Sound pedagogy

Pedagogy of computer-teaching needs 'quantum leap'

At the Future Forum in Singapore on 12th May 2010, Alice Cheong, co-leader of the Hong Kong Education Bureau, told delegates that although more than US$1 billion has been invested in IT for education in Hong Kong over the past decade, a 'quantum leap' is now needed to ensure that pedagogy changes in time with the pace of technological advance. In terms of learning achievements, these enormous investments have not yet paid off. 

This has been a problem from the start. "Oversold and overvalued" concluded Prof. Larry Cuban of Stanford University, USA (2001) - and see the studies below, starting with the recent research of Prof. David Buckingham of IOE, London, UK - Europe's leading nation in computer-assisted teaching and learning.

Of course, IT (computer technology) is urgently needed in schools to modernise administration, to make students and teachers computer literate and facilitate better learning.  In the rich countries IT has 'electrified' education. But here, on closer inspection, computers contribute mainly as aids used by teachers for administrative tasks and lesson preparation, and by students for consulting the Internet for a limited range of tasks. So, installing computer labs in each school and providing other facilities to allow access to the web could be a high priority in developing economies, but developing a sound pedagogy for IT-driven developments in classroom teaching is critical - and expensive.

Despite the excellent educational software programmes already available, disappointing learning outcomes show that the pedagogy of digital teaching has not yet matured - at least not for traditional school subjects taught in classes. This might take another generation, even in rich countries where a 20-year commitment to digital education already exists.

Independent research (below) shows that IT has produced mainly golden promises but no silver bullets. 
Digital teaching environments are not ready yet to raise learning standards, systematically and nationwide, although 
the hope is that this situation will change in the future.
New opportunities for proven classroom technologies
as limitations of
IT (computer-assisted teaching) are recognised

For World Bank monitoring see the Delhi Debate April/May 2010: "Most Investments in Educational Technology are Wasted" by InfoDev, Information for Development Program ( - see our post on May 28. 
For more on what can go wrong with  IT and what already works, see also: "Knowledge Maps: ICT's in education: What Do We Know About the Effective Uses of Information and Communication Technologies in Developing Countries", more specifically chapters: "Impact of ICTs (read 'IT') on learning and achievement" and "School-level Issues". See ict4edu-Africa and other links advised in the sidebar and also the reports brought up in our 2010 posts of March 1 and 15, April 14, May 11, 17, 16, 17 and 18 and June 7 for effects of ICT in developing economies. But first:

Research on IT and learning outcomes in rich countries

Up to today, nationwide studies regularly confirm the marginal impact of 
IT on learning standards - see also our blog posts
click on summary to enlarge

For more independent surveys go to our blog archives or tabs in the menu bar
"20 years IT reality check" (for the rich countries see snapshot 1 to 5)
Below, more research reveals the unproven and uncertain value of educational technology. Points to consider about glowing computer learning solutions are as follows.

In 2004 two American reports on the effectiveness of billions of dollars invested in Internet access in deprived schools came to similar conclusions: access to the world wide web did not enhance the achievement of teachers’ goals. Mind you, this is in the US with the world's first highly developed infrastructure. The e-programme ‘Fast For Words’ (used by hundreds of thousands of students to increase their reading skills) gives spectacular results within 10-15 hours according to two neuroscientists in the authoritative Science Magazine; two American economists completed a vast statistical survey on its impact and came to a completely different conclusion - that there was no positive effect on learning outcomes. The same became evident in Israel after the introduction of thousands of new computers: the money would have been better invested in smaller classes or extra teachers.

Researchers conclude that computer assisted teaching is not ready yet to raise learning standards. Many teachers ignore the IT provided. “If teachers do not use the computers in their classroom, parents should be happy: non-use increases learning results” concludes Oosterbeek (Cito) in the Netherlands. Computers bring too much distraction. He researched a specific computer project in ‘black schools’ and found negative effects on exam results.

The outcomes of these studies is challenged by IT advisers, enthusiasts and promoters, labelling the research poorly conducted and shallow."

The studies above feed into the debate that is now surrounding Nicholas Carr's book “The Shallows” (2010). To quote from our post on 2 August 2010:  "Carr argues that the Internet is leading to a short-attention-span culture. He cites a pile of research showing that the multi-distraction, hyperlink world degrades people’s abilities to engage in deep thought or serious contemplation. Digital teaching might increase motivation of students - the stimuli used by teachers and the information is so diverse that it is merely processed in the short-term-memory.
What pupils have to learn does not get connected to nor stored in the long-term-memory which is the basis of learning. This involves for high school pupils, besides offering the knowledge in understandable format and the appropriate exercises to bring it to the long-term-memory, the need for social interaction, life role-models and teachers. For digital teaching a 'pedagogic leap' is needed to include all that.  Countries with hard- and software well-installed in classrooms at high expense bring to light the missing link between computers being motivational and engaging for youngsters and what it needs more for real learning. A gap which might take a generation to bridge. A lot of pedagogical understanding for digital teaching has to be developed before teachers in developing countries really can benefit from computers in their classroom".

Bridging the digital divide
In middle and low-income countries computers on schools can and will 'electrify education' (as Negroponte evaluated his OLPC projects) when implemented in a sensible way. Starting with computer labs seems to be sensible. 
Make no mistake. In many middle and low income countries teachers keep up surprisingly high standards considering their situation. On the other hand, many teachers really need to improve their knowledge and teaching methods as much as they need teaching resources. Here, computer learning is not (yet) a solution - as we can see in rich countries: not only but especially in deprived schools it lowers the results even more.
Their is an ocean of over a billion pupils in lower income countries in need of better, modern education. All ICT pilots so far are no more than a drop in the ocean. Walk into any classroom in any public school and your chances are 98% that the teaching is 'chalk and talk'.  The way forward is to invest in affordable, proven teaching tools and improving the quality of teachers. The introduction of digital teaching has to be planned in stages to prepare the infrastructure, the schools and teachers at low cost and no risk. In this stage in the classroom less demanding ICTs are better up to the task, like school TV and radio and the overhead projector.  

e.g. The Nationwide Visualisation Project is based on low-tech tools and high-end visuals to empower teachers. Strong points 
a time-proven technology with up-to-date software:

Next ...
About the quality decline in education in rich countries 

Quality decline seems to co-inside with digital teaching tools. To quote from our blog post on 2 August 2010:  "USA.  Obama's revolutionairy low budget Reform in Education focuses on quality teachers to turn the tide in 'The Financial Times' on 28 July 2010: "In the last generation, America’s “K-12” public schools system has gradually fallen behind other developed countries (JK: during the era that digital teaching moved centre stage at the expense of trillions of US$). 
American pupils come 31st in a worldwide ranking of proficiency in mathematics and even lower down in some of the sciences.
On some measures US pupils have a lower level of literacy in English than in some northern European countries where English is the second language.
Thirty years ago, the US regularly came in the top five on such measures."
In the United Kingdom there is an ominous decrease in skill levels of students leaving schools when it comes to counting, writing and basic general knowledge. Learning results in traditional school subjects are in decline. Computer education might be a cause - at least it is not stopping this decline, even in the Netherlands where some of the highest levels of investments in digital education per child in the world have been made.  Nonetheless, the educational technology advocates of the Consortium for School Networking described in the report “Real Investment, Real Innovation" (May 2010) a situation in which: “the Netherlands approach ICT in the classroom as an absolute necessity —not as a luxury— for improving learning and teaching, as well as developing workforce skills.”  Yet the Netherlands has already invested so heavily and they have, according to this report, one of the best educational Internet networks with portals, a system which the USA is now considering adopting. 

This raises an important question: if digital education as it is today, cannot stop the decline of learning under such ideal circumstances (as in the Netherlands), how can digital education ever improve teaching and learning in poor environments which lack the infrastructure, skilled workforce and appropriate financial resources?   

The 'Gutenberg divide'  (Gutenberg: European inventor of book-printing c1400)
Decrease in quality of teachers is partly due to the bet on digital education.
At the same time in the Netherlands, the last generation of teachers highly trained in their subject to a good academic level in the 1970s and 80s are retiring. This is a great loss for the education system. A new generation of teachers is taking over, 'able to teach any subject' by guiding students sitting at computers: 85% of them feel happy in what they are doing, according to a report in the Netherlands (Sociaal Cultureel Planbureau SCP, August 2009). These teachers are unaware of any problem and only a small proportion express concern about their lack of specialist knowledge.
According to Carr in 'The Shallows' computers and internet not only created a 'digital divide' but also a 'Gutenberg divide'. Those (also) studying books which allow for in-depth knowledge and deep thought on one side and those relaying on computers: with a lack of over-sight and their knowledge "stalled on the internet". Is the 'Gutenberg divide' now separating the classic teacher-subject-professionals and education from the new 'Jack of all trades'-teachers in digital learning environments? 

Countries which do not reflect this situation include Finland, Korea and Hong Kong - all three high in Pisa ratings. Here, work discipline and teachers' professionalism lead to outstanding results. Teachers' professional knowledge is key for using computers as tools, including the appropriate skills to plan lesson goals when using the interactive whiteboard. 

a personal note 

          Dear Reader,
In June 2008 I was on my third East African tour visiting high schools with electricity and able to use ICT to improve teaching. I also visited an ICT (read IT) conference in the Novotel Kigali with highly motivated educators from 15 African countries and the Caribbean.
The contrast with the reality in schools was striking and alarmed me: can this high tech approach really work in chalk and talk schools with classrooms like in the picture above? This I had taken for granted as computers continue to create miracles around us as they have for 20 years.

Soon it became apparent that the results of computer learning, even in rich countries, are questionable - for the traditional school subjects that is...

Drs. Jan Krol (Visual Teach)
In the last three years Jan Krol visited many schools and ministries in Africa, the Balkans and Latin America. As editor-in-chief of series of educational visuals he always has been and continues to be focused on what really works in the classroom - direct help to the teacher in action.

The next level
More on interactive whiteboards - IWB's 

See also page: Reality Check, snapshot 4: USA, the quick fix and 7: Mexico  IWB disaster 

Photo 2009: one of the first IWBs in Serbia, here safe in a computer lab.
Interactive boards become outdated much faster than computers. These in front are just piled up to be replaced by newer ones. 

The 'interactive whiteboard' or 'smartboard':  a digital projector connected to a large touch screen and computer. Possibilities are infinite. Total price €3,000 - 5,000 per classroom.

It is likely that within a decade this first generation of IWBs  will be replaced by back-lit touch screens. Rest assured that these will be much more user-friendly and more effective.

At the moment the technology of IWBs with their digital projectors and the software are in full development with every year new models, possibilities and 'simplification in use'. In rich countries an average school purchases some IWBs each year, mostly not on request by teachers but decided to by the management. Teachers who really use them wonder how to remember how different models in various classrooms work and how to solve software conflicts.This first generation IWBs are in OECD countries the first real digital wave in classrooms. Many traditional blackboards have been replaced in the last few years and many will soon follow. Teachers with this board fixed in their classroom feel fashionable - whether they use them or intensively or only occasionally.

In 2010 in the United Kingdom (when Becta gets closed because the learning results from digital equipment remain unclear) is reported that 70% of the classrooms are equipped with interactive white boards - compared to 20% in Germany and 20% in France.

Immediate learning successes are reported from all sides with in the IT community. There are good reasons though, to have a closer look and decide whether you really want to sign up for this trendy tool. If the supporting digital infrastructure is not highly developed nationwide and in the schools, IWBs often remain unused; this also happens because of their complexity for teachers  The newness of the technology is initially welcomed by students, but any boost in motivation seems to be short-lived.*

When IWBs are used, the effects on learning are disappointing,  although 85% of teachers think otherwise. Smartboard use often leads to 'edu-tainment' and information overload rather than well-focused teaching. Smartboard pedagogy has not yet matured; neither has its complex and fragile technology. Nonetheless, reports by IWB producers which dominate the Internet whether you hunt for research in Korea, United Kingdom or Mexico give (understandably) the completely opposite picture. Close monitoring reveals that for most teachers the interactive pen provides hardly any benefit - above simply using the digital projector as teachers do not use many of the interactive functions.

Like a power lifter in a circus  
The didactics of computer learning and teaching are not yet well understood. How to use these new technologies to systematically build up knowledge and skills  in a student's long-term memory is still unclear. IWBs help teachers, those who can use them, to make the lessons more interesting and 'edu-taining' but more often than not this seems to diminish understanding about the need for complementary activities and disciplined learning (as if this has become redundant for proper writing, spelling, counting, specialist knowledge and so on). The interactive whiteboard tends to make the teacher like a power lifter in a circus: he gets more attention but is mainly activating the short-term memory.  This supports a short-attention-span culture. Nicholas Carr in 2010 - see above-  cites a pile of research showing that the multidistraction, hyperlink world degrades people’s abilities to engage in deep thought or serious contemplation  We await development of a robust pedagogy for IWB use, integrated with this new technology to help teachers use it effectively and to improve learning outcomes. (Under 'Mission/Vision' in the menu-bar we refer to bundles of animations which already achieve this. Contact us if you are interested.)

Countries considering investment in IWB hype are warned: in order to make effective use of the interactive whiteboard, a teacher needs to be a good presenter to begin with. Secondly, as with all IT, a sound pedagogical understanding is needed about how to use it to achieve specific curriculum goals. Any school is blessed if it has a mere handful of such teachers - even in teacher training institutions this new type of professional is rare and short of practical classroom experience. Most equipment purchases happen centrally, so huge investments are often 'lost', which middle and low income countries simply cannot afford. See Mexico, and below Hungary.

* "On interactive whiteboards (again!)", Scott Thornbury/British Council, 2007.  Based on experience and reports: "The delivery capability of IWBs while impressive,  is of only marginal utility" - "The introduction of (this) technology ... does not necessarily lead to a more interactive pedagogy". This has to be developed first.
"Doubts over hi-tech whiteboards", BBC News 2007/1/30. Summary of a study commissioned by the Department for Education and Skills, mentioning "...relative mundane activities being over-valued" - "IWBs can even slow the pace of the whole class learning" - "Physical interactivity with the IWBs was seldom harnessed to produce significant shifts in understanding" - "Tech-savvy children feel frustrated when they see their teacher struggle with simple tasks"
See also the notes in snapshot 4: USA "The quick fix".

Avoid mis-investment in middle-income countries
Countries reaching a GNI p/c of US$10,000 are tempted to take huge World Bank loans or sacrifice stretched US-Aid or EU budgets on IWBs. But research on use and learning results indicate that it is wise to ‘leap-frog‘ (skip) this generation of IWBs with its immature pedagogy and technology. The advice is: leave the experimentation (about getting from abuse, poor use and entertainment to effective teaching) and further technical development to high income countries; avoid wastage, as in Mexico and Hungary; get your infrastructure and teachers ready to step in with the next generation of interactive whiteboards.

HUNGARY  Population 10 mln  GNI p/c US$11,600 
launched in 2007 a program for interactive whiteboards   
at €200,000,000   and abandoned this within 3 years

What happened along the way? Digital education was made a priority in Hungary - and Slovakia also tried to follow this trend. Suddenly, traditional time-proven teaching aids were declared outdated, just as happened in the UK when digitalisation started in 1990.  It took until 2004 before extra budgets of c£60m were made available to bring back non-digital tools into schools and resource centres.
In Hungary, immediate change occurred as soon as the pilot started: "Excellent teaching tools remain unused." claimed Lázló Zamatóczky (2009),  former school director and now director of Meló-Diác, the largest teaching aid supplier in Central Europe.

"IWBs result in entertainment without learning: 
a financially costly affair - and no way back"
Most teachers don't feel comfortable with an IWB, explains Lazlo and regularly don't use it.  Lots of software bought and prepared by the government is not downloaded. This looks like a financial drama. From a didactical point of view the picture isn't any better: ineffective use and too much entertainment without learning. In China, Lázló says, a new law forbids teachers to use the interactive whiteboard for any longer than 10 minutes per lesson - in the entire country!
Early in 2010 the interactive whiteboard project was cancelled in Hungary. It followed the same scenario as the 'digital wave' in Mexico, which started in 2005 with US$ 1 billion being mis-invested.   

Who brought in the Trojan horse? 
The more countries I visit and the more situations I get to understand, the more clearly emerges a picture showing IT, computer-based teaching, being driven by senior politicians and a consensus in society believing that computers will help - but this does not follow either a demand from teachers or schools. By now, awareness of the complications has diminished the enthusiasm, although more often than not acquiring IT still means status.

What becomes apparent is this: ministers get advised by IT consultants rather than curriculum specialists or subject didacticians, and they inform one another at international meetings in inspirational settings where leading educational computer suppliers demonstrate the latest technologies. Critical remarks about complications, failures to implement and poor results are not heard.

A good example of this cycle is the conference in Tunis for African ministers held in December 2008. Here the interactive whiteboard was demonstrated for days without reference to the disaster in Mexico or to independent reports revealing negative results of IWB use. Consequently a positive, must-have mindset is created, affecting decision makers from middle and low income countries as it is in these that the desire to develop and modernise education is most urgently felt, whatever the educational or financial costs.

Implementing computer-based teaching in schools in a weak socio-economic setting is most liekly to lead to a failure to achieve educational goals related to raising standards of learning. At best, results will be controversial and distracting arguments from IT-enthusiasts will flood the opinion-making press. We need much more high-quality, independent research from world-class sources such as the Institute of Education, University of London.

Currently, it makes more sense to go for the proven successful impact of overhead projector use technology using our innovative and high quality Visual Curriculum Kits. The Nationwide Visualisation Project fills a void in what is needed to modernise education, especially as a support for teachers. See also "Chalk and talk and beyond".

What sparked this research?
The deeper cause of  re-evaluating the use of IT for improving teaching in middle and low income countries stems from the "Nationwide Visualisation Project". Our company developed this low-tech innovation: the introduction in chalk and talk classrooms of the time-proven overhead projector - the most widely used ICT in education - together with complete Visual Curriculums developed over the last 15 years. With an alternative in mind (and there is no other), this allowed me to step back and take a critical look at the widespread expectations, hopes and misconceptions surrounding IT.

I learned a lot. First of all: read between the lines of ICT-reports on computer-assisted learning. You will find a lot of promises about solving educational problems ('silver bullets') but hardly any evidence of real progress in learning regarding traditional school subjects. Quite often the contrary emerges. Repeatedly, there are similar 'critical barriers' to overcome before you reach paradise - around the corner. Studies by independent researchers highlight the conclusion that the impact of computers on learning standards is still very debatable. Below you can find a few, and more on the page entitled "Reality check 20 years IT". As waiting for the revolution continues, we can in the meantime, modernise education with low budget tools.

Of course, this blog invites you to debate with us or contribute your own findings, comments or suggestions on these topics. 

For more, see:
Nationwide Visualisation Project
Beyond chalk and talk 
ICT-IT harmonised

Teachers need in their classrooms robust and reliable tools.
The Visualisation Project introduces simple to use teaching aids.
Below:  Put on - take off. (Just ask: What tries this visual to explain?

Development of education in high, middle and low-income countries.


From 'chalk and talk' (repetitive learning) to visualisation,
interactivity and training of thinking-skills for 5 key-subjects:

For more, see:
Nationwide Visualisation Project
Beyond chalk and talk 
ICT-IT harmonised