ICT is not just about tech tools

ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) for education is now a fashionable catch phrase. Education institutions have even started using it in their advertisements!
ICT for education is actually a new paradigm. This emerging practice focuses on enriching students’ educational experience by helping them learn better. ICT tools are a big help as far as getting students to mediate classroom interactions more effectively is concerned. In fact, the best applications of ICT tools are in the area of blended learning approaches being delivered and tailored in areas of resource scarcity.

But use of ICT for education is not just about tools. It is more about knowing how to use these tools in a pedagogically sound manner. The main purpose of using ICT is to make in-class learning more effective and extend the classroom beyond the physical boundary of four walls. In a nutshell, ICT is capable of delivering the following benefits:
*Increasing efficiency
* Expanding the reach of education
* Enhancing quality of learning
* Enhancing quality of teaching

ICT can deliver good results for teaching and learning. The knowledge of the technical aspect of the ICT tool is important but for it to be used as an educational tool, great thought must be given to what learning is to take place with it and how that learning is to take place.

Before we move ahead, let us also quickly list various ICT tools available for the purpose of learning:

In-class multi-media presentation tools
* Presentations and Graphics
* Simulations
* Videos

Teacher-student interaction

*One way broadcast
* Radio, TV
* Webcasts
* Interactive media
* Two-way interactive VSAT multicast
* Web meeting and Web conferencing
* Interactive white boards

Internet/Web tools
n Discussion forums, blogs
n Chat forums  
n RSS feeds

Mobile learning

* Podcasts
* Handheld devices/ phone- based learning  

Learning management system

* Student Assessment Systems
* Student Progress Tracking
* Learning Path Management
Though the availability of tools in education institutes is important, what really matters is whether these tools are being used the right way or not. Among the questions that educational institutions need to ask themselves are:
* How ICT tools are to be used
* The learning goals that can be achieved with the tools
* The kind of training that is required for the teachers
* The learning curve for integration of ICT tools in pedagogy

When effectively used, ICT tools can transform the educational experience for students studying in non-metro cities. Scarcity of good teachers and trainers in higher education is a well documented story and is even more severe in tier 2 cities.
 
Multi-media VSAT Classrooms: A network of studios and learning centres capable of interacting with each other over a dedicated VSAT bandwidth are a great aid.  These are physical classrooms converted to multi-media hi-tech classrooms that are capable of receiving and broadcasting live audio/video through-out the network. Studios set up in major cities, with experts from industry interacting with students from tier-2/3 towns over this VSAT network, helps to impart world-class learning. The trainer interaction is augmented with animation and videos to enhance student learning.

Web/Internet: To augment the in-class learning, a state-of-the-art learning portal built on Web 2.0 technologies to take the classroom online is of immense help.
Simulated work experience: Real corporate experience is imparted by making the students undergo an entire project in a simulated environment that emulates the workplace.

Mobile/handheld devices: SMS is used as a medium to support learning.  As the proliferation of GPRS enabled phones increases and the data access cost over mobile comes down over the next couple of years, this medium is sure to play a critical role in learning

Assessment engine: An assessment system that is capable of taking inputs from the traditional paper-based test, is integrated with online assessments and moves to the next generation devices to conduct multiple-choice quizzes in the classroom.
Learning management system:  The backbone of this entire experience is a complete learning management system that handles the student learning, interaction, progress and remedial interventions. 

The real success of ICT in education will come when it is used naturally as a part of teaching. Today, we do not marvel at the spectacle of technology when we see printed textbooks or when we watch TV or use a telephone. These tools have become a part of our natural life. The ultimate success of ICT for learning will be attained when we stop being in awe of the ICT tools and apply our minds and emotions to the wonders of learning.

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