Bořivoj Brdička : The Role of Internet in Education xxC O N T E N T SxxxxxxI N D E X


9.4 What is it going to be like?

Nobody can predict the future development for a hundred percent. But we know for sure that the technology will be here for all our lives and, therefore, it must be present also in education. We have found many significant indicators that ICT changes the educational environment and influences the teaching methods.

Education is what remains when we forget what we learnt at school.

Karel Čapek (Czech writer - an author of the term "robot")

Let us try to describe what education could be like in the near future. The difference from the classical methods is that significant that some theoreticians go that far to call it, according to Thomas Kuhn, a change of paradigm. [31]. He claims that the scientific theories develop in sudden shifts. In every stage there are sets of rules considered to be valid, but some phenomena do not always fit there. During the course of time the number of these exceptions grows and they create wider and wider gaps. Those supporting the current rules are trying to lower the importance of the exceptions and neglect them. But it cannot go on forever. One-day new and more suitable set of rules emerges and a new paradigm is created and gradually prevails. This is the moment when the majority of the supporters of the old paradigm quickly change their mind and adopt it.

The change of paradigm is apparent in the way the theoreticians describe changes in the development of human kind caused by important discoveries. The scientific branch called diffusionism is focused on it. It was originally created because the anthropologists needed to explain the changes brought about by accepting technical innovations from more developed cultures in the distant past. E.M. Rogers, who described in theory the process of accepting innovations in the society and introduced basic terminology, is currently the best-known representative of this branch [56]. The new inventions, technological solutions, and products disseminate in society due to the spread of information through various channels only if there are suitable conditions. Every adopter goes through several stages of his/her adoption of such innovation - Awareness, Interest, Trial, Decision, and Adoption.

The process of diffusion of any innovation to the whole society could be described on a graph. So-called "S-curve" shows the percentage of accepted innovation and the so-called "Gauss curve" (the normal distribution) the relative current number of adopters during this process.

S curve and Gauss curve

S curve and Gauss curve

Rogers divides the adopters according to the course of innovation into five categories:

The interpretation of this theory in connection to the development of the Internet and its use in education is an easy one. Everybody can find himself/herself in one of these categories. Are you a visionary, a pragmatist or even a conservative, who is pushed into acceptance of the technologies by circumstances? But you can still be in the small group of enthusiasts trying to promote changes in spite of the lack of interest of others and taking the risk of potential failure.

I warn you Icarus, he said, you must follow a course midway between earth and heaven, in case the sun should scorch your feathers, if you go too high, or the water make them heavy if you are too low. Fly halfway between the two.

Ovid (ancient Roman poet): The Metamorphoses

The theory of diffusionism can be easily applied only on the technical aspect of the introduction of the ICT in education. It cannot be completely applied on the development of teaching methods. Instruction itself has many different shapes. Basically any theory may be applied in certain particular situations. If we consider the purely instructive and constructive methods as the extreme possibilities, it is important to state that none of them should prevail on long term basis. But, in the not distant past, the instructive approach dominated the education. The level of this dominance varied from country to country. Nowadays this situation is rapidly changing in favor of the constructive method. Some scholars even compare this pedagogical shift to a  change of paradigm in the way mentioned above. But it is clear that the innovation in implementing the Internet in education may be considered a "change of paradigm" only with certain reservation. The following outline reminds the basic boundary features of both of these approaches.

Traditional paradigm
Instructive (passive) approach
Emerging paradigm
Constructive (active) approach
  • teacher-centered instruction
  • isolated work
  • programmed instruction
  • fixed detailed curriculum
  • knowledge-based learning
  • single-sense stimulation
  • single-path progression
  • memorization
  • isolated, artificial context
  • divided subjects
  • divided lessons
  • students divided by age
  • reactive response
  • examination and grading
  • teacher as the highest authority
  • discipline as the highest quality
  • school is closed from neighborhood
  • external impacts minimized
  • student-centered learning
  • collaborative work
  • project-oriented learning
  • free thematic curriculum
  • critical thinking and decision making
  • multi-sensory stimulation
  • multi-path progression
  • understanding induced by associations
  • authentic, real-world context
  • subjects interconnected by themes
  • lessons interconnected by themes
  • students divided by abilities and interests
  • proactive action
  • evaluation
  • teacher as helper and guide
  • interest as the highest quality
  • school is open
  • risk of undesirable external impacts

It is not necessary to go back to the role of technologies and the Internet in this process. Besides the source of information, the Internet is the tool that connects the classroom with the nearby and distant environments. It enables the participation of mates, experts, politicians, and the parents - basically of the whole society. Some educational activities may be done outside the lessons and even outside the school building. So it helps to overcome the image of separated classes, separated subjects, and not co-operating teachers.

We could not even think about the general change in teaching methods, if there were not some attempts in introducing the modern concept of instruction for several years. It may be stated that some methods that would fit into the emerging paradigm have occurred at schools for a long time. In the quite recent past these methods were mainly tried in the so-called alternative schools. Today in many developed countries, also due to the impact of technologies, these methods are occurring more and more even in the predominating state schools.

What's wrong with education cannot be fixed with technology. No amount of technology will make a dent. ... You're not going to solve the problems by putting all knowledge onto CD-ROMs. We can put a Web site in every school - none of this is bad. It's bad only if it lulls us into thinking we're doing something to solve the problem with education.

Steven Jobs (cofounder Apple Computer), Wired magazine, 1996

In order to secure the success of the change according to the new paradigm, many measures have to be introduced. Although the majority of European countries are trying to realize their Action Plans in introducing the ICT to schools, they also have to face some serious problems. The easiest thing is to stretch the wires to schools and supply the computers. But the training of teachers is a different thing. It is often limited to the technical skills required for example for the European Computer Driving License (ECDL) tests. The actual application is left to the teachers themselves. The teachers are often not interested in using the computers, as they are still something new and unpleasant for them. The most common and the most serious mistake that is found in many countries is that the educational contents are not adjusted to the situation of using the ICT. Even if there are computers and the teachers are trained to operate them, the reform will not be successful until there are official curricular changes introduced in the framework of the Emerging Paradigm. Otherwise the teachers will have to do these activities such as the projects described here as something extra and outside of regular teaching lessons. Many teachers and students will not be prepared to do it. If some systemic changes are not implemented, there is a serious risk that only about 2.5% teachers-innovators (according to the theory of diffusion) will carry on using these emerging methods.

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