Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Why do some educationalists not recognise the benefits of ICT?

I don’t for one minute believe I can answer this question in a few short sentences and I will not set out to. I do hope to illustrate some benefits recognised by those outside education yet supporting it.
Who wants to sit at a computer all day? Certainly not me!
Who wants to take longer than necessary to do a task or activity? Certainly not me!
Who wants to expose themselves to physical danger through a lack of knowledge or preparation? Certainly not me!

Although it is unpleasant to sit at a computer all day it has to be recognised in life, in business and in education that sitting at the computer is not only necessary to communicate but it is necessary for the production of many business outcomes. It is also necessary to improve the speed of production and the quality of these business outcomes. Very often the nature of the outcome is vastly enhanced too by the use of the computer.

At one time the computer associated with my work was a luxury for doing critical path analysis in new product development instead of working on paper. The computer beautifully and automatically identified key moments in development to make sure the right thing was being done to enable the new product to hit the market smoothly.
The computer then became an important device to support me at the end of the day whilst processing my evidence from classroom observations and interviews whilst inspecting schools.

It has now become an integrated part of my working life with ongoing connectivity for communication throughout the day for discussion and document sharing, a way into online documentation and national guidance, a tool for creating documents and presentations, a tool for capturing the views of staff and youngsters in schools and a storage device for the many agendas and meeting minutes.

There are some within education that do not value the contribution that the computer can bring; why is that? Do these people have a good understanding of the computer’s capability? Do these people appreciate the importance of the individual to effectively integrate with a computer when they leave school or college to operate productively in a business, scientific, technological or other employed or self employed environment?

If a student is not fully exposed to the wide range of functionalities of the computer they will not be ready and they will be disadvantaged. Students need to be able to engage effectively with the computer environment and in some cases be comfortable to learn using the technology in self motivated and self directed way. This doesn’t happen on its own!

Developments are ongoing to improve the technology available and also to improve the way technology is used. Within the last 10 years we have seen an incredible shift from the point where complex modelling software needed to run on a local PC, to the point where modelling can quite happily take place on the internet with real time cause and effect displayed well.

The Royal Society of Chemistry and Pharmaceutical Company Pfizer have teamed up to create the ‘Discover Chemistry Programme’. They are concerned about the future of the chemical industry and wish to promote skills in this area. One area of focus in this respect is an initiative linked to Bristol University to distribute Labskills software. This software allows students to experiment ‘virtually’ in the first instance and become familiar with the experimental environment and safety issues. The idea being that students are more confident when they enter the lab, and engage with the chemistry in a more meaningful and safe way.

Some in education would think it a surprise that the Royal Society of Chemistry would promote such virtual working. However, the educational environment is not ideal for all students and time constraints can inhibit the effective progress of many. It is seen very much as a supplement to real practical work.

I hope those in education that fail to see the benefit of ICT will recognise the benefits seen by the Royal Society of Chemistry and also be thankful to the commercial organisation Pfizer for their investment and similarly thankful to Bristol University for recognising the need and developing a virtual environment to make this happen.

I hope that the software is used in the spirit for which it is intended, is used appropriately and supplements the ‘real’ practical work of students. It would be a shame for students not to be able to use the software; it would be a disaster if it replaced real experiments through financial or curriculum constraints.

To read more about the Discover Chemistry Programme visit;

Brendan Geoghegan