The development of an educational framework for the implementation of ICT
In November and December 2013, I visited several schools that had opened their classes to the public as participants in the "Future School Promotion Project" of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications and the "Learning Innovation Project" of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. Until quite recently, while positive results derived from the use of information and communications technology (ICT) in education such as increased motivation among children were noted, doubts were voiced about learning outcomes. A review of these various initiatives in the participating schools, however, indicates that schools are steadily developing ICT know-how and increasingly providing a more sophisticated learning experience in class.
In terms of learning outcomes, more school teachers are providing easy to understand instructions for children using ICT tools, and furthermore, successfully conducting classes in a way that assists children to extend and deepen their thought processes through the use of ICT.
Table 1 below shows the conditions of ICT education in each school, based on a survey conducted by the Benesse Educational Research and Development Institute. As you can see, more ICT activities are now conducted in schools than ever before.
- The above table was created based on observations of open classrooms at surveyed schools by the Benesse Education Research and Development Institute. Therefore, the table is not a summary of all ICT activities at these schools.
- Activities in blue indicate ICT use by school teachers, while activities in red indicate PC or tablet use by children.
Now I will discuss the strength and current issues of ICT education based on the data shown in Table 1. Please understand that my feedback relies purely on personal observation and impressions obtained in these classrooms.
(1) Providing effective and efficient study materials in the classroom
The schools I visited used an electronic blackboard to display various materials such as photos, images and videos to help children understand the theme to be learned. For example, a school teacher used photos that he had taken of daily outdoor club activities to help children realize the difference in the lengths of shadows for each season of the year. In this way, teachers can effectively use digital materials in the classroom.
In addition, teachers showed their ability to use various digital materials to make children explore a subject further and become independent thinkers. This is achieved not only through the electronic blackboard, but also by simultaneously transmitting data to each child's PC. Furthermore, this approach is considered to improve children's capacity to concentrate. It is evident that teachers can conduct classes more effectively and efficiently using ICT tools, in comparison to the conventional method where the teacher writes on blackboard while explaining the subject, followed by children writing the information in their notebook.
(2) Adopting more effective teaching methods and improved teaching materials; creating time for children to think and share opinions with peers
By creating more time for children to think about certain issues, accompanied by improved study materials and innovative teaching methods, children become more capable of sharing their opinions and thoughts with peers. For example, by displaying worksheets on an electronic blackboard, children can easily understand the views of their classmates, compared to just listening to verbal presentations in front of the class. Some children expressed a preference for classroom presentations using ICT.
Teachers appear to be developing a teaching process that consists of assigning a task → individual work (thinking alone) → work in pair/groups (sharing opinions) → sharing opinions with the class → explanation and summary.
(3) Encouraging deeper, reflective thinking through collaborative tasks stimulated by the use of collaboration software
Some schools conducted collaborative activities in which children were asked to create a single output in groups using collaboration software. For example, when a group of children is asked to research "earthquakes," several topics on earthquakes are provided such as "A: Quakes, B: Seismic intensity, C: Earthquake distribution, D: Disasters caused by earthquakes." Then each child in the group will take charge of one of these topics and collect relevant data. Eventually, all data collected by group members will be summarized and output as a single report. In such a way, children can learn how to participate in group activities voluntarily through collaborative tasks, and at the same time, deepen their own ideas.
(4) Sharing the thinking process using a digital pen
Even though various thought processes lead to the same outcome, the processes of logical thinking in finding the solution to a problem may be diverse. I realized, when observing children's activities to solve geometry questions in groups, that one of the advantages of ICT education is shared thinking. By means of group work presentations and the use of the electronic blackboard, the children were able to display and explain the process of constructing the proof. I believe that encouraging children to share a thinking process in this way is effective in deepening their understanding of questions, as well as enhancing their capacities in the areas of thinking, decision-making, and expressive ability.
Toward an environment for ICT education with one PC per student
As explained above, ICT education has some advantages. However, one question arises: "Is it necessary to assign a tablet or other terminal device to every child in all schools?" PCs are not used in many class hours, such as when children do paper work. Therefore, it is necessary to validate the effectiveness of ICT education more robustly; additionally, evaluation methods need to be developed in order to carry out such validation.
ICT tools also typically caused some problems at the participating schools. These included not using PCs other than for research tasks because most PC batteries start to fail in two years, the necessity of creating maintenance procedures for classroom PCs due to frequent crashing, and the small size of the electronic blackboard that makes it difficult to read data and limits classroom use. Many teachers seem to find it stressful to maintain the ICT learning environment.
Furthermore, the quality of classes will not improve by simply increasing the number of tablets or other terminal devices. This will require enhancing the content of software, such as developing applications and study materials to be used in the classroom along with providing support staff to assist teachers in using ICT tools, etc. The question always remains of whether the outcome of ICT education provides value in terms of the cost/benefit ratio.
However, I believe that it is necessary to implement ICT education programs in more schools, based on my observation of the shift from teacher-centered classes to children-centered classes at participating schools. In the coming years, a dramatic change is expected to occur in our society due to globalization, etc. To survive in the ever changing environment, we need to develop abilities to select necessary information and make decisions using such information. To do so, we need to learn how to use our favorite media and tools. The Japanese government recently announced its ICT education budget for FY2014, which was almost the same amount as that of the previous year. I feel that, nevertheless, we are reaching the next stage of ICT education where we will utilize the processes developed by the schools that participated in this project in order to implement them in many other schools. Generally, the use of ICT can be developed through "learning by doing." The benefits of ICT education will become known only when ICT tools are actually used and their effectiveness verified.