Surfing lessons

Students from OECD countries find that their teachers rarely have the skills required to navigate the Internet in the classroom, let alone teach it or use it as a learning device. 

Teachers in OECD countries generally do not have sufficient command of information and communications technology (ICT) for educational purposes, particularly when they are using the Internet. That at least was the verdict of 29 students from OECD countries who met with OECD policymakers and experts in Aix-en-Provence, France last December.

The students argue that their teachers have not been trained to work on the Internet and generally have only the minimum technical skills needed to get by. More importantly, they have virtually no training in the educational use of the Internet to achieve the learning objectives they set themselves. As a result teachers have no command of the learning process on the Internet, do not know how to avoid pitfalls and are unable to help students in difficulty.

One of the problems most frequently encountered by students is in selecting information on the World Wide Web. Several students said they have gone to the Internet for information only to find out subsequently that what they had unearthed was out-of-date or inaccurate. Another common complaint is that teachers do not have the expertise to direct their students to the most useful websites. Yet, they argue, basic training in Internet search techniques should be a minimum requirement for teachers.

Moreover, when teachers want to use the Internet as a teaching aid in the classroom, they tend to prepare as if it was simply a matter of using another medium like audiovisual technology or videos. This means they are applying traditional teaching principles to innovative methods of knowledge transmission. The outcome is often mediocre. As one participant at the Aix roundtable commented: “If the teacher is prepared to settle for using the Internet in an impromptu manner, it can be very frustrating.” The students concluded that extra time needs to be factored in for a lesson using ICT. The time spent in settling students in front of their screens, fruitless searches for information on the Web, and the various technical problems that regularly arise can use up as much as 20-30% of the lesson (and not all of this can be explained by bugs in the technology).

Share that knowledge 

It is therefore vital for teachers to define beforehand the objectives to be achieved in a lesson using the Internet and to give thought to the assistance that CD-ROMs and the Internet can really offer together. Use of the Internet poses another challenge: that of sharing knowledge. First of all, there is the need to share between students and teachers; given that many students often have more of an in-depth understanding of ICT – particularly of the Internet – than their teachers, cooperation between skilled students and teachers would help ensure a successful lesson. But co-operation among students is also needed, to put a student who is familiar with the Internet to work alongside one who is less skilled. The students at the roundtable said that well organised group work was particularly important in helping to bridge the digital divide between those with and without access to personal computers at home.

The solution to this alarming training gap for teachers might seem obvious – devote more resources to teachers’ technical and pedagogical training in ICT. But how can you persuade trained teachers to question their classroom practices or skills and start using ICT differently? Not easy, but one thing seems certain: willing or not, teachers will have to follow employees in other sectors of society and accept that this new technological tool is as basic and universal as pen and paper.


•OECD Centre For Educational Research and Innovation (CERI): Student Views on Learning with Information and Communication Technology, an OECD Roundtable, 8-9 December 2000 (Aix-en-Provence, France).

©OECD Observer No 225, March 2001

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