When it comes to bringing ICT into school cultures, I think policymakers and strategists got off on the wrong foot. From the beginning, ICT has been positioned in educators’ minds as a tool. This tool was supposed to become part of a teacher’s toolbox, to be used at the teacher’s discretion when the teacher might decide using a device, or software application, or online resource would benefit learning in the classroom. It was assumed, if ICT were made widely available in schools, teachers would take advantage of these resources. The assumption was that teachers would understand the inherent value of using ICT for teaching and learning and would use resources on hand to teach their lessons.
Professional development was designed as one day workshops to introduce teachers to the possibilities of using ICT in their teaching. The idea was to impress teachers with the ways using ICT could save time, improve learning, and ease teaching.
Does anyone else see the paradoxical contradiction in these two constructs? One the hand, ICT is ‘just a tool’ to be used at the teachers’ discretion, it does not significantly change the role of teaching or the processes of learning. On the other hand, the presence of technology in schools has the power to change the job of teaching itself, to save time, improve learning, and make teaching easier. In the first instance, the use of technology is limited to mechanistic or instrumental functions at a par with whether a teacher decides to use an overhead projector or a flipchart. In the second instance, the technology itself is playing a pivotal role in the life of a teacher and the life of the institution.
Recently, the discourse about the role of ICT in educational change has amplified to include the role of the teacher, curricula, pedagogy, in the service of educational reform or educational change. Unfortunately, the role of ICT in educational change continues along these two lines of conception: ICT can be used for control, to track teacher effectiveness through data production, collection, and analysis; ICT can be used to transform life in educational institutions, to align teaching and learning within educational institutions with the participatory learning cultures spontaneously forming outside the confines of formal education models.
We might consider this conceptual gap as another example of a digital divide in education. Is ICT simply a tool in the service of traditional educational models? Or is it a transformative presence enabling, enriching, and enhancing the possibilities for learning in our human society, and, by extension, our educational institutions.
This question speaks to the purposes we assign educational institutions in their contribution to our development as a society. This question has not changed over more than a century of public education. The advent of ICT does not change the question, but it does change how we might approach it.
ICT literacies, fluency and integration are a start to changing educational practice and educational purposes for relevance in 21st century society. The problem with this approach is that it falls short of the bigger problem, that is, how we understand ICT as integral to our lives, and how we negotiate our relationships with ICT, both within educational institutions, and in society at large. We need ICT literacy, fluency and integration to be able to participate in 21st century society. But this participation is severely curtailed if we stop at mechanistic or instrumental views of our relationships with ICT.
ICT incorporation postions ICT in relation to our human lives in a much more intimate way. Incorporation refers to the corporality of the presence of ICT in relation to our human bodies, and to our embodied minds. ICT incorporation positions ICT in relation to human existence, as an essential aspect of human interactivity, and the formation of human relationships. ICT incorporation is no different from considering other forms of technology, which we incorporate daily. We can consider our shelters as incorporations, serving as an exoskeleton that protects from the elements. We can consider our many and various forms of transportation as technological prosthetics that enable us to move through the environment. We can consider the technologies we use to prepare foods as extensions of mastication and digestion, making otherwise unpalatable foodstuffs suitable for human ingestion.
ICT is playing an essential role in the evolution of our human society. Whether it is being used for control, or emancipation. I would argue it is this aspect of our relationship with digital technologies that has been absent from educational discourse. I argue it is this absence that has led to teachers’ practices of non-use, or under-use of the billions of dollars that have been expended to provide ICT infrastructure in schools.
ICT incorporation is a daily process of development. It entails ongoing conversations about the meanings associated with the presence of digital technologies in our lives and in our schools. It is simply inadequate to refer to digital technologies as only ‘tools’ in a ‘toolbox’. The fact is, our relationships with digital technologies, and each other, through their use, are far more complex and significant than this simplistic interpretation.
That is why I write about ICT incorporation, rather than limiting my research to ICT literacies, fluencies, and integration. One does not rule out the other, but one without the other does a disservice to the real need that we education ourselves, and each other, to ensure these technological advancements are used for the good of all concerned.