Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Properly Using ICT in the Classroom

One thing about the changeover to teaching science and maths in English in 2003 was that for the first time ICT (Information and Communications Technology) began to be used on a large scale throughout our school system as a teaching aid. Unfortunately, instead of being a teaching aid, in many cases the poor English of the teachers turned the teaching aid into the only teacher many kids got. I can speak from personal experience that as good as my science teachers were, there wasn't much they could do to add to the ICT-based teaching aids. If anything, the structure of the aids seems to have been meant to supplant teachers instead of assist them. This is really a great shame, because ICT can be a fantastic teaching aid when used correctly.

The slideshows which schools use as teaching aids presently are essentially whole lectures with some visuals included. There is not a whole lot teachers can add to the ICT-based teaching aids, especially if their English is poor. Teachers are pretty much reduced to opening the slideshows and clicking "next".

Of course, teachers still have a role to play. After all, teachers should be able to tell when students are not paying attention to the virtual lecture, and answer any questions the students may have. If anything, the slideshows probably give more effective lectures than some teachers do.

The problem as I see it is that instead of playing to the advantages of ICT, this marginalises ICT. We're just replacing human lectures with computer lectures. Teachers are now more like teaching assistants than actual teachers.

The primary advantage of ICT is that it offers access to a lot of data and information which teachers don't have, and that it can present this information in compelling and interesting ways. The way we've rolled out ICT is such that our students get a voice from the computer droning at them while some pretty cartoons pop up on the screen. At best, students may get the chance to play a game or two which facilitates retention of the material — but this isn't really playing to all the advantages of ICT.

Let me give some examples of how to effectively use ICT, based on my experiences in university. In my game theory class just two days ago, my professor mentioned a scene from the movie A Beautiful Mind illustrating the principles he was teaching. He then loaded up Youtube and showed a clip of the scene to us. In previous lectures, he's used the internet to locate studies proving that the theories he's teaching actually apply to the real world. While my professor could have just told us to look these things up in our spare time, having the option to call up all these visual aids and supporting facts in the classroom itself is clearly invaluable to the learning experience.

When I was studying Chinese last year, my professor frequently made us watch the news on CCTV, or called up Chinese clips on Youtube. It was an obvious and easy way to help us practice our listening, and it was a lot more natural than repeating sentences from our textbooks to one another. In my calculus class last term, the lecturer used graphing software to illustrate the things he was teaching us about vectors. ICT lends itself readily to all sorts of interesting applications in the classroom.

The one thing in common here is that nobody made the instructors use particular software or stick to particular applications of ICT. So far, our approach to ICT in the classroom has been to hand out CDs to teachers, without making teachers realise how they can more broadly apply things like the internet to lessons in the classroom. Our ICT strategy has been essentially "If we give teachers CDs with slideshows on them, we're making use of ICT! It's a success!"

But a truly successful programme for ICT use in the classroom would not only allow but encourage teachers to go beyond government-supplied tools, and to use things like the internet to better their teaching. Even if all they do is use Google to search for answers to questions they don't have answers to, I think it's a lot more instructive and useful for students to see how to use Google to find answers than it is for them to get a simple lecture from the computer.

Right now, we're not doing anything really useful with ICT. All we're doing is pretty much what a teacher with decent English and maybe some visual aids of her own can do anyway. The true advantage of ICT lies in things which ordinarily teachers can't do: answering almost any question imaginable, and offering exciting and interesting ways in which to present those answers. A good education policy would go beyond handing out CDs to schools; it would train teachers how to include ICT as part of their lessons in the classroom.


Shawn Tan said...

While I agree that the use of 'course-ware' is quite useless, the examples that you have suggested (Youtube and all) are still in the same vein. It's basically just using ICT to deliver content. There is a whole other level of ICT use in education that is applicable especially in subjects like Math/Science - simulating things that are otherwise too expensive to do in the real world.

Like in your game-theory class, instead of showing scenes from "A Beautiful Mind" (probably the one in the bar, where they discussed picking up girls), your professor could have run a simulation of the entire scenario, with different parameters applied resulting in different outcomes. While probably not as 'attractive' it is more 'instructive'. Instead of just playing simple games, complex games could be thrown in simply because computers have the necessary power to resolve the situations.

The 'I' in ICT stands for information. That is another thing that computers are good for. Wikipedia is a great source of information that kids can and should be encouraged to look at to supplement everything that they learn in class.

'C' stands for communication. ICT can be used to improve the communication between teachers, schools, students and parents. Students can communicate with each other to exchange information. Parents can use ICT to track their childs' progress in class. Teachers can use ICT to monitor everyone's progress.

Personally, I am biased, seeing that I used to develop a education system for schools. But it was clear to me, even then, that 'course-ware' was not the way to go. ICT in education can be applied to certain functions, but not all - good for timetabling and marking, not so good for replacing teachers.

However, the problem that you have raised is not just an educational problem. If you look carefully enough, you will see that in almost every area, ICT is not being applied 'correctly'. The trouble is that the people who care, don't usually have the ICT skills while those who do, don't care.

Anonymous said...

I know that in my school, some students who attended tuition know the subject material better than their science teachers.

The CDs, I think, are a way for the government to ensure that teachers don't teach the wrong thing. This is especially so in less developed areas.

Soo Huey said...

I have nothing against handing out the CD because it serves as a safety net such that even if the teachers can't speak or teach in English, students won't lose out. For this reason, the CDs were probably intentionally designed to be comprehensive.

Firstly, teachers in our school system are DIScouraged from venturing beyond the prescribed text. It is to ensure standardisation and prevent miseducation - inline with our over-protective mentality. Hence, even without the CDs, I'm sure it is very difficult to find teachers who don't just teach by the book.

If we pretend that teachers are allowed to venture beyond the CD, then having the CD does not prevent the teacher from including other material. Teachers with ability can still supplement the CD with their own examples and elaborations sourced from the Internet. Although I must stress that I am very much against giving young students the impression that all information from the internet is credible. They must also learn to discern.

Equally, having the CD does not prevent the teacher from having the students discuss or submit assignments electronically. Hence fulfilling the 'C' usage of ICT.

In conclusion, reliance on the CD is not because such a comprehensive CD was given out or that the teachers haven't been trained to optimise use of ICT. It is because we actually DON'T want teachers to "do their own thing" and actually use ICT creatively.

You forget, if they allowed such audacity, then urban teachers could potentially run much more interesting, useful and exciting classes resulting in greater chasm in the standard of urban and rural students. Very racist comment, please forgive, but maybe some truth: Resulting in greater chasm racially.

Safia Tg safiah said...

Do you think teachers are really utilizing the computers to teach ?