Posts Tagged ‘communication technology’

EFP Brief No. 178: Teaching and Learning for an ICT Revolutionised Society

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

This exercise was part of the EU FP7 Farhorizon Project which was aimed at piloting, developing and testing in real situations a foresight methodology designed to bring together key stakeholders to explore the longer term challenges that face their sector (or that cut across sectors) and to build a shared vision that could guide the development of the relevant European research agenda. This approach was applied to the theme “Teaching and Learning in an ICT Revolutionised Society”.

The Information Society

The development of information and communication technology (ICT) in the last decades doubtlessly ranks amongst the major revolutions in our ability to communicate and to manage information. Over the last three decades, ICT has become a prominent feature of our everyday lives. The development of the personal computer and office productivity software in the eighties led to the widespread adoption of such technology in the business world. Similarly, the introduction of the worldwide web in the nineties and the falling cost of hardware brought computing to the masses and has led to the personal computer becoming a commonplace item in the domestic environment.

The ICT revolution has resulted in a wealth of opportunity for increased competitiveness, innovative business models, government service delivery, new methods of learning and personal use. The European Commission has endeavoured to accelerate realisation of the benefits of ICT through a number of measures included in the i2010 Strategy (2005-2010) and more recently in the Digital Agenda 2020.

Despite significant progress, however, there exist numerous areas where the power of ICT has not been adequately exploited, and much remains to be done if Europe is to maintain its competitiveness and achieve its economic and social objectives. This initiative is based on the following rationales:

  • the social rationale arises from the fact that knowledge and familiarity with ICT constitute an important dimension of employability and of general social participation;
  • the pedagogic rationale emphasises the contribution that ICT can make to the improvement of the quality of education by providing rich and exciting environments for learning;
  • the vocational rationale stresses the need of ICT learning and teaching for future professions where ICT will be utilised;
  • the economic rationale relates to the potential for increasing efficiency and effectiveness in economic activities, together with opportunities for developing innovative products and services based on advances in information technology.

The Success Scenario Approach

The “Success Scenario Approach” is an action-based approach where senior stakeholders develop a shared vision of what success in the area would look like, together with appropriate goals and indicators, which provide the starting point for developing a road-map to get there. The purpose of having such a vision of success is to set a ‘stretch target’ for all the stakeholders. The discussion and debate forming an integral part of the process leads to the development of mutual understanding and a common platform of knowledge that helps to align the actors for action.

In practice, the structure of a workshop begins with a consideration of key drivers or challenges, builds a vision of success, and then focuses on actions to make the vision a reality. The workshop helps flagging hidden bottlenecks and constraints that might impede progress and facilitates identifying windows of opportunity for joint policy coordination and action.

Important outcomes of these workshops are the insights they provide in terms of the level of maturity in policy design and development and the viability and robustness of long-term policy scenarios to guide policy-making. The workshops also provide indications on whether there is a need for further discussion to refine thinking and policy design and/or to bring additional stakeholders into the discussion.

During the workshop experts from the domains of education and ICT met with policy-makers and other stakeholders to explore a foresight vision of the contributions that ICT could make in the areas of education, business, industry and society. The workshop also aimed to identify what measures would be necessary to develop the required skills.

A number of meetings were held with the EU Commission’s Directorate General for Research & Innovation to establish the approach to be followed and to clarify the focus of the exercise. An initial description of the ecology was prepared as background for the workshop. The event was held in Brussels on 3 December, 2010 with the participation of 30 experts and policy-makers.

The first part of the workshop focused on setting the scene and establishing the need for revitalised and coherent policy governance. A second session aimed at developing a common vision of the role of education in equipping European citizens with the skills needed in the coming decades. The third session sought to identify the key policies and instruments needed to achieve the vision, while the fourth involved prioritisation of the policy recommendations resulting from the earlier sessions. The fifth and final session focused on assessing ways in which key groups can shape the pace and direction of education in Europe.

Information Society Requires ICT Literacy

The workshop participants articulated a vision of a Europe where future generations possess an adequate repertoire of skills and competences to enable them to participate actively in a digital society, both in their personal and in their professional lives.

Need to Promote Widespread ICT Literacy

Most of the younger generation, the so called digital natives, have grown up using technology that has now become an integral part of their everyday lives. This has imparted an easy familiarity and a sense of confidence in its use and above all a willingness to make use of such technology without a second thought. Nevertheless, their experience is largely based on using the technology for social networking and entertainment while their skills are at best incomplete in terms of exploiting ICT in other settings and in their professional lives.

Similarly, the large-scale deployment of computers in business and industry over the last two decades resulted in significant segments of the workforce undergoing training or learning to use computers on the job. However, such training normally focused on specific applications rather than having a broad base of applicability, hereby limiting the ability of such individuals to fully exploit the potential of ICT.

In spite of such business-driven learning, however, there still remains a significant sector of the working population which has not yet had the opportunity or taken the initiative to develop digital competencies, severely limiting their professional development and career options. Other sectors of the population, such as those not in active employment and the underprivileged, have had limited opportunity to learn to use ICT.

ICT Must Become a Tool in Education

The level of utilisation of ICT as a tool in education remains low overall, and there is lack of a common approach across the EU as well as within individual countries. While most schools are now equipped with computers, Internet access and occasionally more sophisticated equipment such as interactive whiteboards, effective eLearning requires far more than the mere introduction of hardware in the classroom. In general, however, schools have failed to develop visions and strategies on the way they can integrate e-learning effectively throughout the curriculum and in the school environment.

Teacher training on the use and role of ICT in learning has not been adequately addressed, and exploitation of ICT by and large has been left up to the initiative of individual teachers. In most cases, school curricula have not been adequately updated to take into account the needs for developing ICT skills.

ICT offers the opportunity of a superior learning experience through the use of multimedia, specialised software and educational games. However, established textbook publishers have largely failed to embrace ICT and to develop teaching material incorporating simulations, games and other modern tools. Although much educational content has been developed, the lack of a recognised certification mechanism means that most educational institutions are unable to make use of this material. Some countries have recently embarked on the development of libraries of ICT material (Wikiwijs Netherlands, KlasCement Belgie).

Society Called Upon to Ensure ICT Participation

Most EU countries have introduced a number of campaigns and schemes aimed at improving the ICT skills of the elderly, the underprivileged and the marginalised. However, sustained effort for this target population is required and adequate opportunities should be made available for all members of society to have access to the Internet, to master the necessary skills, and to benefit from modern technological developments.

Vision of a Europe Reaping the Benefits of ICT

The workshop participants articulated a vision of a Europe where future generations possess an adequate repertoire of skills and competences to enable them to participate actively in a digital society, both in their personal as well as in their professional lives. European educational systems need to take advantage of improved learning mechanisms offered by ICT, and individuals must be able to manoeuvre safely in the virtual world whilst being creative and constructive contributors to society and to our economy. Europe must produce a cadre of workers who are able to leverage the power of ICT to enhance their productivity, to develop improved products and processes, and to reap social and economic benefits through the development of innovative solutions.

In order to achieve this vision, the following policy recommendations have been put forward.

Crosscutting Policy Approach and Strong Education Initiative at EU Level

The participants supported the idea of a high-level initiative driven by the European Commission and synergising policies of other policy domains, such as innovation and industrial policy. An analogy was drawn with the Commission’s approach to innovation, a successful horizontal initiative cutting across several organisational structures. The education initiative must be moved to a prominent position on the political agenda and should be given a high profile and strongly promoted to raise awareness among the public and stakeholders at all levels. It must be underpinned by the development of a roadmap establishing targets and lines of action while emphasising the imperative rationales (economic, social and vocational) without discouraging pedagogically driven activities. Evidence-based policy development was also mentioned as one of the criteria. It was also suggested to promote the use of structural funds and other sources of funding, such as the European Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme, to finance the initiatives referred to above.

Participants discussed various approaches towards monitoring progress in the area of ICT in education and agreed that indicators currently in use need to be reexamined. For instance, the ratio of students to computers is not a meaningful metric on its own and needs to be supplemented with measures of frequency of use, teacher skills, and use of educational software amongst others. Monitoring of progress should be complemented by tools of trust including information on available instruments, good practice and success stories. Defining references for ICT competencies, in relation to the self-learning potential and ICT applications in society, for different levels and types of schools, subjects and disciplines, and in regard to future fields of employment was also supported.

Action is needed to stimulate national and international networks of stakeholders to unlock resources and to exchange experience and good practice between all stakeholders to include discussion of policies, foresight and research outcomes. Governments should work with hardware suppliers and use procurement power to stimulate the development of well-specified state of the art, schoolproof, low-cost hardware to enable each student to have his or her own tablet.

Educational System Needs to Embrace ICT Literacy as a Key Objective

The educational system plays a pivotal role in preparing future generations with the skills they need for a fulfilling career, including ICT. Despite some progress in educational systems towards meeting this goal, much remains to be done. The scale of change that is needed calls for a concerted effort to implement changes at various levels before the educational system can be deemed to have reached a satisfactory standard.

University training courses for new teachers urgently need to address the pedagogical dimension by including instruction in modern teaching methods, exploiting ICT hardware and software to provide a superior educational experience to students. This needs to be complemented with specialised courses for existing teachers in order to reach the entire teaching workforce.

There is a growing understanding that kids do not automatically attain the required skills. Curricula need to be updated and should include ICT literacy. ICT applications should be integrated in subject and disciplinary learning, and opportunities for self-learning through the use of ICT should be promoted and exploited. Research and pilot studies need to be undertaken to obtain a better understanding of how teaching methods can be improved. Educational materials need to be digitalised and improved, and textbooks must be complemented by courseware based on rich multimedia and incorporating graphical simulation and educational games. Educational material providers need to engage in dialogue with schools and may require encouragement to invest in the development of such materials.

Networks of stakeholders (such as schoolnet) provide an opportunity for mutual learning and exchange of good practice, and such initiatives should be further encouraged and broadened to include discussion of policies, foresight and research outcomes.

At the higher education levels, ICT should be incorporated into other disciplines (e.g. medicine, social sciences) whenever possible. Students should be given greater freedom of choice in selecting study modules – this should promote creativity and allow students to build on their strengths.

Encourage Employers to Qualify the Workforce

While many workers have been trained or have developed computer skills on the job, there still remains a significant sector of the working population which has not yet had the opportunity or taken the initiative to develop digital competencies. This reduces their career prospects and negatively impacts the competitiveness of the workforce. Participants supported the lifelong learning paradigm and the idea that public and private employers should introduce programmes to enable their employees to develop the necessary competencies. One way to encourage this would be through the use of financial instruments such as tax incentives, subsidies and grant schemes funded by central government.

However, merely addressing digital literacy skills in individuals is not sufficient. ICT presents myriad opportunities for productivity gains and competitive advantages in business and industry, and a more elaborate approach is called for. Tailor-made, sector-specific workshops should be organised with the objective of enabling employees to discuss how ICT can contribute to innovation within their particular sphere.

Inclusive Policies for All Members of Society

The participants identified the need for specific schemes targeted at adults who are not in productive employment to catalyse them into embracing modern technology.

A favourable environment must be put in place to provide an opportunity for all members of society including the elderly, the underprivileged and the marginalised to form part of the information society. Sustained efforts to promote broadband and drive down the costs of computers and Internet access are needed to facilitate availability for those requiring it for their personal use. Free courses on basic use of computers and the Internet will also help.

These sectors may need special encouragement to help them overcome the initial apprehension of dealing with technology. Multipliers such as social workers, carers, and others who are in direct contact with these individuals can be instrumental in informing them about opportunities and encouraging uptake. These workers should be provided with specialised training in this area, and their institutions should be provided with the equipment needed. Creative solutions should be encouraged where institutions such as schools, libraries and local community houses are aligned to raise the level of ICT awareness and literacy in deprived regions and neighbourhoods.

Authors: Victor van Rij                                     v.vanrij@minocw.nl

Brian Warrington                             brian.warrington@gov.mt

Sponsors: EU Commission
Type: EU-level single issue foresight exercise
Organizer: FP7 Farhorizon Project Coordinator: MIOIR, Luke Georghiou Luke.georghiou@mbs.ac.uk
Duration: Sept 08-Feb11 Budget: N/A Time Horizon: 2050 Date of Brief: March 2011

 

Download EFP Brief No. 178_ICT in Education

Sources and References

European Commission [EC] (2010), Europe’s Digital Competitiveness Report 2010, SEC(2010) 627, DG INFSO, EC.

European Commission [EC] (2009), Indicators on ICT in Primary and Secondary Education, October 2009, DG EAC, EC.

European Commission [EC] (2010), Annual Information Society Report 2009 Benchmarking i2010: Trends and Main Achievements, COM(2009) 1103.

European Commission [EC] (2010), A Digital Agenda for Europe, COM(2010) 245

For detailed information also visit the Farhorizon website:

http://farhorizon.portals.mbs.ac.uk/Home/tabid/1620/language/en-US/Default.aspx

EFP Brief No. 173: Norwegian National Research Foresight: Case Study of an ICT Foresight Project

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

The brief presents results from a case study of a foresight project conducted by the Research Council of Norway in the field of information and communication technology (ICT) in 2004. The main aim of the foresight project was to provide insight into the challenges facing Norwegian ICT research in 2015.

Widening the Debate on the National Research Agenda

In autumn of 2002, the Research Council of Norway (RCN) launched a comprehensive foresight project as a response to an international evaluation of the Research Council. The evaluation had recommended launching a foresight process to initiate a “wider than normal debate about priorities and empower more parts of society in relation to the national research agenda” (Arnold et al. 2001).

The comprehensive foresight project was a first attempt to use a participatory approach by involving a large number of stakeholders representing research and industry. Five separate foresight projects were organized, covering the areas of aquaculture, clean energy systems, material technology (nanotechnology), biotechnology and ICT. Between thirty and forty external participants were invited to participate in each of the five projects. The project was described as a “development and strategy project” with both “theoretical and method-oriented object-
ives” (RCN 2006). It was part of a larger organisational process designed to serve as a new way of informing strategy processes and to help detect possible new research areas of crucial interest to the RCN and to national research development.

Organizing Foresight

Between 2002 and 2005, five foresight projects were conducted. They were headed by project groups consisting of ten to fourteen members, who were responsible for the design, conduct and results of the projects. They included both RCN staff and representatives of research institutes, universities and private companies invited by virtue of their professional backgrounds, experience and perspectives. Responsibility for the projects was thus distributed among different actors within and associated with the RCN. The five project groups had to report to the line management of the three divisions of the RCN and received guidance from a cross-divisional management group. The comprehensive foresight project was also required to meet the expectations of three boards overseeing the three divisions
(see RCN 2010). All five projects used scenario building as their common method, but the approaches were organized slightly differently in each case.

Case Study: Foresight on ICT Research

The foresight project on ICT research was to achieve closer cooperation between public and private actors and to inform a new large-scale programme on ICT research.2 This process lasted from mid September 2004 to January 2005. During September and October of 2004, two two-day workshops were organized involving forty participants. The main activities of the workshops included

  • discussing driving forces that will influence the sector over the next twenty years;
  • developing scenario models and drafts about how these driving forces will influence developments over the next twenty years;
  • developing larger scenarios based on these drafts; and
  • preparing strategic recommendations.

The workshop groups delivered six scenario drafts to the foresight project group. Two workshop groups had focused on surveillance and a warden society in which the need for security leads to new ICT solutions. A second group contributed the idea of a user society in which ICT research is completely user-driven and geared towards entertainment. Group 3 had focused on a competence society in which research priorities are set on a national basis and aim at improving competence among all citizens. Group 4 had focused on the regional aspects of social and technological development. Finally, Group 5 had concentrated on developing an idea about researchers being out of sync with the rest of society and living in an ivory tower, indifferent to social developments around them.

Research out of Sync, Consumerism and R&D Policies

After the first two-day workshop with forty participants, the project group together with two consultants with narrative skills conducted six meetings over the course of three weeks to establish three coherent scenario stories. Here several issues emerged. The scenarios were meant to address the question of how ICT research should be conducted in the future and how it might improve long-term decision-making in the RCN. Six scenarios were deemed too many while three based on distinct storylines were considered sufficient.

2 The case study discussed here is based on firsthand observations of the process, including participatory workshops, meetings of the ICT foresight project group, the process of writing scenarios and the final evaluation of the scenarios in relation to the development of the ICT research programme.

3 ERA stands for European Research Area

A first scenario called The Spirit of the New ERA”3 was developed. Here, ICT development would become part of a state-governed strategy giving priority to national research. According to the facilitator, this scenario could create a “marketing effect” for the RCN.

A second scenario, called eConsuming Norway focused on consumerism, short-term solutions and applied ICT research, using ideas from two scenario drafts. Finally, elements from groups 1 and 5 formed the basis for a third scenario called Out of Sync showing the entire ICT research community as out of step with societal development and being only interested in furthering basic research. The workshop scenario drafts were thus ordered into stories that were assigned different roles in ICT research policy.

Challenging the Scenarios

Several challenges emerged in the process of writing scenarios about the future of ICT research. First of all, the lack of attention to future technological development in the scenarios was addressed several times, and some group members asked for a technology scenario to be added. Second, the scenario “The Spirit of the New ERA” was repeatedly criticized for its obvious focus on a strong state-governed research policy. Third, the scenarios were supposed to be evaluated by different stakeholder groups, such as the project group itself, the workshop group of the forty participants that had contributed the original ideas, and the different organisational units in the RCN (see organisation).

The scenarios were thus meant to be relevant to a wide range of processes outside the foresight project. This was a challenge that influenced the discussions during the writing phase but did not necessarily contribute to developing the stories themselves during the meetings. The main writing activities were conducted by four group members who were RCN employees, hired consultants and the facilitator in between meetings. The writing process resulted in the three scenarios described above.

Can Change be Progress?

The scenarios were presented in the second and final workshop, again conducted with forty participants, where they were evaluated for their strategic relevance. Some of the uncertainties resurfaced in the discussions that had already emerged during the writing stage.

The external experts argued that there was not enough information on technological developments in the scenarios. However, according to a RCN employee centrally involved in the process, the scenarios were meant to introduce change – change in ways of thinking about ICT research, the future and strategy.

Not all ICT research could succeed in Norway, so some of it, basic, applied or industrial, would have to be scaled down or organized in a different way. New combinations of research to foster innovation as well as novel social contextualization should move to the forefront to meet the challenges spelled out in the scenarios.

Yet, according to other group members, it was especially important to highlight the aspect of generic ICT research in the research programme in order to “push the whole research field and contribute to progress within ICT research”. This focus on generic ICT research, such as micro-technology, infrastructure and distributed applications, had not been considered in the scenarios. Because the scenarios failed to provide ideas on technological development, the stories sounded unconvincing to the ICT experts. Their strategic interests were first and foremost geared toward enhancing competence and scientific progress not social change.

The scenarios did therefore not influence the programme proposal published early in 2005. The committee evaluated them as irrelevant for informing the new programme in their present form.

Learning from Challenges

The main challenges highlighted here concern participation, scenario writing and relevance. The particular context, conditions and implementation of the foresight project show that these were challenges related to the specific context. Yet, they also have more general implications for foresight practice.

Difficulties in Involving Prominent Actors

The participation of representatives of powerful research organizations in the development of priorities in national research policy represents a challenge for foresight organisers. When participants are asked to actively promote their interests in a foresight process, those who do not receive sufficient attention will find it difficult to mobilise resources and make their voices heard (Salmenkaita and Salo 2004). Therefore, organisers should attempt to police attempts to push sectoral or individual interests (Cuhls and Georghiou 2004). In the ICT foresight project described above, participants were asked to put their sectoral or economic interests aside during the foresight workshops. This, however, led to uncertainty among the participants about how to employ their expertise in developing relevant scenarios. Ensuring quality, relevance and representativeness is thus a challenging balancing act for organisers of foresight processes.

How to Ensure Representativeness in Scenario Writing

Foresight activities are often structured around a core group of key actors assigned responsibility for choosing the topics treated, scenarios written and recommendations given (Rask 2008). Foresight literature addressing the scenario writing stage is mostly prescriptive and discusses possible or optimal approaches depending on which areas scenarios are meant to inform, i.e. strategic planning, research policy or public debates on future technologies. Empirical knowledge about the negotiation of scenario writing seldom enters the wider professional and academic research arena. The case study shows that scenario writers not only collect and re-present scenario ideas. They are also scenario authors, employing their narrative skills, personal style and perspectives. This poses challenges to foresight in terms of representing the broad variety of participants’ perspectives and ideas.

Foresight and R&D Policy

According to Dannemand-Andersen and Borup (2006), the managers of national research programmes are in a situation where they must muster support for specific decisions about national research priorities. In this respect, there is uncertainty about how to implement foresight exercises within research councils. Foresight can be understood simply as a type of output for better informing policy-makers and thus as standing in a loose relation to decision-making (Brown et al. 1999). Scenarios introducing ideas about socio-technical change run the risk of becoming irrelevant if research priorities are developed according to an understanding of progress as the advancement of scientific knowledge alone.

Authors: Stefanie Jenssen        stefanie.jenssen@tik.uio.no
Sponsors: Research Council of Norway (RCN)
Type: National foresight project addressing research challenges in five key technology areas
Organizer: Research Council of Norway (RCN), Contact: Hilde Erlandsen: he@forskningsradet.no, Jan Dietz: jan.o.dietz@gmail.com
Duration: 2002-2005 Budget: unknown Time Horizon: 2015-2020 Date of Brief: June 2010

 

Download EFP Brief No. 173: Norwegian National Research Foresight: Case Study of an ICT Foresight Project

Sources and References

The brief presents issues of scenario development discussed in a PhD thesis currently being reviewed by a PhD committee (June 2010). More information on the foresight project and the PhD thesis can be acquired by contacting the author.

Arnold, E., S. Kuhlman and B. van der Meulen (2001): A singular council: evaluation of the RCN. Technopolis.

Brown, N., A. Nelis, B. Rappert, A. Webster, F. Anton, C. Cabello, L. Sanz-Menéndez, A. Lohnberg and B. van de Meulen (1999): Organising the present’s futures – towards an evaluation of foresight, knowledge flows and the coordination of innovation. http://www.iesam.csic.es/proyecto/formwp1.pdf, viewed June 2010.

Cuhls, K. and L. Georghiou (2004): Evaluating a participative foresight process: Futur – the German research dialogue. Research Evaluation 13 (3): 143–53.

Dannemand-Andersen, P. and M. Borup (2006): Strategy processes and foresight in research councils and national research programmes. Paper presented at “EU–US seminar: international Seville seminar on future–oriented technology analysis”, 28–29 September, Seville.

Rask, M. (2008): Foresight – balancing between increasing variety and productive convergence. Technological Forecasting and Social Change 75 (8): 1157–75.

RCN (2006): Report on foresight initiatives at the Research Council 2003-2005. Summary in English: http://www.forskningsradet.no/servlet/Satellite?c=Page&cid=1226485720664&pagename=foresight%2FHovedsidemal, viewed June 2010.

RCN. 2010. The Research Council’s Organisation. http://www.forskningsradet.no/en/Organisation/1138785841802, viewed June 2010.

Salmenkaita, J.–P. and A. Salo (2003): Emergent foresight processes: industrial activities in wireless communications. Technological Forecasting and Social Change 71 (9): 897–91.