Nonetheless, overall trends appear to conceal important differentiations in the involvement and experience of older people with ICT. Like the community in general, those aged 65 and over are a diverse and markedly stratified group. Experiences into later age continue to be marked by wealth, geographic location and previous experiences of work and education. There is also an obvious need to distinguish between the active elderly and those restricted by conditions of illness or disability. The experiences of the aged are not uniform. Indeed, beyond the stereotype of the ‘silver surfer’, there is some evidence that sections of the older population are sometimes easier to engage in ICT initiatives, particularly community-based ICT learning projects and centres, than other ‘hard to reach’ groups.
Features of the elderly Internet users
In recent research conducted in the county of Suffolk in the UK, on behalf of the local Learning Partnership, the Centre for Research into the Educational Applications of Telematics at Suffolk College (CREATE) audited over 100 ICT learning centres and public access points to the Internet in order to establish current levels of technical capacity, connectivity, learning provision and patterns of use. These centres and access points were managed by a variety of sectors; public, private, charitable and voluntary. Many had been established through government initiatives to bridge and combat the digital divide, such as UK Online, The People’s Network and Learndirect, or with other funds designed to bring access to ICT to isolated or disadvantaged communities. Centres were typically located within the premises of education providers, or within existing community buildings such as libraries, village halls and community centres. The study also included private sector facilities such as those provided in Internet Cafés and private training companies.
Many of the centres surveyed, particularly those in the public, charitable and voluntary sectors, reported that the active elderly and the recently retired constituted a significant proportion of users and visitors, sometimes the majority. A number of motives for participation were cited. Some participants were clearly attracted by the opportunity to receive what is often free or subsidised access to ICTs and associated basic and introductory level ‘computer training’. Many were reported to have expressed a curiosity about ICT and also a feeling that they should make some effort to ‘keep up’. Others wished to gain ICT experience and skills in order to support and enrich other hobbies and pastimes. Another common motive was the desire to gain experience in email communication in order to maintain contact with younger or geographically distant relatives and friends.
Important social factors also appear to contribute to the ability to engage and involve older people in community-based ICT facilities and training. Many of the elderly population are ‘time-rich’. They are also more likely to be existing users of the kind of community facilities in which ICT learning centres in the UK are often located, such as public libraries, village halls and community centres. Certainly older users tended to be much bigger proportion of visitors in many of the ICT learning centres surveyed in Suffolk than the young, although this is perhaps not surprising. Younger elements of the population are statistically more likely to have access to ICT in the home, negating the need to use facilities provided in learning centres. Younger people are also likely to already possess the ICT skills and experiences that older sections of the population are more likely to seek through learning centres. This lack of experience and skills also brings a higher reliance on the support often available from peers, guides and tutors in community-based ICT learning centres.
Reducing the disadvantages or improving the existing advantages?
Clearly then within a diverse elderly population there are varying levels of experience and involvement with ICT, to the point that while many older people remain uninvolved with ICT, some sections of the older population constitute a significant proportion of users of ICT learning centres. However, even where community-based ICT learning initiatives are successful in engaging older people, issues about disadvantage and the concentration of knowledge and privilege remain. Within a heavily stratified elderly population, those most likely to use ICT learning centres often tend to be already well-motivated and educationally and materially advantaged. In reality, even those ICT centres and projects with a formal commitment to combat disadvantage often find themselves providing training to those already relatively advantaged in educational and wealth terms, arguably aggravating existing distinctions and disadvantage in a way similar to that highlighted by David Segarra.
The concentration of knowledge and experience may be inevitable, even among the elderly, but, as Melanie Lewin suggests, there is work that can be done to engage those sections of the older population disadvantaged by health, poverty and a lack of education, as well as those ‘self-excluded’ through choice. As with any prospective group of users, there is a need to contextualise and demonstrate the benefits of ICT to the elderly. This should be achievable, not just by celebrating cultural and social aspects, but other opportunities for interaction that have emerged as more and more services become available digitally. Just to take one example, ICTs potentially allow those with physical mobility problems to maintain or regain control over important aspects of their lives, not least in terms of personal finance and other facets of domestic management and consumption.
There is also a need to concentrate on strategies that pro-actively seek to engage the disadvantaged or excluded elderly, rather than those that rely solely on self-referral. Melanie Lewin highlights examples of outreach approaches within day-care centres in Edinburgh. In Suffolk, community education services have conducted similar work taking laptops and tutors into care homes. Other local community-based ICT initiatives have been successful by working in partnership with public, voluntary and charitable agencies already engaged with and trusted by elderly groups.
Expanding these kinds of approaches will require further investment, possibly directed within existing community facilities serving the elderly and where ICTs and high-speed connectivity are currently not available for general use. Specialist technology, such as simplified keyboards and large screen monitors, also need to be more commonly available. Alongside this is a need to ensure that sufficient tutoring support is available to elderly newcomers to ICT. While older people appear to flourish in communal learning situations, particularly those with a social dimension, they are, in common with many other adult learners, more likely to require relatively concentrated levels of tutor support.
OECD Study Finds More Freedom for Schools to Decide How They Want to Teach
Decision-making in schools is becoming more decentralised as the education systems of OECD countries move away from centralised command systems based on government edicts and adapt to the flexibility required for the modern knowledge economy. Decisions on how teaching is organised are now mainly taken by schools in all OECD countries, rather than by local, regional or national authorities, according to the 2004 edition of Education at a Glance.
The trend is significant because it shows how school authorities at local, regional and national level in 17 countries with comparable data are responding to demands for improved efficiency, increased responsiveness to local communities and encouragement of innovation and quality improvement.
Education Levels Rising in OECD Countries but Low Attainment Still Hampers Some
More people around the world are completing university courses and other forms of tertiary education than ever before, according to the 2004 edition of Education at a Glance. However, progress has been uneven across countries and some have significantly fallen behind, potentially compromising their future ability to keep up with economic and social progress.
Almost all OECD countries have seen a rise in the education levels of their citizens over the past decade, and in some countries the increase has been spectacular. Enrolment in tertiary education, which covers both university-level education and high-level vocational programmes, increased between 1995 and 2002 by more than 50% in the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Korea and Poland, and still by more than 20% in Australia, Finland, Ireland, Mexico, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Austria, France and Germany are the only countries which did not see increases, mainly because rising enrolment rates could not make up for the demographic decline in these countries.
However, in eight OECD countries, 20% or more of 20-to-24-year olds have at most only lower secondary school qualifications and are not in education. Mexico is in the least favourable position, with 70% of people in this age group having lower secondary education or less, followed by Turkey (56%), Portugal (47%), Spain (32%), Iceland (29%), Italy (25%), the Netherlands (21%) and Luxembourg (20%). Low educational attainment concerns more young males than females in 19 out of the 27 countries for which statistics are available, and particularly in Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain.
Professor Maragliano, a seemingly prosaic question: does e-Learning really work? And, if it does, why is the drop-out rate for on-line training courses so alarmingly high?
I could throw the question back at you and ask: does traditional/classroom teaching really work? And how good are the outcomes? What is the drop-out rate? The problem is that we have now got to the stage where, for the vast majority of human activity, be it material (or with material effects) or “spiritual” (so to speak), the Net is here to stay. There can therefore be no question, particularly when it comes to learning, of giving up this resource, and to indulge in doubts or negative uncertainties in this regard is a luxury we cannot afford. Particularly as the linchpin in learning continues to be the book, about which you can say whatever you like but not that it is dependent upon to the notion of “presence”: where is the author of the book used by the student to study while he/she studies and where is the teacher who chose that book while the student is using it to study? Admittedly the comparatively high drop-out rate for on-line courses is a problem. This is an undeniable fact but something that has to be elaborated on. And this cannot be done by ignoring other facts: e.g. that often on-line courses are not good, and are merely the mechanical transposition on-line of resources designed for other media; that many pupils are still comparatively unfamiliar with the Net; that many (on the delivery side) think that the Net is nothing more than a convenient and low-cost solution for producing and distributing learning material and (on the recipient side) a fantastic opportunity to receive texts, pictures and sounds directly on to one’s desktop. The list could go on. But the real potential of the Net lies elsewhere. Identifying and tapping this potential would be tantamount to creating different expectations in relation to the use of the Net for learning purposes.
When we talk about e-Learning, the conversation often moves on to subjects such as “platforms”, “standardisation formats”, “protocols”. No one would deny that the role of technology is important, but do you not feel that there is a risk of the learning side being overshadowed by technology?”
You have a point. The machine is being delegated a problem which is and remains primarily a teaching problem. But there is more to it than that. In any platform there is a more or less inherent training intent, an underlying pedagogical aspect. It therefore makes little sense to discuss standardisation, protocols or platforms, if this pedagogical aspect is not taken on board at the same time. For instance, as things currently stand, the production/distribution of learning objects has taken on mythological proportions, suggesting a “transparent” future in which the Net will be able to place the universe of knowledge at everyone’s disposal by making available an infinite variety of building blocks to be assembled at will. Maybe, but are we sure that this objective is plausible, acceptable and desirable in teaching approaches, that due account should not also be taken of the “darker” elements which will inevitably cast a shadow over the “transparent” elements (and therefore of the close relationship between informal learning, non-formal learning and formal learning)? Is this really what we want, a Net in which all the learning objects are blurred? And, again, should it be up to the technician to tell me, the teacher, how to present content, to me, the author, how to organise it? or will it be possible to find an appropriate technical solution for my way of setting things out and writing? And, more generally speaking, will it be up to the engineers to tell us how to assess on-line courses and their impact in terms of learning? And if so, and they are already doing it, what pedagogical yardsticks will they use?
What does developing an e-Learning “pedagogical approach” mean and why, in your latest book, do you use the word in the plural?
For the reasons given to the previous question. Because in any technical solution there is a teaching option. Whatever the number of solutions you have an equal number of options. This is why I use the word in the plural. But there is more to it than that. It can happen that when moving on-line new prospects open up, new pedagogical problems, hitherto unknown or not completely identified. This explains the use of the plural. All the pointers argue for the plural rather than the singular. For now, let us simply say that e-Learning is a practical advantageous solution, but to a problem of which we do not yet know the full extent. We are just starting out on this: we have answers but we do not yet know the questions to which they are the answers. We mistakenly think sometimes that on-line training is a virtual version of traditional/classroom teaching. Far from it. It is something completely different, exactly like on-line commerce which is more than and different from the virtual version of “real” commerce: by getting to know it and using it we realise that it is not only a special and temporal extension of “on-the-ground” commerce, but also a community, a club and therefore a forum for meetings, discussions, debates, where we go not only to make purchases put also to meet people, make friends, identify with others. Paradoxically, it could be maintained that the human factor is larger in virtual shopping than in real shopping. What’s the betting that before long someone will try to make the same claim for on-line learning? Who will then rise to the defence (at university, for instance) of lessons in halls crowded with 300 students, the examination factories, the arduous nature of direct teacher/student dialogues, i.e. “the live scene”.
When planning on-line multimedia learning pathways, is it enough to think of the Net as a new medium for traditional teaching, or do we need to radically rethink teaching processes in their entirety?
It should not be too hard to understand from what I have said so far that I would opt for the second solution. Virtualisation revolutionises our relationship with “reality”. The text, pictures, sounds at our fingertips do not diminish but rather enhance our opportunities to interpret, intervene in and interact with reality. The same goes for digitalisation. It does not diminish, but intensifies and makes our approach to the teaching process more complex. On-line education, when it reaches maturity, will be a boon to traditional/classroom education, of that I am convinced: it will help it to be more flexible, network-orientated and “open” than has been managed so far. This simulation implies that what we hitherto perceived as compact and inseparable be broken down and made subject to a system-based logic: in which case, how many teaching functions will we discover within and around the traditional teacher? How many learning methods will we gradually identify over and above those which are part of our traditions? e-Learning is not traditional classroom education without a classroom. It would be more correct to say that traditional classroom education is more often than not a non-virtualised and non-virtualisable form of education, and therefore limited, without the resources for conceptualisation, and comparatively unproblematic.
How do “traditional” teachers feel about the new ways of providing learning? And what changes in their profession with the advent of e-Learning?
A lot changes, but above all there is a change of perspective. The relationship with the student changes. The student ceases to be a single, autonomous virgin reality in relation to what is to be learned, but is integrated within a group, in which motives and knowledge intermesh, a process in which the things learned are an intrinsic part of it. The relationship with learning resources changes and these are no longer separated from one another but linked or can be linked within a network perspective. There is a change of focus in the action. The focus is no longer only on the teaching and its organisation but also and particularly on the learning process and its individual and group dynamics. This is enough to disorientate the “traditional” teacher. I myself feel that this disorientation can become a salutary factor if it is appropriately analysed and channelled. One conditio sine qua non however: first of all the “traditional” teacher must become familiar with the Net and take it on board, not for professional reasons or because a minister has so decreed, but for personal reasons. The computer must first become a personal affair, an instrument to be used to broaden the mind, to cultivate one’s interests, to interact with others, to play, and indeed, to some extent, to “live”. At that point it can and will naturally become a teaching resource for the individual teacher.
In the relationship between teachers and technology, in your address on Telèma a few years ago, you spoke of an endeavour by teachers to “tame the beast” referring to the attempt to bring the Net within known and traditional parameters rather than take teaching models the way of the Net. Have things changed since then? Has the beast been tamed or has it gained the upper hand?
It is impossible to tame the beast, because it has been assimilated by the minds and bodies of our young people. Shut it up in a laboratory if you like, but every time a young person touches it the genie will be out of the bottle again. And then the traditional teacher, who mistakenly thinks it can all be done with an hour of informatics and controlled transition into the clinical environment of a laboratory, will find himself on the spot. This is why I am opposed to an ecological approach to the new media: I would speak rather of an ethological approach, which allows the machines/beasts to give their best within their natural environments. School and university must make an effort to become, as far as that is possible, natural environments for the use of the new (alongside the old) media.
Your colleague Mario Morcellini of the La Sapienza University claims that the inertia of the institutions and the lack of a policy to overcome cultural barriers are among the main obstacles to the development of on-line learning. Would you agree?
Yes I would, but the institutions are the people in them. Change the people and you change the institutions, too. For the time being these people, I mean those involved in teaching, are reluctant to change. There is also a ‘generational’ factor: we are moving in an ageing society which views with suspicion and aggressiveness young people and their world. It may be a question of jealousy. I do not know. What I do know is that young people do not get “good press” and therefore anything to do with them likewise does not receive good press. Hardly the sign of a healthy society, I would say. But the debate, I acknowledge, is far too complex to be carried out here. This interview was published on the Italian Learning Community portal and we should like thank the portal for authorising reproduction of the interview.
The report “Key Data on Information and Communication Technology in Schools in Europe”, published by Eurydice, has just come out. 35 indicators describes the situation of ICT in the educational systems of thirty countries.
The report “Key Data on Information and Communication Technology in Schools in Europe – 2004 Edition”, submitted on 18 May 2004, was preceded by another report three years ago. What are the main differences you have noted over those three years?
As far as the descriptive information is concerned, which we will call qualitative, we have observed very few changes since 2000 either in terms of initial training of the teachers or integration into the curriculum. One country, Poland, will make initial training of teacher in ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) obligatory, and four others – Bulgaria, Rumania, Slovenia and Greece – have added teaching ICT as a completely separate subject. Those are the only two changes to be observed in the official organisation of ICT teaching in Europe.
Does that mean that the situation of ICT in school has hardly changed in the last few years?
We are talking in the report about official recommendations for the teaching of ICT. We do not analyse the evolution of use as such, and it may well have evolved greatly. To return to the official recommendations, the situation has not evolved a great deal, but it was already rich at the time, back in 2000. Many public authorities had already made the integration of ICT into the pupils’ curriculum obligatory. And about half the countries had introduced an obligation to train teachers. Where things have moved and are still moving rapidly is in terms of equipment. However, we cannot compare the two reports because they depend to a large extent on different data. But I can tell you that two of the countries presented as having a low level of equipment – Greece and Portugal – have already improved their rates of equipment in 2004.
Has Europe reached a certain homogeneity in the installation of computers in schools?
Contrary to what one might believe, the computer equipment phase in European schools has not finished, except for the Nordic countries, the UK and some countries of the European Union. In the new member states, and in Portugal and Greece, the computerisation of schools is certainly not complete and it is in those countries where we find the greatest disparity in terms of equipment between schools within the country itself. That computerisation takes place gradually. Many countries which had weak equipment in 2000 have set important goals for improving the situation by 2006. And so it is a little early to say whether they will be reached.
Does the process of computerisation of schools follow the same methodology all over Europe?
It seems that the computerisation of schools is done in two broad stages: first the computerisation of the administration and the teaching staff and then the use of that equipment by the pupils. When the computerisation for the pupils phase is complete – in other words, when a good pupil/computer ratio is achieved – we observe that the pupils have access to a computer not only in the computer rooms but also in the classroom. At the age of 15, the average number of pupils per computer varies between 5 and 20.
Are the ICT used for teaching other subjects or are they considered a whole subject apart?
The official recommendations clearly tend towards use as a tool at the service of other subjects at all levels of education. That approach is shared by all the countries in the Union. The ICT are seldom taught as a separate subject, at least at primary level. In secondary, apart from the use as a tool, the ICT are offered as a complete separate subject.
Do European children use computers regularly?
On average 64% of pupils of 15 say they use computers in school regularly. We observe a more frequent use of computers in secondary than in primary. Generally the ICT are more frequently used when the schools are well equipped. Some countries, like France or Belgium, have relatively good equipment, but still many pupils say they seldom or never use ICT.
For what kinds of activity do the pupils use ICT?
The official recommendations strongly advise the use of software, searching for information and communication on the net. In fact, what pupils of 10 say they do at school corresponds relatively well to the recommendations, except for communication on the net: on average only 1.9% of pupils in primary school say they use computers to communicate. That means that there should be better internet connection equipment because the connection rates are lower than the rate of equipment, even in very well equipped countries.
Is teacher training in ICT obligatory in many countries? How much time is spent on that training?
We see that training teachers in ICT is obligatory in half the countries of the European Union, which show that some countries leave a good deal of freedom to the teachers in deciding whether or not to train in ICT. Moreover, even when training is obligatory, we can observe considerable flexibility and autonomy of training establishments to decide contents and the time to be spent on them.
What are your main conclusions?
We need to reinforce information about teacher training and the type of use of ICT made by teachers. As far as the level of equipment in schools is concerned, we must continue to measure it but we should extend the indicators to far more precise information which goes beyond computers. Too much attention is paid to them and not enough to other tools like digital cameras and printers. It is also a matter of finding out more about the age of the equipment and its power. We also need to know more about the use pupils make of the computer. Other work is being done by the European Commission on these matters. The Eurydice report on ICT in schools in Europe will be published every other year. We shall pay close attention to the different works in progress to enrich the next edition and show the changes that will be taking place in coming years. Complementary information:
The Eurydice information network on education in Europe is one of the strategic pillars created by the European Commission and the member states to provide information and analyses to meet their needs.
Report “Key Data on Information and Communication Technology in Schools in Europe – 2004 Edition”.
Although most of these countries seem to suffer from a lack of resources and despite the fact that some miss a higher number of computers in schools and Internet users and even though they complain of the high cost of Internet connections, they enjoy a high level of technology literacy and foreign languages knowledge. Moreover, in most countries there has been made a great investment on technology and e-learning counts with a wide political support.
Click on each country to view the answers to the questionnaire
SloveniaYou may not find information in some countries, the answers to the questionnaire have not yet been provided. The information about these countries will be posted as soon as it reaches the portal editors.
It is possible to group the views that guide educationalists and experts when dealing with the integration of ICT and education into three clusters of views. These clusters are far from arbitrary – they reflect three very different starting points and perspectives for viewing the "merger" of ICT and education. The clusters represent three paradigms. We have chosen to call these paradigms, without hiding our biases, the Technocrat, the Reformist, and the Holistic.
1. The Technocratic paradigm:
The Technocratic paradigm characterises those who avoid any discussion about the nature of ICT, its desirability or the extent schooling should or will change as a consequence of the integration of ICT and education. They take the ICT revolution as given, unavoidable and as consisting mainly of necessary instrumental and behaviourist changes ("working with computers or the Internet"), take schools as a given, ignore the issue of the desired or predicted results of the "meeting" between the forces of ICT and education, and refer only to "technocratic aims" as the proportion of students per computer, or the location of computers in schools, or the nature of the connection to the Internet.
2. The Reformist paradigm:
The Reformist paradigm characterises those who see ICT as a tool that can assist in promoting the "right" didactics. The most fashionable buzzwords that are mentioned in this context are: "interdisciplinary", "constructivist" and "collaborative learning". Adherents to this view conceive the ICT revolution as consisting of more than just new instruments and behaviours; they rather see it as encouraging a certain kind of attitude to knowledge and learning that supports constructive leaning (usually without feeling the need to sustain this view - in many cases it is presented as an axiom).
3. The Holistic paradigm:
The Holistic paradigm characterises those that, unlike the educationalists and writers belonging to the previous two paradigms, usually present an explicit set of assertions regarding the socio-cultural situation and the defining impact ICT has on it (cultural approach). They also have an opinion as to the desired values that should guide educational decision making (ideological approach). Not only do they aspire to have comprehensive theories and clear recommendations for the education system, they do not evade discussing the theories of their rivals (unlike the two previous groups). Included in this group are those who start from cultural-ideological approaches. Their attitude is either conservative (e.g. Postman, 1995) or radical and extremely radical (e.g. Aviram & Comay, 2000; Kristmundson et al., 2000).
We call these three clusters of perspectives mind-frames, and the proposed or already-implemented policies they entail towards ICT and education "paradigms" because they differ on fundamental issues. To better understand the opposed views let us take a look below the surface, at the suppositions each of these groups make about the worlds of ICT and education. As we will see, their suppositions about these worlds are different and to a large extent contradictory.
Suppositions underlying the three paradigms
Concerning the world of ICT, the upholders of the three above paradigms give (mostly tacitly) opposed answers to the four following questions concerning the defining nature of the ICT revolution, its predetermined nature, and its ethical value:
· Is the ICT revolution neutral, that is, does not influence our lives, or is it a defining revolution?
· Is the ICT revolution predetermined or can we influence it?
· Can the ICT revolution be judged ethically?
· If so, is it good or bad?
What are the views of the three emerging paradigms regarding the four above questions?
1. The Technocratic paradigm: ICT as technological "progress"
The Technocratic paradigm is implicitly neutralist. Basically, Technocrats do not treat seriously what other take to be defining influences of the ICT revolution (i.e., the way it is redefining major aspects of our lives), and do not take ICT to have far-reaching impact on who we are. Moreover, this paradigm is also implicitly determinist: its members perceive ICT as a "necessary force" the educational system should adapt to, and the sooner the better. They neither imagine that society could, if it so chose, mould ICT according to its needs and values, nor believe that the education system could channel the influences ICT holds in store. To put it simplistically, they buy computers for schools because there are computers to be bought and they are taken to represent "progress" or what is "in" - without further questions or thoughts.
It is reasonable to assume that adherents to this view would give an implicit negative answer to the third question (concerning our ability to ethically judge the ICT revolution), and that their answer would stem both from their determinism and neutralism concerning ICT and their lack of interest in questions of values and about basic educational goals. Thus, Riffel and Levin (1997) conclude from their field study that "technological imperatives (to have the latest, most powerful computers available) overtake unclear educational objectives…the overall educational focus of [’the schools’] efforts remains unclear."
2. The Reformist paradigm: ICT as promoting constructivist didactics
The Reformist paradigm is based on an understanding of some aspect of the defining nature of ICT, and it is therefore non-neutralist. It is also determinist: its adherents don’t think they or anyone else can, or should, have a say concerning the general development of technology. If there is notion of indeterminism in this view it does not lie in its adherents’ understanding of technology’s relationship to culture but rather in the educational use that can be made of it. Many of them seem to believe that since technology is there, schools must learn to do interesting and desirable things with it. They do ask themselves what educational purpose ICT might and should serve; their answer is that ICT can be used to promote the desired (constructivist) didactics.
From the above it follows that they do presuppose positive answers both to the third and fourth questions. Basically, they too perceive novel technologies to be "advancements", and therefore place an ethical judgement on ICT. Moreover, they find that ICT exerts a positive influence, since it encourages constructivist tendencies, or may potentially do so. This viewpoint underlies the question posed by the editors of the SITES project report in the concluding chapter - "Is our education measuring up with regard to its innovative potential?" (Pelgrum & Anderson, 1999)
3. The Holistic paradigm: ICT as redefining our culture and lives
The third paradigm, the Holistic, is actually defined according to its non-Neutrality, as its upholders treat ICT as a major defining force of culture. Its view is basically indeterminist, although different holists might hold different kinds of indeterminism. Postman (1995) believes it is impossible to preserve the good parts of "American cultural institutions and heritage" while allowing uncontrolled technological development, and advocates serious discussion regarding the advantages and disadvantages of technology and the way it changes our perception of the world. Aviram & Comay (2000) strive to form "strategies for channelling the inevitable [ICT] revolution in socially and humanely beneficial directions" (italics in the original). One can say that these are two different kinds of indeterminism: strong indeterminism in Postman’s case – since his appeal for social discussion on the fundamentals of the ICT revolution is implicitly based on the supposition that society could change those fundamentals; and soft indeterminism in Aviram and Comay’s case – since here it is assumed that the mere fundamentals are given, but it is possible to channel the processes based on them.
Obviously, authors in this group do not evade discussion of what the desired values of education are. They then judge the ICT revolution in regard to these values - answering the third question positively. As to their judgement, they vary from neutral to negative and positive. Thus, Hermant de Callatay (2000) states that "Technology will have to serve the educational purpose. It should not be the other way around"(- a rather neural judgement). Postman believes ICT is harmful due to its influence on culture at large (Postman, 1992) and on education); While we believe it to have both positive and negative potentials and that its impact on society and on education depends very much on the way we channel its introduction to education (Aviram, 2000).
The differences between the three groups stand out in Table 5, which summarises their presuppositions and the relationships amongst them.
Will the educational system last in its present shape?
Yes, with some modification of the didactic aspects
No opinion (positive answer implied)
Should the educational system last?
Yes / No(depending on the values of the specific writer)
Yes, with some modifications
No opinion (positive answer implied)
Is the ICT revolution neutral or defining?
Is the ICT revolution predetermined?
Can the ICT revolution be judged ethically?
Is the ICT revolution good?
Yes / No(depending on the values of the specific writer)
No opinion (positive answer implied)
|TABLE 5: Suppositions|
We have described the three general paradigms in the field of ICT and education, and showed that there are substantial differences between the suppositions these paradigms make about the worlds of ICT and education.
The most basic concepts of rationality and science entail that when there are three competing theories in a scientific field, a discussion between their upholders is to be expected. The field of ICT and education is a blatant anomaly when viewed in this light. Essentially, there is no rational discourse between the different views about the introduction of ICT to education. Each of the upholders of the three above paradigms takes a stance, either explicitly or implicitly, but doesn’t seem to be aware of and/or care about the existence of competing theories. Most authors, especially the Technocrats and Reformists, but to some extent the Holists as well, do not have a meta-level perspective on the place of their view within the discourse, which is a cornerstone of rationalistic-scientific conduct (see Aviram & Talmi, unpublished).
The question of the field’s development is not only theoretical, but obviously eminently practical, too. The lack of rational discussion is true not only in regard to the theoretical debate; it is even more evident concerning practice (and how could it be different if practicians don’t have systematic theoretical debate to rely on?). Schools, districts, regions and countries develop and implement ICT products and models of ICT based education, but due to the basic lack of culture of rational discourse and rational development, in too many cases there are no clear threads of ongoing improvement to existing models. As it is, everybody is reinventing the wheel time and time again.
The different implementation policies stemming from the different views have an enormous impact on the future of the educational system and the society at large. Given the history of very ambivalent results (to say the least) in the productive introduction of ICT to education in the last twenty years and the huge investments involved, we cannot afford to continue treating this process in the shallow unmindful manner currently prevalent (we elaborate on this issue in Aviram & Talmi, unpublished). It is vital that we look below the surface of the process of ICT introduction to education, expose the fundaments of the different views that have guided this process until now, and encourage an ongoing rational and critical discussion among them. In order to make well-founded implementation decisions in the field, we must initiate a rational discourse between the different theories and form a model for ICT introduction that reflects the state-of-the-art in the field. HolistsReformistsTechnocratsWill the educational system last in its present shape?NoYes, with some modification of the didactic aspectsNo opinion (positive answer implied)Should the educational system last?Yes / No(depending on the values of the specific writer)Yes, with some modificationsNo opinion (positive answer implied)Is the ICT revolution neutral or defining? DefiningDefiningNeutralIs the ICT revolution predetermined? Non-determinedPredeterminedPredeterminedCan the ICT revolution be judged ethically?YesYesNo opinionIs the ICT revolution good?Yes / No(depending on the values of the specific writer)YesNo opinion (positive answer implied)
|TABLE 5: Suppositions|
Aviram, A. & Talmi, D. (in press). "ICT and Education - The Lacking Discourse", in J. Hernandez and Goodson (eds.) Geographics of Educational Change. London: Kluwer.
Riffel, A. & Levin, B. (1997). Schools Coping with the Impact of Information Technology. Educational Management and Administration, 25(1), 51-64.
Pelgrum, W. J. & Anderson, R. E. (Eds.). (1999). ICT and the Emerging Paradigm for Lifelong Learning: A Worldwide Educational Assessment of Infrastructure, Goals and Practices. Enschede, The Netherlands: Printpartners Ipskamp.
Are Students’ and Teachers’ Views of On-line Courses in Accordance? A Dual Perspective on a University Course<br><font color="#888888">
Our research questions were:
· What do students have to consider when embarking on an online course?
· What administrative considerations must the tutor take into account in organizing such a course?
· What type of learning style/attitude may best suit due to the special characteristics of an online course?
· How to solve the interaction between students and tutor related to the special kind of teaching/learning situation.
How did we perform the study?
One student who had enrolled on the course, offered to provide the student perspective. The opportunity also served to gather material for his master’s thesis. This student’s supervisor was one of the authors of this paper; his online teacher was the other. The supervisor gave advice on how to perform the pre-course online questionnaire, where the aim was to determine all the students’ attitude to distance learning. One reason for not using interviews was partly because it was an easy way of reaching the students as they used IT as a tool during the course. Another reason was that not all the students lived in the vicinity. After the course, it was of relevance to conduct a follow-up questionnaire to find out why half the students enrolled, had dropped out. In parallel, and independently of one another, the teacher evaluated the course from her perspective.
Some Results: the Student perspective.
The number of places available on the BUENGON course was twenty, but only nineteen started. The pre-course questionnaire asked students about their home/work life, any previous experience of distance learning and their level of computer skills. Most of the students lived locally, whilst others were working abroad; they chose the course to complement their work, and a third had prior experience of distance study.
The follow-up questionnaire asked for learners’ perceptions of the course and whether the medium suited them. Students thought that the delivery of the course enabled flexibility. In fact all the students that passed the course, found that the design of the course made it more flexible (Totally agree = 9, Agree in a great extent = 1). They also found that was a good platform for interaction between students and tutor. To the question “Do you think the web platform (JIBSNet) has contributed to enhancing the course pedagogically? 4 students answered “Yes” and 5 answered, “To a certain extent”. Those who successfully completed the course had good computer skills and were even more positive to new technology.
Of the nineteen students who started the course, only ten of them finished. The most important reasons why they dropped out were:
· The design of the course didn’t suit me.
· I realized that distance learning was not for me.
The majority of the students found that the delivery was not appropriate for them. Conversely, it could be said that the student did not suit the course, or more generally: some students did not suit these types of courses. Of course the question then is raised about different learning styles.
Agree very much
Visual, learn new information through text and picture.
Auditory, learn through listening and speaking.
Logical, learn information through experiment and pattern.
Spatial, learn new information through painting and creating.
Kinaesthetic, learning new information through the body.
Group, take in new information through working in a group, comparing and relating to other people's experience.
Individual, take in new information through one's own work and by following one's own feelings.
|Table 1. Which of the following learning styles describes you? (Question 11)|
As can be seen from Table 1, in the column Agree very much, a learning style that incorporated visual aspects seemed to be most appropriate when reading an online course, at least as far as our study indicates (five students). Also logical attributes turned out to be important (four students). Most important for these students was being able to work and learn individually. This could largely account for why these students left the course as they may have felt thwarted by all the group work tasks. Of the remaining ten who completed the course, students benefited from the flexibility of the delivery and considered the platform a useful place to house all course matters. They also appreciated communicating via the discussion forum (see Table 2).
General statements about the course
Agree very much
Course design has enabled flexibility in my studies, both geographically and in time.
Platform has improved communications with other students
Platform has improved communications with tutor
Has been easy to use and understand.
Tasks have been easy to understand and follow
|Table 2. Statements regarding the course Question 12)|
The major problem they had were difficulties in understanding the written instructions to the set assignments, which they considered unclear, and confusing. The group work tasks also proved to be a bone of contention. Some students would have preferred to work on their own because few were willing to take the initiative in forming and maintaining contact with their groups. A face-to-face meeting would have been welcome to create a learning community.
Some Results: the Teacher perspective.
The frustration and stress related to delivering the first two offerings of the BUENGON courses were a result from lack of time and lack of coordination between the various administration bodies. The overall look and feel of the interface was dull and static. The tutor uploaded material, which the students downloaded. Lesson plans were being written and then revised as the course progressed; therefore it was not possible to give students advance notice of the assignments.
Another difficulty and source of bafflement was students’ responses, or lack of them. Students seemingly did not understand instructions; they wanted to seek personal clarification with the tutor; they had problems communicating with their group. However, the small changes in presentation of material, which in essence remained the same, changed its focus on what the tutor was preparing to what the student needed to know to be able to do the tasks. Once the materials had been written, and the design of the course put up on JIBSNet, it was possible to focus on the communication and interaction between the learners and tutor.
Students’ emails to the tutor seeking clarification to certain tasks provided valuable feedback on how well the course content was presented. Problems perceived concerned the structure and schedule. Confusion was caused by the heading descriptors in the menu on the webpage, which used the week numbers. Students were uncertain about the deadlines. Should the assignment be submitted during a particular week, or were they meant to be working on it that week?
Interestingly enough, students claimed that misunderstandings would be more easily rectified in the classroom which would allow instant feedback. Yet campus students tend not to follow instructions implicitly because they are relying on the verbal instruction despite having been given it in writing, which would then be subject to various interpretations and assumptions. On the whole, online learners completed the tasks satisfactorily because they had only the same written source.
In summary, both the teacher and the students mentioned geographical independence as the most important advantage i.e. the students can be taught almost anywhere, anytime. Both the teacher and the students expressed the need for a well-structured course; this included the administration as well as the content. The postgraduate student pointed out that the individual learning style was an important factor for success in taking part in an online course. The teacher viewed students’ approaches to learning as a key determiner as to whether students interact with the tasks and one another, and see the course through to its end. The various levels of computer skills and technical knowledge may affect the success of following through the course. The delivery platform therefore should be easy to use, reliable and support the learning. However, if students are not required to attend live classes, then money should be invested in the platform to create good venues to allow synchronous meetings, for instance.Learning stylesDisagreeAgree partiallyAgree Agree very muchAgree fullyTotalVisual, learn new information through text and picture.002529Auditory, learn through listening and speaking.031239Logical, learn information through experiment and pattern.002439Spatial, learn new information through painting and creating.342009Kinaesthetic, learning new information through the body.540009Group, take in new information through working in a group, comparing and relating to other people's experience.024219Individual, take in new information through one's own work and by following one's own feelings.000369
|Table 1. Which of the following learning styles describes you? (Question 11)|
|Table 2. Statements regarding the course Question 12)|
Penetration rates of all kinds of ICT are still low in the country but growth rates are high. Having in mind high educational index of the Russian population and the fact that social acceptance of technology by the youth is great there are hopes that the country will soon catch up. The reconfiguration of society caused by ICT is global, and global means not only "all over the world" but "similar" too. Investigation of the global-local nature of the change shows that many universal values and attitudes appear.
Russia enters networked world later than many other countries. The objective of the paper is to give a general picture of the Russian situation and to show that Russian youth has entered the global information society. Sociological surveys show that the first adopters of PCs appeared in the beginning of the 1990-s. In the second half of the 1990-s to have computer became a value in families with children. There appeared a correlation between possession of a home computer and successful adaptation in the labor market.
Internet in Russia started much later than in Europe, in the end of the 1990-s few people knew about Internet. Boom started since the end of 1999 and it goes on. Interest in mobile communication started at the same time. In two years the number of owners of mobile phones grew by 5 times.
Today ICT is fashionable in the country, the number of newspapers, magazines and TV-programs devoted to ICT grows. Like everywhere else, most active users of ICT in Russia are the young. Young people whose parents cannot afford a computer earn money for it using PCs of their friends in the meantime. Even those who have no personal computer have an electronic address and prepare working papers using Internet.
The number of students is an important indicator of information society development. For Russia it comprised 50 people per 1000 population in 2000 and 56 in 2001 which is more or less the same as in USA, Australia and New Zealand.
People who got or are getting education directly in the sphere of ICT comprise only 14% of all people who have higher education. This share is the highest among people of 26-30 years of age. The quality of ICT education in Russia is good, 100% of graduates have employment. During the last 2-3 years the number of institutions which prepare students in the sphere of communication, enlarged. The number of ICT students grows, competition to enter such an institution reached 20 people per one place in 2002. Comparing Russia with other countries of Europe we can see that Russia overtakes Germany, France and Sweden in the number of ICT students but lacks behind the leaders, Finland and Ireland.
Today the share of people who have computer skills comprises one third of population and this share grows: it was 17,5% in 1997. The number of people before 20 using PC is twice as much as the number of 40-45 year olds (49% and 24%) and thrice as much as the number of people of 50-55 years of age (15%).
Unfortunately statistics on ICT usage is very poor in the country. There is practically no statistics on on-line services usage, including elearning.
Qualitative studies show that interest in distant learning is great. We have registered a case of distant learning in 1997: a provincial boy had an Internet connection in his office and he used it to study in Edinburg university. The study of 2002 showed that the majority of students use Internet to find materials for their studies. Getting diplomas via computer learning are still rare. The main reasons for that are the cost of services and the access to Internet. There are practically no free of charge services and commercial e-learning is expensive. Commercial e-learning services are quickly developing all over the country, the possibility to get e-education has appeared.
An increasing interest
Russia lags behind in the number of Internet users. On the average 25-35% of European population and 50-60% of American and Scandinavian population are regular Internet users, and only 8% of Russian population are. All the auditorium of Internet users in Russia is estimated at 20% (there are 16% of regular Internet users in big cities).
Penetration rates are low but the rates of growth are high, the number of Internet users grew by 6,7 times from 1996 till 2001. Age differentiation is very clear. The biggest group of Internet users in Russia are the young people of 25-34 years of age. The number of teenage users grew by 3 times from 1999 to 2001.
Study of one hundred of Moscow students showed that to have PC, Internet connection and a mobile is a "must". ICT is taken for granted, natural and pleasant to deal with. Using mobile and Internet is a way of life for the young, while grown ups use them mostly for working purpose.
International survey of students conducted in 5 countries including Russia in 2002, showed that interest in PCs, Internet and mobile phones does not depend on the place of living, gender and profession, people from different countries proved to have a lot of common free associations connected with ICTs. The fact that regardless of the origin young people have the same attitudes shows that a new global culture is being formed whether we like it or not. The reconfiguration of society caused by ICT is global, and global means not only "all over the world" but "similar" too. Investigation of the global-local nature of the change shows that many universal values and attitudes appear.
Russian youth is ready to enter digital world. In the era of global mobility the young change easily, they often upgrade technology and quickly develop new skills, that is natural for them.
Is age differentiation a danger or an advantage for Russia and for other countries? Emerging new values concerning ICT become universal, are there country specific types of use? Is the pace of change in Russia quicker then in other countries? These and many other questions need further research and cross-cultural investigation.
In this portal we published an article by you entitled “Why isn’t e-learning taking off in a big way in our daily lives?” Do you think it is beginning to take off now?
The situation is complex, as e-learning implies making technology work in a process called learning. But the process of learning has not been well understood and this leads to a situation where people used technology to support learning although they do not know how learning really works. So I think it was a dramatic situation from the start because learning is more complex than most people think. But over the last few years we have been going through the learning process itself, learning how to make technology work for learning. Today more people understand what learning means, where learning happens and how to use technology to support it. So we are well placed now for take-off.
What do we need to achieve scale and scope in e-learning? Is a problem of common standards, common rules...?
There are a number of issues, which should be addressed, at least three. The first one is the one you mention: without stable standards in the industry, it is really difficult for a market to evolve. And in this case the e-Learning Industry Group places the emphasis on open standards for e-learning. We don’t want standards controlled by individual companies; they would slow down the evolution of the market and stifle innovation.
The second issue is obviously the whole infrastructure side, which is often underestimated. I hear often the people say ‘we have the infrastructure in place’, ‘there are no more problems with infrastructure’, but I do not believe this. The infrastructure is much more than the network and the access devices. All the virtual learning environment is really infrastructure, because it should enable the individual to access learning material and to obtain information, to link up with the system from wherever you are. And it must be integrated in your enterprise systems so that you can create a seamless environment for learning, knowledge management and work. In my opinion, this infrastructure is still at an embryonic stage; with even the basic layer i.e. the network in most cases is not appropriate to handle multimedia content.
What’s your deadline for that?
I think it will happen over the next five years. There will be a big push in infrastructure, you can already see the broadband push from the European Union, which goes beyond e-learning. And at the same time we’ll see very significant and fast growth wireless systems. Wireless is liberation for people using PCs.
To continue with your schema, what’s the third issue to be addressed to enhance e-learning?
The third factor is Content. You know how challenging it is to transform traditional contents into digital contents and to redesign them for learning. All this implies a huge change and I believe one of the big challenges in our emerging market is how the content industry can respond to these necessities.
Only 58% of Europeans said they could use a computer, while 50% said they could not use Internet, according to a recent Survey by the Eurobarometer – Cedefop. What’s your opinion about the eSkills level of Europeans?
These numbers are alarming and should be taken by governments as very important input for policies. We need another large push in Europe aimed at building the basic ICT literacy including Internet, amongst the broader population. How can somebody who is not familiar with the Internet benefit from e-learning? How can these people be part of a lifelong learning process, which is based on technology? I believe the European Commission and the national governments need to review their policies and launch major initiatives setting specific objectives for ICT literacy and monitoring the progress. And there are also a number of companies who can help governments to improve general ICT skills.
How big is the e-learning market in Europe?
It's difficult to say, it depends how you look at it. There are different numbers available from market research companies. I would not want to pick a particular one - but what is certain is that e-learning is growing very fast and becoming a multi-billion Euro market.
When people think about how to improve their professional skills, only a small proportion (12%, according to the Eurobarometer study) think about Open and Distance Learning. This seems related to longstanding ideas about where one is supposed to learn, that is at schools, training centres, universities... Is there a problem about how e-learning is perceived? Maybe the image e-learning has is too technological?
You are right; there is an issue that goes deeply into the cultural sphere. The importance of such cultural aspects in the perception of e-learning has been underestimated. And many people who were interested at the early stages were discouraged because it was a hassle to get into e-learning – hence the benefits did not show up for the end-user as expected. Now with increasingly robust technical infrastructures and user-friendly learning environments this is starting to change. Yet we have still a way to go where a critical mass of people become promoters of e-learning based on their positive experience.
What would be the priority to increase people’s participation in e-learning?
Above all we need systems that are easy to use, where everyone can easily access engaging rich media learning content or collaboration resources. We need this absolute simplicity. Let me give you an example: when people have permanent access to broadband, the statistics show that user behaviour already changes. When everyone has easy access to broadband and wireless they will use the net in completely new ways. This means that there will be a critical mass of people stimulating the content industry and service providers to really provide what people want.
What’s your opinion about the difference between e-learning development in Europe and in the United States?
As far as I can see, the US is more aggressive in implementing e-learning in various areas. In the US, Universities must provide today what I would call a “21st century virtual campus” to be competitive. There are High Schools in the US with eight to twelve thousand pupils online. Culturally it seems to be a bit easier to promote e-learning in the US. Europe has the complexity and beauty of many different languages and cultures, adds complexity but this wealth can be exploited through e-learning, because people share learning programs and collaborate across different cultures.
What activities is eLIG planning for the near future?
We try to be very present in the area of policy recommendations and we take a position in a number of policy areas such as, for example, the European Union's e-learning programme. We will continue to do this. We are also focusing on a number of important areas for the development of the industry: infrastructure, content, open standards and teacher training are some of the most relevant. In these areas we are producing white papers, which will point out the direction the industry should take. In addition to this we want to put specific focus in 2004 on the best ways e-learning could be adopted in SMEs. The competitiveness of SMEs is a particular focus for the European Commission and the Member States and we want to contribute with the exchange of best practices and the development of a vision in this arena.Related articles
Why isn’t e-Learning Taking off in a Big Way in our Daily Lives? by Richard Straub.
eLIG, the eLearning Industry Group by Richard Straub.
Recommendations to Enhance e-Learning in Europe
The findings of the study suggest a clear move towards a new learning paradigm. This new learning paradigm represents a shift away from instructionism towards constructivism. That is, constructionist visions for the future education system seem to be globally shared.
What is a learning environment?
The common features in all of the theoretical definitions of new learning environments are their emphasis that a learning environment is a place or community in which a number of activities are occurring with the purpose of supporting learning, and that actors can draw upon a number of resources when doing so. They also emphasize the constructionist view of learning and the use of ICT.
Towards a new learning paradigm?
Common perceptions point to a number of potential changes.
- The view of pupils as individuals. First they relate to a change in the focus on the pupils as individuals and their opportunities for becoming more active and taking more responsibility for their own learning process.
- Planning learning according to individual learning styles.This aspect seems to be closely linked to a second substantial feature in the new learning paradigm, namely the differentiated learning approach, which emphasises the need to plan learning differently for different pupils, allowing them to work according to their individual learning style and learning pace. A perception based on a broader concept of intelligence than traditional literary intelligence.
- Focus on social participation. At the same time there is an increased focus on social participation, hence on working with children's communication and collaboration skills.
- Change in the teachers' role. There is a change in the perception of the
appropriate role of the teacher from a 'teacher to pupils' process of knowledge processing to more 'group-based' or 'pupil to pupil' processes where the teachers act more systematically as advisors, guides and supervisors for students, as well as providers of the frameworks for the learning process of their students.
- From reproducing to constructing knowledge. An important aspect of the migration towards another learning paradigm is a shift in focus away from content and the ability to reproduce facts and knowledge towards the creation of knowledge. Pupils should be active participants in constructing knowledge through their own learning processes, both working alone or together with peers. Experimenting and exploring are important aspects of this active construction of knowledge.
- Reorganizing the learning situation. The new learning paradigm involves the belief that learning will benefit from reorganizing the learning situation in ways that transcend traditional, curriculum-bound ways of thinking, with multidisciplinary approaches and radically modified time planning and organization of both learning and teachers' work.
The role of ICT ?
It seems to be commonly perceived that the use of ICT holds great potential for supporting or even being the transforming agent for the above mentioned shifts towards a new learning paradigm. As far as many of the study information sources were concerned, ICT is the initiator of a evolution within the education system. The study however concludes that this could be the case, but that it is by no means inevitable. Rather, it is concluded that ICT could either support and preserve traditional methods, or else be a means of - or a support for - changing the pedagogical methods and the organization of the learning situation.
Six best practice case studies were undertaken as part of the study. The six case studies supported the study's preliminary conclusion that New Learning Environments are not so much dependent on the use of ICT itself, but rely more on the reorganization of the learning situation and the teacher's ability to use technology to support pedagogical learning objectives that transform traditional learning activities.
On the basis of the case studies, it was clear that if ICT are being used to support new and innovative ways of learning and thereby create new learning environments throughout a school, the process has nothing to do with ICT as such. The resulting change proved to be much more closely connected with management style, attitudes among teachers, teacher education, pedagogical approaches and new learning styles. In all the best practice examples, ICT was not an objective for its own sake but merely represented a mechanism for attaining specific learning objectives.
Some of the general characteristics of new and innovative learning environments in which ICT is being used to support new ways of learning can be summed up as follows:
- The use of ICT gives schools the opportunity to network with other institutions - both cultural institutions and other educational institutions - and gives them access to new forms of learning / multimedia material.
- However, the innovative use of technology often only occurs within the classroom, and not very often between classrooms, across entire schools, or between schools and other institutions and organisations.
- ICT is used mainly for collaborative and communication activities, production, and information seeking.
- ICT is used more seldom for game playing, simulation and other experimental uses, although such activities have been observed.
- ICT is often a catalyst of change, but does not in itself determine the direction of change.
Main challenges of the new learning environments?
Some of the main challenges that have been identified in the study are:
- A need to evaluate in new terms. Schools are experiencing the need to evaluate and assess their pupils' learning processes in new ways that correspond to new learning methods, and that are not reflected in the present system of national examinations in any country in Europe.
- Persistent sticking to tradition causes some problems for the New Learning Environments in several respects. First of all, pupils receive no credit for the new skills they have developed, even though these are regarded as being important for the future development of our societies. Secondly, some teachers and parents are still nervous about the new methods' capability of ensuring that the pupils studying in schools where they are being used will perform as well in national exams as pupils from schools which use traditional methods of learning.
- Doubts about new learning methods. Among parents and in the public, debate about the new learning environments has expressed doubts about the schools' ability to develop the competences required for pupils to pass national exams as well as those from schools that rely on more traditional methods of learning, and the schools' ability to support and teach children with special needs has also been called into doubt. It was not the purpose of this study to evaluate whether these doubts are justified. However, pupils at two of the case study schools proved to be excellent achievers in national exams, coming second in national rankings. Some teachers at the schools claim that ICT has proved to be a robust tool for helping children with special needs of all kinds. For instance, children with dyslexia are benefiting from computer applications that can support their reading skills by reading texts aloud to them, or which help them to check their spelling. Children with other special needs such as those with motor problems can also benefit from using ICT.
- Doubts about reorganization. In some of the schools visited, a dilemma seems to exist between the desire to reorganize the mode of learning and a number of other considerations. For instance, parents expressed their doubts about the value of reorganizing across time, age and subjects, mainly because they were very concerned about whether their children would score as highly in national exams as children from other schools. In addition, teachers are sometimes resistant to new modes of organization because it will involve more work for them at the beginning. However, the teachers we spoke to had all benefited in many ways from working more closely with their colleagues, and their experience was that it was worth doing in the long run because their work became much more interesting and their motivation increased.
- Difficulties of independent learning. Doubts were also expressed as to whether the structure and motivation required for independent learning may be more difficult for children with learning problems, or for children who simply find school work boring and have trouble motivating themselves. They can get away with this more easily in an individualized learning environment. The management at some of the schools has pointed out in response to this criticism that children with learning problems have benefited particularly from the use of differentiated learning approaches.