Digital technologies: new routes for education

March 10, 2005

Abstract

The present article discusses new proposals for the use of digital technologies in education. The Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) play an important role in the Net society. Concepts, such as virtualization, desterritorialization and atemporality become relevant to the study of cyberspace and to the educational possibilities to be held in this environment. The changing educational process is irreversible, and it requires at least some reflection by all the educators who use or want to use the digital medium.

Introduction

The study of the virtualization serves as basis to the questioning and understanding of the Net society. The word virtual comes from the medieval latin word “virtuale” or “virtualis” and the root “virtus” means strength, power, virtue. The American Heritage Dictionary defines virtual as: “existing or resulting in essence or effect though not in actual fact, form, or name”. According to Lévy (1996), virtual opposes to actual, once the actualization is necessarily linked to the resolution of a given problem. So, it differs from real which is linked to the realization of an existing previous possibility.

“The possible is exactly like the real; it only lacks the existence. The realization of the possible is not a creation, in its strict sense, once the creation also implies the innovative production of an idea or of a form. The difference between possible and real is, therefore, purely logical”. (LÉVY, 1996, p.16) 1

Nowadays, the discussion about virtualization is linked to the discussion of desterritorialization. The latter is marked by the lack of a point of reference (geografic center), by the new concept of space (no longer limited by the physical space), by the elimination of distances and by the establishment of communication nets for the great circulation of information and knowledge (Ianni, 1996; Lévy, 1996; Gates, 1995).

Complementary to virtualization and desterritorialization, atemporality is another important issue in the Net society. For Castells (1999), the notion of time has passed through a deep transformation in the informationalist model, changing from linear, irreversible, measurable and foreseen to fragmented and relative according to social contexts. For this reason, Castells calls it intemporal time: social emerging time that does not invalidate the physical existence of the places, but that permits the fusion of the past and of the future in an eternal present, common to virtual spaces and nets.

The understanding of the extension and of the complexity of these three elements (virtualization, desterritorialization, atemporality) is fundamental for the educators who plan to offer courses in virtual environments.

Uses of digital technologies in education

Teaching in virtual environments requires careful analisys of the advantages and drawbacks. Among the benefits we can cite: the democratization of the access to education, the stimulus to continuing education and the learning to learn. However, this type of teaching has problems, such as the feeling of isolation generated by the lack of physical contact with other participants of the course. This problem can be minimized (or perhaps solved) through pedagogical practices that estimulate the interaction among the students.

To offer a good course on the Web, it is a must to make an initial planning which specifies objectives to be reached, content to be worked on, and which considers the students´ profile and necessities. The digital medium should be selected only after this previous planning.

According to the criteria used to analyze the digital tools, it is important to take into consideration their architecture, user-friendliness and pedagogical applications they allow.

The Internet offers several services and tools for the delivery of on-line courses. The communication tools found are of three types: synchronous, asynchronous and hybrid. The synchronous tools – such as IRC (Internet Relay Chat), video-conference and audio-conference -, allow real time communication. The asynchronous tools (e-mail, discussion lists, newsgroup and web forum, among others) do not require the simultaneous participation of the users. Finally, the hybrid tools (ICQ, MOO, WebMOO, among others) combine the two types of communication (synchronous and asynchronous).

Learning Management Systems (LMS)

Besides these resources found on the Web, there are also similar commercial services, implemented through learning management systems. These management systems offer the same tools found on the Web (and cited in this article) with the advantage of being integrated in the same system. Other advantages of LMSs are related to additional tools: management tools, tools for exchanging and saving files, tools for the creation of tests for evaluation of students progress, that help organize and manage a course. Also, a LMS allows control of the acess to the system and offers statistics of the areas of the course that were most used by the students.

However, this technology loses its functionality or is not used appropriately if the teacher does not pay attention to the on-line course structure.

“The Distance Education explores certain techniques of distance teaching, including the hypemedia, the nets of interactive communication and all the intelectual technologies in the cyberculture. But the essential is found in a new pedagogy style that favors at the same time the customized learning and the collective net learning. In this context, the teacher is motivated to become an animator of the collective intelligence of his group of students instead of a direct deliverer of knowledge”. (Lévy, 1999, p.158) 2

It is clear, though, that it is required a continuous professional development especially of the on-line teacher. This professional development combines actions that lead to the reflection about the theories that deal with cyberculture and the analysis of ways to use the computer as an innovative and motivational pedagogical tool.

The implementation of a course on the Web needs to take into consideration matters that go from the diagnosis of the students´ necessities to the evaluation of the whole educational process. The first phase of this process is the establishment of a detailed work schedule with the definition of the course content, material elaboration and a cronogram of general discussions. This plan in order to be successful should have the support of the educational institution that needs to have (or to develop) an administrative and technological structure that is responsible for the burocratic aspects, for the necessary hardware and sofware to be used and for the technical-pedagogical support.

Another point to be considered during the stage of a course plan is the one related to the individual student previous general knowledge and their learning styles. This is necessary for the teacher to create alternatives which are more dynamic and personalized, that is, to make the learning centered in the student. The plan must also consider the time to be spent in each one of the stages and to create mechanisms to help the students to administer the time spent in courses mediated by the computer.

Conclusion

The school is facing a process of transformation of its structure and values. The educational environment (traditionally linear, authoritary and content-based) should become a cooperative, collaborative, hypertextual place which respects the freedom of expression and motivates the individual and group research. However, not to use the computer as a mere “electronic blackboard”, it is imperative that the teacher sees himself/herself as a learning facilitator and not as the only authority and source of knowledge. As a facilitator the teacher helps the students to acquire the ability to study, research and question, to become an autonomous learner who learns through different sources and through interacting with other students.

References
  • CASTELLS, Manuel. A sociedade em rede. Trad. Roneide Venâncio Majer. São Paulo: Paz e Terra, 1999. (A era da informação: economia, sociedade e cultura; v. 1)
  • MORRIS, W. Editor (1975). The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. Published by A. H. Publishing Co., Inc. and Houghton Mifflin Company.
  • GATES, Bill. A Estrada da Informação. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1995.

  • IANNI, Otávio. Teorias da Globalização. 3.ed. Rio de Janeiro: Editora Civilização Brasileira, 1996.
  • LÉVY, Pierre. O que é o virtual? São Paulo: 34, 1996.

Footnotes

  • 1 [Original in Portuguese] “O possível é exatamente como o real; só lhe falta a existência. A realização de um possível não é uma criação, no sentido pleno do termo, pois a criação implica também a produção inovadora de uma idéia ou de uma forma. A diferença entre possível e real é, portanto, puramente lógica.”.
  • 2[Original in Portuguese]

    A EAD explora certas técnicas de ensino a distância, incluindo as hipermídias, as redes de comunicação interativas e todas as tecnologias intelectuais na cibercultura. Mas o essencial se encontra em um novo estilo de pedagogia, que favorece ao mesmo tempo as aprendizagens personalizadas e a aprendizagem coletiva em rede. Nesse contexto, o professor é incentivado a tornar-se um animador da inteligência coletiva de seus grupos de alunos em vez de um fornecedor direto de conhecimentos”.