Are information and communication technologies necessary in education?

classroom without ICT?

Is this what the “class without ICT” looks like?

I was giving a talk yesterday to board members of a Nordic teachers’ organizations’ network. In the end I was asked if information and communication technologies (ICTs) are necessary in education. I didn’t have much time to give an elaborate response but here is what I was thinking.

How we respond to the question depends on what we mean by “necessary”:

1. Necessary for learning – NO
If we take “learning” as the process of acquiring or creating new knowledge, then the simple fact is that ICTs are not a requirement. We learn without ICTs all the time. We learn from books, interactions with others, things we encounter in “meatspace”, etc. There are even many interesting lo-fi approaches being used to introduce algorithmic thinking associated with coding that make no use of ICTs (see for ex. here, and here, and here).

2. Necessary for developing relevant skills – YES
If we want our learners to be able to make effective use of what they learn in today’s societies, then ICTs have to be a part of the educational equation. ICTs are the primary drivers of change today. If they are omitted from the educational environment then we are passing up an opportunity to help learners figure out how to use the knowledge that is acquired and created in real life. We have to assume that no matter how we construct the educational environment, ICTs will shape the outside environment. In this sense, not using ICTs in education is like teaching someone to swim with no water. They know what to do but are at a loss when it comes time to apply their knowledge.

3. Necessary for relating to learners – YES
Today’s learners are of, by and for societies driven by ICTs. At least in Iceland, where I now live, we have seen several examples of learners themselves criticizing schools for not effectively reflecting reality as they see it. An educational environment devoid of ICTs is like an alternate reality to them that has little relevance to their daily lives. If learning is to be relevant, it needs to take into account learners’ social and technological reality outside of the educational environment. Those realities are shaped by ICTs.

A second question arises when we consider the three dimensions that I’ve described above. Can they be split up or are they an integral whole? For example, can a teacher rationalize not using ICTs because they’re only focusing on the learning at some given moment? Here, my response would be, the teacher may only be focusing on the learning, but are the learners? My point is that we have to consider the educational environment as a whole. The teacher may be focused on one thing while individual learners are focused on something else, for example thinking about how what they are learning applies outside of the educational environment. It is very presumptious of the teacher to assume that learners’ goals are the same as their own.

So, if the question is simply stated as “Are ICTs necessary for education?”, we have to consider all three of the dimensions that I’ve described (and any others that people might think of). There, the conclusion is pretty obvious. The “yays” outnumber the “nays” by two to one. Thus ICTs are indeed necessary for education.

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