During April 15th and 16th, 2010, the advisory board of the Horizon Report Latin America 2010 has had a meeting to reach a consensus on what will educational technology look like in the following years, after having been working online for several weeks.
Besides the debates on the technologies that have been mentioned along the online process and during the face-to-face meeting — collaborative environments, social networking sites, social media, open content, mobile technologies, cloud computing, personal learning environments, augmented reality, smart classrooms, the semantic web, gestural-based computing, etc. — one of the main take-aways I bring home has been realizing the huge chasm between the micro and the macro approaches of ICTs in Education.
Approaches in ICTs in Education
As a micro approach of ICTs in Education I understand the analysis of the impact of ICTs on the educational process — teaching and learning, that is, how methodologies and the daily work will change when ICTs enter a specific educational process. A simple example is whether the dynamics of the classroom will change if kids come in with their laptops, in what direction and what will be the extent of the impact (if any).
As a macro approach of ICTs in Education I understand the analysis of the impact of ICTs on Education as an institution (and/or its instititutions). In other words, how the arrival of ICTs will change the role of schools and universities and their teachers, their legitimacy, their added value and “business” plans, etc. A simple example is whether the abundance of (digital) information will reinforce informal education and render formal education out-dated and useless in the end.
In my opinion, most people share the micro approach, less people share the macro approach, and but a very few try and combine both visions. Ironically enough, both the micros and the macros see each other as technophiles, techno-optimists or techno-utopians.
Macros think that micros do not “think out of the box” and just look at the technologies and their role in the tiny universe of the classroom, while forgetting about the wide (socioeconomic) context outside of it, which is what is, in fact ruling all changes.
Micros think that macros forget about pedagogy — which is what the whole thing was about — and focus instead on cool and trendy lucubrations that have little to do with the real life of teachers and students.
Example: digital natives
Let us take as a first example the case of digital natives (for the sake of simplicity, let us use the term to describe a set of students that grew using technology usually and comfortably). A micro approach will consider digital natives worth being taken into account for several reasons: they might have new (digital) competences that can be leveraged for learning; they might be able to retrieve information quicker than the teacher himself (with the related legitimacy issues for the latter); the might have or develop different cognitive strategies, hence teaching methodologies should be revised; etc.
Macros will look at digital natives from a very different point of view: digital natives define their identities and their socialization strategies in new ways, thus affecting the role of all institutions (Education amongst them); their concept of success (enjoy what one is doing at work) might be different from baby-boomers (money and power) or generation-Xers (self-realization), thus requiring from education radically different roles and outcomes; they might have learnt new horizontal and networked communication techniques, then asking for horizontal and non-hierarchical relationships with peers, institutions and leaders (politicians, bosses, teachers…); etc.
Example: personal learning environments
The micro approach will probably compare personal learning environments with portfolios — or e-portfolios in the best case — and consider them a good thing for creativity, a good thing to track students’ progress, but a good piece of mess in the middle run and something that will require a good piece of effort on the teacher’s side to obtain digital skills and get monitoring tools. All in all, a practicality.
For macros, PLEs are the (punk) revolution. PLEs enable autonomy, the richness of non-hierarchical connections, the raise of informal education. Combined with social media and open educational resources, PLEs capsize not the classroom but the entire education system as we know it. Really.
Example: Smart classrooms
Micros find smart classrooms — from digital blackboards to remotely controlling a telescope orbiting the Earth — as the quintessence of ICTs in education. At last, “real” and “cheap” simulations are possible. Rivers of data flow into the classroom and can be managed at will. Is a teaching and learning experience on steroids, rich, visual, hands-on (without the inconvenience of things blowing up in your face or the expensive investments in bricks-and-mortal labs).
For macros, smart classrooms are, in most cases, but the perpetuation of the old-fashioned and out-dated way of teaching in a world that has changed (but in the classrooms). That simple.
Micros and macros
In the best of scenarios (e.g. digital natives), a technology or a technology-based trend or change is acknowledged by both sides. For different reasons, though, but there is an agreement on the importance. In the worst of scenarios, not only disagreement but opposition is found.
From my own experience — though generalizations are always wrong and cruel exercises — the micro approach is more often adopted by older generations, deeply rooted or interested in the hard-core parts of pedagogy and educational methodologies… and sometimes not mastering or even ignoring some of the technologies they are talking about. On the other hand, amongst macros I have mainly found younger people, tech-savvy or simply geek, and often not coming from Pedagogy but Sociology, Communication Science, Economics, Information Science which shifts them towards context because they are not knowledgeable of the core issues.
We absolutely need to bridge these two. In my opinion, the micro approach seriously lacks a good amount of e-awareness: they are many times refurbishing a ship without noticing that it is heading the highest waterfall. The macro approach sometimes surprisingly seems to forget the role itself of institutions and how these are many times more emergent systems than top-down designs, and as emergent systems, they are made of little pieces working with small but stone-written codes.
Also speaking about the advisory board meeting on the Horizon Report Latin America 2010:
- Informe horizon.ib: Puebla, dia 1, by Diego Leal
- Lo bueno, lo malo y lo feo del Informe Horizon Iberoamérica, by Cristóbal Cobo
- Para caminar es necesario dar el primer paso: Horizon Iberoamérica, by Cristóbal Suárez Guerrero
- Horizon Report.Ib 2010. Some ideas after the meeting in Puebla, by Eva Durall
If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:
Peña-López, I. (2010) “The micro and macro approaches of ICTs in Education” In ICTlogy,
#79, April 2010. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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