Wednesday, October 09, 2013

The ICT-grade correlation

Despite the inroads that have been made so far, Education and Info-comm Tech (ICT) are still rather uncomfortable with each other. On one extreme, a school district willy-nilly hands out iPads to each kid as a substitute for text books, but is embarrassed when the delighted recipients break board-approved security settings and play games on them instead. Obviously iPads are not books and if you have to cripple an iPad so badly so that it can only function as a book, you might as well just stick to books. Or be prepared to discover that kids are smarter than you (give them credit for).

On the other extreme are schools that believe ICT is nice to wave around as a publicity thing, but don't actually maximize its potential because old suspicions still prevail. This is especially apparent when school authorities strongly advise the kids to cut themselves off social media a month ahead of the final exams in order to concentrate on studying from books. Such pronouncements ultimately undermine the value ICT has for learning, and so once again we have a might-as-well-not situation.

The suspicion of ICT stems from the initial (wrong) assumption that the increased use of ICT will result in a commensurate increase in 'A' grades. When the number of 'A' grades doesn't rise, it is considered sufficient proof that ICT is not as effective a learning tool as 'they' claimed after all. Suspicion confirmed.

It is indeed true that ICT use does not increase 'A' grades, but it is a seriously flawed assumption that the two share a direct correlation. If we're chasing 'A' grades we expect to find evidence that ICT has an effect on learning. No evidence will be forthcoming because ICT has NO effect on learning.

Shocked? Does this mean that ICT is of no use, then? Obviously not, because in not seeing what you want to see, you are also not seeing what there is to be seen. ICT may have no e-ffect on learning, but it does a-ffect learning. ICT use does not make people smart in the way that a crippled iPad does not make people book smart. ICT affects the way people learn, if you use the array of tools available to encourage self-directed, collaborative learning. ICT use changes the learning game from solo play to co-op play, and co-op play gives learners the ability to learn better, faster and more meaningfully than solo play.

So if people using ICT correctly become smarter faster, then why does it not translate into a bumper crop of 'A' grades? Because when they return to the exam hall, they're cut off from their learning networks and they're forced to play solo once again. How they are tested is not reflective of the kind of learners they have become.

I don't foresee the end of the solo exam format anytime soon. So schools must ask themselves: given the cheap availability and potential of ICT to build strong, affective learning networks throughout the entire learning organization, is our primary goal to produce kids who know how to get things done by working together and managing a broad, diverse range of networked knowledge curated according to individual interests and tastes; or kids who are divided by their ability and lack thereof to score 'A' grades within a narrow band of knowledge that has no contextual application outside the exam hall?

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