Original: English



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 have-not nations.


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 of Education.

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.