A Study of Uses of ICT in Primary Education through Four Winning School Cases in the Taiwan Schools Cyberfair

Article excerpt

Introduction

With the advent and pervasiveness of information communication technology (ICT), the Internet has been widely accepted as an important tool in life and education in recent decades. Active diffusion of information technology through investments in national information infrastructures and education has become a world trend (Halverson & Collins, 2006). In order to adapt to this technological innovation in education and to keep abreast of world trends, Taiwan's Ministry of Education (MOE, 1999; 2003) holds the diffusion of IT in education as one of its major tasks and has invested a great deal of money towards it since the early 1990s. Consequently, the availability of computer equipment is not a major problem in facilitating IT in education in Taiwan. As a result, the facilities in most of the computer labs and for teacher training have been greatly improved. It is anticipated that education reform can be further accelerated and learning opportunities increased.

However, in Taiwan the traditional goal of education and the prevailing social value of obtaining a high grade continue to dominate the core practices of schooling (Young, 1999a, 1999b, 2000a, 2000b, 2001, & 2006). Observations of school practices indicate that the national policies on implementing IT in education, such as the inclusion of supplementary digitized learning resources, have indeed had some impact on teachers and motivated them to change. In general, however, there is not much widespread use of technology practices in most schools' regular curricula.

Overwhelmingly, core instructional practice is still examination-oriented, and the use of ICT in teaching practice in schools remains marginal. Most of the time, the positive effects of applying IT arise from specially funded experiments during certain periods of time. Those teachers who were early adaptors of technology were more likely to adapt to the change by taking on projects such as providing additional alternative options for students (Young, 2006).

ICT in education is being promoted and studied in various countries and, in general, these countries' goals are similar: to provide more effective learning and competitive manpower in the international market. However, research conducted in any one country may not yield results completely applicable to other countries because of cultural differences, educational traditions, economic status, or political priorities. Every country has its contextually specific problems (Belland, 1998). This study reports on an investigation of uses of ICT in primary education in the Taiwan Schools Cyberfair as a means to expand and enhance student learning in an extracurricular setting. It documents how ICT has been integrated into an alternative instructional setting through project-based learning (PBL) and cooperative learning. It puts forward the case that, ultimately, ICT enables learners to open up a new window to the outside world and bridge the information divide.

Literature review

Project-based learning (PBL) is a constructivist pedagogy and class-oriented learning approach. Unlike traditional learning which is short-term, subject independent, teacher-focused, and mostly constrained to classroom settings, PBL involves long-term, theme-based learning and student-centred activities that focus on daily life problems and allows learners to use an inquiry-based approach to engage with issues and questions that are real and relevant to their lives. When conducting PBL, teachers encourage students to choose topics of their own interest, and set specific questions in a well-planned framework that is wider than the immediate task at hand. Students can gain knowledge, ask questions, and find solutions during the research process (Curtis, 2001; GLEF, 2001).

In project-based learning, teachers actively supervise students by taking the role of project facilitator instead of instructing them (Thomas, 2000; Curtis, 2001; Wong et al. …