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ICT in the Classroom Microworld - Some Reservations

Ioannis Papadopoulos1 and Vassilios Dagdilelis2

Hellenic Ministry of Education, Primary Education
University of Macedonia, Thessaloniki, Greece

Abstract. Despite the promising perspective of the usage of ICT in education,

contrasting opinions state that education has been barely influenced. In this pa-
per we present a critical confrontation of aspects relevant to the usage of ICT in
the classroom and categorize main difficulties that arise when ICT is applied in

Keywords: ICT in Education, Microworlds.

1 Introduction
New Technologies have changed our daily life as individuals and citizens: they sup-
port new ways for communication and expression and finally contribute to the re-
shape of both, our identity and the political landscape. In this new digital era citizens
are able to participate in public affairs in a more active way contributing thus to an
essential social progress. However the deep multimodal multiliteracy of the citizen is
a sine qua non condition for his/her participation. The integration of ICT in education
and their teaching effectiveness constitute a main component for this multiliteracy.
Our question (in accordance with several researchers) is: Are ICT adequate from the
educational point of view? Do they support this multiliteracy? Information and Com-
munication Technology (ICT) constitute the main aim of most educational systems
worldwide, at least in the countries which can afford the cost necessary for the usage
of digital technologies. Even though ICT has been adopted as an essential tool and
educational object, there exists a lot of criticism concerning among others its effec-
tiveness, cost, or its abuse in the everyday teaching practice in the classroom. Neil
Postman (1985) [13] very early criticized this pedagogical point of view that pre-
sented education simply as an entertaining activity, an aspect that was strengthened in
the era of multimedia (especially of multimedia educational applications). In the 90’s,
when the enthusiasm about the new possibilities of New Technologies and Internet
was at its peak, Clifford Stoll (2008) [15] stated that the situation in education (as
well as in governmental services) would not change because of ICT. A similar point
of view is included in Larry Cuban’s (2002) [3] and Tedd Oppenheimer’s (2003) [10]
work who additionally stated the question: “What will be then?” Many of these cri-
tiques focused on the general characteristics of the new media and their consequences
in the way people learn and attribute meaning to the new knowledge. They adopt a
critical attitude against ICT considering them as an important cultural component that

M.D. Lytras et al. (Eds.): WSKS 2009, CCIS 49, pp. 137–145, 2009.
© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2009
138 I. Papadopoulos and V. Dagdilelis

influences the educational system [1]. However in a series of less known relevant
research projects, a question of the effectiveness of ICT in teaching practice is also
raised. They specify the problems caused by the usage of ICT in the micro-world of
the classroom and at the same time in the macro-world of the educational system. And
what is important in these studies, is the perspective that ICT constitutes mainly a
kind of didactical and learning tool rather than that ICT is not so effective. Thus, its
usefulness is essential only under certain circumstances – otherwise not only it does
not support teaching and learning but on the contrary, sometimes it can play a nega-
tive role. Examining these studies would help to clarify these circumstances. We
present some of the results concerning the usage of ICT in the classroom and the
teachers’ training. We focus on aspects that demand a critical confrontation. Some
findings are in accordance with ones of previous research and studies, while others
could be regarded as original. We consider these findings neither idiosyncratic nor
occasional. On the contrary, they can be met in various didactic and cultural environ-
ments and consequently they represent somehow a more general value. In the next
section we present briefly some of the critiques that have been expressed from time to
time about the usage of ICT for educational purposes. After that we present in catego-
ries the main (didactical) difficulties that arise when ICT is applied in education. In
the last section we summarize the most important of our findings and we extract some
general conclusions.

2 Some Critical Aspects about ICT

ICT are considered as a main factor of progress. However contrasting opinions claim
that ICT create a new kind of gap among the privileged and non-privileged people,
the so-called ‘digital divide’. Moreover some researchers express a more intense criti-
cism about the uncontrolled spreading of ICT, claiming that these technologies con-
tribute to the destruction of the local cultural elements – particularly those that are not
compatible with these technologies [1]. The landscape in education is almost similar.
Very often the usage of ICT (or the announcement of this usage made by the politi-
cians and those who are responsible about educational reform) is accompanied by
triumphal statements that promise the radical upgrade of education (which in the last
decades is in permanent crisis). However, as Larry Cuban [3] notices, it is about an
almost permanent phenomenon that is reiterated periodically during the last century:
radio, television and video are typical instances indicating that the society reposes its
hope for educational revival in technology up to its disproof by the next technological
discovery. Up till now none of the existing technologies managed to change radically
the educational system and the way of teaching (in the same extent as it happened in
commerce, transaction business, press or scientific research). On the other hand, the
continuous thoughtless usage of new technologies results in a mode of operating (for
both teachers and students) which gives an emphasis on the usage of the technology
itself rather than its effectiveness. Oppenheimer’s aspect (ibid) is more critical since
he claims that this continuous and thoughtless usage means that the students progres-
sively loose the capability to emphasize, to pay attention or to think creatively. The
students become information consumers as the tv-viewers become show consumers
instead of critical thinking users. This criticism concerns even newer technologies
such as the so-called Web 2.0. Andrew Keen (2007) [9] claims that this “cult of
ICT in the Classroom Microworld - Some Reservations 139

instant” in information and knowledge, the massive participation of everybody to

everything, the cultivation of the absolute amateurism, finally undermine the western
civilization itself, despite its long and hard process up to the establishment of proce-
dures and prescriptions for the production, update, validation and spread of informa-
tion and knowledge via specific kinds of press (i.e., newspapers, scientific magazines,
encyclopedias). Returning to education, 25 years after the massive usage of ICT in
teaching and learning, the results are not the expected ones. Obviously it is unthink-
able to talk today about education without technology. However, it seems that finally
it is required a very careful design of the way ICT will be used in the teaching process
so as to have substantial learning outcomes. There are many reasons to do that. First
of all, educational software must be well designed and adapted to the students’ real
needs. However, current software, in most cases, constitutes a commercial product
more adapted to the market needs rather than to the pedagogical and didactical re-
quirements. Very often the level of didactical aim is low (for example memorization)
and the adopted methods rather ineffective and old-fashioned (consequence of the
behaviorism model). Besides, educational software cannot frequently face the com-
plexity and variety of the teaching necessities and are ineffective under the usual
classroom conditions. The amount of money needed for buying, maintaining and
upgrading the software is extremely high and it is probable that most of the national
economies cannot afford this. The same applies to the amount of money for maintain-
ing and upgrading hardware, networks and the whole infrastructure necessary for
using ICT in education. Open Software and Open Code Software could be a solution
to the problem, as well as the new generation of inexpensive PCs, but for the time
being this is just a potentiality. However, in any case, the usage of ICT in education,
presupposes an important amount of training time for learning the software which is
not negligible or costless. Initially the students themselves must devote time to learn
all these different environments. But the teachers face the most important problem.
They eventually have to learn the way these software function and additionally to use
them effectively in their teaching practice. This aspect becomes even more important
since the new generation of educational software is considerably different from the
previous ones. These new environments give emphasis to searching and composing
information from the students themselves; they favor the communication among the
students and the usage of multiple ways of elaborating, organizing and presenting
information. Thus new skills are required for both, the students and the teachers who
will guide them. According to Burbules et als (2000) [2], ICT is not a passive and
neutral way to achieve our teaching aims. On the contrary, through its special fea-
tures, it redefines all the processes that are afforded to the teacher. Simultaneously it
re-assigns a meaning to the information and to the new knowledge which is con-
structed by the student. So the teacher has to operate in a new environment, to re-
negotiate a new kind of knowledge and meta-knowledge and the truth is that he rarely
is prepared for that. Maybe this is the most important didactical problem that is posed
by ICT. The problems presented in this section are of somewhat general character.
However these problems acquire a very specific and practical character when ICT is
used in the classroom. The teaching practice in the classroom is depended among
others on a set of interrelated parameters that determine the nature of teaching as well
as the quality of learning. When ICT is added in this list of parameters, then the
system is “perturbed” and choices must be taken so as the equilibrium is obtained.
140 I. Papadopoulos and V. Dagdilelis

These choices are profoundly related to the above mentioned parameters that consti-
tute the teaching system. They sometimes cause a series of difficulties that have a
rather negative impact on the teaching process. We categorized these difficulties into
four categories. In the first one some reservations are presented concerning how tech-
nology is used in the classroom environment. In the second we refer to the time man-
agement inside the classroom or to the training time. Next we focus on the necessity
of the close relation between curriculum and integration of technology in the teaching
practice as well as on the official support that has to be offered to teachers so as to
incorporate technology in their classroom. What follows is issues related to the inter-
face, menu commands and compatibility. Finally we present some evidence indicating
the direct link that exists between technology and level of knowledge. It is worth
mentioning that what we present here are examples of an ongoing phenomenon and
not its complete description.

3 The Necessity to Use Technology as a Tool

The idea of the computer as a tool is related to two specific aspects. The necessity to
use technology a) only after the development of certain skills relevant to the concept
that is going to be taught and b) as a tool only if it can solve a specific problem. It is
common thesis that the concepts taught to the students have a “double life”. Initially a
concept is itself the object of the learning process. Later the same concept can be used
as a tool in order for another concept to be acquired. For example, in the 5th grade
students in their first lessons in geometry are taught the concept of ‘height’ (i.e., what
it is, how to draw the height in a triangle or a parallelogram, how it can be measured).
Later, during the same year and in the topic of area of known shapes the height consti-
tutes a tool in order to calculate the area of these shapes (it is a necessary component
of the formula E=(b*h)/2 or E=b*h). In Dynamic Geometry Environments students
have the possibility to draw automatically the height of the selected shape. However it
is very important to use these environments if only the teacher has confirmed that the
students have acquired the concept of the height and they have developed the relevant
skill of drawing it in any shape. Otherwise this premature introduction to the dynamic
geometry environment could result to misunderstandings and misconceptions about
the nature and the function of the concept. Besides we must also pay attention to the
possibility that the early introduction of technology could lead to a complete loss of
some skills, such as the usage of geometric tools. Papadopoulos (2004) [12] refers to
a case where students in a computational environment used to draw the height of a
triangle as a simple segment connecting a vertex of the triangle with the opposite side.
The segment seemed to be perpendicular to the side. However the students did not use
the suitable tools (‘Perpendicular line’) of the software (Cabri Geometer). They also
did not check whether the angle between their ‘perpendicular’ line and the side of the
triangle was a right one (90o). Thus, it is obvious that there was not an established
knowledge of the concept of height. Technology can be used for almost any purpose.
So it is not rare to see students in a passive role in a computational environment or to
see technology serving memorization of facts or rules. It is not a rare phenomenon
also to see teachers using presentation software (Power Point for instance) for
presenting solely the outline of their teaching or just reading what is written on the
slides, wasting thus time and usage of technology.
ICT in the Classroom Microworld - Some Reservations 141

4 Issues Related to Time

In that we could mention three kinds of reference: time management (inflation), time
consuming and time investment. Any kind of teaching innovation usually causes an
inflation of time. In the case of the introduction of technology, this inflation could
result from the distance that exists between the expected duration of time needed to
complete a pre-designed activity (or a series of activities) and the “real” time, neces-
sary for its application in the classroom. Moreover technology usually demands more
time for its integration compared to the time needed for the teaching of the same con-
cept in a traditional way. Schneider (1999) [14] reported on a teaching based on the
use of TI-92 about logarithms and exponentials which took 40 hours of teaching in-
stead of the usual 9 hours. From the students’ point of view sometimes is noticed that
they cannot accomplish the task posed to them, because of their inability to perform
specific computational operations necessary for its completion. Despite that the stu-
dents have perceived the correct procedure, they cannot apply it. This results to a time
consuming effort in order for the student to response. In a geometry project concern-
ing area of irregular shapes [12], some students realized that it was necessary to apply
cut-and-paste in order to transform the shape so as to estimate its area. Despite that
they had chosen the correct strategy it was impossible for them to apply the required
cut-and-paste. They wasted the available time and finally missed the task. This raises
the issue of the students’ training for an adequate period before they are asked to use
technology. This time investment for training concerns teachers and also students. It
constitutes an important factor that could facilitate both the usage of ICT in teaching
practice and to a great extent to guarantee the success of the endeavour. However this
perspective has as a consequence a cost of learning how to use technology and it
should be taken seriously in mind before making any decision. Given that one soft-
ware is not enough to cover a lesson-usually more than one software are combined
for the same lesson- the dimension of the cost (time and money) for learning either
multiple software or a super-software that incorporates the existing ones, is worth to
be taken into account.

5 Technology vs. Curricula and Official System Support

James Kaput (1994) [8] took a strong position that technology should be thought of as
an infrastructural, not as particular applications and tools. In this spirit, he said that
‘Technology without curricula is worth the silicon it is written on’. This statement
represents actually the reality in many cases, since there is an effort to integrate tech-
nology in the educational system, but this effort is not accompanied with an analogous
reform of the curricula. Therefore very often technology is accepted uncritically by the
teachers, leading to sometimes awkward marriages between learning environment and
technological innovation. Sometimes this uncritical acceptance has its origin to the fact
that there are not any teachers updated about the possibilities offered by technology.
Teachers do not always know how to choose among the available options the one
that supports their didactical aims in the best way. It should be clear that it is a
challenge for the teachers to provide their students with the suitable software for each
case, in order to help them to cope with the task they face [6]. When teaching in a
142 I. Papadopoulos and V. Dagdilelis

computational environment, there is an intermediary system (technology, interface)

between the user and the so-called educational milieu. So the teacher must be prepared
to make the connection between the typical knowledge as it is stated by the scientific
community and the knowledge that is constructed by the students through their interac-
tion with the computational environment. These two kinds of knowledge are not
always identical [11]. The meaning constructed by the students possibly could be dif-
ferent from the one that was the teacher’s aim. So the teacher’s interventions are of
critical importance and this lack of updated teachers must be addressed by the official

6 The Role of Menu and Interface: The Technological Dimension

It is not always certain that what the student ‘do’, or try to do is interpreted by the
interface in a way that preserves the same meaning. Very often students find in the
menu toolbar words that are familiar to them from their every day life – just to give an
example. So they use to attribute them this common meaning and not the one that is
adopted by the system. Papadopoulos and Dagdilelis (2006) [11] report instances of
this behaviour of students during computer aided teaching. For example they present
how students tried to apply the ‘Rotation’ tool of the Cabri software based on the
meaning of their daily life rather than its mathematical one as it is adopted by the
software. In the same spirit, we could mention the incompatibility that exists between
what the students usually do and how technology is responded. For example, students
are accustomed to work with the two-dimensional formulas in geometry (such as
E= * h ). However the keyboard usually functions in a linear manner. So the
students in the latter case have to express the formula using parentheses something
that is more complicated and makes the needed arithmetic operations less obvious.
The notion of incompatibility could be met also when the teacher is working on dif-
ferent versions of the same software. The teacher moreover has now to face the extra
amount of work that is needed for designing tasks for the classroom. Up till now the
teacher was responsible for the content of the didactic material. But now and due to
the introduction of technology, the teacher is also responsible for the management of
the layout, the appearance of the material (fonts, colours, borders, sounds) etc. An-
other aspect related to the interface is the teaching noise [5]. Teaching noise refers to
undesirable side effects that can overshadow the real objective of a lesson. When the
student is working in a computational environment and the task demands the usage of
certain menu commands or buttons, it is possible for the student to waste significant
amount of time to detect them. Even more impressive is the fact that the students
sometimes search for tools that do not exist. In our work with 5th and 6th graders (11-
12 years old), a task asked the students to transform an irregular shape to a known
one. The accomplishment of the task needed a series of cut and paste actions. How-
ever there were students who insisted to search through the various options in the
program menu the tool ‘Transform’ in order to cope with the task. There is a final
question, whether some activities in a technological environment could lead to a
weakening of the learning. The question is based on the fact that the computer screen
functions to ‘bully’ the student in front of it. The screen constantly demands for
ICT in the Classroom Microworld - Some Reservations 143

actions either with the mouse or the keyboard. We had some cases where students
were forced to make illogical actions. They were simply playing with the software but
no strategy was hidden behind their actions. Assuming that some concepts demand
mental effort we conclude that the students in the above mentioned cases wasted
valuable time which could be better dedicated to mental effort in a non-technological

7 Impact on Students’ Knowledge and Conceptualization

In this part we deal with three facets. First, the fact that in a computational environ-
ment the concept that is to be taught is usually mediated. Second, the theme of learn-
ing control, and third (that is closely related to the previous one) the ‘monism’ of the
applications. In the case of mathematics in different computational environments the
students have in front of them shapes that seem to have exactly the same appearance
and consequently it is expected by the students to have also the same behaviour.
However in the modern educational software the interface allows the management of
microworlds which in essence are representations or simulations of a system. So in
different environments we have different representations of the same shapes. This
means that in each environment some aspects of the shape’s behaviour are present and
others are hidden [7]. What the students usually do is to try to transfer and apply
knowledge from one environment to other(s). This causes a difficulty in the level of
conceptualisation since the new environment cannot response. This leads to a diffi-
culty in the level of knowledge. The repetitive use of the same software progressively
forms an intuitive knowledge that covers partially the concept (procedural knowl-
edge) and this knowledge rarely coincides with the knowledge described through the
official curricula (declarative knowledge). Equally important could be considered the
issue of the learning control i.e., to what extend the student has control over the con-
tent of learning. Obviously the level of control is different in simulation environments
compared to drill and practice ones. But in general none of the existing computer
programs gives full learning control to its users. All computer programs currently
available on the market satisfy partly the concept of control of learning (LC) from the
user incorporating simultaneously the control from the program (PC) itself. The exist-
ing literature about LC does not confirm either its beneficial effects on students or the
improvement of instructional effectiveness when a higher degree of LC implied in a
computer program. The research findings range from the strong positive effect of LC
to lack of any effect or even to a negative effect on learning outcomes, students’ aca-
demic achievement and motivation. This previous issue of Learning Control is related
directly to the issue of ‘monism’. The monism presents a difficulty with regard to the
applications or more precisely with regard to the effort for solving mathematical prob-
lems based only on one computational application. As Dagdilelis and Papadopoulos
(2004) [4] report in their work concerning the usage of educational software for teach-
ing area and its measurement, at least in such elementary level, one software is not
enough or, more precisely, no software is enough for the teaching of mathematical
concepts – probably any complex concept. From the teacher’s point of view there
were always restrictions in the software’s capabilities which prohibited the realization
of certain desired ways of software usage. This is maybe unavoidable since behind
each software exists its designer who did not have in mind the particular teacher or
the particular situation in which a teacher decides to use it.
144 I. Papadopoulos and V. Dagdilelis

8 Synthesis and Conclusions

ICT changes dramatically many of the aspects of the modern societies as well as our
daily life. However, our findings indicate that ICT and their application in education do
not produce (at least for the moment) the expected teaching results that would
strengthen the digital multiliteracy of the citizens. It seems somehow paradoxical that
the domain that needed ‘desperately’ this change (i.e., teaching, learning, education in
general) actually was barely influenced. We tried to show that in our days this seems to
be less paradoxical since we have comprehended the great complexity that is associ-
ated with the (didactically) effective usage of new technologies. This usage does not
simply mean the addition of another tool in the classroom (among others such as the
logarithmic rule, dictionaries, and geometrical instruments). The new digital means are
not “neutral”; can not be approached with simple terms such as ‘technophilia’ and
‘technophobia’; can not be used effectively by merely following ‘simple’ instructions.
It seems that their systematic usage influences so deeply the education action, that it
demands an essential educational reform. Consequently this demands a detailed, care-
ful, and time consuming design of their incorporation in the educational system, which
presupposes both a holistic approach and a lot of resources (financial, human, time).
Another factor that seems to be essential for the successful usage of ICT in education is
the in-depth comprehension of the terms and consequences of its usage in the daily
teaching practice. According to the relevant research literature (even in the micro-level
of the usage of educational software for problem solving purposes) its usage could
facilitate or hamper the students from constructing new knowledge. It could also re-
strict or expand the time required for the solution of the problem and even more to
become a learning obstacle. It could broaden the gap between high and low achievers
(a hypothesis that has not been object of a research study yet, but it seems to be reason-
able). Moreover the usage of these new educational environments and their exploita-
tion for teaching purposes demand not only the learning of these environments but also
the re- design of the course. However the most complicated problem is not stemming
from the modern digital technologies but from the future ones: In what way could the
teachers be prepared to face this future? (since we are ignorant of this future or more
precisely we are ignorant of its technological evolution). The limited effect of ICT on
learning, despite the considerable amount of money and resources that have been
spared, is due to the fact that it is required further systematic and broader research of
the above mentioned issues (always according to our findings and our line of thought).
Otherwise there exists the danger to continue to observe in the education domain, that
the tremendous possibilities offered by ICT remain unexploited

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