Information and communication technologies in schools: a

Information and communication technologies in schools: a
How ICT Can Create New,
Open Learning Environments
UNESCO, 2005
Co-ordinator: Mariana Patru, UNESCO
Author: Alexey Semenov, Moscow Institute of Open Education,
Russian Federation
Other Contributors:
Leonid Pereverzev, Institute of New Technologies, Russian Federation
Elena Bulin-Sokolova, Centre of Information Technologies and
Learning Environments, Russian Federation (Chapters 3, 4, 5 and 7)
Jonathan Anderson, Flinders University, Australia
Reviewers: Evgueni Khvilon, Consultant, UNESCO
Boris Berenfeld, The Concord Consortium, USA
Cover design: Bertrand Ambry, UNESCO
Cover photo credit: Tatyana Khvilon, Institute of New Technologies, Russian Federation
Picture design: Anna Roschina, Institute of New Technologies, Russian Federation
For further information, please contact:
Mariana Patru
Division of Higher Education
7, place de Fontenoy
75352 Paris 07 SP, France.
Phone: 33-1-45 68 08 07
33-1-45 68 56 26
The authors are responsible for the choice and presentation of facts contained in this publication and
for the opinions expressed therein, which are not necessarily those of UNESCO and do not commit
the Organization. The designations employed and the presentation of the material throughout this
publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of UNESCO concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the
delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.
Division of Higher Education
©UNESCO 2005
Printed in France
All governments present at the World Education Forum in Dakar, Senegal,
April 2000, pledged to achieve a number of essential goals aimed at ensuring
Education for All (EFA). I will mention only two of them that are particularly
relevant for, and lie at the basis of, the development of this new publication ensuring that the learning needs of all young people and adults are met through equitable access to appropriate learning and life-skills programmes (Goal 3) and improving
all aspects of the quality of education […] so that recognized and measurable learning
outcomes are achieved by all (Goal 6).
This new publication, initiated by the Division of Higher Education,
entitled “ICT in Schools: A Handbook for Teachers or How ICT Can Create New,
Open Learning Environments”, should be seen as complementary to the ones
already published by the Division in the 2002-2003 biennium devoted to the
use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in teacher education. The present handbook is principally designed for teachers and teacher
educators who are currently working with, or would like to know more about,
ICT in schools.
A major theme in the book concerns how ICT can create new, open learning environments and their instrumental role in shifting the emphasis from a
teacher-centred to a learner-centred environment; where teachers move from
being the key source of information and transmitter of knowledge to becoming a
collaborator and co-learner; and where the role of students changes from one of
passively receiving information to being actively involved in their own learning.
Evidence over the past years has clearly indicated that efforts to ensure
equal access to educational opportunities and quality education for all must be
accompanied by wide-ranging education reforms. Such reforms are not likely to
succeed without addressing the new roles played by teachers in preparing students for an emerging knowledge-based and technology-driven society.
Teachers must have access to adequate training and ongoing professional development and support and be motivated to use new teaching and learning methods and techniques.
Information and communication technologies must be harnessed to support
EFA goals at an affordable cost. They have great potential for knowledge dissemination, effective learning and the development of more efficient education
services. This potential will not be realized unless these technologies serve rather
than drive the implementation of education strategies. To be effective, especially in developing countries, ICT should be combined with more traditional technologies such as books and radios and be more extensively applied to the training of teachers.
Education must reflect the diversity of needs, expectations, interests and
cultural contexts. This poses particular challenges under conditions of globalization given its strong tendency towards uniformity. The challenge is to define the
best use of ICT for improving the quality of teaching and learning, sharing
knowledge and information, introducing a higher degree of flexibility in
response to societal needs, lowering the cost of education and improving internal and external efficiencies of the education system.
I sincerely hope that this new publication will be both informative and useful for a wide range of users who all believe in, and pursue, a common goal Quality Education for All.
John Daniel
Assistant Director-General for Education
FOREWORD. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
CONTENTS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
PREFACE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
1. SOCIETY, LEARNING IMPERATIVES, AND ICT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
Societal Perspectives . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
The shock of the future . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
Mindcraft economy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
Globalization and ICT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
Technology — a double-edged sword. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
Individual needs and expectations of society. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
Radical changes needed in school. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
Educational Trends . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19
Ancient legacy and modern trends . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19
Liberal and vocational education . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22
Continuous educational development. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24
Global awareness and cooperation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26
Information Processing as Core Activity in Schools . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27
Technologies and tools . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28
Educational technology of mind. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28
Learning as information processing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29
2. ICT: NEW TOOLS FOR EDUCATION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31
Metaphors for Comprehending ICT. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31
Information Basics. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33
Information objects . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33
Information space. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33
Digital transformation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34
Words for big numbers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34
Storing information, memory and compression . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35
Transmitting information . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35
Hardware Components of ICT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37
Computers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 38
Peripherals . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41
Storage . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42
Human movement as input . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44
Visual input . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47
Aural input . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49
Sensors for input . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50
Output . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 51
Communications . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 56
Digital Information Resources . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 60
Information objects and their screen presentations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 60
One-dimensional editing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 61
Two-dimensional editing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 63
Three- and four-dimensional editing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 64
Multimedia presentations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 65
Human-computer interaction and communication. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 65
Software tools. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 72
Major Trends in ICT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 79
What kind of computers do we need? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 79
What changes lie ahead? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 80
3. SCHOOLS IN TRANSITION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 89
Teachers and Learners. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 89
Educational events . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 89
Basic activities in learning . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 91
Contradictions of Schooling . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 94
Creativity versus discipline . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 94
Compulsory versus voluntary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 94
Classical hierarchy of learning and personal responsibility . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 95
Old School as Organization. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 96
Activities to sustain. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 97
The learned context of learning . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 97
School as a social institution . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 98
The Base for New Pedagogical Possibilities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 105
Intelligence and intelligence quotient. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 105
Multiple intelligences . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 107
Testing abilities. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 109
Multiple ways and conditions of learning . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 110
Appealing to both sensory and symbolic smarts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 110
Visual cognition and creative thinking . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 112
Heterarchy and changing pedagogy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 113
Project method: learning by designing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 115
Teaching Students to be Learners . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 116
Teachers as Master-learners. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 118
Emerging New Schools . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 119
4. ICT IN LEARNING AND TEACHING . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 121
New Possibilities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 121
Do what we are not already doing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 121
Schools of tomorrow seen through schools of today . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 123
Atoms of Learning. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 123
Immediate oral communication . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 124
Reading . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 130
Writing. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 132
Science experiments and observations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 138
School use of general and professional applications . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 139
Virtual laboratory . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 140
Organization of the learning process . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 142
Information resources for education. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 144
More Complex Educational Events . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 145
Approaching the new literacy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 145
Foreign language learning . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 150
Design and construction in learning. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 151
Microworlds . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 152
Scientific research. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 158
Research in social sciences and humanities. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 159
Providing support to the school and community . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 160
Main advantages of ICT. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 161
5. STRUCTURING THE SCHOOL CONTINUUM . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 165
Place of ICT in School Learning Activities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 165
Limitations and opportunities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 165
Ownership issues . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 167
Typical arrangements of ICT in classrooms . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 167
Desktop computers and computer furniture. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 169
Beyond desktops. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 173
ICT everywhere in schools. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 175
Implementing new goals of education in low-tech regions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 182
Place of ICT in Curricula . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 183
Access to ICT. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 184
Time when ICT are available . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 184
Participants in the Process of Change . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 184
Early predictions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 184
Barriers for ICT in schools . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 185
Students . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 187
Teachers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 188
Teacher support . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 189
Other stakeholders . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 191
Schools part of wider learning communities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 193
No one model for all . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 195
Drawbacks of ICT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 195
Major Components of Informatics in Education . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 199
World of Information . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 200
Information objects . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 201
Information activities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 202
Understanding information processes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 204
Forerunners and founders of informatics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 204
Fundamentals of Informatics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 205
Major concepts of mathematics of informatics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 206
Environments and applications. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 209
General and specific educational outcomes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 212
7. ICT AND EDUCATIONAL CHANGE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 213
Restructuring the Foundation of Schools . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 213
Strategies of Change . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 213
Stages and Indicators of ICT Integration . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 215
Stages . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 215
Indicators . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 216
Dimensions of ICT Development . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 218
Leadership and vision. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 218
People . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 219
Technology. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 219
Practice. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 220
Transformation of Education. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 221
Practical Suggestions for Planning . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 221
REFERENCES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 223
GLOSSARY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 227
INDEX. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 237
This handbook is designed for teachers and all educators who are currently
working with, or who would like to know more about, information and communication technologies in schools. The technologies involve much more than
computers, and so the abbreviation we use for information and communication
technologies - ICT - is a plural term to denote the whole range of technologies
associated with processing information on the one hand and, on the other, with
sending and receiving messages.
However, this handbook is not primarily about hardware (the term applied
to computers and all the connecting devices like scanners, modems, telephones,
and satellites that are tools for information processing and communicating across
the globe): it is about teaching, and, more particularly, learning, and the way that
all these technologies that we group under the acronym ICT can transform
schools as we currently know them.
ICT have already impacted on the economies of all nations and on the
fabric of society at every level within which teachers and students live and interact. In so far as ICT have the potential to impact similarly on every aspect of the
life of a school, the coverage of this handbook is very broad and includes - to
mention just one topic from each chapter - educational technology of the mind,
multimedia presentations, multiple intelligences, wearable computers, goals of
education, and information objects.
Although the handbook coverage is necessarily broad, much of the content
is quite specific and directed to teaching and learning activities with ICT in the
classroom. Thus there are sections on modelling forms and meanings of reading,
writing, and oral communication, or the new literacy, as we prefer to call them.
Other sections embrace science experiments, foreign language learning, research
in social sciences and humanities, and the mathematics of informatics.
The handbook, then, is for teachers at all levels, from kindergarten through
elementary, middle, and high school. Further readers who should find this handbook useful are those in pre-service teacher education courses at colleges and
universities who are preparing to become teachers. Classrooms that they will
enter promise to be very different environments from those when they themselves went to school, thanks largely to developments in ICT.
A major theme of this handbook is how ICT can create new, open learning
environments. More than any other previous technology, ICT are providing
learners access to vast stores of knowledge beyond the school, as well as with
multimedia tools to add to this store of knowledge. ICT are largely instrumental, too, in shifting the emphasis in learning environments from teacher-centred
to learner-centred; where teachers move from being the key source of information and transmitter of knowledge to becoming guides for student learning; and
where the role of students changes from one of passively receiving information
to being actively involved in their own learning.
Two other recent UNESCO publications complement this handbook nicely. These are Information and Communication Technologies in Teacher Education: A
Planning Guide (UNESCO 2002a); and Information and Communication Technology
in Education: A Curriculum for Schools and Programme of Teacher Development
(UNESCO 2002b). Both publications are available online (see References for
full details).
This handbook consists of seven chapters that together provide a comprehensive treatment of ICT in schools within the context of broader movements in
society and the world at large.
The first chapter, Society, Learning Imperatives, and ICT is intended to
provide basic perspectives of:
society, peoples, individuals, and their needs;
educational systems to serve society and individuals; and
ICT as a powerful and versatile means to support socio-cultural
development, especially in the field of education.
The second chapter, ICT: New Tools for Education, is devoted to technical
matters. ICT are described here on the basis of little prior knowledge. However,
this chapter should be useful for ICT-using educators as well.
The third chapter, Schools in Transition, contains a systematic overview of the
traditional or classical school with its strong and weak points, its problems,
prospects and possible solutions for further development. Some of the solutions
we suggest can be implemented with the help of ICT; other solutions should be
taken into consideration while introducing ICT into schools.
The fourth chapter, ICT in Learning and Teaching, investigates the elements,
or atoms of teaching and learning activities in view of different kinds of support,
improvement, and extension made possible by ICT. From atoms, the chapter
moves to more complex teaching and learning activities or molecules.
The fifth chapter on Structuring the School Continuum covers the problems
of practical use of ICT in schools and offers possible solutions.
The sixth chapter on Mathematical Fundamentals of Information Science
focuses on the fundamentals of computer science and technology (or educational
informatics). These fundamentals are relevant for different ICT applications and
belong to what we call the new literacy.
The final chapter on ICT and Educational Change brings together the
several key themes that underlie this book: the need to restructure schools,
strategies of change, and dimensions of ICT development. A final section puts
forward practical suggestions for planning.
References to all works cited, a glossary of key terms, and an index for ready
reference complete this handbook.
The shock of the future
Modern civilization is characterized by the growing pace of change. The economy now undergoes a radical transformation (including the structure of the
labour market and requirements for job qualifications) within a single generation. Because of the enormous difficulty in understanding, appreciating and even
surviving change, we talk about the impact of these changes as future shock. On
the other hand, these fundamental shifts do not appear suddenly, as bolts from
the blue: they are always a part of a longer historical evolution, in which
technological development plays a part.
It is not out of place to cite Alvin Toffler who coined the term future shock
about forty years ago:
In dealing with the future, at least for the purpose at hand, it is more
important to be imaginative and insightful than to be one hundred
percent “right”. Theories do not have to be “right” to be enormously
useful. Even error has its uses. The maps of the world drawn by medieval
cartographers were so hopelessly inaccurate, so filled with factual error,
that they elicit condescending smile today…Yet the great explorers could
never have discovered the New World without them. (Toffler 1970)
We believe that ICT will be a key factor in future positive change – provided they are in the possession of people who use them creatively and for the common good.
Society, Learning Imperatives, and ICT
Mindcraft economy
The economy has classically been divided into agricultural, manufacturing and
service sectors. Today, these sectors have been joined by a fourth category: the
booming knowledge sector consisting of knowledge workers. In an increasingly
‘smart’ automated environment, mental work is moving from crunching and
tossing data to creating information and knowledge, and then communicating,
exchanging and sharing it with fellow-workers. In short, as it was already noted
more than decade ago, mindcraft is replacing handicraft (Perelman 1992). The
ubiquitous computer and its related ICT devices have become critical tools for
much of the world economy.
At the same time, knowledge work has become, not just another sector but a
cross-sectional drive, a main carrier, and a cutting edge for contemporary economic
activities. Observers talk about the emerging mindcraft economy of the 21st century,
an economy that presupposes continuous learning within elaborate systems that
combine human agents and intelligent ICT-based machines.
Globalization and ICT
One of the major trends in the global economy is the movement of material
industries from developed to developing countries. This process involves
information industries as well. While this change is positive in many ways, the
distribution of wealth is unequal and much of the world continues to suffer
from severe problems of poverty, hunger and illiteracy. At the same time, more
countries have a chance to take leading roles in the new information or knowledge society, which generally assumes a multi-centrist and multi-cultural
worldview. ICT can help educators achieve this kind of society by creating
opportunities for:
greater individual success, without widening the gap between the
poorest and the richest;
supporting models of sustainable development; and
more countries to build and use information space, rather than having
a few countries and mass media monopolies dominate dissemination of
information and culture.
The world’s most serious problems – the growing demand for food,
shelter, health, employment, and quality of life – cannot be solved without high-
ly efficient new technologies. With the advantages of being nature-protecting,
non-polluting, less energy consuming, and more human-friendly, ICT applications are becoming indispensable parts of contemporary culture, spreading
across the globe through general and vocational education.
Technology – a double-edged sword
ICT already influence the social and political life of all nations. However, their
influence is not always for the better. The use of message-forming and transmitting technologies in some cases impedes justice and concentrates power by
reducing reciprocity in communication. Emergence of huge media conglomerates is vivid evidence of this.
Even more impressive lessons, both warning and encouraging, can be
drawn from the recent history of the fall of great totalitarian states. One might
suggest that the fall of the Soviet communist empire had already begun when
Joseph Stalin died in 1953. Not coincidentally, the change to a more liberal
regime coincided with the proliferation of TV broadcasting and the introduction of home tape-recorders in the USSR. The impact of those types of ICT
was equally significant but different in its directions and consequences.
Television, owned by the state, became, and for the next forty odd years
remained, another tool for vertical brainwashing and manipulation of public
consciousness, exercised by the totalitarian regime.
The same historical period was marked by a rising tide of underground
dissemination of the written word (and, if caught, severely punished).
Forbidden manuscripts of prose, poetry, political philosophy, social critique,
and reports on violations of human rights were duplicated on mechanical typewriters that produced four carbon copies at a time. Photostat copying was too
complicated and demanded special skills to be used widely. In the early 1970s,
the old fashioned photostat copier was supplanted by the electrochemical xerox
copier, which was extremely fast and easy to operate, but kept under strict
police surveillance in governmental offices and inaccessible to private persons.
Fax machines followed a decade later, giving additional impetus to the already
visible process of decay and disintegration of the totalitarian stronghold.
Toward the end of the 1980s, communication barriers (censorship, radio jamming, and all that) went tumbling down along with the Berlin Wall.
Future generations of historians may be tempted to interpret ICT as the
main leverage for all these cataclysms. Needless to say, it would be an obvious
Society, Learning Imperatives, and ICT
exaggeration. History paves its way through time by much more complicated
trajectories. In fact, Mikhail Gorbachev ascended to power and launched his
famous Perestroika (re-building) before such novelties as the Internet, and even
phone-fax, had become common commodities in the USSR.
Nonetheless, it would not be too strong an exaggeration to say that the personal computer (with printer and modem to connect the Internet), neglected by
short-sighted Soviet authorities, hammered the last nail into the coffin of communist ideological and political rule in Russia and Eastern Europe.
Similarly, we believe that the worldwide proliferation of ICT will help offset cultural imperialism, ideological totalitarianism, and information monopoly.
The Internet and desktop publishing will play a crucial role in democratizing the
dissemination and use of information. In addition, ICT create new options for
the preservation and revival of indigenous cultural traditions and spiritual values.
Even a teacher with a class of students, can design a set of fonts for their native
language, make a multilingual dictionary, record folk songs and dances, make
pictures of handicrafts, and put everything together as an Internet page. We
hope that linguistic barriers such as the historically and politically imposed dominance of a few languages may be weakened by the worldwide availability of ICT
and its thoughtful application for educational purposes.
Finally, ICT also change age and gender distribution and opportunities in
the work place. Women and young people can learn to use ICT and work in ICT
environments as well as men.
Individual needs and expectations of society
Life in the new knowledge society demands more independent and responsible
behaviour and much less routine execution of orders. To prosper, and sometimes
even to survive, people now need to be able to make responsible decisions in new
and unexpected situations. Most of all, they need to continue to learn throughout life. Individuals seek to use ICT for personal growth, creativity and joy,
consumption and wealth. They also need to be able to analyze mass media information critically and to use it productively.
These individual needs require knowledge and skills to search for information, to analyze, synthesize, evaluate, channel, and present it to others, and to
exercise judgment in order to predict, plan, and control fast changing events.
The skills noted above are indispensable to ICT-supported and non-ICT learn-
ing environments. However, more and more industrial, professional, and business occupations call for knowledge-based and skilful intellectual work. A worker’s ability to use ICT fluently is necessary in more and more occupations.
Former skills have become obsolete. The abilities to make pen-and-paper
arithmetic calculations, for example, or to write in calligraphy, are now viewed as
specialized abilities (though both are still useful in the education of students).
At the same time, it is now vital for every child, adolescent, and adult to have
at least a general notion of their technological surroundings at home and at
school, on the street, in the office and work place. To be sure, any new technology brings dangers and temptations. A recent example of such risks is encouraging a grasshopper mentality, as seen in much of the Internet surfing across content,
and the pollution of the Internet environment.
Now, what can we as educators do in carrying out our mission, and how can
ICT be used to enrich learning opportunities in our schools?
It is essential to develop a vision of the future. This is true, not only because
the world is becoming a knowledge society,
relying heavily on new knowledge, skills and
experiences, but also because we live in a technologically dominated socio-economic milieu
that is based on short-term consumer-driven
goals of production, and only secondarily on
holistic, long-term concern for sustainable
development. With our minds fixed narrowly
on the technology that supports a comfortable
life – even school life! – we may forget, or even
act in conflict with, humane and democratic
Radical changes needed in school
In the 21st century, the ever-increasing needs of individuals and society are
placing a heavy burden on established educational institutions. At the same
time, traditional structures and modes of teaching appear less and less
responsive to the challenges of our turbulent times. There is a clarion call for
innovation and transformation among educators everywhere, especially in the
elementary school, the most crucial stage in the development of a human
being. Furthermore, the internal problems of schooling are inseparable from
Society, Learning Imperatives, and ICT
external changes on a global scale, and must be seen in the context of contemporary world problems. These, in turn, will not be solved unless
approached and treated educationally, as well as economically, politically, and
Students who enter school are communicative, curious, creative, and capable of learning many things. They have proved this already by mastering a
mother tongue, physical motion, complicated games, and many other life skills.
However, we believe that the traditional school of the 20th century, which is still
very much with us, diminishes these abilities over the period of learning. We
need a new kind of school for the 21st century.
From a consideration of societal perspectives, we turn now to an examination of
educational trends over recent centuries.
Ancient legacy and modern trends
Trinity of education
There is a venerable tradition, extending at least from Jan Amos Comenius in the
17th century to Max Scheller in the 20th century of subdividing general education
into three domains (see Pick online; Scheler 1958)1. This approach stemmed
from the old tripartite notion of the human creature consisting of:
a body that needs food and shelter, physical comfort, and fleshly
pleasures, as well as other material goods and man-made things, available only in an artificial environment;
a soul, suffering from solitude and searching for another soul, longing
for sympathy and understanding, willing to give love and be loved in
joyful communion with the universe; and
a spirit, striving to orient itself towards the Initial Cause (Prime Mover,
Life Source, Perennial Wisdom, Ultimate Truth, and Final Goals) of
human existence, transcending all temporal and spatial boundaries.
The corresponding educational (i.e. cultural) domains have been designated by various words. In summarizing (very roughly) their essential meanings, we might call them:
For a fuller account, see Murphy (1995).
Labour-technological education, aimed at mastering arts and crafts,
logic and mathematics, engineering, natural, social and behavioural
sciences, and other activities enabling individuals to fulfill their needs and
desires by efficiently processing, governing, and controlling matter,
energy, and information in a world of objects and objective phenomena.
Communitive (interpersonal) education, aimed at learning the ways
and means of subjective-emotional relations and interactions between
human beings (and, to a degree, non-humans). This can be done
through ethical and aesthetic teaching, caring for those in need,
playing games, dancing, singing, and story-telling; ritual and myth,
folk-lore and philosophy, poetry and theatre, music and fine arts;
discussing and solving problems of civic life, thus actively participating
in public endeavours of social concern.
Transpersonal education, aimed at the catechization and initiations
of neophytes into the creed, mysteries, and sacraments of a particular
religious confession or ideology; helping individuals to pose a question
of their relations to the Absolute; or just endowing a person with a
sense of belonging to something infinitely greater and more potent.
Diversions and estrangement within the educational whole
The so much talked about education-and-culture crisis (often labeled as the
Conflict of Two Cultures, or the Snow-Leavis controversy – see Stange 1988 and
Bissett 2002) has resulted, to a large extent, from the historical schism between
the educational domains described in the preceding section. In the 17th century,
Western Europe hailed the advancement of scientific learning and technological
inventions, based on newly discovered mechanical laws of motion. Water-, and
later steam- and electric-driven machines, self-acting and labour-saving, relieved
man of gaining his daily bread by the sweat of his brow, and promised to turn his
life into an earthly paradise. Believers in science and engineering did not foresee
that the humanization of the machine would have the paradoxical effect of mechanizing humanity.
Rationalism backfired
Since the mid-19th century, we have witnessed the dominance of the rational and
technological aspects of culture over the spiritual and cultural. Ironically, the
rational domain has itself begun to suffer from the severing of its vital connections with the spiritual and cultural domains. The system of mass education –
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one of the really miraculous inventions of that era, along with medicine – itself
falls victim to the triumphant march of Reason.
Religion, philosophy and art, once so nourishing to humane values, have
been made arid and sterile, incapable of counterbalancing and complementing
rational and intellectual development. Meanwhile, the latter has encountered
increasingly loud callings to fight against the proliferation of advanced technologies and even to penalize efforts to make new ones. This kind of debate has
had led nowhere.
The 20th century witnessed, on the one hand, the highest degree of technoscientific refinement such as, for instance, magnetic resonance imaging, among
numerous examples. On the other hand, the 20th century also saw the creation of
the most sophisticated devices to exterminate millions of defenceless people by,
for instance, self-guided ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads. Examples here
are numerous as well. Rationality, devoid of humane values, runs the risk of
stagnating, or running wild, to our own destruction.
From schism to convergence
We need to envisage measures and take modest, practical steps toward restoring
a lost balance and creative interconnectedness, which might be achieved by
making each domain more perceptive and responsive to the true nature, needs,
and aspirations of each. Perhaps the best advocate of such a convergence in the
20th century was the Russian philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev. Here are a few key
points, extracted from his works, Spirit and Machine (1915) and Man and Cosmos.
Technics (1990):
The role of technology is two-fold. It has both positive and negative
Technicalization dehumanizes man’s life, while being in itself a product
of the human spirit. But the relationship between spirit and technics is
more complicated than it is usually thought of. Technology can be a
force capable not only to de-spiritualize, but spiritualize as well.
When obeying only the law of its own, technology would lead to the
technicalized world wars and to an exorbitant etatisme, the absolute
Supremacy of the State. The state gets omnipotent, even more totalitarian – and not under totalitarian political regimes only; it doesn’t
want to recognize any limits to its authority and does treat the man as
his own means and tool.
Berdyaev’s views suggest a healthy ground upon which educators of the
labour, communitive, and transpersonal domains might collaborate productively.
A hopeful future lies, not in the further adaptation of human personality to the
machine, but in the re-adaptation of the machine to the human personality for
truly noble, humane purposes.
Just as the autonomous nervous system liberates the mind for its higher
functions, so the new technology can bring about a similar release of creative
energy. To achieve this end, we must go beyond technicalities and tackle the
more profound issues of education.
Liberal and vocational education
A false dichotomy
The rift between academic schooling and master-apprenticeship training goes
back to the classical age of ancient Greece, when the liberal arts curriculum
was originally designed as vocational education for politics. The first goal of
such instruction was apprenticeship in the skills of rhetoric, in preparation for
a career in political argumentation. At that time, the ability to do or to make
something, and the ability to talk about doing or making it, were literally one
and the same thing.
However, with the vast expansion of academic institutions since the early
19th century, rhetoric came to be seen as a means, not an end of teaching. As a
result, rhetorical methods of academic vocationalism have been misapplied to a
range of non-political crafts and skills which, to be learned effectively, need
doing to be mastered.
We believe that rhetoric, as a fully-fledged ICT-supported subject matter,
could provide a collaborative community of practice built in the classroom.
There, students, through assisted participation in rhetorical activity, could
undertake what is now often called cognitive, or semiotic apprenticeship. That is,
they could individually reconstruct the resources of culture as tools for creative
and responsible social living in the classroom, the school, and the wider community.
A long time ago, distinguished voices were pointing towards this false
dichotomy of technical and liberal education. Alfred North Whitehead entitled
Society, Learning Imperatives, and ICT
his 1917 Presidential address to the Mathematical Association of England
Technical Education and Its Relation to Science and Literature. He wrote:
There can be no adequate technical education, which is not liberal, and
no liberal education, which is not technical: that is, no education which
does not impart both technique and intellectual vision. [...] Geometry
and mechanics, followed by workshop practice, gain that reality
without which mathematics is verbiage. (Whitehead 1963)
ICT demonstrate that technical-vocational and liberal education can be
taught together; they need not suffer from an impenetrable barrier between
them. In vocational-technical education, essential knowledge and skills are
transmitted, not by means of lecturing from a position of authority, but through
a working interaction between master and apprentices. For a long time,
vocational learning was looked upon as unquestionably inferior to academic
instruction. Today, however, educators are reconsidering vocational learning as a
useful basis for schooling.
Smarter people for smarter machines
We can sum up our argument so far by offering three
The post-industrial mindcraft economy
and global society depend on smart
machines AND a smart workforce, using
high-end technologies with even greater
Training and skill enhancement are part of
a lifelong learning process.
Adolescent schooling, techno-vocational
education, and actual work need to be
interrelated. These truths apply to technologically advanced societies and to
developing countries alike. Indeed, nations moving from ancient to
modern agrarian economies must be even more prepared for the
accelerating pace of change, because their youth will have even
more to learn and master over their working life span. Befriending
ICT in the initial stages of education will help young people come
to terms with what lies ahead.
The only true education
Our aims as educators must go beyond specialized training of craftsmen or
factory workers. The only true education is one where all arts, crafts, sciences,
and technologies are linked and facilitate mutual cognitive development,
productive creativity, and personal growth. The new literacy, a term used more
than a decade ago (Anderson 1993) to embrace the changed literacy demands
resulting from the new technologies in schools, and ICT offer educators,
perhaps for the first time, an opportunity to create such an ambitious scheme.
The question is how can we create both the educational framework and the
technologies to carry on a project of such proportions?
Continuous educational development
We need to build a continuing mechanism for the uninterrupted development of
new curricula and new modular courses in an increasing variety of different
learning environments. Furthermore, this needs to be extended from earliest
childhood education through to adult education. Deep questioning is taking
place regarding general schooling in our society:
What should a student be required to know and do to succeed in the
21st century?
What should a teacher be required to know and to do to help students
acquire the desired knowledge and abilities?
What role can ICT play in helping both teachers and students perform
these new tasks?
New activities to be learned and new learning activities
Memorizing is not enough. The old pedagogy was justly criticized for
presenting content in lecture format, as a series of abstract notions and formal
rule-following to be memorized and reproduced by a student orally or in
written or behavioural form. In many schools, little has changed. Much
teaching is still conducted on this basis, while insufficient attention is paid to
learning strategies (the tools and procedures a person uses to learn). A small
percentage of students (those usually called bright or gifted, who are capable
of building their own learning strategies) learn best under these conditions.
However, most young people — and we would add, adults, too – need
Society, Learning Imperatives, and ICT
concrete, visualized, experiential, self-initiated, hands-on, and real-world
learning opportunities. Yet many of these students are typically pushed aside
and labeled weak, poor or lagging behind.
There is a movement in many countries, and within different education
systems, to allow more variability and flexibility in the initiatives of individual
teachers and local educational communities.
Changes are needed in the status and functional role of teachers.
Contemporary teachers do not have to pretend that they know everything in
order to formulate problems and ways to solve them. At the same time,
teachers are taking on the increasingly important roles of advisor and
learning facilitator. The new focus is on the process of learning and providing
environments and tools that encourage everyone to become successful and
responsible learners.
Three Rs for the 21st century
The new kinds of activities to be learned and new learning activities lead
inevitably to a drastic revision of the idea of literacy, considered for many
centuries the main goal of primary education.
The traditional notion of literacy (including so-called numeracy) was based
on the Three Rs (Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic), together with accurate
handwriting (preferably calligraphic), and memorizing certain excerpts from
textbooks and classical poetry by heart.
Now, we see an urgent need for a new literacy that is ICT-based
and can be presented in three components corresponding to the traditional
Three Rs:
[Reading] – finding information by searching in written sources,
observing, collecting, and recording;
[Writing] – communicating in hypermedia involving all types of information and all media; and
[Arithmetic] – designing objects and actions.
To sum up, we must reshape drastically both educational content and learning procedures. The new literacy shuns memorization of facts and rules. It
stresses the ability to find facts and imagine unprecedented options. A capacity
to understand and invent rules, posing problems to oneself, planning and
designing one’s own activities, come to the forefront. The goal of this kind of
education is not a narrow technical fluency, but personal development alongside
the core competencies for high-level thinking and acting.
Calling for new dimensions of teaching
Modern society needs educated citizens who can make decisions and implement
them in a rapidly changing world. Individuals, organizational structures such as
corporations and governments, and educational institutions, should be prepared
for life-long learning. Information processing and communication are becoming
major activities in daily life, and effective citizens and leaders of the 21st century
will be required to understand and fluently use the latest sophisticated tools to
manage an enormous amount of data, information, and messages. Future shock
means there is an urgent necessity to solve unexpected or ill-defined problems.
Therefore, lifelong learning will be the normal state for a modern individual.
One of the major changes in education can be described as a general shift
from teaching to learning. This does not mean that the teacher is becoming any
less important. Rather, the teacher’s role is increasingly to assist students to
become good learners. At the same time, teachers must help create stronger
relationships between the subjects of study and concrete reality, putting them in
a more relevant context for students. In many cases, this implies an integration
of disciplines and cooperation among teachers of different subject areas.
Global awareness and cooperation
Educators all over the world have
been working for decades to reform
their local school systems according
to their specific conditions, aspirations, and traditions. These educators are becoming aware that their
local endeavours need the support of
the global educational community to
Global awareness is greatly
encouraged by the progress of mod-
Society, Learning Imperatives, and ICT
ern information and communication technologies. ICT offer a wide array of
materials for building new schooling systems that allow long-distance exchange
and interaction between geographically spread groups of teachers and their
students. These materials are flexible and responsive to the changing needs of
learners of all ages.
Meeting this challenge, in turn, requires collaboration across national,
cultural and institutional boundaries, and among individuals and groups who
have been isolated. Electronic mail, bulletin board systems, teleconferences, and
virtual communities on the World Wide Web (WWW) allow reciprocal
communication among individuals and groups with common interests.
Education researchers can team up with classroom practitioners to form research
collaborations. Working together, regardless of where they live, scientists,
teachers, and students are already finding once unimaginable freedom to investigate and understand powerful ideas that may have a global impact. A
UNESCO-IBE document puts it this way:
Current trends such as worldwide economy, the information technology
revolution, the crisis in traditional ideological paradigms, massive migration, the growing concern with global problems such as the environment,
drugs and AIDS, have modified not only traditional social relationships,
but also culture’s role in the development process. Two apparently
contradictory trends dominate modern society, or, more correctly, many
societies that are now in transit: standardization of cultural patterns and
the search for basic reference points for cultural identity. The tensions,
the imbalances and, in many cases, open conflicts have worsened to such
point that some analysts estimate that future conflicts will take on
cultural character…
Education, both formal and informal, is at the centre of this renewal of
methods for cultural dialogue. (UNESCO-IBE 1995, p. iii)
This chapter commences with a discussion of various societal perspectives – the
accelerating pace of global change, globalization and ICT, and so on – concluding that radical changes in schools are needed. Next, we touch on key educational trends and suggest that a new literacy is required for the 21st century,
calling for a different kind of teaching. The final section of this chapter argues
that ICT can meet many of the major challenges of society and ultimately
transform schools, as we currently know them.
Technologies and tools
As a wise man noted centuries ago, neither a bare hand nor an intellect alone can
get jobs done. We need tools. And ever since the dawn of human history, people
have been inventing and using tools – stone axes and hammers, potter’s wheels
and furnaces, levers, and pulleys – to process food and materials and to harness
the energy needed for their physical survival and well being.
Similarly, people have used tools for information processing and communication exchange. The invention of language made our far-off ancestors capable
of processing and controlling their own thoughts, feelings, and behaviour.
Words can be considered as the tools of our mental activities, and the first and
foremost of the latter is the activity of learning.
Until recent centuries, these activities have been manifested almost entirely
through the organic functions of our minds and body (i.e. speech), and slightly
supported externally by rather primitive tools and techniques (e.g. writing stylus
and pen, or abacus). Then the printing press appeared.
During the 19th and 20th centuries, new tools for storing and transmitting
information appeared. Today, computer-centred ICT are extending and amplifying our capacity for computational operations, logical reasoning, heuristic
search, and grasping of coherence and hidden interconnectedness in chaotic
signals and disparate data. That is, a computer is never autonomous but, rather,
connected to a growing number of electronic digital devices, aggregations and
networks for data and information acquisition, storage, processing, distribution and multimedia delivery. All these entities are subsumed under the
generic name of ICT.
Educational technology of mind
We turn now to the educational technology of the mind, or an analysis of what
is involved in learning. In most learning activities, the following phases can be
(a) Accepting and analyzing a problem.
(b) Making sure we have no ready-made solutions for it.
(c) Deciding to launch a project, setting the main goals and objectives,
weighing our mental and material resources.
Society, Learning Imperatives, and ICT
(d) Discovering that we are not equipped enough to cope with it successfully.
(e) Seeing what additional specific knowledge, skills, or experience we
must obtain to arrive at a solution.
Going through a corresponding process of research learning, training,
drill and practice.
(g) Designing a set of possible solutions (generating options, comparing
alternatives, evaluating), and then choosing the one that seems most
(h) Imagining what will happen if the chosen design is implemented. What
changes will it make to our immediate surroundings and broader
physical and socio-cultural environment? What consequences and side
effects might it cause? How could we prevent, avoid, or repair them?
Re-assessing the overall approach to tackling the problem.
Reflecting upon what we have done: repeating mentally the road taken
and actions made; describing the essentials; scheming about if, and how
we could use our newly acquired knowledge, skills, and experience to
address other problems in the future.
This pattern of learning activity phases, which we might call the basic educational technology of mind, can be developed and supported with various software,
hardware, and courseware technologies of computer simulation, email networks,
interactive multimedia, and other advanced uses of ICT.
Learning as information processing
Generally speaking, information is the content of all messages we receive from
other people and the world at large, as well as those we originate ourselves and
send back in exchange.
Information manifests itself wherever and whenever we find or create any
patterns. A pattern is such a distribution of events in a time or space continuum
that we can recognize and nominate, then compare to some other pattern and,
finally, discern the former from, or identify with the latter. One may draw a
parallel between the notion of pattern and the notions of order, organization,
and form, as opposed to anything disordered, chaotic and formless; in this
perspective, information can be understood literally as putting into form.
Human information processing – be it purely organic or instrumentally
supported and extended by the most sophisticated machines – encompasses
collecting, storing, retrieving, sorting out, assembling and disassembling,
re-working, and transmitting patterns used in thinking and communication, as well
as inventing, designing, constructing, and manufacturing any tangible object.
Any learning begins with seeking for, finding, and testing patterns – coherent clusters of information – favourable to our survival, comfort, and unfolding
of our hidden potential. Even infants strive to explore their immediate surroundings by trial and error; they imitate adults’ actions (e.g. smiling) and see
whether something is edible, pleasant, amicable, hostile, or good as a tool to
reach something desirable. The information gathered, interpreted, and
evaluated during such explorative and imitative-reconstructive behaviour
is stored in children’s memory as mental models for their future purposeful
actions, both physical and intellectual, including all kinds of consecutive
learning endeavours.
ICT make natural tools in education because of the simple and fundamental fact that learning is largely based on dealing with information. Listening,
talking, reading, writing, reassuring, evaluating, synthesizing and analyzing,
solving mathematical problems, and memorizing verses and state capitals, are all
examples of off-computer information processing. Even more importantly, ICT
can be used for other types of information processing, previously marginal in the
traditional school, but now becoming more and more essential, like project
planning, or the search for new information outside school textbooks, as well as
in the processes of so-called creative writing (drawing, constructing). In many
other school activities (such as sport, for example), different kinds of interaction
between students and teachers can gain from using ICT. The human dimensions
of ICT manifest themselves in providing powerful means to open dialogue,
fruitful interaction, and synergy between a teacher and a student or, rather,
between Master and Apprentice, as well as among apprentices themselves –
whether in close contact or by long-distance.
Historically, information processing and communication have been major
school activities. These occurred mainly between the teacher and student with
the very modest external support of pencil, paper, and chalkboard. Now, the
extensive use of computers, with versatile sensors, peripherals and extensions,
allow teachers a whole new degree of sophistication and flexibility.
A computer and its peripherals are often likened to an organism able to interact
purposefully with its surrounding realities, which are perceived and modified
through various receptors and effectors. This view helps to explain the principles
of industrial robots, guided missiles, and similar automata, but the metaphor
leaves out many other important applications of ICT.
One could also describe these complex hardware and software systems
as sets of smart tools or, rather, as teams of highly disciplined, indefatigable,
semi-self-governing artificial agents ready to execute strictly defined tasks.
By wisely commanding, controlling, and managing the work of those tools
or agents, we can increase:
the sensitivity of our senses, which enable us to perceive events and
communicate with other humans and machines over long distances;
the amount of data, information, and symbolic expressions that can be
processed and logically analyzed in a split second;
the efficiency, accuracy and precision of our manipulations of both
symbolic and material objects of the most diverse kind; and
our capacity to make sound decisions based upon intuitive judgments
and tacit knowledge.
Still another way to understand ICT is to imagine them as extensions of
human organs and systems, including perceptive, reacting, thinking ones. These
extensions operate mostly in the created (artificial or virtual) reality,, presented
mostly by visual images. So we can use digital tools to clarify our inner picture
of the outside world, as well as to enhance our ability to manage space and time
while operating personal computer – a machine that works in permanent contact
with a human. Co-ordination between the human body, our senses, and the
ICT: New Tools for Education
personal computer is a critical issue in the effectiveness of using ICT. This
coordination is similar to that required by other artifacts designed and targeted
to human needs: tools for handicraft, furniture, eyeglasses, and many other
material objects.
In this chapter, we start with an approximate explanation of what an information
object is and explain some basic facts about storing, transmitting, and processing
information. After a discussion of the different types of information processing
devices, we return to information objects and related learning and teaching
activities in Chapter 4 and following chapters.
Information objects
Technology can provide our eyes with a static image (or picture) or a dynamic
(changing) video image. It can also present us with an audio (always dynamic)
sound. And both can be combined in video recording and playback. These are
the basic types of information objects.
Humans can also structure information objects. For example, we invented
languages and characters for their communication. Texts (sequences of characters) are formed information objects. There is also the possibility of making
complex objects from simpler ones by means of links. A link is an imaginary
connection, association, or arrow going from an element of one object (for
example, a word, or a piece of an image) to another. The complex object constituted by such linked objects is called a hyper-object. ICT provide us with tools
to transfer immediately from one object to another, or between hyper-objects.
Information space
As humans, we store a huge amount of collected information outside the human
brain, in libraries and archives, and in other types of storage, and increasingly in
ICT digital devices. These might include an individual, personal information
space (like a personal library). Similarly, groups and organizations build their
own information spaces. Thanks to the Internet, most of these information
spaces are now parts of single global information space, in theory accessible to
Digital transformation
Signals and images in the physical world are either continuous
or analogue. To be stored, transmitted, and processed by modern
ICT, they must be transformed
into digital, or discrete, signals.
The simplest example of discretization is measurement.
When you measure length,
weight, or time, you transform
an analogue value into a digital
one: the result is a finite
sequence of digits. In the following graphs, temperature is presented as a continuous curve. It is
approximated by measurements
in fixed moments, one an hour
with an accuracy of one degree.
Words for big numbers
In the world of ICT, some very big numbers appear in measuring amounts of
information, speed of transmission, and processing of information. To name
these numbers in a human language, we need further words, and for this special
Greek prefixes have been adopted:
K = Kilo = 103
T = Tera = 1012
M = Mega = 106
P = Peta = 1015
G = Giga = 109
E = Exa = 1018
The same words are also used for powers of 2, exploiting the approximation
10 ≈ 210.
ICT: New Tools for Education
Storing information, memory and compression
When we store information (in a computer memory or in another way), we measure the needed memory size using specific units. To store the simplest piece of
information, a ‘0’ or ‘1’, we need 1 bit. One byte equals 8 bits, and can store up
to 256 different symbols – for example, the English alphabet (in upper and lower
case), plus digits, and punctuation marks. Therefore, when we say that the memory size of a computer is 6 gigabyte, this means that the memory can store
approximately 6,000,000,000 symbols. Bits are abbreviated as b, bytes as B.
In some cases, information can be compressed to occupy less space, and
then de-compressed (decoded) to restore it close to, or often identical to,
the original. Compression requires less memory volume for storage, and
allows quicker transmission time. A popular format today for compressing
video and sound is MPEG (in different versions: MPEG-1, MPEG-2,
MPEG-4, and so on).
Here are some figures on the size of information objects given in orders of
1 page of text occupies 1-10KB
1 picture of the screen of a modern computer of a good quality
occupies about 1-10MB
1 minute of digitized sound of good quality occupies approximately
10MB (or, if compressed, with a minor loss of quality, it takes about
1 minute of digitized video of good quality occupies approximately
100MB (or, if compressed, with a minor loss of quality, it takes about
Transmitting information
Information is transmitted between people in different continents or inside the
human brain in the form of signals. The signals are dynamic changes, or waves.
Two major types of waves around us are: sound waves in solid, liquid or gaseous
media; and electromagnetic waves transmitted in a vacuum (in any mediuma
transparent for them), or channelled in a wire or optical fibre. The most important kind of waves is constituted by periodic changes (oscillations) in a medium.
These periodic changes are transformed, distorted, reshaped or modulated, to
transmit a signal. The frequency of the changes is measured in Hertz (abbreviated as Hz). One change per second is 1 Hz. In the case of sound, the frequencies
that can be perceived by humans are in the range of 20 Hz to 20 KHz. In the case
of electromagnetic waves, the frequencies used to transmit information are:
Visible light between 430THz (Red) and 750 THz (Violet)
Radio (RF) in the range 100 KHz to 10 GHz (including frequencies for
AM, FM, TV, cellular, and satellite transmission)
Microwave between 10 GHz and 1 THz
Infrared (IR) about 10 THz – visible light (Red)
Ultraviolet is visible light (Violet) – 100 THz
X-Ray is 100 THz
Visible light is limited by the physiology of the human eye. The limits
indicated for visible light are not conventional but natural – starting with red and
going to violet. Other borders are more a question of terminology.
In the process of information transmission, when modulating a wave of a
given frequency, we actually occupy, not a single frequency for transmission, but
a band of frequencies. With a wider band, we can transmit more information. In
simple cases of wireless transmission, we cannot use the same band in the same
geographic area for two simultaneously transmitted signals. Instead, we use
higher and higher frequencies for transmission. For wired transmission signals in
the RF range, we use in metal (copper) wires, while for visible light we use
special plastic optical fibres.
ICT: New Tools for Education
In this section, the focus is on what is termed hardware – the components of ICT
like the computer itself, storage media, and input and output devices.
The computer is a universal information processor. In theory, any kind of
information processing can be done on any computer but, in reality, this is not
true. A specific task for a specific computer may require too much time, or the
computer’s memory may be too small. Computers process information in the
form of electric signals. In other existing technologies, simple information
processing can be done also in the form of air or liquid streams. There are attempts
to produce computers that use light processing, or biochemical mechanisms similar to that of living organisms, but these approaches are at a premature stage.
Information processing is done by computer hardware. The most important
components of computers are (electronic) semiconductors, similar to the components of radio or TV, but much more sophisticated. The number of electronic elements inside these components can be counted in millions. These elements
are joined together to form integrated circuits (IC), commonly referred to as
microchips, or simply chips. The core device in any computer, called the central processing unit or CPU, does all information processing. Today the CPU occupies a metal box in
which you can see dozens of integrated circuits, wires, and
cables connecting them. (Yesterday’s computers were much
bigger and occupied a full room, or even a whole building.)
The main IC in the CPU is the processor itself, which does
most of the active task of processing, including adding
numbers, comparing strings of symbols, sending information to memory (see below), retrieving it from memory
and, very importantly, reacting to signals from the outside.
The work a computer depends not only on its constitution as an electronic device, but also on the information
stored in it or that it receives while in operation. This information can be considered as instructions that tell the computer what to do, and is called software.
Information is stored, transmitted, and processed in the form of strings of
zeros and ones. The input of information into a computer usually involves the
transformation of images or sounds into digital and discrete strings. The output
involves the reverse transformation. These components of hardware and software responsible for these transformations and making them perceptible to the
ICT: New Tools for Education
human senses, are called interfaces. Computer information is stored in special
types of IC, called storage or memory chips. A computer’s speed is an important
factor in its performance. It is measured in MHz, which refers to the number of
changes inside a computer that can take place in one second.
An important component of any modern
computer used by a human being (and for
this reason called a personal computer), is
the screen or monitor. Monitors not only
display information but can also support
direct interaction. For example, if you
need to make a technical drawing of a
particular detail with a computer, you
move your hand equipped with one of
many input devices (see Peripherals
below), to create a line or activate a detail
on the screen. The whole system of using
physical movements to manipulate information and present this manipulation in
intuitive screen images is called graphical user interface or GUI.
The CPU is connected with other ICT devices via communication channels.
The most common communication channel is a cable plugged into a computer
at one end, and to another device at the other end. The cables and sockets can
cause problems, including incompatibility of sockets in the case of connecting
your computer to a local telephone line abroad. A popular alternative to cables
is wireless (radio-frequency or infra-red) connection. To simplify the graphic
presentations, we do not include cables in the pictures, and say more about these
connectors in the sections that follow.
Computer sizes
Computers that are placed on the desk of a clerk, student, or teacher are called
desktop computers. Sometimes, however, the computer itself is placed under the
desk with the monitor and keyboard on top. These computers usually weigh
several kilograms, with the monitor usually being the much heavier component. Other computers are portable or mobile. Their weight and size permit
them to be carried comfortably. Computers of a size and weight of a large
notebook, which is easy to carry, are called notebooks (formerly, laptops).
Today’s notebooks weigh as little as 1–4 kg. Computers the size of one’s palm,
and weighing less than 1 kg, are called palm computers, handhelds, or palms. All
such computers are called personal computers, or PCs, because they are intended for individual usage.
CPUs today are very small. We can say that for most school applications the
size of a typical CPU is not a limitation. On the other hand, in some classroom
situations, the size of the whole computer matters. If we place a monitor on a
student’s desk, it must be large enough to be comfortably visible, yet small
enough to leave space for student work.
Energy for computers
Electricity is needed to run a computer and its related devices. The power consumption for a desktop computer is typically 100–500 watts. In many countries,
this resource is widely available, but in others it is still a problem. For them,
alternative power sources such as solar batteries, wind generators, and accumulators (rechargeable batteries), as well as UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply),
ICT: New Tools for Education
should be considered in the planning of ICT implementation. Solar batteries, for
example, cost a few dollars and can supply a palm computer with energy, provided they are exposed to sunlight a couple of hours a day.
Portable computers can use the same power line as desktop computers.
However, it is much more convenient to have a portable computer that can function, for a while at least, with rechargeable batteries. These can support the computer for a few hours, and then need to be recharged from a power source. In the
best cases, recharging takes much less time than the computer needed to use up
its power, and recharging can occur while the computer is in use. A bad aspect
about accumulators, apart from their weight and considerable cost, is that, if used
intensively, they last only a few months. Even in the best cases, a rechargeable
batteries’ life is much shorter than the life of the computer itself.
In many cases, the modern processors that have appeared over the last
few years require more energy to run than the older ones. Roughly speaking,
every action of the CPU needs a minimal amount of energy to be used. If the
processor works faster, the same amount of energy is used in a shorter time.
As the computer runs, this energy dissipates in the outside environment in the
form of heat, and so computers come equipped with special cooling mechanisms like fans.
For the best utilization of ICT in education, a teacher needs a wide range of
devices connectable to a computer, and these are referred to as peripherals. The
major categories of peripherals are devices for:
Input: alphanumeric keyboard, musical keyboard, microphone, taperecorder, tablet and stylus, scanner, digital photo camera, video camera,
sensors, and probes.
Output: monitor, printer, projector, headphones, speakers.
Control: motors, lights for robotics construction kit, and sensors.
Communication: modems, communication lines, satellite and local
network equipment, and wireless networks.
Having a wide range of peripherals for educational and general use is more
important in a school than the number of computers. We consider these categories of peripherals in a little more detail in the sections that follow.
Different components of a computer as well as peripheral devices need to
be connected via channels for information flow. In most computers today,
cables do this, but wireless connection is increasingly possible as well, which
then requires, of course, that the device has its own source of energy (usually,
power line or batteries).
Information is stored in integrated memory circuits or memory chips in the computer’s CPU. However, there are other ways to store information. These other
means differ in capacity (the amount of information they can store) and access
speed (how fast the information can be retrieved). Stored information can be
retrieved and, in some cases, changed. Read-only memory (ROM) means that
the user cannot change any retrieved information. In the opposite case, we talk
about rewritable memory, stored on a computer’s hard drive or on portable discs.
The cost of storing information is constantly and rapidly decreasing.
The key storage devices currently are flash cards, magnetic tapes and discs,
and optical discs.
Flash cards
Additional memory chips – so-called flash cards – can be
easily inserted into and removed from the body of current computers. They do not require batteries to keep
information stored. The capacity of one card today is in
the range of 10MB to 1GB and access is fast enough for
most applications. Flash cards are widely used in digital
cameras (see Cameras below in this chapter) and other
applications. They are rapidly replacing discs (see
below). Some versions of ROM cards are used in game
consoles (where they are also called cartridges).
Magnetic tapes
Magnetic tapes, similar to those used in tape-recorders, can be used for storing
digital information as well. To read or write information on a tape, a special
device similar to a tape-recorder is used, called a tape drive. The drive can be
external to a computer or placed inside the CPU box. The capacity of a tape can
ICT: New Tools for Education
be up to 10 GB and even more. Access speed, however, is slow, which can be critical for certain applications, though this is less important for most school uses.
Magnetic tapes are rewritable.
Magnetic discs
The idea of disc storage can be traced
back to gramophone recordings at the
beginning of the 20th century.
Information on those discs was permanently stored in the form of small
mechanical (geometrical) changes in the
surface of the disc. Some of today’s versions of disc storage use a magnetic principle similar to tapes, and these discs are
rewritable. Discs with the capacity of
about 1MB are also called diskettes; you can insert them into a drive (disk-drive),
or remove them. It may take up to a minute for a computer to read from or write
to a diskette. Newer discs have a capacity of up to 1GB. The competition from
flash cards (see above) is strong. Discs with even greater capacity are mounted on
their own drive, and these are usually called hard discs. Their capacity is in the
order of 10GB to 1000GB. The access
time for hard discs is fast enough for
most applications.
Optical discs
Information can also be stored on a disc
as an optical trace. This principle is
exploited in compact discs (CD), widely
used now for storing music. The capacity of a CD-ROM is approximately 1GB.
Access speed may not be fast enough for
some applications involving sound or
moving pictures. To address this problem, observe the different speeds marked
on CD-drives: 2x, 6x,... 48x... A newer
form of CD-ROM is called digital versatile disc or DVD, which looks similar to a
CD but can store 10GB or more information. Rewritable CDs and rewritable
DVDs have appeared in recent years.
Human movement as input
The most common way to input information into computers is by human hand
through a variety of devices: keyboards,
the mouse, graphical tablets, and touch
The most important input device for computers currently is the keyboard, which
serves mostly for text input, and, to a large extent, imitates the keyboards of typewriters. The computer has many advantages over a typewriter, even apart from
its more sophisticated software and other applications. The first of these is how
easy it makes it to change, delete or insert any word or phrase. The next is the
ability to copy any text fragment and to move it as a solid object anywhere within a text, or to another text, usually referred to as cut-and-paste. Touch-typing
(not looking to the keyboard and using 10 fingers) is a useful skill in the educational context today. Students can learn touch-typing faster than handwriting;
they can type faster than they can write; and the results are more attractive and
much easier to edit and revise.
Extensive work with the keyboard, however, sometimes causes muscular
tension and requires special precautions, which students and teachers rarely take
(see the section below on Health problems associated with computers). Newer
ergonomic keyboards are becoming more prevalent, as is the use of alternative
methods of writing such as script and
speech recognition. Different arrangements of characters on the keyboard
could make typing more effective. A
radically new tool, called the Twiddler, is
an ergonomic handheld, touch-type
keypad designed for chord keying,
which means that like a piano you press
one or more keys at a time. Each key
combination generates a unique character or command. Because of resistance
to change, widespread adoption of these
tools does not look probable.
ICT: New Tools for Education
Keyboards of notebooks are usually built into the book. Keyboards are not
usually built into palm computers. Sometimes a keyboard is represented by a
screen image on which you type by touching keys with the tip of a special pen.
Sometimes, lightweight unfolding keyboards are used for palm text input.
Musical keyboards
Musical keyboards look like a traditional piano or modern rock-group synthesizer keyboard, only smaller. Attached to a computer, this peripheral can be used
far beyond the imitation of a piano. The standardization of digitized sounds of most instruments in
MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface)
allows students to play and even to compose musical pieces performed by different instruments or an
orchestra, and immediately hear a performance of
the piece by those same instruments. Notes input
with a musical keyboard can then be edited with a
mouse. The avenues for students’ musical selfexpression are in this way dramatically enlarged.
Mouse and its alternatives
To manipulate screen objects, you need to point,
choose, grab, and open them. In today’s computers, these operations are usually
done with a special instrument, which indicates an object on the screen and
moves it as a solid body. This instrument is called a mouse, a handheld, traditionally grey, plastic body that you move on the table-top, which is usually covered by a small mat called a mousepad, designed to improve the movement of the
mouse. As you move the mouse, a small object (an arrow, for example), called a
cursor, moves on the screen, mimicking the mouse’s movements on the table. The
mouse has buttons that help you to extract, pick up, and manipulate objects. You
move the cursor to an object and click a button; the object now is attached to the
cursor and can be moved. If you click another button, the object opens up. These
actions are part of GUI or the graphical user interface.
There are other devices to transform movements on screen into information manipulation inside the computer similar to the mouse. They all act similarly, but the physical movements of a human hand working with them can be
quite different:
A handheld mouse, not lying on the
table, can have a small gyroscope inside,
and is useful when you show something to
others on a big screen.
A trackpad is a small panel (about 3 by
4 cm) over which you move your index
finger to control the cursor.
A trackball is a ball about the size of
an egg embedded into a panel, which you
can rotate.
A joystick is a small lever (as in a car transmission gearshift) used mostly in
computer games.
There are also very small joysticks inside some keyboards called trackpoints,
which you can push and deflect with your finger. These are also used as the
mouse part of the Twiddler mentioned above, where the trackpoint is controlled
with the thumb.
Wireless mice that have no moving parts are more reliable and have become
more popular. Among them there are handheld mice that you do not place on a
table but move in 3D space.
Graphical tablets
Another type of input is to draw or write with a pen. The difference between a
computer pen or stylus and an ordinary one is that the computer pen moves over
a special surface called a graphical tablet, and the trace of the move can be represented on screen. The computer can also measure levels of pressure. With
appropriate software, a computer can imitate almost all existing drawing techniques and create some exciting new ones. The computer is very useful for technical drawing – now, mostly part of computer-aided design or CAD.
The most effective way to start written communication for children (and adults)
is to have them type on a computer. But handwriting is still a popular and useful
ICT: New Tools for Education
skill. Consequently, handwriting recognition, which immediately transfers handwriting into block letters on the screen (and text in computer memory), is a valuable supplement to keyboarding, and sometimes a major input technique (for
example, in certain kinds of environmental observations). With palm computers,
you can write text that can be recognized by the computer using a special stylus.
Handwriting and drawing by hand on a large whiteboard can be done with a
computer also. In this case, you write or draw on the board with a special marker that is traced by an infrared or ultrasonic detector.
Touch screens
The devices discussed above
are intuitive enough but nevertheless separated from the
objects on a computer screen.
Another promising type of
device combines seeing with
touching, allowing you, for
example, to outline an object
on the screen with your finger
and then move it to a different
position with the same finger.
This is already achieved with
touch screens. A finger cannot indicate a very small object on a screen. However,
this limitation can be relaxed by using a stylus on the screen (a kind of pen or pencil designed for this kind of interaction). Touch screens can work well and are
more intuitive for small children, but are not widely used. One reason for this is
their cost, which is higher than an ordinary screen and mouse. Nevertheless,
they are the most popular devices in most information kiosks and in palm computers.
Further options for human movement input are discussed below under the
sub-section on major trends in ICT.
Visual input
In the mid 19th century, photography was invented as a means of fixing and
storing visual information in an external medium using a chemical process.
In the 1930s, devices were introduced that transform visual information into
electronic form for immediate transmission
via electromagnetic waves: TV technology. In
the 1950s, simultaneously with computer
technology, methods to record and play back
analogue TV and still images appeared: the
videotape. At the end of the 20th century,
digital photography and digital TV became an
integral part of computer-based ICT.
Cameras store or transmit visual images. The photographic camera stores a still image on photographic film for further chemical development.
Instead of putting an image onto a film, a digital camera places it in the computer’s
memory, or in the memory of the camera for transmission to a computer for storage or direct printing afterwards. An interesting application of digital cameras is the
projection of a small image (such as a bug, for instance) onto a large screen.
Nowadays, digital cameras can store video images also.
Scanners look very like copying machines, but are smaller and usually work more
slowly. Instead of producing a paper copy of an image, a scanner transmits an
image in digital form to a connected computer. Scanners can be used to transform
information from a paper
source – a text, an image from a
book, a drawing, or a photograph – into a digital image.
Additional devices can be used
for scanning 35mm slides.
There are also handheld pensize scanners that you can move
over a line of text or a bar code
for input or storage inside the
scanner. Special 3D (three
dimensional) scanners can produce scanned images viewable
from different angles.
ICT: New Tools for Education
Optical character recognition
A special situation
occurs when an
image is a text (or
with graphics) in
printed or handwritten form. In
this case, the
image of the text
can be transformed (converted) into a computer text file that can be processed as one does
other texts in the computer (e.g. insert a phrase; change a shorter name to a
longer one, and so on). This process of transformation from picture to text uses
sophisticated software called Optical Character Recognition (OCR).
Aural input
As with visual information, non-electronic, that is mechanical technologies, were
developed first to store sounds. Then, electronic technologies were developed to
transmit sounds (telephone, radio), followed by electronic media and tools to
store sounds (tape-recorders).
Microphones transform sounds into electric signals for storage or transmission.
There are different types of microphones and different ways to work with them:
A microphone can be fixed in a stand in front of a speaker who is
standing or sitting.
Speakers can hold a microphone in their hand.
A lightweight microphone can be attached to a speaker’s clothes.
Information converted by a microphone into electrical signals can be transmitted via a wired or wireless channel to other devices.
Sound recording
Sound can be recorded with a usual
tape-recorder. To process sounds
with a computer, you need to convert them into digital form. A
microphone can also be plugged
into a computer directly. In this
case, the computer serves as a
recorder. Digital recorders to store
sound in digital form using flash
cards are becoming increasingly
popular. Modern computers can
easily store hours of speech. Music
recordings, processed and compressed by computer (in MP3 format, for example), occupy very little memory.
The spread of this process, on CDs and through the Internet, is changing the
recording industry and affecting mass culture.
Speech recognition
During the last few years, software has been developed that allows a computer to
transform human speech into a text file similar to the conversion of handwriting
as discussed above. This transformation can be done with a level of quality that
makes it adequate for educational applications, and is useful, for instance, in
learning English.
Sensors for input
Measurements of the environment like temperature, humidity, acceleration, or
magnetic field, can be input to a computer-linked device called a sensor. A sensor
generates an electrical signal that is then usually transmitted to a computer via
an interface.
More sophisticated sensors can measure such parameters, store, and display
them, even if a sensor is not connected to a computer. This can be done by individual sensors or by what is called a data logger, a special device or small box to
collect and store data. The content of measurements can then be transferred to
a computer. Very promising in school education is the growing number of sen-
ICT: New Tools for Education
sors – from those that measure acid rain and heavy metal oxides ratio in potable
water to the Global Positioning System (GPS), which allows anyone to find geographic coordinates and related information on the earth’s surface.
Output refers to information that a computer sends to a human user, or, sometimes, to other technical devices.
Visual output
The most immediate computer output is a visual image on the monitor screen.
In most computer applications, the image on the screen is discrete, and consists of millions of picture elements called pixels. The colour and brightness of
each element appears as a combination of three colours called RGB for red (R),
green (G), and blue (B), with varying brightness for each colour. In reality, for
every particular screen, each of these three basic colours consists of the entire
spectrum of light waves. The brightness (intensity) of the three basic colours is
coded by a symbol from a finite range. The symbol and the range of old computers were just one byte (8 bits). Today, colours are usually presented by 3-byte
coding (24-bits) representing millions of colours) or 4-byte coding (32-bits) rep-
resenting billions of colours. The latest technology appears to be able to capture
all possible variations in colour. In normal light conditions, the human eye can
recognize differences in brightness (contrast) in the range of 1:10,000 or even
more. Existing output screens can provide differences in brightness up to
1:1,000. In many cases – in most school conditions, for example – ambient light
reduces the contrast radically, and so teachers need to adjust conditions of vision
and the absolute brightness of screens. The optimal brightness of screens lies in
the range of 50–400 Lux.
Resolution (the number of pixels in rows and columns) is usually named by
acronyms such as SVGA (800x600) and XGA (1024x768). The ratio of the two
factors is 4:3. The resolution is limited by characteristics of the screen, but mainly by a computer’s power to refresh images quickly, which is needed to make visualization of the processes adequate and the computer-human interface smooth.
XGA is the most widespread resolution in use today but higher resolutions called
SXGA and UXGA are coming.
TV screens similar to, or the same as, computer screens used today, offer a
slightly different way of presenting information – partly digital, partly analogue.
Generally, today’s TVs produce less detailed images than good computers,
though the newest TV standards have images of the same quality as good computer images. This improved definition is called HDTV (high definition TV). The
move to HDTV is accompanied by a trend to change the aspect ratio (the fraction of screen width to its height) from 3:4 to 9:16, which is the ratio usually seen
on cinema screens.
Theoretically, the limits of a visual image are the limits of human perception, which means that the screen can provide all the colour and brightness variations in the smallest details in the visible field (and even pay attention to twoeye stereoscopic vision). In reality, existing screen images are somewhat more
limited: they have less detail than the human eye can grasp. The human retina
has about 300 million cells whereas the best screens today have about 10 million
pixels. Eventually, there is a natural limit to the improvement in quality that the
human eye can perceive, which will occur when the computer screen is large
enough to cover the prime area of clear vision and, at the same time, the smaller pixel-like details are no longer seen separately.
Of course, further improvement can help in some applications. For example, a graphic designer can look at a large screen containing a larger image, and
then move in closer to look at a detail. That kind of situation can be covered by
the standard zoom options of software systems.
ICT: New Tools for Education
In some countries and regions, there has been concern over monitor safety.
This problem has two aspects. The first is image quality. Older monitors (especially, bad quality TV sets that are sometimes used as monitors) have a blinking,
non-stable image, and can cause considerable eye tension. The second issue is
the radiation (mainly, radio frequency) that the monitor emits. National and de
facto international safety standards have been established. Presently, monitors are
as safe as possible, especially in combination with other proper conditions such
as attention to ambient light. One of the key parameters of image quality is
refreshment rate, which by most standards, should not be less than 85 Hz. In
many newer computer models, it is about 100 Hz.
The classical display technology is the cathode ray tube (CRT), used in most
TVs as well as in most monitors. This device is limited by its large depth-dimension and weight. A safer and more comfortable alternative is the LCD (liquid crystal display) monitor, which takes up much less space on a desk, and is important for
many classroom applications. They are more expensive than CRT monitors today,
but the prices for a whole computer system are not dramatically different.
Computer images can be projected onto a screen. The beginning of projection
traces back to the centuries-old Laterna Magica and Shadow Theatre. Projection
flourished in the cinema era. Pre-electronic projectors used transparent film
with an image to be projected. The 35mm film can be used in a roll as in diaprojectors (almost non-existent today), or cut into slides for use in slide projectors. Today, all slides (or screens – information objects to be projected) can be
made on computer or be input to a computer and presented on computer screen.
Special software used for projection of screen images, constructing, and organizing them is called presentation software. One of the popular software products
here is Microsoft’s PowerPoint.
Electronic technology has made it possible to project computer-generated
images as well as images from a camera and from a VCR (video cassette recorder).
The projected images, different from a computer monitor or TV screen, can be of
any size. The only limitation here is that the brightness of the image is reduced proportionally to the area (or squared linear size) of the image. If the ambient light in a
room is stronger than the projector’s light, differences in colour and brightness of
different parts of the image on the screen are not seen clearly enough or, in some
cases, at all. The projection device is usually called a multimedia projector or LCD-projector (indicating, not in all cases correctly, the technology used), or beamer.
Projector technology has developed affordable solutions that are available
now in many schools. A computer presentation or video image can be brought
to any classroom using a portable screen (weighing less than 2 kg), a portable
projector (less than 2 kg), and a computer (less than 2 kg). In fact, each of the
items can weigh less than a kilogram.
One of the important trends for monitors and projectors is standardization
of the digital interface between computer and the device. The DVI (Digital
Video Interface) standard describes the digital interaction between monitor and
The ability to see with two eyes is important for human perception in some cases.
For example, stereovision is useful to estimate distance along with other instruments like accommodation, head movements, and relative size of objects.
Accordingly, it is possible to improve perception on a computer by creating a
stereoscopic output. This can be done with
separate screens for each eye, or by showing on the screen alternating pictures for
each of the eyes. Closing screens for eyes
alternately can solve the problem of showing to each eye what is needed. The
closing can be implemented, for example, by glasses in which the lenses are made
out of liquid crystal and become transparent and opaque alternately.
Printers and plotters
A printer transforms screen images into images on paper, so-called hard copy. A
natural consequence of this is a need for paper and ink. The problem of cost here
can be serious for schools in particular, because it is so easy to generate printouts
in large quantities.
Laser printers produce black and white images and text of good quality for
all school applications at an affordable price. In fact, laser printers changed the
appearance of the world of written text. Once, the quality of print correlated
ICT: New Tools for Education
with the respectability of the author but this is no longer so since, at first glance,
all printed papers look the same. Alternatives to laser printing are LED (lightemitting diodes) and ink-jet printing. These printers are used in schools as well, but
do not provide any considerable advantage. The generation of printers before
laser printers were so-called dot-matrix printers, which used principles similar in
some respects to old typewriters with printer ribbon and mechanical impact.
Dot-matrix printers are useful if a school has poor quality paper or if you need
to use wider paper or long rolls of paper (for banners, for instance).
It is desirable also to have colour printers in schools. A little while ago, the
price of colour printers and supplies was too high for most schools but, in recent
times, the situation has changed and colour printing has become much more
A recent invention in printers
is so-called Random Movement
Printers using this technology can
be the size of a computer mouse
and used in the same way: randomly moving it over a sheet of paper of
any size leaves text printed on it.
A device similar to a printer in
its functionality, but based on a different technology, is a plotter in
which an image on paper appears,
not as a combination of dots, but as a continuous line of ink.
Audio output
The audio channel is under-exploited in modern ICT in comparison with the
visual channel. An important aspect of aural perception is locating the sound
source using bi-aural (stereo-phonic) mechanisms. Two loudspeakers of
mediocre quality are the most widespread audio output for consumer computers.
Headphones can be used for stereo output as well. Some are better than others
in quality of sound and the level of blocking of outside noise. Headphones can
provide better quality than loudspeakers of the same price. In general, headphones are more useful for schools than speakers. Headphones can be coupled
with a microphone.
Control applications were among the most important applications of ICT before
the advent of personal computers. Among specific cases are control of industrial
machinery, power plants, and missiles. By contrast, personal computers mostly
control output devices like printers. However, even this situation is changing,
since a personal computer can, for example, be the control centre of an intelligent
house, where the owner instructs the computer to operate all home appliances.
The real power of computers comes with linking them
together, and in this section
some of the key ways of
doing this are described.
Communication channels
As noted above, computers
are connected to other ICT devices by communication channels that can be
wired or wireless.
In general, wired (cable) connection remains the more common type of connection. A cable connecting a computer to a peripheral can be used for three
to transfer energy (electrical current) to a peripheral;
to transfer control signals to and from a peripheral (for example, a printer can receive a command “start printing”, and send a feedback “notready”, or “start sending the image to print”, or “out of paper”); and
to transfer input or output information (text to be printed to a printer,
or sound to be digitized from a microphone).
It is common to transfer different electrical signals through one cable in several separate wires. (Actually, the same wire can be used for many signals simultaneously as well.) For different channels of communication, different cables are
used. When we connect a cable to a computer or peripheral, we use sockets, sometimes called ports or plugs in the computer’s box.
ICT: New Tools for Education
A crucial issue in the use of cables is standardization. Travellers, for
instance, know well that about a dozen power plug standards exist internationally and perhaps a hundred telephone plug standards. Fortunately, standardization
in the computer world is becoming more prevalent. At the same time, manufacturers are producing more and more new sockets. Consequently, when connecting a computer to external (peripheral) devices, one must be aware of such labels
as PCMCIA, USB, IEEE 1394, and DVI.
An important characteristic of a channel is the speed of transmission it
allows. For some applications, including school ones, it is also important to plug
in or unplug a peripheral device while the computer is working. Old interfaces
often required the computer to be turned off while you plugged in or unplugged
a device. The newer USB interface does not require turning off the computer
while connecting a new device.
After decades of experimenting, wireless connections have become more
and more reliable and popular. Using these channels can be critically important for schools, because they provide much needed flexibility. A channel
allows computers to be moved between classrooms while keeping the network
still operating. In the classroom, it allows children to sit where they are most
comfortable without having to struggle with cables. Wireless connections can
still be used between keyboard and computer. Brand names like Bluetooth,
Airport, as well as standards of Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity), or IEEE 802.11, are
used to describe common wireless interfaces. Wireless communication, however, has its limitations since, for example, infrared connection works well in a
direct-sight situation only.
Computers linked to communicate and exchange information constitute a
network. The most common standard of communication via wired local area
network (LAN) is IEEE 802.3 (Ethernet is another name). It can be wired or
Sometimes a single computer called a server is dedicated to information
storage and exchange for a network. Other computers are clients. Often, computational and storage power are concentrated in the server, and client computers
are made as simple as possible. Such clients are called thin clients. These computers have few precise mechanical works (spinning discs) and a small and cheap
display that is hard to break and easy to replace.
In the school context, relatively primitive computers can be useful when all
that is needed is basic text processing. It may then be sufficient to have just a keyboard with simple electronics, small memory, 4 or 8 lines of LCD and interfaces.
The thin computer, also called a thick keyboard or smart keyboard, consists of a keyboard extended by a minimal display device to see what you are typing, and has
a limited memory, an interface to transfer your text to a server or a printer, a
processor to manage all of these, and a power supply (usually an inexpensive
accumulator battery).
The next natural step is to link or network separate computers. Two computers
can be linked via modem but this process is expensive if the computers are really distant from each other. We may compare this computer linking with the
courier mail of the past, where a messenger brings a letter from one point to
another. The high cost of this form of communication was reduced by the modern postal service. Developers of
the Internet (known also as the Net
or the Web) thought similarly that
having electronic post offices functioning automatically in many
places would cut the costs of individual communications radically. As
with ordinary mail, one can move
bulk mail between two major post
offices in two cities as well as deliver individual letters locally. In the
computer world, this is called email,
and it was the starting point of the
Several important features
contribute to making the Internet
the most democratic information
medium today. Besides sending and
receiving electronic mail, the
Internet provides an opportunity to
place an information object (however complex and possibly linked to other
objects) on a computer, give it an address, and make it available to a range of
users who are also connected to the Internet.
ICT: New Tools for Education
Hundreds of millions of people in every country of the world now use the
Internet. A popular way to communicate over the Internet is to post information
(usually text or pictures) to a personal or business homepage, or website. Another
Internet feature is user-groups who have access to bulletin boards – a collection of
information on a specific topic that can be read and extended by members of a
specific group with access. Emails move so quickly – in seconds from any sender
to any receiver – that they allow for an exchange of information online (staying
Internet-connected, sending and receiving messages). This mode of communication is also called chat.
Today the Internet is the biggest ever network channel and source of human
information. Over the last decade, the Internet has grown exponentially in numbers of participants and in the amount of information available. Access to the
Internet is possible, not only with the average personal computer, but also with
simpler equipment called a network computer (a kind of thin client), which has an
Internet resource and connection but without computer software and storage. A
TV set with a simple device like a Nintendo-SEGA game machine can be adapted to provide access to the Internet. So can an enhanced telephone set.
The idea of combining telephones and TV
communications has been tried for many
years. The principal problems have not
been so much technical as organizational,
to do with infrastructure (allocating channels), and economic (it has been extremely
expensive). In the last decade, however, computer algorithms and standards of
compression, as well as channels of communication, have improved greatly. A
roving video camera attached to a computer can automatically focus on a person
speaking. Participants have microphones mounted on their desks and when they
ask a question, the camera moves in to film them, and the image is displayed on
a monitor screen. A human face and figure, slides, video, Internet, whiteboard
writing and drawing can all be seen on-site or transmitted via the Internet. The
result is an instant multimedia presentation.
Channels for distant communication
For most educational institutions today, telephone lines and modems are the
usual communications media for connecting with the Internet. The speed of
information transfer via telephone lines is usually below 56 Kbps (if the fre-
quencies used are the same as for voice transmission). It is possible to transfer
data and pictures and even low quality, live video signals via such channels.
Telephone lines can also be used to transfer radiofrequency signals to make
transmission much faster, which is the technology used in digital subscriber lines
(DSL). An alternative is a radio channel via air (amateur short wave or another
radiofrequency band, for example 2.4 GHz). An example is GPRS (General
Packet Radio Service), a standard for wireless communications that runs at
speeds up to 115 kilobits per second. Satellite communications in GHz bands are
among the most rapidly growing new ICT media today. When the rate is fast
enough to transfer an acceptable video-audio signal, it is usually described as a
broadband channel (starting from 300 Kbps). Optical fibres with much higher
frequencies provide broadband connectivity.
Information objects and their screen presentations
This section deals with different types of information objects and their screen
representations, including instruments to operate with them (editors), and then
moves to more sophisticated tools.
Graphical user interface or GUI
Early personal computers could not display graphics well. The only information
objects to be displayed then were texts, arranged in lines. A profound breakthrough in the history of computing was the invention in the 1970s and its adoption in the early 1980s of what is called graphical user interface or GUI (Apple’s
LISA, Macintosh, and, then, Microsoft’s Windows). The difference in percep-
ICT: New Tools for Education
tion and understanding of an information object presented as a text, a table, a
formula, or a computer program, in visual form can be dramatic. The ability to
deal with an information object as something real – that is, a manipulable object
– makes it even more powerful. Generally GUI allows you to use your eyes for
information perception and your hands for actions over information objects.
Direct manipulation of graphical objects on the screen in a way that allows
you to see what is happening is referred to by the acronym WYSIWYG (What
You See Is What You Get).
Desktop and window metaphor
In many computers, before dealing with any specific information object, you find
the computer screen organized as a desktop. Several object names, called icons, lie
on this desktop. You can move these and place them wherever you like. You can
open an object, see its presentation (text or picture) on the screen, and work on
it. Some of the objects are folders. Inside folders you find the names of other
information objects – some of them are the names of other folders. Some of
these are executable programs and you can start running them, usually with a
graphical effect of the run seen in a window on the screen.
One-dimensional editing
From the birth of the personal computer, working with texts has been the major application of
ICT. Soon it initiated a new culture of writing
since text on screen turned out to be much more
flexible and transformable than written or typed
text. The technology influenced the psychology
and social context of writing, which, in turn,
changed technology.
Here is an example of how technology is changing the nature of text. In traditional written language, we may write, for instance, “see p. 56” or “compare
Johns and Black, 1992”. In reference books structured alphabetically like encyclopedias, these references can be given also by a difference in font, as in “This
work led to the teaching of pedagogic anthropology in the University of Rome.” Here
combinations of words in italics – pedagogic anthropology and University of Rome –
refer to other sections or chapters, which can be found alphabetically, with explanations about pedagogic anthropology and University of Rome respectively. The
action of looking for another page, or another volume of the same encyclopedia,
or even another book at a different library, is very much simplified with computers: to find a reference or link, you simply click a button and you are immediately transferred to the desired pages, books and libraries. To create a link, you
work in a texteditor in a natural and elementary way. The
text containing
these links is
called hypertext.
The links are
sometimes called
hyperlinks. It is
more natural to
call them simply
Sounds and musical tones
Recorded sound can be presented on screen and edited in the same way as any text.
A special type of sound is a musical tone. Here the sound can be composed,
not only changed. The usual notes can be presented on the computer screen and
used in a standard way. Notes can be represented in a more graphically intuitive
way by height and length in combination with MIDI interfaces.
Working with pre-recorded video-fragments, their cutting, sequencing in an arbitrary way, adding sound and special effects is now possible using ordinary personal computers. For children starting from an early age, this kind of video editing
constitutes a powerful environment for their communicative development.
ICT: New Tools for Education
A timeline of events can carry icons or pictograms, or other names linked to
information objects representing events. In this way, a timeline is similar to time
wall-charts. In these charts you can see the whole timeframe, with much more
detail of events. The timeline can also be represented as moving in response to
the cursor.
Two-dimensional editing
Images on computer screens are combinations of pixels, and so the obvious way
to construct or change an image is to create it pixel-by-pixel. To make this
process simpler, we can use a magnifying glass tool. Of course, in most cases, this
method takes too much time, but it can be used in special cases to make minor
changes. More often we use corresponding methods of editing images by:
changing digitized photographic pictures, or
making and changing different types of drawings.
In the case of photographic images, the computer extends dramatically the set of
tools and operations available: resizing, cropping, lightening, darkening, sharpening, and so on. In this way, photographs can be transformed quite professionally, and then combined in sophisticated ways.
In computer drawing, there are two major options:
Using a brush tool or pen tool.
Using additional software tools similar to a ruler, compass, and templates.
In the first option, software and hardware were developed to mimic traditional techniques and introduce new ones. The second option, the computer
version of technical drawing, has developed enormously, especially in the field
of Computer Aided Design (CAD) – see below under Three and four dimensional editing.
Maps and multilayer images
One option with computer images is to have several layers for an image, which is
helpful in an application such as editing maps.
A special kind of graphical design is the production of plans and geographical maps. Today this is done mainly in so-called Geo-Information Systems
(GIS). Maps produced with GIS are examples of multilayer images that can be
edited in each layer separately. Good GIS has sophisticated mechanisms to
represent objects like rivers, state borders, and place names on maps in order
not to overlap.
Three- and four-dimensional editing
Computer aided design
Computer Aided Design or CAD has replaced traditional drawing almost completely. CAD allows you to create a 3D object on the screen that you can then
turn around in space or zoom in on to see in more detail.
Like pre-computer design, CAD systems:
have developed in different directions, for use in architectural design,
fashion design, machine construction (cars, aircraft), electronic design,
and other fields; and
use libraries of ready-made templates from particular professional
fields, and multi-layer construction.
So-called Computer Aided Manufacturing (or CAM) is computerised design
of the manufacturing process. CAD/CAM is a combination of two.
Computer animation
Sophisticated and expensive instruments as well as children’s simple tool-kits can
be used to create artistically impressive or scientifically precise and enlightening
computer animations. More and more movie scenes are now produced in artificial settings with characters designed on a computer by means of special software.
ICT: New Tools for Education
Students’ animations are usually simple and two-dimensional (flat). Adding
a time dimension makes them 3D objects. Simple animations made by groups of
students over several hours can be more educative for the creators and more exiting for the spectators.
Multimedia presentations
Tools are available to make and show sequences of static (still) screens of images.
Screens can contain visual representations of various information objects: pictures, drawings, diagrams, tables, as well as important lines of text, visualizations
of experimental data, and mathematical models. A sequence of screens constitutes a slide show. Such sequences can run autonomously, without a human operator, but are much more effective in association with live human speech. This is
a so-called multimedia presentation.
Combinations of different kinds of output and different kinds of information objects are usually called multimedia. This term was coined in the early
1960s to denote the new synthetic genre of avant-garde artistic stage performances comprising action-painting, music, declamation, pantomime, slide-projections and dynamic colour lighting effects. In the 1970s, multimedia became
the trade expression applied to joint enterprises in designing, producing, promoting and marketing best-selling books bundled with hit-movies of the same
plot (or vice versa), accompanied by the film’s music soundtrack, T-shirts emblazoned with portraits of starring actors, and other paraphernalia. The computer
industry picked up this coinage in the mid-1980s and used it to describe hardware and software configurations able to run alphanumeric, graphic and sound
processing sub-routines simultaneously. Of all technologies, computers are ideally suited to mixing or combining media.
Human-computer interaction and communication
Virtual reality and cyberspace
Cyberspace and virtual reality (VR) are perhaps the most frequently heard, and
least defined, expressions of the digital era. The term cyberspace was coined by
the Canadian science-fiction writer William Gibson, author of Neuromancer
(1984), who fathered a genre of morbid cyberpunk novels. Virtual reality was
concocted as a commercial brand name for a line of advanced graphic video
games in the early 1990s. Both coinages stuck and became household words
in media and computer science. Cyberspace connotes an informational space
that is generated inside each functioning computer and spreads outside toward
a final confluence with other local cyberspaces in the emerging global web of
interconnected computer networks. Virtual reality refers to the patterns of
ongoing events in time and space that are perceived by our senses through
visual, audible and tactile interfaces. Here is how Bart Kosko defines VR in
his book Fuzzy Thinking:
A VR is a computer world that tricks the senses or mind. A virtual
glove might give you the feel of holding your hand in water or mud
or honey. A VR cyber suit might make you feel as if you swam
through water or mud or honey. VR grew out of cockpit simulators
used to train pilots and may shape the home and office multimedia
systems of the future. The idea of advanced VR systems as future
substitutes for sex and drugs and classroom training is the stock and
trade of modern science fiction or ‘cyberpunk’ writing. (Kosko 1993)
Virtual reality has entered modern slang. Even contemporary anthropologists and philosophers use the term virtual realities (with no reference at all
to digital technologies) to discuss dreams, myths, hallucinations and poetic
fantasies, as well as a psychic fabric of scientific hypotheses, theoretical thinking, logical and mathematical reasoning, and other imaginative functions of
the human mind. The shortest path to grasping the idea of computer-based
virtual realities is to play a video game of car racing or, even better, war aircraft fighting, so popular among teenage boys. However, the use of simulated
reality for learning purposes goes back at least to the 1960s, when professional flight simulators were introduced to train pilots and air craft controllers.
They make an exemplary case, which we now consider.
Let us assume you are a novice sitting in the cockpit of a small plane that
rests on the ground. Through the windshield you see a runway and adjacent
airport facilities. On a panel below is the flight instrumentation: altimeter, air
speed and horizon indicators, vertical velocity gauge, compass and other navigational equipment. The engine is already warmed up; your hands and feet
are on a throttle lever and rudder pedals, and you are about to begin your
maiden flight. By command from the digital instructor, you push the throttle
to full and see the plane start rolling down the runway. Gathering speed you
raise the elevator, and the plane takes off – you are airborne! Excited, you gain
height, but all of a sudden heavy clouds appear with rain and a severe thunderstorm.
ICT: New Tools for Education
The plane starts banking (horizon line is tilting), and in a panic you try to
damp it by turning the ailerons, but in vain. The next moment the plane dives,
goes into spin, hits the ground and explodes in a ball of fire. Luckily, except for
the authentic cockpit, sensual impressions, motor responses and manipulative
activity of yours, everything you have seen behind the windshield or read on
instruments’ dials has been computer-simulated – the runway, rolling, speed
gathering, take-off, height gaining, rainy clouds, thunderstorm, banking, diving
and crashing. In other words, all these events belong to the domain of virtual,
not genuine reality.
Nonetheless, this was a reality you could perceive and interact with as if it
was authentic and genuine. More to the point, the outcome of such interaction
might be quite different had you been more knowledgeable and experienced in
piloting. Now this goal is within your reach. By re-starting the simulation program, you can repeat your virtual flight over and over again. Most probably, your
initial attempts will end lamentably several times in a row until you manage not
only to take off but also to land the plane safely. Indeed, you must try hard to
avoid previous mistakes, improving your performance in operating the controls
while doing climbs, glides, turns and descents, and learning how to solve various
navigational problems.
It is customary to summarize the main attributes of virtual reality in three
words: Presence, Interaction and Autonomy. These attributes are especially relevant
in using the most advanced (still rare today, but tomorrow undoubtedly more
frequent) VR-based educational environment.
The first attribute of virtual reality, presence, is the belief in one’s authentic, or genuine, existence in the simulation. This is more easily achieved by perceiving the VR environment not on a separate screen, but inside a data-helmet
with goggle-like displays, one for each eye, with sensors reading a positioning of
the user’s eyeballs and head. As you move your eyes and head to the left, images
are rapidly updated and you feel you are actually looking at objects on the left.
You may also be equipped with a pair of data-gloves (and, someday, probably, a
data-suit) coupled with viewpoint control enabling you to see your hands and
body in the simulation (at least their graphic or symbolic representations, say a
finger, a palm, or catching glove shaped as a cursor on the screen). Presence
extends the friendly, business-as-usual feeling of the iconic interface to include
the actor/player/learner. The sense of presence is also enhanced if a consistent
way of interacting with the microworld’s objects is used. If a squeezing glove can
grasp objects, the user’s belief in a real, stable world naturally increases.
The second attribute of virtual reality, interaction, is the ability to change
features of the simulated world in a consistent, natural, and organic fashion. This
is achieved by making the data structures of the world-model mutable in natural ways (e.g., by cutting holes, lifting things, or joining them together).
Properties such as conservation of volume and shape, constancy of colour and of
manipulation technique, support natural interaction. The three-dimensional
physical world, which in fact is logically complex, seems simple and unambiguous to people with a lifetime of experience in navigating it.
The third attribute of virtual reality, autonomy, means that the objects presented have inherent behaviours and can be trusted to exhibit them automatically when simulated. In other words, if the virtual universe plays its part, the user’s
mind is freed to do the creative work of designing and constructing her or his
own learning projects. The task in question may consist of altering the universe’s
laws and testing the results.
A situation gets more complex when a student moves from a solitary activity in a closed virtual micro-world to a networked cyberspace on a global scale.
For example, there are collaborative games that involve building complex worlds
with hundreds and even thousands of players. It has been found in such situations
that no amount of central planning on the part of teachers suffices. Top-down
design of virtual worlds (such as is certainly necessary in packages like the flight
simulator) may be counterproductive in collective games aimed at the development of creative capacities. We believe it is better to populate a pre-fabricated
environment with users, to observe their needs, to provide them with tools as
required, and then to let them build the world(s) they want.
Text on a computer screen is an example of virtual reality in the broadest sense.
The basic human actions in this reality comprise creating a new element (typing a
character), extracting (cutting), or adding part of an object (pasting). As mentioned
above, this type of environment is characterized by the term WYSIWYG.
Hypertexts are created in a more sophisticated manner, using a special computer language called HTML (Hypertext Mark-up Language) and special editors. A modern
language to describe objects of all types is called XML. A language to create VR 3Dobjects permitting VR-actions and feedbacks is called VRML (Virtual Reality Markup Language). Three triggering mechanisms, supported by VRML, are:
Proximity – execution based on viewer position.
Viewpoint – execute when selecting viewpoint.
Touch – execute on viewer clicks.
A more advanced version of the language is X3D (eXtensible 3D).
ICT: New Tools for Education
Speech synthesis and analysis
Speech synthesis and analysis, as well as handwriting recognition, were touched
on in the section above on hardware. We return to these topics now in the context of man-machine communication because of the importance of these channels for school.
How does one teach a computer to talk? How can a computer form an oral
image of a sentence of text? How can we inform a user about anomalies or routine events occurring while operating a computer (technical errors, incoming
electronic mail)? These situations involve speech synthesis.
The simplest solution is for the software maker to pronounce and record the
sound beforehand. However, it is impossible to record all conceivable texts that
a computer might have to pronounce, and equally impossible to dictate all possible sentences.
However, we may record separately the minimal acoustic atoms of speech,
and then try to compile sonic images of words in the same manner as we compile their written images out of letters. But if we do this literally, atom by atom,
we will get something unintelligible to the listener. This is especially true in difficult languages like English and Russian. As a compromise, we may record the
soundings of every word in a language (quite a big job), some of the most frequent word-blocks, pairs or groups of words often pronounced in one phrase,
words that sound differently when they appear in various parts of a sentence,
depending on whether these are interrogative or imperative mood, and so on.
Modern computers have sufficient storage capacity for such an undertaking.
There is no doubt that in the near future word-by-word synthesized speech will
have attained a sufficiently high quality to be marketable as a good substitute for
sentence recording.
As for analysis of audible speech, progress in this field requires, besides an
increase in storage capacity, solving what might be called the problem of understanding, particularly with regard to context. A computer has to be very smart
indeed to understand the subtleties of human speech.
Computers for special needs
A well-known phenomenon of living organisms, including humans, is compensation – the ability to substitute some if its functions and organs for lost ones.
Computers and ICT are involved in the process of compensation in many ways.
Computers can improve human senses, or substitute one for another. They can
do even more, and operate different devices such as home appliances. Even for
persons with the most severe challenges, the computer is a helpful tool with
which to communicate and control the environment.
Visual disabilities can be compensated for with tactile or aural perception.
Braille coding was invented long before computers, but Braille is a good example of discrete (in fact, binary) coding. It encodes any letter as a combination of
dots in given positions, and so tactile reading and writing in Braille have been the
form of written communication for blind people for years.
Modern ICT have improved on Braille in straightforward and important
ways. There is software to translate letters, digits, punctuation marks and other
symbols into Braille codes; a special printer using special paper then can print
these codes and other graphical images in relief form for a blind person. It is also
possible to provide online reading: on a computer extension, pins corresponding
to Braille dots pop up on a template line to form Braille letters. Alternative keyboards are also available for blind people, including ones especially designed for
Braille (9-keys). They include a Braille line on which the typed text is displayed.
Keys of ordinary keyboards can be marked with Braille dot-letters as well.
Another channel of perception for blind people is aural. Besides simple
recording, computers can help to transform text into audible speech (see above,
Speech synthesis and analysis). In the simplest case, a computer reads aloud a
sequential text, word-by-word. More advanced screen readers exploit structures
beyond linear text, including hypertext. There are structures of text in programming languages and other professional environments that screen readers can
navigate a blind person through.
For the non-blind, an aural channel can be used for input as well. In fact,
full communication between user and computer can be based on verbal processes. A possible consequence of this is a decline in Braille literacy among the blind
population, as there has been in other skills such as knowledge of multiplication
tables since the advent of the calculator.
The hearing-impaired can also be considerably supported by ICT in two
major ways. The first is the well-known amplification of incoming sonic signals.
Unlike the old fashioned analogue hearing aid, digital devices can provide
immensely wider customized choice and fine tuning of frequency equalization
versus loudness levels to help compensate for an individual’s aural deficiencies.
ICT: New Tools for Education
The second aid is a speech visualizer for
persons with more serious hearing losses.
Invented in the early 1940s and named Visible
Speech, this device analyzed sound energy distribution of different speech formats, and displayed
them as patterns of white, grey, and black patches on a monitor. The observer had the burden of
guessing, interpreting, and deciding whether or not these images represented
particular articulated syllables. Today, the digital automated system converts spoken words into a typed text shown on the screen. In this way, even totally deaf
people can converse through the telephone or in other situations where they
cannot hear a speaker’s words. For blinddeaf persons, the output signals of such systems may be fed into a digital Braille display to provide the same opportunity.
In other areas, kinaesthetically (motor)
impaired people can control their environment with the help of a computer and additional hardware. Text entry can be a major
method of general communication for children (and adults) who have various types of
problems including severe physical disabilities. Children with cerebral palsy, for
example, are able to communicate more easily by using bigger trackballs. There
is a whole spectrum of new and emerging input devices, including some controlled by human breath only. At the same time, human adaptation can be high.
For example, some people can type quite effectively on a standard keyboard with
only one hand.
To quote Nicholas Negroponte, chief of
MediaLab at The Massachusetts Institute of
Technology: “We may be a society with far
fewer learning-disabled children and far
more teaching-disabled environments than
currently perceived. The computer changes
this by making us more able to reach children with different learning and cognitive
styles.” (Negroponte 1995)
Software tools
Software, the name given to the coded instructions that tell computers what to
do, comes in many different forms. Here we focus on software tools that are useful for schools.
Operating systems
The software foundation of a computer system is called its operating system (OS).
It is the environment with and through which other software communicates. OS
with Graphical User Interface was developed by Apple and used in Macintosh
computers. The most popular operating systems today are versions of the
Windows system developed by Microsoft. In the 1980s, an operating system for
larger computers called UNIX was created. A version of UNIX that is popular and
available for no cost today, even for less powerful personal computers, is Linux.
Personal productivity tools
The most popular application of computers today is text writing and editing,
which extends to producing hypertexts and presenting Internet pages, spreadsheets, and sending and receiving emails. These tools are often called office applications because they are widely used and effective in offices. The dominant product integrating various office applications is Microsoft Office: a simpler but free
competitor to it is called
Work with information objects assumes the ability to find any object you
need. This search in a collection of objects can be based on looking for objects
with specific attributes. Thus, you can look for a book with a specific author,
title, or publisher. A software system that supports these kinds of activities is a
database. One can use a database to:
search for a particular object;
add a new object (new entry);
change the system of fields (for example, delete the field “publisher”
and add the field “most relevant school subject”), and format of screen
presentation and print-out; and
construct a new database that makes connections with existing ones and
transfer information between them.
ICT: New Tools for Education
Professional tools
In most fields of human endeavour, specific applications have been developed
with specific software tools. These collections of tools are called virtual workshops. In fact, you can call a collection of these instruments an editor of virtual
reality. They can also be referred to as automated instruments, or electronic assistants of a human editor. Thus, in certain professional fields, we have specialized
mathematical text editors, sound editors, database editors, and so on.
CAD-systems, noted above, are used in different areas of design, including
machine construction (for example, automotive and aircraft production), architectural design, book design, and microchip design. Naturally, specialized hardware can be required for CAD such as a more powerful CPU, monitors with
higher resolution, graphical tablets, and plotters. Geo-Information Systems, also
noted above, are specific tools for the design of maps and plans.
A special kind of design activity is the design of processes. Among these are:
computer-aided manufacturing (CAM), usually based on CAD design;
design of human activity in project planning and implementation; and
software design (also known as computer programming), one of the
most sophisticated areas of human activity today.
Numerical data processing and visualization
Under Hardware above, we discuss data collected by peripheral sensors such as
the parameters of a physical system, biological experiment, or chemical manufacturing. Other data collected might be the results of polls and elections, which
can be input manually or by using a scanner for written documents, or directly,
as in the case of voting, through a computer terminal, or counting people with a
photo-sensor. All these kinds of data can be organized in tables or databases, and
then processed to make them smoother, to find, for example, median values.
If we have a mathematical description (that is, a mathematical model) of a reallife system or process, we can simulate it with a computer. Simulations can be
time-consuming: it might take a week, for example, to develop a really good simulation of the next day’s weather. In some cases, however, we can shorten the
process of simulation by using more sophisticated mathematical methods and
algorithms.. A system for simulating complex systems behaviour based on differential equations and graphical diagrams is called system dynamics and can be
implemented with the help of a software environment (virtual lab) called Stella.
In many cases, we may have a small piece of text (for example, the name of
an information object) associated with two other pieces of text. It happens that
the first and the second elements of the pair are taken from given lists, and are
usually presented as a table or spreadsheet like the following:
Here we have school subjects as one list, students’ names as a second list,
and marks associated with them as table entries.
The situation becomes more interesting when you introduce dependences
between the cells of a table. For example, you can require that the number in a
cell should be the sum of numbers of two other given cells, or even the total sum
of a full column. This leads to what are called electronic (or, better, dynamic)
spreadsheets – a tool of visualization and simulation used by bookkeepers, economists, and others.
Control is one of the most important real-life applications of ICT. Some of the
processes of control are invisible, automatic, and do not assume ongoing human
involvement. Others are interactive and assume the permanent participation of a
human being in the system. In both cases, visualization is important.
Information sources and hypermedia
As we have seen, a great deal of information can be stored in a computer. A server, for example, with the capacity of a terabyte and costing a few thousand dollars can store the text of a million books, or about one thousand hours of video.
Practically all the texts ever written could be stored in computers in one modest size building. Before long, one will be able to do the same with all art gal-
ICT: New Tools for Education
leries, photo collections, and scanned archives of important documents, major
speeches, music, and popular or artistically created movies. Nor is it necessary
to have all this information in one place. The sources of information can be distributed all over the world and accessible via the Internet.
Major efforts in these directions are being made in the form of electronic
libraries, digital archives, libraries, and museums, and individual attempts. Some
of these depositories are proprietary and closed for outsiders or require a subscription fee; but many are free to enter, open for the public, and can be used
freely for educational purposes.
In this context, two major problems arise: the quality of information and
the accessibility of information. Neither problem is new. The first problem exists
in the form of some tabloid newspapers or amateur writers. To some extent,
control over quality has previously been based on moral and legal boundaries,
but even more on economical and technological mechanisms. Distributing
information widely was expensive: it pays generally, for it to be accurate.
The second problem is clearly seen in lost scientific and technological
inventions, forgotten addresses and telephone numbers, and lost birth records.
To deal with this problem, people invented libraries and archives, sophisticated
forms of indexation and catalogues, review journals, citation indices, telephone
directories, and all types of reference books, with their associated footnotes and
With the dawn of the Internet Age, these problems became more severe.
The Internet is full of poor information and hard-to-access or wasted information. To find needed information, you can spend hours and still not find what
you want. For this reason, some say the Internet is useless, even destructive and
dangerous. In overcoming these difficulties, the world ICT community has
invented many mechanisms.
Hyperlinks. The encyclopedia mechanism of reference has been extended
enormously. A major opportunity provided by modern ICT is the ability to gather in a single computer information contained in millions of volumes contained
in other computers. By using the mouse to click on a word on the computer
screen, you can immediately call up (possibly, in a different window) a piece of
information referred to by the author of the initial text who provided the link or
reference. Catalogues and reference libraries of Internet resources have been
developed and placed on the Internet by institutions and individuals.
Descriptions. Books and museum collections are searchable because items
there have been described and the descriptions are stored in catalogues. ICT are
ideal for making catalogues but descriptions need to be added. In the past few
years, major attempts have been made in this direction by establishing standards
of so-called metadata.
Standards. Another dimension is standards for storing data like texts and
images. There was a time when you bought a new computer and a new text editor only to find that you could not read your old files. Therefore, a strong trend
is to have a system of standards that are free, open, written in understandable
form, and which describe how data are stored and displayed on screen.
Reusability. Many information objects are present as parts of other objects.
An immediate example is a painting in a museum collection. For obvious reasons,
especially in education, we would like the opportunity to access such an individual object independently. Technically it is easy, but serious organizational and
copyright problems await solution.
Search engines. Major attempts are being made to keep track of all
Internet information resources. This tracking can be based on an analysis of
word content. Thus, you can ask a search engine to show all references to a word,
or word-phrase, over the entire Internet. More sophisticated searches can be
done using more complex inquiries, for instance, containing a certain combination of words, together with a particular word, but perhaps not containing some
other word.
Portals. Search engines are approximate search methods, and they do not
evaluate the quality of any information found. Another approach, combined with
the search engine approach, consists of evaluating and describing Internet
resources by particular organizations or professional associations to ensure quality of the resources as well as quality of the search, and to gather all this information in a single location, called a portal.
Safety systems. The mechanisms noted above do not limit access to the
Internet by any computer. At the same time, there is increasing concern among
parents and teachers over the dangerous influence of the Internet on the younger
generation. Pornography, hate, violence, and narcotics are often targeted specifically at young people. Concerned citizens are therefore seeking to form a barrier against this influence – an Internet safety infrastructure. Parents or a school
can subscribe to a safety service, and all access to the Internet will go through
this infrastructure, which does not permit the user to go to proscribed websites.
ICT: New Tools for Education
Health problems associated with computers
Today, the computer is the major component of the working environment for millions of people. While working with computers can be more or less effective, it can
also be damaging to one’s health. The major human organs involved here are eyes
and hands. Problems with eyes are caused by concentration on screen images, which
are aggravated by unclear or flickering images, by glare, and from bright reflections
on the screen. The problem with hand muscles is described as Repetitive Strain
Injuries (RSI). In these cases, proper posture, exercises, and relaxation during work
are helpful. For students, these considerations are even more important.
Other negative factors are excessive heat and noise. As previously noted,
modern computers need increasingly more processor power for software applications. Fans installed alongside the CPU dissipate the resulting heat, but these
produce noise. Another source of noise is the disc drive. High temperature can
also cause emission of gases from different components of computers like plastic. There is debate about possible health problems associated with electromagnetic radiation of different frequencies emitted by computer monitors. While
there is no evidence of damage caused by the electro-magnetic fields of modern
monitors, nevertheless, caution is advisable because students are increasingly
using computers in schools.
Repetitive strain injuries are not new. Prior to office machines, accounting
clerks used to suffer severe cramp in their hands, which often led to permanent disfigurement. Pianists and other musicians suffer similar ailments from hours of
practising, and sometimes promising students are so afflicted that their professional careers are disrupted. Similarly, students with an aptitude for computers may
never get to reach their potential because of hours of damaging keyboarding.
Video games are doing their share of damage. It is important that potential sufferers are aware that the prevention of RSI may simply require finding a comfortable
and efficient posture, and maintaining a balance of movements while working.
Children are generally enthusiastic and become easily infatuated with ICT.
They often keep performing an enjoyable task with great concentration until
near exhaustion (e.g. making and playing their own animated cartoons for hours
with few, if any, breaks). Prolonged activity without regular breaks can cause eye
focusing problems (accommodation) and eye irritation.
When a student’s focusing system is locked in to a particular target and
viewing distance, the eyes may be unable to focus smoothly and easily on a particular object, even long after the original work is completed.
Eye irritation may occur because of poor tear flow over the eye due to
reduced blinking. Blinking is often inhibited by concentration and staring at a
computer screen. Desktop monitors are usually located higher in the field of
view than paperwork, resulting in the upper eyelids being retracted to a greater
extent. Therefore, the eye tends to experience more than the normal amount of
tear evaporation, causing dryness and irritation.
Younger students are not the same size as adults. Most computer workstations are arranged for adult use and, since children are smaller, computers do not
fit them well. Therefore, students using a computer on a typical office desk must
often crane their necks upward further than an adult. Because the most efficient
viewing angle is slightly downward about 15 degrees, problems using the eyes
together can occur. In addition, students may have difficulty reaching the keyboard or placing their feet on the floor, causing arm, neck, or back discomfort.
Students viewing a computer screen with a large amount of glare often do
not think about changing the computer arrangement or the surroundings to
achieve more comfortable viewing, and this can result in excessive eye-strain.
Inadequate lighting can lead to visual headaches that often occur toward the
front of the head, and toward the middle or end of the day. Other symptoms –
eyestrain, tired eyes, double vision, and red or dry eyes – are more general. The
lighting level for the proper use of a computer is about half as bright as that normally found in a classroom. Increased light levels can contribute to excessive
glare and problems associated with adjusting the eyes to different levels of light.
Here are some recommendations for parents and teachers:
Have students’ vision checked to ensure they can see clearly and comfortably, and to detect any hidden conditions that may contribute to
Limit the amount of time that students can continuously use computers. A 10-minute break every hour will minimize the development of
focusing problems and eye irritation caused by improper blinking. Also
consider having shorter, more frequent breaks.
Check the height and arrangement of monitors. A student’s size should
determine how the monitor and keyboard are positioned. In many situations, the computer monitor will be too high in the student’s field of
view, the chair too low, or the desk too high. A good solution to many
of these problems is an adjustable chair that can be raised for student
ICT: New Tools for Education
comfort, since it is usually difficult to lower the computer monitor. A
footstool may be necessary to support the feet. Monitors should be
placed as low as possible in front of students, and notebook computers
are preferable to the desktop type.
Check the lighting for glare on the computer screen. Windows or
other light sources should not be directly visible when sitting in front
of monitors. When this occurs, the desk or computer should be turned
to prevent glare on the screen. Draw curtains or blinds to reduce window lighting.
Reduce the amount of lighting in the room to match the computer
screen. A smaller light can be substituted for a bright overhead light, or
a dimmer-switch can be installed to give flexible control of room lighting. In other cases, a three-way bulb can be turned to its lowest setting.
Different safety and ergonomic requirements for interacting with computers and other equipment like printers have been developed in different countries.
One internationally respected set of requirements has been developed by TCO,
the Swedish labour association (see TCO 2004).
In the final section of this chapter, we look at major trends in ICT that might
determine one’s choice of computer, and what is likely to lie ahead in ICT.
What kind of computers do we need?
Sometimes we hear from decision-makers in the field that young students need
less powerful computers, and that when we want to teach programming to high
school students, we need powerful ones. In fact, we believe the opposite is true.
Young students need big, bright, intuitive, interactive computers.
It is more important to have modern and advanced computers in primary
schools than at other levels of education because they can help provide students
with opportunities to create and display according to their rich inner world,
enabling them to express themselves more adequately, and opening up more
opportunities for learning. Friendly interfaces, high quality graphics, and sound
can dramatically extend the range of ICT applications in primary school. To
achieve this, all the resources of present and future personal computers are needed. Otherwise, we risk missing that sensitive period in a student’s growth when
both body and mind are receptive to the acquisition of perceptual traits and symbol-manipulating skills that are essential for further intellectual and creative
development. This view cannot be overstated. Unfortunately, many policy-makers in education remain unaware of these facts and are still recommending obsolete computers for kindergartens.
What changes lie ahead?
One impressive but, of course, overly simplified way to describe and predict
developments in technology was formulated by Gordon Moore in 1965 in an
article for the magazine, Electronics, on the future development of the semiconductor industry. Moore described an exponential curve of quantitative changes
of computer power measured in terms of the density of microelectronic components in one integrated circuit of CPU or memory. For the last few decades we
have seen this parameter double about every 18 months in line with his predictions. This exponent affects growth in computer speed and memory size.
Recently, Moore (1997) announced an update to his law, but whether growth will
slow remains to be seen.
What has been happening to computer cost over this time? The answer is
not quite so optimistic. New technology is generally expensive; the price of a
new computer model stays high for several months, then falls for a couple of
ICT: New Tools for Education
years and begins to stabilize after major consumers and producers have moved to
newer technology Before ending the line, liquidation prices can appear. Then
old models are replaced by new ones of almost the same (inflation-adjusted or
not adjusted) price, as the previous model was two years earlier, after it had fallen from its peak. In absolute figures and not taking inflation into account, we can
say that the prices of the most popular personal computers are 4-6 times lower
today than they were 20 years ago.
The price of ICT is determined to a great extent by the size of the market.
If a tool is in demand and easy to use, the price falls. The prices of the most popular computers are slowly going down. The specialized tools of ICT will eventually be as affordable as home appliances such as TVs or stereo systems. There
are good reasons to buy recently stabilized equipment. However, it is shortsighted to buy obsolete computers for schools. Accepting donations of used
computers can initially be exciting; it can also lead to complete disillusionment
in the technology. Even more than in other cases, we need schools to invest their
additional resources in good technology, so that teachers’ time can be spent on
teaching and not with time-wasting obsolete equipment.
The increasing power of computers has allowed qualitative changes in
human work with computers. The first computers using Graphical User Interface
were a thousand times less powerful than computers of today in memory size and
processor speed. We now consider the major dimensions of changes in ICT.
Consumer society and ICT
Investment in the development of more powerful computers is demand-driven.
How is the demand generated? Of course, people are always interested in storing more information, and faster retrieval. At the same time, software companies
are releasing new versions of their popular software that use the full power of the
latest processors from hardware manufacturers. Software producers then help
drive demand.
One of the results for this escalation is that powerful computers running
memory-hungry applications are at the limits of their power. An unexpected
consequence is that most computers have become noisier: more powerful
processors emanate more heat, and to dissipate this heat more powerful and
noisier fans are needed.
Ease and comfort of use
People without extensive training are frequent users of computers today. They
have some skills in the special applications for their work and a vague general
understanding of how a computer works. One reason for this development is
the user-friendliness of computers, which means they allow you to do simple
things simply. The easy-to-use Graphical User Interface (GUI), for example,
permits users to rely on their intuition to operate in three-dimensional space.
Like other interfaces, GUI allows mistakes (for example, in text-writing) to be
easily rectified.
These improvements have allowed computers to be used by professionals
from different fields. The next step is to bring some ICT to non-professionals.
Today’s computers are still more difficult to operate than a TV or microwave;
and desktop computers are still not comfortable enough to be part of everyday
life because of the space they occupy, together with heat and noise. Notebook
computers do not really approach the easy use of a book. Think about how much
easier it is to open a book (seconds, as opposed to minutes for a notebook computer). New options are expected.
Nevertheless, searching for information on the Internet utilizing the screen
of a home TV is now possible, simple and cheap. The growing information culture and new literacy is likely to bring simpler modes of operating widespread
ICT appliances, greater clarity of user manuals, and better understanding of
these by lay people.
Further visualization
Visualization has been called the second computer revolution. The number of pixels
on a computer screen and the speed with which an image changes, as discussed
above, determine the quality of the computer image. Recently (on the computer
technology time-scale), computers have become capable of TV/video applications. We can now store hundred of hours of TV-quality video, show it as seen on
TV, or without advertising, and edit it as needed in a way similar to text-editing.
Of course, image quality depends also on having high quality peripheral devices:
for output, computer monitors and projectors, and, for input, cameras and scanners. Here, too, we can see how computer power drives demand.
ICT: New Tools for Education
Quality of sound
Improvement in quality of sound follows a similar path as quality of visual
images. On the one hand, sound requires less memory and computational power
to work with. On the other hand, manufacturers and consumers usually underestimate the value of computer sound. Sound quality is important from psychological, emotional, and ergonomic points of view. We expect higher standards of
computational power to improve sound quality and to herald more applications
of sound, as well as in speech synthesis and speech recognition, language and
early learning.
Human movement and other types of communication
Currently, a person interacts with a computer mainly in two-dimensions. The
keyboard and the mouse are operated as discrete objects. The computer screen
is a desktop. Is it possible to move to another dimension, one that allows objects
to be grasped, touched, moved, and smelled? Numerous research projects are
underway, some of which promise to become part of mainstream reality in the
next decade. Intensive research is going on, for example, in the fields of kinaesthetic input and output. A computer will feel human movements visually or via
special sensors. It will also provide feedback through gloves with motors in them.
Smell input (and output) is also in the experimental stage.
Computer reaction to movements – for example, changing visual images in
response to a head turn or other non-verbal cues – can be achieved with the use
of trackers mounted on head or fingers, or seeing human movements. A haptic
device involves physical contact between the computer and the user, through
technology such as a joystick or data gloves that sense the body’s movements.
With a haptic device, the user can feed information to the computer and receive
information in the form of sensations on parts of the body. For example, in a virtual reality environment, a user could pick up a virtual tennis ball using a data
glove. The computer would sense the movement and move the virtual ball on the
display. At the same time, the user feels the tennis ball in his hand through tactile sensations that the computer sends through the data glove, mimicking the
feel of the tennis ball in the user’s hand.
That type of interaction can be implemented with an exoskeleton – a system
of artificial bones and muscles (electric motor-based) tied to the human body to
imitate reaction of the environment. In particular, force feedback (FFB) simulates weight or resistance in a virtual world. Force feedback requires a device that
produces pressure on the body equivalent or scaled to that of a real object. It
allows a person in cyberspace to feel the weight of virtual objects, or the resistance to motion that they create. Tactile feedback (TFB) produces sensations on
the skin, typically in response to contact or other actions in a virtual world.
Tactile feedback can be used to produce a symbol, as in Braille, or simply a sensation that indicates some condition such as heat. Touch and hold are not the
only physical relations in the real and virtual worlds. The proximity of an object
can be manifested by a sound, for example. Sound can also represent execution
of a procedure like opening a door or giving a greeting.
To summarize, we see among existing and emerging extensions of the usual
computer interfaces the following:
Larger screens, including touch-screens.
Stereoscopic images (different for different eyes).
More use of trackers.
More proximity.
More sound feedback including proximity.
Computer-generated odour.
More accurate and sophisticated force feedback.
Tactile feedback, specifically aspects of touch not covered by force
Accurate simulation of the behaviours and other characteristics of soft
Integration of data from several sources.
Integration of the real world with virtual worlds or switching between
real and virtual worlds.
Video and audio input via head-mounted devices simulating human
Computers to go
The real limitations of computer size, weight and portability do not follow from
its computational or memory power, but from the ability of humans to receive
information (via video-monitor) and to send information (via keyboard).
Therefore, the following general options exist:
ICT: New Tools for Education
Notebook computers are complete computers with full functionality and
with all major devices of the desktop computer. A popular current version does
not contain any drive for removable discs (floppy, CD or DVD), but has USB
ports to which you can plug in a flash card or external drive. Notebooks can communicate with all peripheral devices via RF and IR channels, and with the outside world via radio-channels as well.
To make it even smaller and cheaper, there are also sub-notebooks that have a
less convenient keyboard, smaller and weaker display, and less functionality, in particular, usually having a less powerful OS than desktop and notebook computers.
For greater savings, you can get smart keyboards with a very simple (for
example, 8 lines of text) display, with the major function to store text input. The
price can be 3-4 times less than the price of a regular computer, and so this is a
popular option for schools.
Palm computers or palms have the functionality of sub-notebooks, but are
even smaller with just a screen of palm-size. The screen is used also as an input
device for handwriting, pointing and moving objects. Palms are really good for
taking notes on the move, and for collecting data from different sources (like
measurements from sensors).
Wearable computers
The changes discussed immediately above lead next to the concept of
wearable computers. The key
devices of wearable computers are
glasses through which computer
images are displayed (in particular,
these can be images of real reality).
A pair of stereo glasses can be fitted with a pair of stereo speakers,
and a microphone in a VR-helmet.
A further idea is to wear a
computer that has no input-output
devices in it, and is connected to the world through wireless channels only. Such
a computer might receive your email, for example, but to read it you need to
come to a screen with a wireless interface compatible with the computer.
A wearable computer would recognize context – that is, it would know not
only “what time is it now”, but also “where you are” and “what is happening
around you” and “how you feel”.
Local information space
A VR-helmet is a very local presentation of the information space to a human.
There are other means for providing comfortable access to information and
instruments to work with at home, at work and study places. These include:
Screens and speakers for output (including touch screens, for output
and input).
Wireless keyboards, mice, hand-held scanners, and speech recognition
devices for input.
Common information space for all points of access organized for sharing by many users.
For example, in a school-and-home integrated network, students could
come to any computer with their keyboards, or even mobile phones, and enter
their own information space incorporated into the school information space and
global information space.
The human element
Physically, access to information is limited by a computer’s communication
speed, which is limited by bandwidth, and this, in turn, is limited by frequency
range. However, the human factor is more critical here. Everybody seems to
agree that Internet surfing can be even more harmful for children than TV-viewing. Sophisticated search engines and agents can help but most of the work to
make information available and to ensure its quality must come from humans.
Therefore, the Internet community and infrastructure of support of many other
people are needed.
Merging of mass media and the Internet
As previously indicated, computers are now integrated with television. Cellular
telephones give you a keyboard, a TV-screen, and an Internet connection.
Increasingly, content, media, and devices are integrated in a digital format.
ICT: New Tools for Education
Computers also serve for information searching, storing, and processing (for
example, to find a TV transmission via an Internet TV-portal, or to cut out commercials and store a show along with adequate text description).
More models of reality
Even an autonomous, non-Internet-connected computer is a powerful device for
constructing your own information objects – indeed your own models of reality.
Constructing static objects, books, and graphical art can require considerable
computational power. Even more power is needed for computer simulation and
visualization of the results of the simulation. Progress in this direction is based
on increasing computational power and, even more, on developing more sophisticated tools that are comfortable for human use.
More understanding from computers
From the beginning of the computer era, the idea
existed to delegate to the computer the most sophisticated functions of the human brain. Progress in this
area has been slower than expected. Eventually, however, some of the hoped-for developments have
occurred, for instance:
Computers now play chess better than
Computers recognize oral speech and handwritten words.
Computers recognize objects in environments and act accordingly.
From these activities and achievements, we see
now that the critical issue in further progress is building up more computer models of physical and psychical reality (that is, more understanding of the world).
Economy of ICT
Unlike matter or energy, an information object can be consumed many times
with no additional cost for its reconstruction or refuelling.
Digitization prices have dropped, so that it is becoming affordable for
libraries to make their unique collections digitally available. Huge libraries can
be stored on a single desktop server. CDs and DVDs have become easier to copy
in the technical sense. It is not hard for pirates to break copyrights. More and
more music is available on the Internet, and music
albums of a favourite composer can be stored on
one DVD. Information tends to be free.
From this perspective, there is a growing
interest in the UNIX operating system. Originally
developed as an advanced, heavy-weight, and
hardware-demanding operational environment,
but more robust, reliable and safer than Windows
or Mac OS, UNIX, and especially its modern
lighter version Linux, can run on smaller computers than today’s versions of Windows. And Linux
is free of charge, as are many applications developed for it. Other applications, like OS Lindows
and applications for it are much less expensive
than most commercial software.
In fact, there is a lot of free information on the Internet. Several countries
have launched free electronic archives, and digitized their cultural heritage.
The idea of open and free information space is at once popular but also disturbing, not only among educators, but among software developers as well.
Many software products in schools are open and allow:
teachers and students to use data and images for their personal use;
students to create experiments in virtual labs, and teachers to create
tests; and
students to store their work for a period of study in a unified information
space open to other students and teachers, parents and other schools.
The major question is how will the creators of original information work be
paid for their work. A possible answer is that information will be free, but that
human service provided on demand will be compensated adequately. Questions
of further development of free information resources are under consideration
currently by an important international association called The World Wide Web
Consortium (W3C).
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