The Role of the Teacher in the Use of ICT
Keynote Speech delivered to the National Czech Teachers Conference
University of Western Bohemia, Czech Republic
May 20, 2000
In this age of rapid change and uncertainty, there is one thing of which we can
be certain - teachers will need to adapt to change if they are to survive and
keep pace with new methods and technologies. Arguably the area of most rapid
change is that of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT). One of the
questions being asked by many teachers is: What will be the long term impact of
the introduction of these technologies into the classroom? Another question
being raised is: What kind of skills will teachers need to acquire in order to
be effective in an ICT based learning environment? This paper will address
these two important questions by highlighting the experiences of teachers using
ICT in the United Kingdom, and offering some further examples of established
ICT teaching and learning applications in schools in the USA.
A great deal of research and development has been conducted in order to bring
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to its current state of art. ICT
was originally intended to serve as a means of improving efficiency in the
educational process (Jones and Knezek, 1993). Furthermore, it has been shown
that the use of ICT in education can help improve memory retention, increase
motivation and generally deepen understanding (Dede, 1998). ICT can also be
used to promote collaborative learning, including role playing, group problem
solving activities and articulated projects (Forcheri and Molfino, 2000).
Generally, ICT is promoting new approaches to working and learning, and new
ways of interacting (Balacheff, 1993). Consequently, the introduction of ICT
into UK and US schools has provoked a host of new questions about the evolving
nature of pedagogy.
Whether or not changes in pedagogy are contingent on trends and innovations, is
a moot point. The question that should be asked, however, is: What will be the
long term impact of ICT on the teaching and learning process? It is well
documented that ICT changes the nature of motivation to learn (Forcheri and
Molfino, 2000). Another important question is: What kind of skills will
teachers need to acquire in order to be effective in an ICT based learning
There is currently great debate about how teachers should adapt current
teaching skills and practice to accommodate the introduction of ICT. These
changes are comprehensive, embracing teaching methodology, assessment of
learning, student tracking, communication, and evaluation. The distributed
nature of ICT learning, and the impact it creates on both learners and teachers
are crucial issues. The concept of shared resources, and shared working spaces,
and particularly the notion of collaborative learning may be particularly
difficult for some teachers to accept. Most critically, the question of the
extent to which teachers relinquish control and let learners drive their own
learning may create the greatest barrier to the adoption of ICT in the
The UK Experience
In the UK, the government is encouraging schools to embrace ICT as a
fundamental part of the fabric of the curriculum. In 1998-1999, the UK
government's funding for ICT development in schools, known as the National Grid
for Learning (NGfL) finally began to have an impact. The funding provided by
NGfL has resulted in a growth of connections to the Internet in primary
schools. In March 1998 only 17 per cent of primary schools in the UK had
Internet access. By March 1999 this had increased to 62 per cent and in the
same period there was also an increase of Internet connectivity in secondary
schools from 83 to 93 per cent (DfEE, 2000: 18). Many secondary schools and an
increasing number of primary schools are now developing websites and announcing
their presence in cyberspace. The use of web pages to post school news and
homework assignments is soon to become common practice, as is the submission of
work via e-mail from the child's home to the teacher's mailbox. This culture is
already well established in many Australian and American schools.
This, however is just the first step in introducing ICT into schools. It is
expected that all British teachers will be offered training in the use of ICT
by 2002, and the UK Government has committed to spending £230 million to drive
this training initiative forward (DfEE, 2000: 18). British teachers are also
being supported in the purchase of a personal home computer, with a further
fund of £20 million being offered. Teachers can expect to purchase a computer
and modem at approximately half the retail price for exclusive home use.
Through these initiatives it is envisaged that many more teachers will be
encouraged to explore the possibilities of ICT, and increase their confidence
in the use of computers. It is possible that entirely new working practices
will evolve, where teachers work in a more collaborative manner, both with
colleagues and with children. Finally, schools in some pilot areas are being
encouraged to work together in clusters using ICT as a communication method.
This approach enables schools to collaborate, sharing teaching and learning
materials, which can be made available cost effectively to larger distributions
of children. This method of working will also enabled key staff to provide on
the job training to their colleagues from a centralised resource base (DfEE,
What ICT Brings to the Classroom
Many are predicting that ICT will bring about several benefits to the learner
and the teacher. These include sharing of resources and learning environments
as well as the promotion of collaborative learning and a general move towards
greater learner autonomy. I shall briefly discuss each of these benefits in
turn, offering some examples.
Shared learning resources. One of the most striking examples of ICT in
action in American schools is the apposite use of video systems to transmit
television programmes and information throughout an entire school and even
between schools in the same district. In the Faribault Schools in Minnesota,
this integrated approach to the regional sharing of learning resources is
enabling elementary and senior schools to minimise expenditure by concentrating
time and effort into creating centralised services. Students and teachers enjoy
the facility to share information wherever they are in the school. Television
monitors provide details of timetables, projects and assessment, mealtime menus
and a host of other useful up-to-the-minute information. There are also regular
play-outs of short films and videos created by children, and some schools can
use several channels for broadcast purposes.
Shared learning spaces. Networked computing facilities create a
distributed environment where learners can share work spaces, communicate with
each other and their teachers in text form, and access a wide variety of
resources from internal and external databases via web based systems through
the Internet. In Broad Clyst Primary School in East Devon, pupils as young as 8
years old use networked software to communicate with each other and their
teacher, whilst 10 year olds converse with 'pen pals' in other countries using
e-mail. Using these shared systems, pupils develop transferable skills such as
literary construction, keyboard techniques and written communication skills,
whilst simultaneously acquiring knowledge of other cultures, languages and
traditions. Furthermore, children are able to make links between internal
thinking and external social interaction via the keyboard, to improve their
social and intellectual developments in the best constructivist tradition
(Vygotsky, 1962). Children are quickly mastering the ability to communicate
effectively using these new technologies because the experience has been made
enjoyable in an unthreatening environment, and there are immediate perceived
and actual benefits.
The promotion of collaborative learning. Reil (2000) argues that much of
what we now see as individual learning will change to become collaborative in
nature. Reasoning and intellectual development is embedded in the familiar
social situations of everyday life (Donaldson, 1978) so the social context of
learning has a great deal of importance. Collaborative learning is therefore
taking an increasing profile in the curricula of many schools, with ICT playing
a central role. Schools in the UK are already starting to use discussion lists,
and other forms of computer mediated communication (CMC) to promote
collaboration in a variety of learning tasks and group projects.
The move towards autonomous learning. At the same time, computers - and
the power they bring to the student to access, manipulate, modify, store and
retrieve information - will promote greater autonomy in learning. Inevitably,
the use of ICT in the classroom will change the role of the learner, enabling
children to exert more choice over how they approach study, requiring less
direction from teachers. Students will be able to direct their own studies to a
greater extent, with the teacher acting as a guide or moderator rather than as
a director (Forsyth, 1996: 31). This facilitation will take on many facets and
will also radically change the nature of the role of the teacher as we
currently understand it. Consider for example the students at a local Devon
school who are able to use a software based music laboratory in their lunch
hours to write, record and produce their own music CDs. Microphones and
keyboards have been purchased to encourage the creativity the children are
discovering within these self-driven extra curricular activities. Minimal
teacher management is required.
Engineering the New Role of the Teacher
Teachers have been polarised in their acceptance of the new technologies.
Whilst some have enthusiastically integrated computers, CMC and the Internet
into the classroom, other have been cautious in their welcome, and some have
simply rejected the technologies. There is a level of justifiable cynicism
based on previous experience of computer based applications such as CAL.
Ironically, some enthusiasts have inadvertently damaged the reputation of ICT
by poor classroom practice - using the technology for the sake of its novelty
value, or failing to think through the issues before implementing the
technology (Littlejohn, et al, 1999).
With the inevitable proliferation of ICT in the classroom, the role of the
teacher must change, and here are four key reasons why this must happen:
Firstly, the role of the teacher must change because ICT will cause certain
teaching resources to become obsolete. For example, the use of overhead
projectors and chalkboards may no longer be necessary if learners all have
access to the same networked resource on which the teacher is presenting
information. Furthermore, if students are distributed throughout several
classrooms - which is becoming more common place - localised resources such as
projectors and chalkboards become redundant and new electronic forms of
distributed communication must be employed.
Secondly, ICT may also make some assessment methods redundant. Low level
(factual) knowledge for example, has been traditionally tested by the use of
multiple choice questions. In an ICT environment, on-line tests can easily be
used which instantly provide the teacher with a wide range of information
associated with the learner's score. Comparisons of previous scores and dates
of assessment for example, will indicate a child's progress, and each student
can be allocated an individual action plan data base stored in electronic
format into which each successive test's results can be entered automatically.
Thirdly, the role of the teacher must change in the sense that it is no longer
sufficient for teachers merely to impart content knowledge. It will however, be
crucial for teachers to encourage critical thinking skills, promote information
literacy, and nurture collaborative working practices to prepare children for a
new world in which no job is guaranteed for life, and where people switch
careers several times. One of the most ubiquitous forms of ICT - the Internet -
gives access to an exponentially growing storehouse of information sources,
almost unlimited networks of people and computers, and unprecedented learning
and research opportunities. The Internet is a network of networks, providing
opportunities for inquiry-based learning where teachers and students are able
to access some of the world's largest information archives. Students and
teachers are able to connect with each other, learn flexibly, and collaborate
with others around the world. Generally speaking, geographical distance is no
longer a barrier, and the age of the 'borderless' provision of education is
upon us (THES, March 2000). Teaching strategies and resources can be shared
through communication with other educators and may be integrated across the
curriculum. The Internet provides a wealth of information to the extent that it
is now impossible to comprehensively track the amount of information available.
Unfortunately, misinformation and inaccuracies are similarly present in great
numbers on the Internet so one of the new roles of the teacher within the
electronic classroom will be to separate out quality information from
misinformation. Identification, classification and authentication of electronic
information sources will be critical new tasks for teachers.
Finally, teachers must begin to reappraise the methods by which they meet
childrens' learning needs and match curricula to the requirements of human
thought. The Internet can be an excellent way to adapt information to meet the
characteristics of human information processing. Traditional methods of
imparting knowledge, such as lectures, books and this conference paper, are
characterised by a linear progression of information. Human minds are more
adaptable than this, using non-linear strategies for problem solving,
representation and the storage and retrieval of information (See for example
Collins and Quillian, 1969; Collins and Loftus, 1975). Hypertext software
enables teachers to provide their students with the non-linear means to match
non-linear human thinking processes (Semenov, 2000: 29-30).
In order to put these new roles into context, I shall offer some case studies
of actual ICT based learning environments in elementary schools in the US.
The US Experience
As has been previously detailed, schools in the United States are investing in
centralised media systems that will enable information to be broadcast to many
schools at one time. The Faribault system in Minnesota involves 6 schools
linked with a common cabled computer and media network. Students and teachers
can view monitors showing a comprehensive range of information from lunch-time
menus to global news bulletins. Students write, produce and present their own
television programmes that are broadcast on the network. These are autonomous,
but guided activities, with teachers on hand to provide technical or
organisational help if it is required. In Minneapolis, an entire year of 90
students on one externally funded project were each loaned a laptop computer.
Flexible ways of working and learning were observed, as students came to terms
with any-time any-place learning. Teachers monitored activities, facilitating
rather than directing, in order to encourage the most creative uses of the
mobile technology. During the entire project only one laptop computer was lost.
Networks of the new Apple MacIntosh iMac computers are also much in evidence in
US schools, where children are instructed from the first grade (5 years)
onwards. Large screen video projection facilities are used to guide the
students, application sharing is used to take control of individual or grouped
workstations to provide tutorials, and each student is given a personal e-mail
address. Like their UK counterparts, American children as young as 7 years old
are being encouraged to seek out, and maintain correspondence with overseas pen
pals. Students as young as 5 years old are learning to use ICT as a regular
resource to think and communicate, thereby enhancing the learning process. The
role of the teacher here also, is to enable rather than to control learning
Trends and Alternative Futures
So what of the future impact of information and communication technologies in
the classroom? If it is difficult to predict future technological trends, it is
almost impossible to forsee how these emerging technologies might be used in
teaching and learning contexts. The following quotations bear witness to this
'One day every town in America will have its own telephone'. (U.S.
'Within the next decade the film will replace print'. (Thomas Edison,
'I forsee a world market for maybe 5 computers'. (Thomas Watson,
Chairman of IBM, 1943).*
'I predict a time when computers will weigh no more than one and a half tons'.
(Popular Mechanics, 1949).*
'I forsee no reason for people to have a computer in their home'. (Ken
Olson, President of Digital Equipment Corporation, 1977).*
(* Quotes taken from Riel, 2000: 20-21)
One thing we can be certain of is that ICT technologies will inevitably
proliferate, possibly to the point where they become personal technologies, in
a similar fashion to the Sony Walkman or the mobile telephone. Indeed, the
third generation of mobile telephones, due for release this year, will connect
via low orbit Iridium satellites, and will have the capability not only to
connect from anywhere on the planet, but also to receive high quality video and
gain quick access to the Internet. These technologies will truly usher in the
age of 'any time, any place' learning. Below are a few of the emerging ICT
applications with appropriate web sites for further reference.
Wearable computer systems are already being beta-tested and several
universities, (notably MIT in the United States) have established advanced
research programmes to explore the many possibilities and applications,
particularly in teaching
and learning. The Internet, if bandwidth and costs will allow, will
become even more ubiquitous than at present, providing vast, almost infinite
quantities of learning material, stored around the world, and accessible direct
into the classroom, workplace or home - in fact, anywhere.
Worldboard systems will provide location specific information, working
in conjunction with wearable wireless computer
and communications technology. Tele-immersion through the use of virtual
reality technology may eventually become a reality for some schools. In the
United States, Xerox and other companies are racing to be the first to produce
a usable form of digital
paper. A booklet, with pages no more than twice as thick as a normal
sheet of paper, will act as portable a series of wafer thin computer screens.
The spine of the book acts as data storage, containing up to 100 medium sized
text books, downloadable direct from the publisher via the Internet.
Wireless, seamless, anytime, anywhere communication is happening, and we must
be prepared for the changes this will bring to our classrooms, as well as to
our society in general. The impact on compulsory education from these
technologies will be not be slow in coming.
Rapid changes in technology will ensure that ICT will proliferate in the
classroom. It is predicted that there will be many benefits for both the
learner and the teacher, including the promotion of shared working space and
resources, better access to information, the promotion of collaborative
learning and radical new ways of teaching and learning. ICT will also require a
modification of the role of the teacher, who in addition to classroom teaching,
will have other skills and responsibilities. Many will become specialists in
the use of distributed learning techniques, the design and development of
shared working spaces and resources, and virtual guides for students who use
electronic media. Ultimately, the use of ICT will enhance the learning
experiences for children, helping them to think and communicate creatively. ICT
will also prepare our children for successful lives and careers in an
increasingly technological world.
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