The Transformational Promise of Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) for the Professional Education of Architects

Article excerpt

Introduction

This paper attempts to answer three fundamental questions about the possibility of using ICT to transform the delivery of education to professional architects. First, what are the potential benefits of ICT for teachers and students in higher education professional programs such as architecture? Secondly, what are the issues that all too often act as barriers to the full development of an ICT-rich learning environment in higher education? Finally, what are the particular issues involved in implementing ICT to transform the teaching of architecture in a rapidly developing nation such as Taiwan?

The response to these research questions requires, at the outset, a selective literature review regarding the use of ICTs in professional education, specifically in architecture. The review focuses, first, on the relationship between the rhetoric and the practice of implementing ICTs in educational systems, and, secondly, on important cultural issues involved with this kind of implementation. One recurring theme is the idea that ICTs have the potential for radically transforming educational practice; another is the idea that ICTs promote the constructivist paradigm of epistemology. The review concludes with an examination of the use of ICTs in architectural schools, concentrating on both the successes and the difficulties that have been observed so far.

The literature review will be followed by a compact case study of how ICT has been used in the educational system of Taiwan to date. This, in turn, will be followed by a theoretical grounding of the discussion in the educational paradigm of constructivism. A full discussion of the use of ICT in professional education, particularly in relation to Taiwan, will conclude the paper.

A Brief Review of the Literature

The first thing a review of the literature reveals that there has been an abundance of positive claims published in recent years about the promise that ICT holds for transforming higher education in the twenty-first century, but there has also been a disturbing lack of empirical evidence to support these claims. Stensaker et al. (2007) sum up the situation very well when they describe their own findings about the difficulty of putting ICT theory into practice at universities: "... it is not the visions, the visionaries (institutional top-management) and the economic foundations that seem to be lacking, but an effective link between, purpose, people, and pedagogy inside the institution" (p. 431). Wong and Li (2008), in one of the more substantial empirical studies of how ICT is actually used in contemporary education, confirm the need for a multi-layered approach to instituting and assessing ICT, one that combines lofty educational goals with the day-to-day work of teachers in order to effectively manage change.

The idea that ICT is culturally embedded is taken for granted by experts in the field of education. For example, Zhang (2007) makes an important distinction between the pedagogical cultures of Western nations and Eastern nations. While the West has a long educational tradition, dating back to Socrates in ancient Greece, of individual discovery through debate between learners and teachers, the Eastern educational tradition, based on Confucius in ancient China, emphasizes what Zhang (2007) calls "a group-based, teacher-dominated, and centrally organized pedagogical culture" (p. 302). In fact, in almost all Eastern nations the implementation of ICT in educational settings is controlled by central government agencies, and usually these agencies have national plans that are geared specifically to meet the economic demands of globalization and the social demands of the information age.

One recent study is very informative about the impact of ICT on the professional education of architects. Based on research in the United States, Japan, and Europe, Andia (2002) reviews how the architectural profession has received and incorporated ICT over the past thirty years. …