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Integrating ICT in higher education: the case of ITESM.

Abstract

The growth of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in education is a global phenomenon. The possibility of using ICTs has major implications for the teaching and learning situation in higher education in both developed and developing countries. It constitutes a challenge to institutions worldwide to change aspects of their organization and operation. This paper reviews the specific case of the use of ICTs at the Monterrey Institute of Technologies (ITESM) in Mexico. It analyses the role of lecturers and students in the development of new models of teaching and learning through the use of ICTs. It compares the use of computers and information technologies in two instructional modes: face-to-face and hybrid online-teleconferencing. It further identifies critical factors that influence both lecturers and students in using ICTs.

Introduction

The possibility of using information and communication technologies (ICTs) has major implications for the teaching and learning situation in higher education. It constitutes a challenge to institutions to change aspects of their organization and operation. This paper reviews one such approach at the Monterrey Institute of Technologies (ITESM) in Mexico. Specifically, it analyses the role of lecturers and students in new modes of teaching and learning through the use of ICTs. It compares the use of computers and information technologies in two instructional modes: face-to-face and a hybrid online-teleconferencing one. It further identifies critical factors that influence both lecturers and students when using ICT.

ICT and education

The growth of ICTs in education is a global phenomenon. Countries in both the developed and developing worlds have expressed visions of participating in and shaping the global information society. Invariably these visions emphasize education as a primary sector for the utilization of ICTs to produce competent learners suitably qualified and skilled to contribute to economic growth.

Responses to ICTs can be analytically classified in two ways: At one extreme, a euphoric and visionary embrace of the potential benefits of ICTs (the optimistic view). At the other extreme those who are opposed to ICTs believing that it will further divide society, exacerbate inequity, and rule people's lives and the world (the pessimistic perspective). The optimistic perspective is motivated by a number of differing and contradictory rationales. There are the "inevitabilists" who maintain that ICTs are a fact and that societies and individuals need to be familiar with ICTs in order to avoid being "left-out". Pessimistic perspectives point out the inequities that are engendered by ICTs. Such perspectives highlight the divide between the technology rich countries (the developed world) and the technology poor countries (the developing world). Hamelink (1997) persuasively points out that the truth of these positions is a matter of policy choice. What is required is pro-active policies and conscious social choice, which take charge of ICTs to steer a socially responsible national development agenda.

With respect to their educational usage, ICT is exploding with unprecedented speed, generating educational intrigue and a fast-growing field of research and investigation. It should be stated at the outset that while experience of ICTs in education is increasing rapidly, witnessed by the growth of publication and research in the area, there is little evidence to suggest that ICTs do impact education either positively or negatively on learning and learners (UNESCO, 1997: 34). Much of the evidence or case studies have not yet spanned sufficient time to present a convincing argument for a positive or negative correlation between ICTs and learning. In this respect it is useful to note Haddad's caution about ICT in education:
 Technology is only a tool. Educational choices have to be made first in
 terms of objectives, methodologies, and roles of teachers and students
 before decisions on the appropriate technologies can be made. (Haddad,
 1999: 1).


ICTs are being used in a variety of ways to engage with teaching and learning. Technology can be used in traditional ways to promote `drill and practice' type exercises; to teach about the technology itself, introducing new subject areas like computer studies; to teach basic computer skills like word-processing; or it can be used in innovative ways that promote student-centred learning, through a greater emphasis on project and teamwork. In the latter approach, ICTs become integrated into the curriculum so that students acquire new literacies, at the same time as learning about a knowledge domain. Whilst this approach is viewed as ideal in coming closer to engaging learners in ways that deepen their learning experience (Office of Technology, 1995: 28), it is regarded as teacher-intensive in the levels of input and facilitation required (Alexander, 1999: 9). It is important to recognize that student-centred learning does not alleviate teacher workloads. Instead, the role and responsibilities of teachers shift to include greater facilitation, guidance and generates among students a self-consciousness of their own learning. Teachers are still responsible for designing learning programmes that enable the delivery of content and the acquisition of competencies.

A primary question being asked and which this paper attempts to address is whether ICTs impact positively on learning. In this respect, there are diverse opinions. On the one hand, there is a view that insufficient evidence exists to prove that ICTs improve educational experience (Moll & Froese-Germain: 1998c; Jurich, 1999). This view states that it is also dangerous to extrapolate from one or two success stories to assume generalisability:
 as everyone who has studied technology in schools can attest, it is
 deceptive to extrapolate from specific, properly established programs to an
 entire school population (Moll and Froese-Germain: 1998c).


On the other hand, there are those who argue that in order to do justice to the question, new approaches to evaluation research, which take account of uncontrollable variables that influence learning, must be developed.

More recent developments in the field concern the notion of information literacy (Candy, 1996, Sayed, 1998, Sayed 2000, Sayed & Carelse, 2000) as useful in understanding the relationship between ICTs and learning. The literature suggests that the use of technology cannot be divorced from processes relating to the critical evaluation of information skills, which are both generic and subject/context specific. In other words, the impact of ICTs on learning is crucially connected to the extent to which learners become critical evaluators of information, to shape problems and develop new insights and understanding.

Research context and approach

This paper is based on a case study of selected departments/faculties at the ITESM, a Mexican private university with 30 campuses in Mexico and 9 other countries in Latin America. ITESM was founded in 1943 by a group of Mexican entrepreneurs. Since 1997 the vision of the university has been the integration of the use of computers in their teaching process. ITESM is considered a significant role model in Mexican higher education in the use of ICT in teaching and learning. The ITESM offers a valuable case study of the problems and constraints in using ICT in higher education. The data is drawn from in-depth interviews with lecturers, virtual lecturers and students, and lecture room observations at the ITESM from August until December 2000. A total of 32 in-depth interviews with lecturers and students were conducted, and 31 classroom observations. Apart from these classroom observations, some observations at working places were carried out, where students used the Intranet to connect their laptops to the Internet and download files from the Lotus Notes database.

The departments/faculties that comprised the research are the Department of Management and the Department of Engineering and Computer Science. Schools are divided into two main areas at the ITESM: the Division of Social Sciences and Management, on one side and the Division of Engineering and Computer Sciences on the other. One school of each division was chosen: the school of Management and the school of Engineering and Computer Sciences.

Findings

In reporting the findings we highlighted a few key topics which have emerged from the data.

Disposition to change

When using technologies for the first time to innovate traditional ways of teaching and learning, lecturers and students have a strong resistance to change. This was pointed out as one of the main difficulties in the process of adapting Lotus Notes as a means of interaction between lecturers and students in the face-to-face mode. Lecturers felt driven from the centre of the lecture room. Students felt they had too much work and had to assume an extremely responsible attitude toward their own learning process. But as students familiarized themselves with the use of technologies, this resistance is diminished. As one student phrased it: "At the beginning there was a lot of opposition towards the use of Lotus Notes. But in reality, when I began using Lotus Notes I think it was much better than I had anticipated" (CL).

For those students at the hybrid teleconferencing-online instruction model, the resistance to change was expressed as a fear of not being able to see the lecturer inside the lecture room. As one student commented: "Sometimes we make comments among ourselves, which stay in the classroom and never reach the lecturer" (RH). This fear was emphasized when the distant lecturer did not respond to students' e-mail messages and/or students' questions left on the course website. As one student confessed, "Unfortunately, the interaction between lecturers and students is not that good sometimes. We send them an e-mail and they do not reply immediately only after 3 days. I know this is not anyone's fault considering they receive 200 or 300 e-mails daily". (DA)

Changing roles

A major challenge for lecturers and students in both models (the face-to-face and the hybrid mode) was the transformation of their role. One lecturer suggested that it was extremely difficult for him to motivate his students to take a more active role within the lecture room, learning by themselves rather than being lectured to. This idea was emphasized by another lecturer who said that since the use of computers was an imposition on lecturers and students, they had no choice but to adjust to it. Most of the interviewed students in both models expressed concern about the amount of work they had to do since the use of computers for instruction was adopted at the ITESM.

Regarding the use of computers for collaborative learning, all of the lecturers and students interviewed maintained that computers promote this kind of learning. Nevertheless, students and lecturers in the face-to-face mode showed some disagreement about the role of Lotus Notes in promoting this collaboration. Some of the lecturers argued that it was not the software itself that promoted collaborative learning, but lecturers' application of innovative pedagogic techniques. As one lecturer phrased it: "Ideally, computers promote collaborative work among students, but in reality what happens is that when a lecturer assigns work to a team, generally there are always only one or two students who work, and the rest of the team members rely on their colleagues' work" (JV).

For those trained lecturers in Problem Based Learning (PBL) technique, the application of this pedagogic practice was the key for the promotion of group discussion and interaction among the students. For those more inexperienced lecturers, the fact that students did not get involved in collaborative work was influenced by their young age and their resistance to change as well as their early involvement in higher education since they were just in their first year.

Collaborative work in the hybrid teleconferencing-online model was a controversial topic among students. They feared the idea of working collaboratively, expressing their need to invest too much time for that kind of interaction with distant colleagues: "I do teamwork in several of my courses and sometimes this is very complicated since I have to get together with six different teams, let's say, in one week. So it is really too much work" (DA). But despite the amount of work, this same student showed enthusiasm when referring to his role in the online course. He underlined his active role when taking part in a teleconferencing-online course: "I definitely feel more active at a virtual lecture because in it each student is responsible for his/her own education". (DA)

Student-centred learning

A major challenge for students in both modes was computers' promotion of a student-centred approach. Lecturers' and students' expertise in managing Lotus Notes was emphasized as a determinant factor in the promotion of student-centered models inside the lecture room in face-to-face instruction. One of the lecturers showed very little knowledge of the use of the platform, causing her students to feel that the use of Lotus Notes had not changed anything significantly. On the other hand, lecturers emphasized the different attitudes that students can take when using technologies for learning. Some of them became very quickly involved while some were very reluctant to change their traditional passive role inside the lecture room. As one of the lecturers phrased it, "There are still some students who are afraid of being unable to use Lotus Notes" (RV).

One of the lecturers employed software simulators inside the lecture room and showed complete agreement with the idea of computers promoting student-centered approaches. During the process of analyzing a particular case, they were the producers of the needed theory to solve cases and practical problems: "My students have to answer questions and encourage discussion ... They have to make enlightening comments to their classmates" (JAV).

For those students in the teleconferencing-online model, this issue was even more relevant. One of the students expressed with vivacity: "I think this is what I have learnt (from the teleconferencing-online instruction model): to search for information following my own interest" (RH).

Usage of Internet

One of the key topics that was crucial in the transformation of students' and lecturers' role and interaction was their use of computers and the Internet. One lecturer in the face-to-face model expressed concern because she and her students did not have enough computer skills to use Lotus Notes. She explained: "We all need to be trained to use computers better" (RV). Another lecturer saw this as an opportunity to encourage class discussion. As he phrased it: "Those students who did not have a lecture with me before are not familiar with the use of the platform. If students don't know how to use Lotus Notes, I tell them to approach those classmates who use it or to come to me to solve any problems they may have" (JAV).

Computer skills were a determinant factor within the teleconferencing-online mode. Both lecturers and students in this mode said they spent several hours of the day connected to the Internet using the course website. One student within the face-to-face mode said with enthusiasm: "I use my Laptop at least more than five hours daily. If I am not using it for working purposes, I use it to listen to music. I have everything inside my Laptop" (EG).

Another student in the teleconferencing-online model expressed: "I use the Internet a lot. I search there for information regarding each task I have to do for the lecture. I have my own Laptop and spend around six hours a day using it. During these hours, twice a week I visit the course website" (SV).

Conclusions

The use of computers and the Internet in face-to-face and online instruction offers similarities and differences that have to be considered when comparing both modes of instruction. Furthermore, since the use of computers and the Internet is still a relatively new issue in higher education, a need for pedagogic research was underlined by several of the interviewed lecturers.

In both modes students are moving from a transmission model to a student centered mode where students assume responsibility for their own learning. However, distant students need more motivation to engage in collaborative learning activities than face-to-face students do. On the other hand, students need to overcome their resistance to change in order to be able to fully use computers in their learning process.

The research conducted indicates that a wide range of factors influence success. Curriculum design, lecture room organization, time allocation, social and schools setting and culture all influence the ways in which ICTs are used and perceived, and it is almost impossible to undertake studies to test for improvement without engaging with these dynamics. Introducing ICTs requires attention to many other areas so that a holistic approach to educational change is developed. The introduction of ICTs in such a context allows these changes to be part of global, school-wide changes, not simply fashionable add-ons which throw technology at students in an attempt to solve educational crises and poor performance.

References

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Roblyer, M.D., Edwards, J., Havriluk, M. A. (1997) Integrating Educational Technology into Teaching. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

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Sayed, Y. & Cathy-Mae Carelse (2000). ICTs in schools: problems, prospects and possibilities. Education Policy Unit, UWC. Report for the Education Policy Unit Research Project on Computers in South African Schools.

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Martha Burkle, University of Sussex, UK Yusuf Sayed, University of Sussex, UK

Burkle is a Doctoral Candidate at the School. Her main focus of research is the impact of information technologies in higher education and society in general. Sayed is a lecturer at the School of International Education. His research has focused on the impact of information technologies in higher education curricula.
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Title Annotation:Monterrey Institute of Technologies
Author:Sayed, Yusuf
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Geographic Code:1MEX
Date:Sep 22, 2002
Words:3188
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