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As the proliferation of IT resouces in the recent years have made significant impact on teaching and learning methodologies, we now present to you a two-part discussion on IT in Education Today. In theis first part - IT in Education Today I, we discuss various issues in educational applications of IT and the actual usage of IT in one of the University's courses. In the next part - IT in Educational Today II (Vol. 4 No. 4), we will feature discussion on the usage of IT in teaching and assessment.

August 2001, Vol. 4 No. 3 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
e-Education: a 2001 Cyber-Space Odyssey?
J.A. Gilles Doiron
Principal Educational Technologist, CDTL

This article is an abbreviated version of the paper entitled ‘How Teaching Should be Conducted in an IT Era: Back to the Future’ submitted for publication in a forthcoming issue of Asian Journal of Surgery.

In a recent issue of The Rapidly Changing Face of Computing (Harrow, 2000), we are reminded of how far we have come on the technology evolutionary scale. In 1977, the popular Digital VAX11/780 minicomputer was five feet tall, cost around $150,000 (USD), weighed hundreds of pounds, contained less than one megabyte of memory, consumed six kilowatts of power, and often needed special air conditioning and a raised floor. It cranked out at one million instructions per second (1 MIPS). Twenty-three years later, we have the Compaq iPAQ H3600 handheld computer: five inches tall, weighing about six ounces (including its battery) and costing about $500 (USD). It has 32 megabytes of RAM, 16 megabytes of ROM, and delivers in the palm of your hand 142 times the compute power of the Digital VAX.

The leaps in technology are astounding, but is technology serving us or are we serving technology? During these last 23 years of escalating computer use in all faculties, its impact on university teaching is still largely a promise (Larose et al., 1999). Although widespread computer use has brought about the development of interesting applications of computer technologies, such as the Integrated Virtual Learning Environment (IVLE) at NUS and other e-learning environments, computer-assisted pedagogy is not commonplace. The integration of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) into the university environment has been largely based on the inherent attributes of the technology rather than its role in contributing towards meeting specific learning objectives (Doiron, 2000). Will technology continue to call the shots?

During this same period of time, major corporations and government agencies around the world have embraced computer-based training (CBT) as a cost effective and efficient tool to achieve particular staff training objectives. They also came to recognise the value of using the systematic approach to creating support materials for training: Instructional Systems Design (ISD). ISD proposes a set of instructional models that make use of various instructional strategy components to produce a course of instruction (Dick and Cary, 1990). Throughout the years, classical CBT and Computer-Based Learning (CBL) has been designed with reference to learning theories developed by David Ausubel, Albert Bandura and Robert Gagné. Much of today’s pedagogy still adheres to Gagné’s five categories of learning (i.e. intellectual skills, cognitive strategies, verbal information, motor skills, and attitudes); and the vast majority of CBT/CBL produced have been based on his behaviouristic approach.

Although, most CBT/CBL design will address some or all of Gagné’s nine general instructional events (Gagné, 1965), Web-based Learning (WBL) is providing an added social communication aspect not previously available. Gagné’s events of instruction include gaining attention, informing learners of the objective, stimulating recall of prior learning, presenting the new material (stimulus), providing learning guidance, eliciting performance, providing feedback, assessing performance, and enhancing retention and transfer. As you can deduce, some of these events are best handled through social interaction in a classroom setting rather than being preconceived and programmed to appear on screen when triggered by the user. In most CBT/CBL, programmed learning guidance and feedback is restrictive and impersonal, assessing performance is weak, and activities for enhancing the transfer of knowledge are non-effectual.

Recently, the work of social constructivists like Lev Vygotsky, a Russian psychologist and philosopher of the 1930s, is being touted as the missing evolutionary link in the education of Homo Erectus. Vygotsky emphasises the influences of cultural and social contexts in learning and supports a discovery model of learning (Luria, 1976). It is up to the student to construct his or her own understanding in his or her own mind, and the teacher acts as a facilitator during this process. Learning should also take place in a meaningful context, preferably the context in which the knowledge is to be applied.

Regardless of the convenience that ICT brings to teaching and learning, lecturers more than ever need to reflect on their role in the learning process. Teaching must be grounded to basic principles of good practice in tertiary education. These principles include encouraging contacts between students and faculty, developing reciprocity and co-operation among students, encouraging active learning, giving prompt feedback, emphasising time on task, communicating high expectations, and respecting diverse talents and ways of learning (Chickering and Gamson, 1987).

Present ICT can play a very active role in supporting some of these principles of good practice (Chickering and Ehrmann, 1996). For example, having a course web site with a student and teaching staff email roster makes faculty and students more accessible. Students can also benefit from customised computer-mediated communication (CMC) tools that facilitate study groups, collaborative learning, group problem solving, and discussion of assignments. Some IT developers responding to the educational market needs are producing sophisticated interactive learning programmes such as simulations, 3D visualisation and virtual reality environments that provide immediate meaningful feedback to the learner.

With the plethora of IT and electronic communication tools available, will the practice of teaching and the activities that produce learning undergo a radical change? Just as the adoption of other technologies like the electric light bulb, the automobile, the telephone and the television, to name only a few, has changed the way we live, ICT will engender changes to this and future generations. I believe that as we endeavour to make perspicacious use of ICT, it will support meaningful learning experiences, enable collaborative exchanges without time constraints, and empower students to take greater control over the curriculum sequence. With this independence, students will ultimately learn to value ICT for the key role that it will play in meeting the challenges of life long learning throughout their career. We are now in the year of Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, and thankfully “HAL 9000” the computer who says, “I can tell from the tone of your voice, Dave, that you’re upset. Why don’t you take a stress pill and get some rest.” is not in command of our mission of ‘Discovery’. Let’s make sure that we integrate technology appropriately.


Chickering, A.W. and Gamson, Z.F. ‘Seven Principles Of Good Practice In Undergraduate Education’. American Association for Higher Education (AAHE) Bulletin. . March 1987.

Chickering, A.W. and Ehrmann, S.C. ‘Implementing the Seven Principles: Technology as Lever’. American Association for Higher Education (AAHE) Bulletin. October 1996.

Clarke, A.C. 2001: A Space Odyssey. New York, NY.: The New American Library, Inc., 1968.

Dick, W. and Cary, L. The Systematic Design of Instruction (3rd ed.). Glenview, IL.: Scott, Foresman, 1990.

Doiron, G. ‘Anatomy On The Cutting Edge: Pre-Dissection Lecture-On-Demand At The National University Of Singapore’. Proceedings of ICCE/ICCAI 2000. Vol. 2, pp. 1399–1403. National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan.

Gagné, R.M. The Conditions of Learning and Theory of Instruction (4th ed.). New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1985.

Harrow, R.J. The Rapidly Changing Face of Computing. Dec. 11, 2000.

Larose, François; David, Robert; Dirand, Jean-Marie; Karsenti, Thierry; Grenon, Vincent; Lafrance, Sylvain and Cantin, Judith. ‘Information and Communication Technologies in University Teaching and in Teacher Education: Journey in a Major Québec University’s Reality’. Electronic Journal of Sociology 4, 3, 1999.

Luria, A.R. Cognitive Development: Its Cultural and Social Foundations. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1976.

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