Organizing Theories and Concepts

I have been working on this sub-section for a month now and continue to struggle with getting it written up. I have been trying to identify the organizing theories and concepts in the field of education and it is very challenging. I have gotten as far as identifying key features at the government, institutional, and education professional levels, as gleaned from government documents, institutional statements, and research literature. I just can’t figure out how to represent what I have found in a coherent way.

In particular, I don’t know how to name what I have found, with regards to philosophical, curricular, pedagogical, and ecological concepts.

Here is what I have found: government policy in Canada and in British Columbia contains antithetical incoherence, sometimes from one paragraph to another. For example, the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC) published their vision for the future of education in Canada: Learn Canada 2020. In this document the CMEC juxtaposes two ideas about education that are incoherent to each other. In one instance they envision education that is knowledge-based, knowledge generative, lifelong, and focused on social processes of learning. This vision accounts for the proliferation and ubuiquitous use of ICT in society, and the ways our Canadian society is evolving cognitively, culturally, and technologically as a result of our involvements with ICT. In the next instance they envision education that is based on pre-determined knowledge-objects, knowledge transmissive, and validated through standardized testing. There is no indication in the vision document that the authors realize these two approaches to education are antithetical and philosophically incoherent. Ironically, standardized testing is a process that is easily mechanized through the use of digital technology, making it easier to generate tests, process test results and manipulate test data to derive interpretations about the state of education from that data.

In the Province of British Columbia the situation is worse. The Ministry of Education is implementing a new education plan based on the recommendations of the Premier’s Technology Council 2010. This new education plan is based on our social, cognitive, cultural, and technological involvements with digital technologies in the knowledge age. The slogan for the BC Education Plan is, “the world has changed, the way we education our children should to.” The main features of the new plan are personalized learning for every student, quality teaching and learning, flexibility and choice, high standards, and learning empowered by technology. If we examine these features, the first, third, and fifth are dependent on sophisticated uses of digital technologies, similar to the ways we are learning through digital technologies in society outside the realm of educational institutions. The second feature, quality teaching and learning, would seem to be a given for any education system, whether there is digital technology involved or not. The fourth feature, high standards, refers to the use of standardized testing, which, as mentioned earlier, is also a use of digital technology, but for the opposite effect of items 1, 2, and 3. The fifth feature, learning empowered by technology, provides an indication of the importance of the digital technologies in the successful implementation of the BC Education Plan.

However, according to Rod Allan, the plan is going to be implemented without any discussion about ICT in education, and, there is no money for technological infrastructure to support implementing the plan. At the same time, the BC Ministry of Education is investing 10s of millions of dollars to revise a centralized learning management system for the province. So, on the face of it, the BC Ministry of Education is playing lip service to contemporary concerns about the relevance of formal education by announcing that it is implementing a new education plan based on knowledge age sensibilities and 21st century competencies, while at the same time, it is investing in industrial age infrastructure and systems of control, as well as standardized testing, which constructs learning in particular, non-innovative, non-personalized, non-flexible ways, and ensures the standards by which education is implemented in this province are well out of step with knowledge-age social, economic, and civil needs.

But it doesn’t stop at the level of government. At the level of educational institutions, the organizing theories and concepts with regards to educational involvements with ICT are equally incomprehensible and incoherent. For decades educational institutions have been investing in ICT infrastructure because it was going to ‘improve learning’. This reveals a technological deterministic view, “if we build it they will come” (ie. teachers will use the technology). At the same time, institutional guidelines have not focused on the preparation of teachers’ philosophical, curricular, nor pedagogical uses of ICT, but rather on providing one time only professional development exposures to ICT, and then individual discretion on how, when, why, and where teachers might decide to use ICT. At the same time, the provision of ICT infrastructure in educational institutions has been based on the use of global learning management systems. These systems were not conceived as knowledge-generative, innovative, critical creative systems for the social construction of learning, but rather they were initially used to for the administration of educational information such as student records and registration. Adapting these administrative systems to learning systems meant turning learning activities into data objects that could be processed through the structure of the learning system. The learning has to be designed to ‘fit’ into the structure of the learning management system. Learning management systems have been making efforts to become more flexible, and allow for knowledge-generative social learning activities, but at the heart of the structure is a system design to process data objects, and those data objects must be pre-programmed to fit into the data categories and data formats of the pre-existing system.

To recap, at the institutional level, there has been an unexamined idea that ICT will improve learning, a lack of adequate preparation of ICT knowledge and skills in the teaching profession, and the establishment of learning management systems to structure learning with ICT. At the same time, educational institutions have left it up to individual instructors to determine their own uses of ICT in their teaching and learning practices, and this has resulted in a global lack of teachers’ use of ICT, or, when they do use it, uses that replicate traditional learning activities rather than inspiring creative, collaborative, critical, and knowledge-generative evolving communities of practice.

In the profession of education, organizing theories and concepts about ICT in education are complex, contradictory, and confusing. They are complex because teachers know that they need to become sophisticated users of ICT themselves in order to use it in such a way that their teaching and learning are enabled, enriched and enhanced. At the same time, teachers are not taught to take responsibility for their own ICT learning, there is a pervasive belief that educators’ ICT preparation and ongoing professional development with ICT is the responsibility of their institution, and if their institution is not providing leadership in this area, teachers are too busy to take up the leadership themselves. At the same time, teachers’ are wary of ICT in education, in part because of the failed policies of “build it they will come”. Teachers were not consulted in the acquisition of ICT infrastructure in their schools, and there is a common attitude espoused by teachers to, “not use technology for technology’s sake”.

Teachers’ experiences with ICT in education are contradictory because, on the one hand, they have witnessed investments of precious educational resources into the provision of ICT in their schools, at the same time, they haven’t had a say in what ICT would be useful, and why it should be an acquisition priority. Another contradiction is that teachers are told that they should become proficient technology users, but the infrastructure that is provided in their schools is not adequate for ensuring reliable ICT resources for teaching lessons: up to date equipment for the students, adequate bandwidth for Internet access, ICT resource management designed for centralized control but not for constructive pedagogy. The entire prospect of incorporating ICT into teaching practice is confusing because, on the one hand teachers are being inundated with 21st century competencies, and knowledge-generative inquiry based learning activities, while at the same time their students (and they) are being subjected to high-stakes testing, which is antithetical to knowledge-generative inquiry based learning.

So there, that is my statement about organizing theories and concepts. You might ask, well, Jenny, what are the actual theories and concepts that are being applied in these instances? And I put my face in my hands and rock back and forth. That is why this is taking so long.

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