TITLE: Information and Communication
Technologies in Science and Mathematics Education
INTRODUCTION: Many forms of work
and services have been revolutionized by the development and application of
information and communication technologies (ICT)(7,12). Since the first
appearance of computers in large universities and government agencies some
educators have been interested in the application of ICT to the problems of
instruction. Many of the first uses of computer aided instruction were developed
with science and mathematics as curriculum foci. As powerful, easy to use
desktop microcomputers and network infrastructures connecting widely distributed
users have become generally available in schools, colleges and universities,
interest in the educational potential of ICT has grown rapidly (1,3). However,
as great as the potential of applying this technology in educational settings
seems to be, the reality of its use in schools has lagged far behind. In Canada,
many provinces have made progress in increasing the availability of computers
and software in schools and in creating wide area networks to connect schools
and provide them with access to a suite of information services, learning
resources, and to the Internet (5). Students need to appreciate the power and
potential of information technology as well as its limits and dangers (11,12).
The curriculum in science and technology is a natural place to explore ICT, to
develop understanding of it, and to apply it to the learning of science concepts
and processes. However, for this to happen there must be a clear appreciation by
teachers, school administrators, and students of the roles which the technology
should play in science programmes.
DESCRIPTION: As a first step in
appreciating the roles of ICT in science curriculum it may be helpful to
distinguish between learning About, learning With, and
learning From information technologies. Any contemporary
programme in science education will be sorely lacking if it does not include
learning about information technologies as a purpose. Students need to develop
an appreciation and awareness of the potential power and application of
information technologies in fields like health, recreation, government, law,
science and engineering, media production and journalism, business, the fine
arts, law enforcement and education. The students who are currently enrolled in
school science programmes will be challenged to find or create jobs in a global
economy based as much on information resources as on goods and raw materials
(10). For the developed countries of the world, like Canada, future prosperity
depends on the development of knowledge capital, (7) and on having a work force
which has sufficient understanding of ICT to be able to invent new products and
services based on them (7,10). For the lesser developed countries, ICT, properly
applied, offers the potential to avoid many of the problems encountered by the
developed nations during the process of industrialization, including
environmental degradation and the waste of raw materials and resources. Science
curriculum, therefore, needs to provide all students, whether they are bound for
college and university science programmes or not, with an opportunity to learn
about these technologies. What better way to accomplish this than by learning
about science through the active use of ICT.
In many schools, computers and other information
and communication technologies are still used largely as glorified typewriters,
applied mainly as word processors. While a large amount of so-called educational
software has been developed, a great deal of it is little more than an
electronic form of drill and practice worksheets. However, there are now
powerful software applications available, including symbolic manipulators like Mathematica
® (see definition (a) following bibliography) which have the potential to
change the way subjects like mathematics are taught and to call into question
what is taught as well. The advent of microcomputers with expanded high speed
processing capacities makes it easy to integrate audio, motion video, graphics,
and text media and to provide convenient real time access to remote resources.
But in many classrooms the predominant media of science instruction are still
the voice of teacher, the chalkboard, text books, and the students' notes (6).
Even conventional school libraries may form only a small part of the spectrum of
information used by students. There is a real need to create science curriculum
in which ICT form not only an important content element but also play an
integral role as a means of providing learning experiences and extending the
available resources of the classroom and school.
But what about learning science from information
and communication technologies? People sometimes speak of a knowledge explosion.
There is a difference among data, information, knowledge, and understanding (8).
Science curricula are often overwhelmed by the torrent of information generated
by modern scientific inquiry. The Constructivist paradigm of learning and
curriculum development suggests that students must develop knowledge by doing
intellectual work in order to make sense of data and information (4). Content
coverage is a poor substitute for effective and durable understanding. ICT
offers a chance for school science programmes to provide students with up to
date information about science and technology, with tools for the management,
organization and access of information, and with tools for the simulation and
modelling of science processes and principles. While there is great interest now
in Personal Digital Assistants (PDA's) (see definition (b) following
bibliography) to support various business operations, the development of
Personal Learning Assistants might powerfully enable the work of being a
student. Research also suggests that the availability of computer based
electronic conferences which bring students into direct contact with on-line
mentors and experts changes the traditional relationships between classroom
teachers and students (9) making the teacher a facilitator and guide to
learning, rather than a living library of information. Recent developments in
multimedia computing present opportunities to create highly engaging learning
situations which could help students perform and understand scientific inquiry
(3). But, the same technologies could also become highly sophisticated and
expensive forms of the traditional science textbook, presenting an even more
burdensome load of information to be covered by students and teachers alike (2).
CONCLUSION: The challenge
presented to science education by ICT is to find a way of incorporating the
technologies as integral components both of the agenda for instruction and of
the learning environment while using them to enliven and improve the nature of
science programmes in schools. Unless this is done, ICT will either continue to
be, as they largely are now, extraneous or peripheral to the regular and
traditional patterns of school operations, or they will emerge as highly
expensive and sophisticated electronic textbooks disempowering both teachers and
students in the learning process. On a global scale it will be important to help
create greater equity between greater and lesser developed nations in terms of
access to ICT and to the world of on-line resources made available through
international wide area networks. Unless this is done, the advent of information
and communication technologies will simply widen the gap between have and
1. Alessi, Stephen M. & Stanley R. Trollip.
(1991.) Computer Based Instruction. (Second Ed.) Englewood
Cliffs (NJ): Prentice Hall.
2. Apple, Michael W. (1985.) Making
Knowledge Legitimate: Power, Profit, and the Textbook. in: Current
Thought on Curriculum. Molnar, A. (Ed.) Alexandria (VA): Association for
Supervision and Curriculum Development.
3. Brand, Stewart. (1987.) The Media Lab.
Markham (ON): Penguin, Canada.
4. Brooks, Jacqueline and Martin G. (1993.) In
Search of Understanding. The Case for Constructivist Classrooms.
Alexandria (VA): Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
5. Education Technology Centre of British
Columbia. (1990.) International Perspectives: Education and Technology.
Proceedings of the ITEC Conference, October 24, 1990. Collis, B. and Mussion, J.
(eds.). Sidney (B.C.): The Education Technology Centre of B.C.
6. Goodlad, John I. (1984.) A Place
Called School. N.Y.: McGraw Hill.
7. Inventing Our Future: An Action Plan for
Canada's Prosperity, Steering Group on Prosperity, Ottawa, 1992.
8. McClaren, Milton. (1988.) A Curricular
Perspective on the Principle of Understanding. in: Marx, R.W. (Ed.)
Curriculum: Towards Developing a Common Understanding. Victoria (BC): Ministry
9. McMahen, Chris. (1992.) The Design and
Implementation of the CMC Project "Salmonids on Line".
Unpublished M.Ed. Project. Burnaby (B.C.): Simon Fraser University.
10. Mustard, J. Fraser. (1994.) The Great
Reckoners. Acumen. February/March, 1994. pps. 20-26.
11. Roszak, Theodore. (1986.) The Cult of
Information. N.Y.: Pantheon.
12. Shaiken, Harley. (1985.) Work
Transformed. Automation and Labour in the Computer Age. N.Y.: Holt,
Rinehart & Winston.
(a) Mathematica is a software product of Wolfram
Research, Inc., 100 Trade Center Drive, Champaign, IL.
(b) PDA's or Personal Digital Assistants are a
new generation of small, hand held computer and communication tools. They
typically feature a small screen which can be written on directly with a stylus,
and built in handwriting recognition software. They are currently being placed
on the market by a number of corporations which manufacture computers or
electronic equipment. The PLA does not yet exist as such.
The Working Group thanks Milton McClaren (Simon
Fraser University) for his collaboration in preparing this "Brief".
This "Brief" is one of a series of six.
The others are: Science and Mathematics Education in a New Social and
Economic Context; The Participation of Girls and Young Women in Science and
Mathematics Education; The Education of Science and Mathematics Teachers;
Measuring Success in Science and Mathematics Education; Partnerships to
Strengthen Science and Mathematics Education. The views expressed in this
"Brief" do not necessarily represent those of the Canadian Commission
for UNESCO, but rather reflect those of the Commission's Sub-Commission on
Natural Sciences and its Working Group.