Getting with the programme
Educators have been urged to embrace new technology-rich tools available to enhance learning practices, writes Peter So
Information and communication technology (ICT) can play a bigger role in classrooms far beyond showing PowerPoint and surfing the internet - only if educators know ways to make the best use of the computers and the borderless network.
The government has spent billions of dollars in technological education over the years, but many teachers still mostly use chalk and whiteboards to support their teaching. Bob Fox, associate professor and deputy director of the Centre for Information Technology in Education at the University of Hong Kong, attributed this to principals' and teachers' limited innovation in utilising technology-rich tools.
Dr Fox urged local educators to integrate ICT into teaching and learning by adopting new methods, instead of using ICT to supplement existing pedagogical practices. 'Information and communication technology can act as a powerful lever to affect changes in schools,' he said.
Dr Fox said teachers could explore many possibilities with more advanced technology in the future. For example, they could post materials and student tasks online and make full use of the electronic networking between schools for sharing resources and ideas.
He predicted that the traditional boundaries between subjects would break down, and students would become involved in more group-based project work inside and outside the classroom via the internet. The students' learning would be more connected to the community and society at large and would make use of real data and issues, that ultimately could be more productive to society.
Dr Fox predicted that incorporating IT into education would be an irreversible trend as people were already living in a technological world. Electronic devices would continue to get cheaper and students would have easier access to the online world. For example the 'US$100 one laptop per child project' (http://laptop.org/) would enable students in poor families and poor countries to own a computer. Dr Fox said students might have access to a laptop or a powerful handheld digital device as a learning tool for only HK$500 within three to five years.
Dr Fox said: 'Advances in ICT have opened up new opportunities and challenges to education in schools and principals and teachers need to become critically informed as to how to make the best use of these new technologies to meet the challenges demanded in knowledge-based economies.'
The Economist Intelligence Unit ranked Hong Kong top among Asian countries of its citizens' ability to use digital technology skilfully.
The government has also announced a 'Digital 21 Strategy' to build a knowledge-based society to enhance Hong Kong's competitiveness.
However, Hong Kong's ranking of its citizens' ability to employ ICT in the workplace and in schools lies behind competitors such as South Korea and Singapore.
Dr Fox said the success of incorporating ICT into the educational sector depended on the knowledge and skills of educators, availability of educational software and the hardware infrastructure, in addition to sound policy-making, planning and implementation. However, he noted that visionary leadership was the key.
Dr Fox said school administrators, teachers, government officials and all those involved in education needed to keep up-to-date with new developments through technology in order to bring about the necessary changes, and to design and implement a new curriculum supported by innovative pedagogical practices and a changed examination system.
HKU's master of science in library and information management (MSc [LIM]) and master of science in information technology in education (MSc [ITE]) help educators, library specialists and information sector professionals prepare for ongoing challenges and to explore solutions to ill-defined problems.
The master's programmes enable students to integrate technology into education and manage the technology and knowledge with good ICT practices.
MSc [LIM] was first offered in Hong Kong in 2004, and offers knowledge and technology management to on-job librarians, information managers, information sector professionals and research staff.
Libraries in Hong Kong are becoming increasingly computerised, the sophisticated electronic services and database systems require librarians to acquire skills to locate and manage information with advanced electronic tools. Librarians in schools need efficient categorising, and networking can minimise the library's physical size and enable sharing of resources between schools. Dr Fox cited feedback from graduates saying the skills learnt on the programmes improved their existing information and knowledge management practices.
MSc [ITE] offers various specialist streams, ranging from the strategies of liaison with government officials, identifying problems, integrating ICT in teaching and its design and management. Teaching staff with international backgrounds introduce foreign examples of identifying problems and strategies for dealing with them. The programme makes full use of the most up-to-date Web 2.0 technologies, digital media and mobile learning models.
The student intake since the course started in 1999, has been diverse, ranging from frontline teachers at local and international schools, school administrators and principals, ICT co-ordinators, government officials and staff in corporate training and industry.
Dr Fox said that this mix of backgrounds had helped in finding practical solutions for the future and encouraged teamwork and communication between the professions, which was essential with today's complex challenges.
Better liaison between schools, government and industry partners would maximise use of the government's investment in IT education. The graduates would be capable of applying these strategies in different educational and human resource development contexts in the digital era, Dr Fox concluded.