Should We Shift ICT4E Assessments From Technology to Adoption?
At the start of this debate, I proposed what I thought was a radical idea – “Do we need ICT4D assessments?” I was under the impression that we’d hear a few calls for dismissing them, but there would be an overwhelming validation that evaluations were not only necessary but instructive for decision makers and the educational stakeholders faced with pressure to accept technology in the classroom as inevitable.
From the onset, my assumptions were proven wrong. As Rob van Son stated in his opening post:
However, the most remarkable thing about any ICT4E assessments to decide on the introduction of ICT in education would be their uniqueness in history. One reason such assessments are so scarce is that there are few (if any) historical examples of assessments of any kind done before the introduction of an educational reform. Even less examples where the outcomes of the assessments really mattered in decision making.
This opinion was backed up in the comments with the general consensus similar to John LeBaron’s comment that while assessemnts themselves are not bad, but we don’t have the right assessment tools and their outcomes would be misused anyway.
Mary Hooker’s response was more in line with my thoughts – she opened with:
Yes we do need to assess ICT4E initiatives more particularly when we are working in environments with scarce resources as in the developing world where investment in ICT can constitute what Unwin (2004) describes as a ‘wasteful tragedy’ if it is not managed and utilized properly.
But then surprisingly, quickly agreed with many of the issues raised by Rob van Son – ICT4E assessments don’t capture outcomes very well, and are often disregarded because the entrenched practices of conventional schooling has strict rules that constrain and retard transformational curricular innovation, especially ICT integration.
Yet, Clayton Wright brought up a great point:
From a western perspective, the benefits of technology are obvious. But in the developing world, perhaps only the benefits of mobile phones, ATMs, and radio seem obvious. When given a choice, local officials would probably spend funds on providing clean drinking water, toilet facilities, medicine, and seeds for crops rather than spend it on ICTs. Local educators would want more teachers not computers. Thus, I believe that evaluations are necessary to demonstrate to the local officials and national policy makers that ICTs are worth the investment. They need to know what local problem(s) ICTs can address or opportunities that are possible.
How can we assure them that technology should be on an equal footing with other educational investments then? Can we really take Rob van Son’s title, “Stop Wasting Children with ICT4E Assessments” to heart? Is he right when he says:
There is little hope that ICT4E assessment as it is organized today will uncover anything that will actually influence educational practices. History is plainly against us. A full blown assessment about “Is [fill in ICT4E solution] a cost-effective improvement” will take years to complete, cost serious amounts of money, and will be irrelevant when published. The worst effect will be the delay which will deprive yet again several cohorts of school children in poor countries of adequate education.
In addition, if all teaching methods that are based on “transmitting knowledge” instead of “recreating knowledge” (aka Constructivism) fail to change the naive preconceptions of students, how does ICT then impart a better knowledge creation system than an increased focus on better teachers and more involved instruction? Rob van Son responded with a reasonable argument:
I think the old Oxford model of a lector and a few students is best. What ICT can do is help in situations where there is a lack of adequate teachers. But such a support cannot be “proven effective” using standard evaluation procedures based on current grading practices. On the other hand, evidence based educational methods are still not generally accepted. So I suggest to try to find a common ground where both the “establishment” and “evidence based research” can meet to improve education for disadvantaged schools. This is much better than waiting for an (elusive) consensus on evidence based educational reform.
In her second post, Mary Hooker agrees with Rob – there are inadequacies of evaluating the use of ICT and its potential for transformational innovation in education systems that are intent on simply harnessing it for maintaining the status quo. It doesn’t help that ICT is also multifaceted, with effects and impact beyond the expected, event by experts.
Worse, ICT is also very fast moving. With the quick change in technology (netbooks, mobile phones, Internet access) over the last few years, long-term studies of ICT impact can be obsolete before they are even finished. To this Mary Hooker responds that the focus should be not the devices then. ICT does not exist in isolation but within a larger socio-cultural context of the school and education system.
Which to me, brings us to classic Change Management – the systematic process of creating organizational change.
In that context, should ICT4E assessments ignore the technology – it changes to fast and is too hard measure its impact – and focus on assessing the ability of educational systems to best adopt ICT usage to their goals? A shift from “device X helps Y amount in reaching Z learning outcome” into “school system A has B ability to incorporate C amount of technological change within its current resource constraints” and then leave the school systems themselves to experiment with different technology?