2023-11-29 21:32

Kobus van Wyk

Documenting the challenges of implemening ICT in schools in South Africa.

Project management essential for ICT initiatives in schools

This won't happen successfully in the absence of project management
This won’t happen successfully in the absence of project management

It is a mistake to think that information and communication technologies (ICTs) can simply be procured, dropped at a school … and that the school will then be magically transformed into a state-of-the-art educational center.

Technology implementation in schools is a multi-disciplinary activity, requiring the integration of tasks performed by diverse professionals:

  • artisans must create an environment in which technology can operate
  • technology experts must install the equipment
  • communication experts must create a networked and connected environment
  • subject experts must ensure that relevant content is available
  • trainers must train teachers in the usage of all aspects of the system.

To make sure that all project activities are delivered on time, in the correct sequence, within budget and meeting quality criteria, project management capacity is required.

A lack of such capacity has resulted in haphazard and failed projects in the past.  Let’s learn from our mistakes by making sure that adequate project management procedures are in place when contemplating ICT implementation in schools.

Picture credit: http://www.ipmglobal.net/projectmanagementsoftware.htm

The real problem of e-learning

Many look at e-learning as an education solution.  Some teachers achieve magnificent results when they capitalize on the power of technology.  But why are these successes the exception, rather than the rule?

Is "e" perhaps the problem?
Is “e” perhaps the problem?

The problem with e-learning is that there is far too much emphasis on the “e” and far too little emphasis on “learning”.  The focus in any classroom must be learning.

A good teacher who wants to make sure that learning happens will use any available tool to improve the classroom experience.  Technology is one such a tool, but learning suffers when learning is overshadowed by the tool: when the latest device innovations are glorified; or the praises of the learning management system are sung; or the bells and whistles of the e-book are emphasized.

Often, more time is spent choosing between available tools than thinking about how the tools will be used.  When technology is procured without thinking about the way in which it will support teaching and learning, and then dumped on a teacher who has not been given adequate opportunity to come to grips with it, it becomes a useless gadget.

There is nothing wrong with “e”, in fact, there is so much that is right about it – if we can only find a way of helping the education fraternity to harness it properly!

The toolbox of a 20th Century teacher

Teachers ... what is in your toolbox?
Teachers … what is in your toolbox?

The toolbox of a writer contains words and grammar rules.  Imagine how difficult it will be to express yourself if you have a vocabulary of only a hundred words and do not know how to write in the past tense.

A good writer strives to know how to manipulate all the rule of grammar and makes a point of learning new words.  New words are constantly appearing.  Think about new words that have been accepted recently: selfie, podcast, cyberbully and emoticon.  The Oxford Dictionary word-of-the-year for 2014 is vape (meaning: to suck an electronic cigarette).  A writer who wants to remain relevant must know these words and understand how and when to use them appropriately.

How do you learn new words?  Few people sit with a dictionary trying to memorize words.  Rather, as we read and encounter a new word we find the meaning and then try to use it when appropriate.  The same applies to becoming proficient in the use grammar rules: practice makes perfect.

Now compare this with a teacher’s toolkit.

A teacher needs content knowledge, which must be updated regularly to remain relevant as the world around us changes.  But the tools of the trade are also changing.  A chalk board, books and pens are no longer sufficient.  We live in a world dominated by technology and learners expect that technology tools be used for teaching and learning; the cell phones in their pockets are constant reminders that technology is a part of their life.  Sadly, the skill to harness technology is often is not in the toolbox of the teacher.

How can a teacher remedy this situation?  Get a device; play around with it; become familiar and comfortable with it; talk to other teachers who have already used technologies in their classrooms; then dive in and use it in your classroom.  Remember: practice makes perfect.

Technology in education has a “vocabulary”: devices and content sources.  It also has “grammar rules”: the rules of engagement and the skills to use it in support of teaching and learning.

Previous postings on this blog may give you some ideas of how you can become familiar with technology and how to use in your teaching.  Click here to find an index to some of these postings.

Technology in the classroom: knowledge, understanding, wisdom

When technology is brought into a school and teachers are confronted by it, they are often stymied: What are they going to do with it?  How are they to use it?  Their lack of knowledge, understanding and wisdom may freeze them into inactivity.

Survival skills: knowledge, understanding, wisdom
Survival skills: knowledge, understanding, wisdom

To illustrate: let’s assume you encounter a bull in the field.  You recognize the animal as a bull; perhaps you’ve seen one before, or seen pictures or videos of a bull.  You have also gained some basic information about bulls: they are stronger than humans; they can run faster than you; they can’t climb trees; and they don’t like humans.  All of these facts constitute knowledge about bulls.

When you meet the bull in the field the information you’ve gathered must assist you to understand the situation you find yourself in.  The bull is going to kill you; you have to take action fast!

Wisdom comes into play when you make the right decision at the moment when you confront the bull.  Are you going to try and outrun him?  That will not be so smart because he is faster than you.  So you will get into a tree as fast as possible.  Without knowledge of bulls and their behaviour, as well as an understanding of your situation, you would be frozen in your tracks.

Think now about a teacher who is confronted by technology in a classroom.  Prior knowledge is essential.  How does it work?  What are its affordances for education?  What are the constraints?  Knowing these things will lead to an understanding of how technology can improve teaching and learning.  Now, when faced with technology the teacher will have the wisdom of putting it to use to improve educational outcomes.

Note the sequence of these three steps.  First knowledge: without this you will never be able to take the next steps.  Then understanding: knowing how to operate a computer (or any other digital device) will be of no use unless you understand how it can improve educational outcomes.  Then wisdom: knowledge and understanding will help you to develop the ability to harness technology to make your classroom a better place.  But true wisdom can only be gained through experience, so you have to take the bold step of putting the knowledge and understanding to work.

The road leading from knowledge to understanding to wisdom for surviving bull encounters is quite easy.  The road leading from knowledge to understanding to wisdom using technology in the classroom is much more difficult.  It requires time, effort and dedication and then more time, effort and dedication.  But the results will be rewarding, for both the teacher and the learners.

(Picture credit: http://www.crossfitfuture.com/angry-bull/ )


TPACK (Technology Pedagogical and Content Knowledge) … this is what I will focus on during the weeks to come!

TPACK framework (source:  http://tpack.org)
TPACK framework (source: http://tpack.org)