentially in the last five decades to meet the demands of quality education for all. This aspect has further gained momentum due to swift advancements in Information and Communication Technology (ICT). Demand for skilled and competent labour is ever increasing in the contemporary globalised society. In this backdrop, access to quality in higher education for all has emerged as determining factor of economic growth and development. In order to increase the access to higher education and improving its reach to the remotest parts ofthe country contribution of open and distance learning facilities is on the increase. In addition, it is catering to life-long learning aspirations and that too at affordable cost. The last two decades have witnessed the inclusion of developments in ICTs in higher education systems around the world. Even then the challenge to develop a higher education system that is flexible and dynamic so as to holistically integrate the technology in the management and delivery of learning programmes is daunting.
The impact of ICT on what is learned
Conventional teaching has emphasised content. For many years course have been written aroundtextbooks. Teachers have taught through lectures and presentations interspersed with tutorialsand learning activities designed to consolidate and rehearse the content. Contemporary settingsare now favouring curricula that promote competency and performance. Curricula are starting toemphasise capabilities and to be concerned more with how the information will be used than withwhat the information is.a. competency and performance-based curriculaThe moves to competency and performance-based curricula are well supported and encouragedby emerging instructional technologies (eg. Stephenson, 2001). Such curricula tend to require:• access to a variety of information sources;• access to a variety of information forms and types;• student-centred learning settings based on information access and inquiry;• learning environments centred on problem-centred and inquiry-based activities;• authentic settings and examples; and• teachers as coaches and mentors rather than content experts.Contemporary ICTs are able to provide strong support for all these requirements and there arenow many outstanding examples of world class settings for competency and performance-basedcurricula that make sound use of the affordances of these technologies.
Teachers wishing to adopt such curricula have been limited by their resources andtools but with the proliferation and widespread availability of contemporary ICTs, manyrestrictions and impediments of the past have been removed. And new technologies willcontinue to drive these forms of learning further. As students and teachers gain access to higherbandwidths, more direct forms of communication and access to sharable resources, the capabilityto support these quality learning settings will continue to grow.
Another way in which emerging ICTs are impacting on the content of education curricula stemsfrom the ways in which ICTs are dominating so much of contemporary life and work. Alreadythere has emerged a need for educational institutions to ensure that graduates are able to displayappropriate levels of information literacy, “the capacity to identify and issue and then to identify,locate and evaluate relevant information in order to engage with it or to solve a problem arisingfrom it” (McCausland, Wache & Berk, 1999, p.2). The drive to promote such developmentsstems from general moves among institutions to ensure their graduates demonstrate not onlyskills and knowledge in their subject domains but also general attributes and generic skills.Traditionally generic skills have involved such capabilities as an ability to reason formally, tosolve problems, to communicate effectively, to be able to negotiate outcomes, to manage time,project management, and collaboration and teamwork skills. The growing use of ICTs as tools ofevery day life have seen the pool of generic skills expanded in recent years to include informationliteracy and it is highly probable that future developments and technology applications will seethis set of skills growing even more
. Student-centred learning
Technology has the capacity to promote and encourage the transformation of education from avery teacher directed enterprise to one which supports more student-centred models. Evidence ofthis today is manifested in:• The proliferation of capability, competency and outcomes focused curricula• Moves towards problem-based learning• Increased use of the Web as an information source, Internet users are able to choose theexperts from whom they will learnThe use of ICT in educational settings, by itself acts as a catalyst for change in this domain. ICTsby their very nature are tools that encourage and support independent learning. Students usingICTs for learning purposes become immersed in the process of learning and as more and morestudents use computers as information sources and cognitive tools (eg. Reeves & Jonassen,1996), the influence of the technology on supporting how students learn will continue to increase
In consonance with geographical flexibility, technology-facilitated educational programs also removemany of the temporal constraints that face learners with special needs (eg. Moore & Kearsley,1996). Students are starting to appreciate the capability to undertake education anywhere,anytime and any place. This flexibility has heightened the availability of just-in-time learningand provided learning opportunities for many more learners who previously were constrained byother commitments (eg. Young, 2002).• Through online technologies learning has become an activity that is no longer set withinprogrammed schedules and slots. Learners are free to participate in learning activities whentime permits and these freedoms have greatly increased the opportunities for many students toparticipate in formal programs.• The wide variety of technologies that support learning are able to provide asynchronoussupports for learning so that the need for real-time participation can be avoided while theadvantages of communication and collaboration with other learners is retained.• As well as learning at anytime, teachers are also finding the capabilities of teaching at anytime to be opportunistic and able to be used to advantage. Mobile technologies and seamlesscommunications technologies support 24×7 teaching and learning. Choosing how much timewill be used within the 24×7 envelope and what periods of time are challenges that will face the educators of the future.The continued and increased use of ICTs in education in years to come, will serve to increase the temporal and geographical opportunities that are currently experienced. Advancements in learning opportunities tend to be held back by the ICT capabilities of the lowest common denominator, namely the students with the least access to ICT. As ICT access increases among stuednts so too will these opportunities
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