Asia-Pacific Forum on Science Learning and Teaching, Volume 15, Issue 1, Article 6 (Jun., 2014)
Ajitha NAYAR K and Miles BARKER
Computer labs as techno-pedagogical tools for learning biology – Exploring ICT practices in India

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Background to the study

Many states in India have initiated bold attempts to support schools with IT infrastructures and IT-based learning resources. The increased availability of computers in all government schools nationwide has resulted in sweeping changes with regard to classroom scenarios in various parts of the country. Technology-enabled learning environments, which formerly could only have been dreamt of, have become a reality today. A mitigating factor has been the IT policies framed by various state governments, which have helped in generating funds for setting up school labs with all essential infrastructures. As reported in UNESCO (2008), teachers and facilitators in both formal and non-formal education settings are trying to ensure the effective use of ICT, and teachers and instructors need to re-define their roles. Studies (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1993; Gordon & Pea, 1995; Dexter, Anderson, & Becker, 1999; Herrington, Oliver, and Reeves, 2003; Becta, 2004) show that the contextual use of technology enhances students' academic achievement, lowers drop-out rates, encourages better attendance, and provides better preparation for college. Teachers need to know several features of word processing software like spreadsheet, database, multimedia presentation softwares which leads to more effective e-learning, increased interaction, and accommodates more fully different learners' preferred e-learning styles. Bransford, Brown and Cocking (1999) suggest that new interactive technologies are now making it easier to create environments in which students can learn by doing,receive feedback, renew their understanding continually, and build new knowledge. Students in technology-integrated environments immerse themselves in the learning activity which in turn individualizes the educational process to accommodate the needs, interest, current knowledge, and learning styles of students (Schacter and Fagnano, 1999). It has been found that such technology-enabled learning environments are effective vehicles for promulgating a host of new instructional practices as well (Nayar and Barker, 2008). Technology enables students with a variety of learning experiences (Davis, Desforges, Jessel, Somekh, Taylor and Vaughan, 1997; Jonassen and Carr, 2000; Jimoyaiannis and Komis, 2006). It has been reported that ICT-based science instruction enhances conceptual change and levels of achievement (Bayraktar, 2001; Bang, 2003, Baggott la velle et al., 2003; Kahn, 2008; Park, 2002; Kozma and Wagner, 2010). Technology-enabled learning has tremendous potential to provide constructive learning strategies like situated learning, contextual development, an emphasis on social interaction, active learning and metacognition (Lejoie, 2000; O'Neil, 2005; O'Neil and Perez; 2006). Learning with technology opens up new avenues for learners and provides opportunities for enhancing learning skills required for the 21st century, viz., acquiring new knowledge and skills, connecting new information and existing knowledge, analyzing, developing habits of learning and working with others to use new information (Grant, 1996; Valanide and Angeli, 2008).

Educating teachers in effectively integrating technologies into instruction is not a difficult task, provided teachers are made aware of what strategies are available. However, studies have reported that many educational innovations ultimately fail because too little effort or too few resources are devoted to preparing teachers for the innovation (Gess-Newsome et al., 2003; Rohaan, Taconis and Jochems, 2008; and Rohaan et al., 2009).

Surveys in various contexts and various states in India (Bharadwaj, 2007; Dabla, 2010; Singh, 2009) have revealed that ICT infrastructure in schools in India reveals a glaring disparity among schools with regard to the availability of technology. Often, availability is influenced by the school's own policies. Technology presence in schools leaves so much scope for improvement (Bharadwaj, 2007). The present study has been conducted in the southern states of Tamilnadu, Karnataka and Kerala State, where there are impressive public and private partnerships with regard to technology intervention in the schools. The IT@schools projects and the Centre for Development of Information Technology (C-DIT) in Kerala have been instrumental in the preparation of ICT- based learning resources and up-grading of computer labs in schools- 99 % of the high schools have a computer lab with broadband connectivity of their own. In the state of Karnataka the Regional Institute of Education (RIE) is participating in a curricular experimental project initiated by a privately owned IT company which is concerned with preparing the right IT solutions - learner and teacher - for a technology-based learning environment. In the state of Tamilnadu, though, Government initiatives are considerably fewer; many independent initiatives are taken by individual schools which are privately managed.

Setting up of computer labs is undoubtedly cost-effective for schools, relative to the alternative of placing computers in every classroom. However, if a wide range of curriculum subjects (like biology, in the present study) can now be taught for at least part of the time in computer labs, do teachers actually take advantage of the new technologies to promote learning? Or, even when the digital divide has been crossed and computers are available to teachers and students, does a pedagogical divide still exist (Nayar and Barker, 2008) and the new educative possibilities are ignored? That was the focus of the present study.


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