Week 10: Information and Communications Technologies

Reading Questions, by Zach Tomaszewski

for CIS 702, Fall 2004, taught by Dr. Martha Crosby

1-A. Do you agree or disagree with Kress's "a picture is worth a thousand words" view? Explain your position and provide an example relative to your field of interest.

First of all, I do not think Kress is implying that pictures are better or more efficient signs than text. He is simply pointing out that each has its own modality. This modality--how they are produced and how they convey meaning--impact the meanings they signify.

I agree with Kress that an image modality is becoming more prevalent--but only slightly. I think the bulk of our general communication is still through verbal language and gesture. Text-based communication is becoming more prevalent in general communication as email and instant messaging use increases. Teaching is still done primarily through texts, and supplemented by verbal lectures. It is in the areas of entertainment and the Web that images are really becoming more prevalent.

Specifically, I think many webpages, even when largely textual, are processed spatially rather than temporally. I don't start in the upper left hand corner of a new webpage and process elements sequentially. Instead, I believe I read it like a newspaper: get a quick overview of the page, skip over the ads and the site branding at the top of the page, note some major page landmarks (like important images), look for navigation to other pages, etc. Also, learning from the Web tends to be more "spatial" and, well, web-like--picking up related facts in disjointed sequences, each explained at different levels of specificity, from sources of varying authority. This is in strong contrast to a good book, conveying a topic linearly from general introduction to detailed specifics.

I think Kress makes a nice point that images are better at conveying spatial (and often "metaphorically spatial") concepts, while text lends itself better to process and temporal descriptions. I recently used both modes for the same information: describing the classes needed for an object-oriented programming assignment. During a lecture, I mapped the relationships between the classes--how each contained, implemented, or extended the other. This was a map of the finished program's internal relationships. However, when I wrote up the same details on a webpage, I ordered the class descriptions in the order I would write them. Though I mentioned the same relationships in the text, my focus in the webpage was more on the requirements and potential difficulties for each class.

What is your position on the use of ICT for education? What role do you think ICT plays in curriculum enhancement and for stimulating student motivation? (Refer to the Focus Dimensions on p. 46 of the Twining chapter).

I think ICT may have its place in teaching, but that including it has a large overhead cost. As Twining points out, the time (or Quantity) spent using computers in the classroom can be broken down into three Focuses: IT (teaching how to use the technology), Learning Tool (using computers to facilitate learning), and Other (using computer for other purposes, such as reward or prestige). First of all, before each new technology can be used by either teacher or students, they need to learn how to use it. The greater number of different systems--whether hardware or software--introduced in the classroom mean more time spent on IT, and so less time available spent on learning the material itself.

Secondly, the main reasons that computers have not been as widely adopted as they might be are again related to cost--not enough people to oversee and maintain the systems, not enough time to learn the systems, and not enough money to pay for the needed hardware and software. These are all IT issues. In the top 10 reason's mentioned on Twining's site for low ICT impact, not one involved questions about the effectiveness of the medium or a lack of desire to include it. All 10 were questions of IT cost.

I think that computers are a matter of prestige for education right now, much as an objective, empirical, scientific basis is a boon for any social science theory. Yet I do not think computers are always the more appropriate means to teach all material, especially given their associated costs.

However, these days IT is a topic of learning in itself. Students need to be comfortable and familiar with technology. In fact, being able to use a computer or intelligently use the Web may well be more useful skills in daily life than trigonometry and art history. So I do not think we should look at the time spent learning IT as a complete waste--time that could have been spent learning "more important" material.

Since ICTs are popular and prestigious (and so contribute to both student and school administrator motivation) and potentially allow for alternate modes of learning, I think they should be included in the curriculum. However, as they are not the panacea to all our educational system difficulties and carry a high associated cost, I think it acceptable that they are adopted somewhat gradually.

3. Considering all the readings, what are the pros and cons from both the students' and teachers' points of view for using ICT for enhancing education?

For teachers, advantages include the opportunity to present material in a different format, potentially aiding in student learning. They also gain the prestige of having a modern educational system. The disadvantages are that the ICTs must be bought and maintained, they must be learned by the teachers and then taught to the students, and they must be included in the curriculum, displacing some current teaching mode or material.

For students, pros include motivation (a video or computer session may be more engaging than a lecture) and a potentially more effective learning channel. The cons are that ICT may be a distraction in the classroom, they may prove to be less effective than traditional teaching modes, and it may disadvantage those students not exposed to ICTs at home.

Kress, Gunther. "Learning, a semiotic view in the context of digital technologies." World Yearbook of Education 2004: Digital technology, communities and education. Editors: Andrew Brown and Niki Davis. London: RoutledgeFalmer, 2004.

Twining, Peter. "The Computer Practice Framework: a tool to enhance curriculum development relating to ICT." ICT for Curriculum Enhancement. Editor: Moira Monteith. Bristol: intellect, 2004.