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Information and Communication Technology in Higher Education Essay

Introduction:

Information and communication technology (ICT) is a force that has changed many aspects of the way we live. If one was to compare such fields as medicine, tourism, travel, business, law, banking, engineering and architecture, the impact of ICT across the past two or three decades has been enormous. The way these fields operate today is vastly different from the ways they operated in the past. But when one looks at education, there seems to have been an uncanny lack of influence and far less change than other fields have experienced. A number of people have attempted to explore this lack of activity and influence (e.g. Collis, 2002). There have been a number of factors impeding the wholesale uptake of ICT in education across all sectors. These have included such factors as a lack of funding to support the purchase of the technology, a lack of training among established teaching practitioners, a lack of motivation and need among teachers to adopt ICT as teaching tools (Starr, 2001).

But in recent times, factors have emerged which have strengthened and encouraged moves to adopt ICTs into classrooms and learning settings. As we move into the 21st century, these factors and many others are bringing strong forces to bear on the adoption of ICTs in education and contemporary trends suggest we will soon see large scale changes in the way education is planned and delivered as a consequence of the opportunities and affordances of ICT. This paper seeks to explore the likely changes we will see in education as ICT acts as a powerful agent to change many of the educational practices to which we have become accustomed. In particular, the paper will explore the impact both current and emerging information and communication technologies will be likely to have in coming years on what is learned, when and where learning will take place and how the learning will occur. The impact of ICT on what is learned:

Conventional teaching has emphasized content. For many years course have been written around textbooks. Teachers have taught through lectures and presentations interspersed with tutorials and learning activities designed to consolidate and rehearse the content. Contemporary settings are now
favoring curricula that promote competency and performance. Curricula are starting to Emphasize capabilities and to be concerned more with how the information will be used than with what the information is.

A. competency and performance-based curricula:

The moves to competency and performance-based curricula are well supported and encouraged by emerging instructional technologies (e.g. Stephenson, 2001). Such curricula tend to require:

access to a variety of information sources;
access to a variety of information forms and types;
student-centered learning settings based on information access and inquiry;
learning environments centered on problem-centered 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 are now many outstanding examples of world class settings for competency and performance-based curricula that make sound use of the affordances of these technologies (e.g. Oliver, 2000). For many years, teachers wishing to adopt such curricula have been limited by their resources and tools but with the proliferation and widespread availability of contemporary ICTs, many Restrictions and impediments of the past have been removed. And new technologies will continue to drive these forms of learning further. As students and teachers gain access to higher Bandwidths, more direct forms of communication and access to sharable resources, the capability To support these quality learning settings will continue to grow. B. information literacy

Another way in which emerging ICTs are impacting on the content of education curricula stems from the ways in which ICTs are dominating so much of contemporary life and work. Already There has emerged a need for educational institutions to ensure that graduates are able to display Appropriate 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 arising from it” (McCausland, Wache & Berk, 1999, p.2).

The drive to promote such developments Stems from general moves among institutions to ensure their graduates demonstrate not only skills 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, to Solve 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 of Every day life have seen the pool of generic skills expanded in recent years to include information Literacy and it is highly probable that future developments and technology applications will see This set of skills growing even more.

The impact of ICT on how students learn

Just as technology is influencing and supporting what is being learned in schools and universities, So too is it supporting changes to the way students are learning. Moves from content-centered Curricula to competency-based curricula are associated with moves away from teacher-centered Forms of delivery to student-centered forms. Through technology-facilitated approaches, Contemporary learning settings now encourage students to take responsibility for their own Learning .In the past students have become very comfortable to learning through transmissive Modes. Students have been trained to let others present to them the information that forms the Curriculum. The growing use of ICT as an instructional medium is changing and will likely Continue to change many of the strategies employed by both teachers and students in the learning Process. The following sections describe particular forms of learning that are gaining prominence in universities and schools worldwide.

A. Student-centered learning

Technology has the capacity to promote and encourage the transformation of education from a Very teacher directed enterprise to one which supports more student-centered models. Evidence of This 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 the Experts from whom they will learn

The use of ICT in educational settings, by itself acts as a catalyst for change in this domain. ICTs By their very nature are tools that encourage and support independent learning. Students using ICTs for learning purposes become immersed in the process of learning and as more and more Students use computers as information sources and cognitive tools (e.g. Reeves & Jonassen, 1996), the influence of the technology on supporting how students learn will continue to increase. B. Supporting knowledge construction

The emergence of ICTs as learning technologies has coincided with a growing awareness and recognition of alternative theories for learning. The theories of learning that hold the greatest Sway today is those based on constructivist principles (e.g. Duffy & Cunningham, 1996). These Principles posit that learning is achieved by the active construction of knowledge supported by various perspectives within meaningful contexts. The strengths of constructivism lie in its emphasis on learning as a process of personal understanding and the development of meaning in ways which are active and interpretative. In This domain learning is viewed as the construction of meaning rather than as the memorization of facts (e.g. Lebow, 1993; Jonassen & Reeves, 1996). Learning approaches using contemporary ICTs provide many opportunities for constructivist learning through their provision and support for resource-based, student centered settings and by enabling learning to be related to context and to practice (e.g. Berge, 1998; Barron, 1998). As mentioned previously, any use of ICT in learning Settings can act to support various aspects of knowledge construction and as more and more Students employ ICTs in their learning processes, the more pronounced the impact of this will Become.

The impact of ICT on when and where students learn

In the past educational institutions have provided little choice for students in terms of the method And manner in which programs have been delivered. Students have typically been forced to Accept what has been delivered and institutions have tended to be quite staid and traditional in terms of the delivery of their programs. ICT applications provide many options and choices and Many institutions are now creating competitive edges for themselves through the choices they are offering students.

A. Any place learning

The concept of flexibility in the delivery place of educational programs is not new (e.g. Moore & Kersey, 1996). Educational institutions have been offering programs at a distance for many Years and there has been a vast amount of research and development associated with establishing Effective practices and procedures in off-campus teaching and learning. Use of the technology, However, has extended the scope of this activity and whereas previously off-campus delivery was An option for students who were unable to attend campuses, today, many more students are able to make this choice through technology-facilitated learning settings. The scope and extent of this Activity is demonstrated in some of the examples below.

The communications capabilities of modern technologies provide opportunities for many Learners to enroll in courses offered by external institutions rather than those situated locally. These opportunities provide such advantages as extended course offerings and eclectic class Cohorts comprised of students of differing backgrounds, cultures and perspectives. The freedoms of choice provided by programs that can be accessed at any place are also Supporting the delivery of programs with units and courses from a variety of institutions, There are now countless ways for students completing undergraduate degrees for example, to Study units for a single degree, through a number of different institutions, an activity that Provides considerable diversity and choice for students in the programs they complete.

B. Any time learning

In concert with geographical flexibility, technology-facilitated educational programs also remove Many of the temporal constraints that face learners with special needs (e.g. 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 learning and provided learning opportunities for many more learners who previously were constrained by other commitments (e.g. Young, 2002). Through online technologies learning has become an activity that is no longer set within Programmed schedules and slots. Learners are free to participate in learning activities when time permits and these freedoms have greatly increased the opportunities for many students to Participate in formal programs.

The wide varieties of technologies that support learning are able to provide asynchronous Supports for learning so that the need for real-time participation can be avoided while the Advantages of communication and collaboration with other learners are retained.

Emerging Issues

A number of other issues have emerged from the uptake of technology whose impacts have yet to Be fully explored. These include changes to the makeup of the teacher pool, changes to the Profile of who are the learners in our courses and paramount in all of this, changes in the costing And economics of course delivery. A. expanding the pool of teachers

In the past, the role of teacher in an educational institution was a role given to only highly qualified people. With technology-facilitated learning, there are now opportunities to extend the Teaching pool beyond this specialist set to include many more people. The changing role of the Teacher has seen increased opportunities for others to participate in the process including Workplace trainers, mentors, specialists from the workplace and others. Through the affordances And capabilities of technology, today we have a much expanded pool of teachers with varying Roles able to provide support for learners in a variety of flexible settings. This trend seems set to Continue and to grow with new ICT developments and applications. And within this changed pool of teachers will come changed responsibilities and skill sets for future teaching involving high levels of ICT and the need for more facilitative than didactic teaching roles.

B. expanding the pool of students

In the past, education has been a privilege and an opportunity that often was unavailable to many students whose situation did not fit the mainstream. Through the flexibilities provided by technology, many students who previously were unable to participate in educational activities are now finding opportunities to do so. The pool of students is changing and will continue to change as more and more people who have a need for education and training are able to take advantage of the increased opportunities. Interesting opportunities are now being observed among, for example, school students studying university courses to overcome limitations in their school programs and workers undertaking courses from their desktops.

C. The cost of education

Traditional thinking has always been that technology-facilitated learning would provide economies and efficiencies that would see significant reductions in the costs associated with the delivery of educational programs. The costs would come from the ability to create courses with fixed establishment costs, for example technology-based courses, and for which there would be savings in delivery through large scale uptake. We have already seen a number of virtual universities built around technology delivery alone. The reality is that few institutions have been able to realize these aims for economy. There appear to have been many underestimated costs in such areas as course development and course delivery. The costs associated with the development of high quality technology-facilitated learning materials are quite high.

It has found to be more than a matter of repackaging existing materials and large scale reengineering has been found to be necessary with large scale costs. Likewise costs associated with delivery have not been found to diminish as expected. The main reason for this has been the need to maintain a relatively stable student to staff ratio and the expectation of students that they will have access to teachers in their courses and programs. Compared to traditional forms of off-campus learning, technology-facilitated learning has proven to be quite expensive in all areas of consideration, infrastructure, course development and course delivery. We may have to brace ourselves for the advantages and affordances which will improve the quality of education in the near future to also increase components of the cost.

Efforts of Indian government in this aspect

Realizing the importance of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) the Ministry of Human Resource Development as per the Mission Document, ICT is the tool in education available to enhance the current enrolment rate in Higher Education, at present 15 percent to 30 percent by the end of the 11th Plan period. The Ministry also launched a web portal named “SAKSHAT” a ‘One Stop Education Portal’. The high quality e-content once developed will be uploaded on SAKSHAT in all disciplines and subjects. Several projects are in the completion stage and are expected to change the way teaching and learning is done in India.

The Mission has two major components viz., (a) content generation and (b) connectivity along with provision for access devices for institutions and learners. It seeks to bR&Dge the digital divide, i.e., the gap in the skills to use computing devices for the purpose of teaching and learning among urban and rural teachers/learners in Higher Education domain and empower those, who have hitherto remained untouched by the digital revolution and have not been able to join the mainstream of the knowledge economy. It plans to focus on appropriate pedagogy for e-learning, providing facility of performing experiments through virtual laboratories, on-line testing and certification, on-line availability of teachers to guide and mentor learners, utilization of available Education Satellite (EduSAT) and Direct to Home (DTH) platforms, training and empowerment of teachers to effectively use the new method of teaching learning etc.

On the one hand, the Mission would create high quality e-content for the target groups and on the other, it would simultaneously seek to extend computer infrastructure and connectivity to over 18000 colleges in the country including each of the departments of nearly 400 universities/deemed universities and institutions of national importance. The peer group assisted content development would utilize the Wikipedia type of collaborative platform under the supervision of a content advisory committee responsible for vetting the content. Interactivity and problem solving approach would be addressed through “Talk to a Teacher” segment. It is an opportunity as well as a challenge for the bright faculty members of our Universities and Institutions of Excellence to invest their intellectual capital for the knowledge empowerment of all the learners of our Country. We need to synergize our individual efforts in this direction.

Summary and Conclusions

This paper has sought to explore the role of ICT in education as we progress into the 21st century. In particular the paper has argued that ICTs have impacted on educational practice in education to date in quite small ways but that the impact will grow considerably in years to come and that ICT will become a strong agent for change among many educational practices. Extrapolating current activities and practices, the continued use and development of ICTs within education will have a strong impact on:

What is learned;
How it is learned;
When and where learning takes place;
Who is learning and who is teaching.

To ensure that the opportunities and advantages are realized, it will be important as it is in every other walk of life to ensure that the educational research and development dollar is sustained so that education at large can learn from within and that experiences and activities in different institutions and sectors can inform and guide others without the continual need for re-invention of the wheel. Once again ICTs serve to provide the means for much of this activity to realize the potential it holds.

References
Collis, B. (2002). Information technologies for education and training. In Adelsberger, H., Collis, B, & Pawlowski, J. (Eds.) Handbook on Technologies for Information and Training. Berlin: Springer Verlag. Duffy, T., & Cunningham, D. (1996). Constructivism: Implications for the design and delivery of instruction, Handbook of research for educational telecommunications and technology (pp. 170-198). New York: MacMillan.

Oliver, R. (2000). Creating Meaningful Contexts for Learning in Web-based Settings. Proceedings of Open Learning 2000. (pp 53-62). Brisbane: Learning Network, Queensland.
Oliver, R. & Towers, S. (2000). Benchmarking ICT literacy in tertiary learning settings. In R. Sims, M. O’Reilly & S. Sawkins (Eds). Learning to choose: Choosing to learn. Proceedings of the 17th Annual ASCILITE Conference (pp 381-390). Lismore, NSW: Southern Cross University Press. Soloway, E. & Pryor, A. (1996). The next generation in human-computer interaction. Communications of the ACM, 39(4), 16-18.

Starr, L. (2001). Available at http://www.education-world.com/a_tech/tech075.shtml [Accessed July 2002].
Stephenson, J., Ed. (2001). Learner-managed learning- an emerging pedagogy for online learning. Teaching and Learning Online: Pedagogies for New Technologies. London, Kogan Page. Young, J. (2002). The 24-hour professor. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 48(38), 31-33.


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