1 Improving Scientific Formation for an european information society
The EU White Paper Growth, Competiveness and Employment proposes a policy for including the study of Science in general education. It is widely accepted that Science and Technology are fields where Europe has to compete with success. This means that:
- good scientists and technologists have to be prepared.
Scientific and technological information will have an important role in the future society.
- a good level of scientific literacy is required for all citizens.
Many of the innovations have a technical character.
Each citizen has to be able to use technological means that appear around him. It requires that scientific education for the future citizen has to incorporate, in its courses, the elements that:
- allow the mastery of technical devices (ability and agility to adopt innovations)
- make it possible to understand and interpret messages in all the ways they can be displayed: schemas, icons, graphs, pictograms, etc.
In Science courses it is very common to use symbolic languages: graphs to show the relations between variables, schemas to describe the behaviour of systems or to make a synthesis of concepts, diagrams, charts, etc.
The ability to use symbolic representations is considered a basic skill for a scientific literacy.
The STTIS project addresses to the contribution of scientific and technological education to the mastery of technical devices and to the learning of different symbolic languages to use for communication.
This means new approaches in some scientific and technological contents and an emphasis on some old and new skills.
2 Making more room for innovation in the training of Science teachers:
The formation that many teachers have already received has been mainly focused on the learning of classical scientific content, and some psychological and educational content. Only skills very close to this specific content have been stressed. So, now we can see:
- Teachers without adequate experience in activities based on information technology tools.
- Teachers with difficulties in assuming curricular innovations and with resistance to the changes that informatics support represents.
- Teachers not well enough prepared to teach how to interpret symbolic representations, for two reasons:
- because of the difficulty of understanding the device when representations are displayed by computers.
- because of the difficulty of understanding the underlying concepts. The use of schemata and icons allows to detect misunderstanding of ideas and concepts.
In the Information Society the process of science teacher training needs to focus also on use and experience with information technology tools because they change the focus and content of the science and technology curriculum.
2.1 Fostering mastery of Information Technology tools:
There are information technology tools which teachers of science and technology need to master, of which types of very general importance are:
- computational modelling tools.
- real-time display tools with computer driven transducers.
- simulation tools.
They change what can easily be said, how what is said can be communicated, and even what can be said at all. These types of tools are widely and routinely used in:
- scientific and technological practice
- practical decision-making, professional, commercial and political.
- public communication and media work.
It is a critical failing that none of these types of tool play a central role in the science and technology curriculum, whether as tools to use or as tools whose use by others and the results they produce need to be understood. The economy is modeled by governments and forecasts are presented as statistical data, but the citizen has learned neither what a computational model is nor how to critically read many forms of data graphics. 'Global warming' is modelled computationally, and tested by comparing results with long term trends: again the citizen knows little of how either are done or what trust (or not) to place in them. Examples like this can be multiplied indefinitely.
Such tools have the power to modify drastically the curriculum. They are not merely better ways to do old things, but are also ways to do new things. Large realistic data sets (many available on CD ROM or the Internet) can be analysed. Models of realistic systems (e.g. traffic flow) can be built. Concepts (e.g. of the statistical behaviour of atomic particles underlying the Second Law of Thermodynamics) suddenly become easier and more accessible.
On the other hand, many common learning-teaching difficulties can be addressed and overcome by activities based on real-time experiments with computers.
But such changes inevitably meet resistance from teachers who have not been trained in the use of such tools and whose concepts of the curriculum are formed by the existing curriculum, which indeed is shaped in part by the very lack of such tools in the past.
The STTIS project aims at researching the conditions for Science teachers to command technology based tools and to successfully implement their use in their classes.
2.2 Dealing better with representations:
The information that informatic tools give is usually not only represented by words and letters. Much software helps to display information in graphic form.
Further, in a society where media has high prestige, to know how read images is important. In many different areas of work, studies are often presented by pictograms, flow-charts and all kind of diagrams. Many kinds of codes are common. For example, it is common for Consulting enterprises to express ideas, processes by means of pictograms, diagrams of iterative process, etc. Managerial decisions are taken from these representations.
The use of symbols and graphic language is often supposed to be an easier and more efficient way to communicate information. But this idea has to be evidenced, not assumed. A good and faithful interpretation of the information expressed in graphic form needs to be learned.
The STTIS project tries to contribute, from the starting point of science teacher training, to the knowledge of the obstacles when reading graphically coded information and to propose ways to cope well with symbolic languages relevant in an Information society.
3 Improving the adaptation of teachers to innovations:
It is not enough to propose new materials or new tools in order to implement an educational innovation. The most critical phase in curricular innovation is its implementation in school praxis. Teachers play a decisive role as innovation transformers. When teachers, like everyone else, are confronted with innovations, they do not act as passive transmitters of the intentions that inspired the originators of a given innovation. A crucial point for successful take up is how they receive the corresponding information.
It is essential to investigate the transformation of new information that teachers tend to make, in order to favour relevant implementation of innovation. This can be done by better adapting the written description of innovation to teachers and by designing new materials and specific strategies for teacher training.
A central issue in the STTIS project is to analyse teachers' role and possible blockages when confronted by innovations, and to investigate the factors that influence the quality of take up. A better mutual adaptation between teachers and innovation has to be fostered.
4 Contributing to a changing society:
It is easy to agree that in our society many parameters change more and more quickly. It is also evident that changes in competency are essential.
The attitudes and aptitudes that individuals have to develop in order to stand well in a changing society need to be analysed carefully.
But this is not enough. It is also necessary to gain knowledge about how better to implement innovations. The efficiency of diffusion agents has to be improved. Markets propose and create new ways to display information in order that they can be well read and understood.
It is already well evidenced, even if not widely known, that there is a gap between innovation designers and users. That is, a transformation of intentions is produced in the pathway between them.
Attempting to implement curricular innovations in the school by teachers seems not to be too much different from implementing productive, organizational innovations by industrial managers. Some transversal and general purpose capabilities such as the use of multiple representations and the identification of those most suitable for the current purpose, the optimization of display and conveying information are strategic in both contexts. To such an extrapolation we wish to bring our contribution. This will be done with a an iterative approach, from "general" to in-depth "context-specific" analyses, and vice-versa.
The STTIS project aims at improving the adaptation of individuals to a changing society, through better knowledge of the circumstances for successful implementation of innovations and, probably, to infer trends of transformation in the process of implementing innovations.