ITD is the only Italian institute exclusively devoted to research in the field of educational technology. It is based in Genova and has a branch in Palermo.
The educational technology research sector
The research area devoted to educational technology (in the European context often defined as "technology enhanced learning") is a non-traditional sector that dates back to the mid-sixties of the past century. As to Italy, CNR founded ITD-Genoa in 1970. In 2002, the merging of ITD-Genoa and ITDF- Palermo gave origin to the present Institute. Though in Italy such sector is not considered as a discipline yet, at an international level its autonomous and multi-disciplinary identity is well-established. It is represented by specific university centres, funded programmes, e.g. life-long learning and e-learning IST programmes within the 5th, 6th and 7th EC framework programmes, the UK Research Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning and the Advanced Learning Technologies Program of the National Science Foundation - USA, journals and conferences. Educational technology research work is highly interdisciplinary and does not fit into traditional disciplinary sectors. The range of competencies peculiar to our institute well represent such feature and concern computer science, engineering, mathematics, physics, pedagogy, psychology, languages etc..
The nature of ITD research activity
The institute carries out strongly interdisciplinary both basic and applied research studies, In fact, they tend to integrate contributions and models developed in various disciplines, such as computer science in its broader meaning, cognitive science, pedagogy, subject matter education (mainly math and language education).
The object of investigation addresses the education sector and real knowledge contexts which contribute to design both methods and procedures to tackle practical issues being dealt with and to devise new research issues which can be hardly interpreted by standard theoretical models. Thus, the activity contributes to the definition of their general value and stresses new needs as to theoretical elaboration and basic research activity.
Technical and instrumental research and basic research are interdependent. On one side the comprehension of learning processes give birth to the best learning tools and environments and, on the other side, the development of fresh tools creates new learning environments and fosters investigations on basic issues.
Educational technology research studies at ITD refer to specific learning contexts such as the school system, university, in-service training etc. as well as to specific educational and formative issues such as, math and science learning improvement, promotion of inclusion for disabled and disadvantaged people, improvement of lifelong learning processes through virtual communities, the use of digital games to foster reasoning skills and strategic thinking, etc.
Future prospects of research work
Research activity could be classified under at least four main frames of reference:
a) the pedagogical perspective deals with the teaching/learning process issues, e.g. science teaching, and aims to design technology-mediated environments able to answer such issues;
b) the computational perspective explores the potential of technology and how it modifies its relation with knowledge as to "what" (possible topics to be dealt with) and as to "how" (new ways of representing scientific concepts through visualization, manipulation and interaction opportunites made available by technology);
c) the cognitive perspective studies cognitive abilities that the use of computer-mediated environments either promotes or inhibits;
d) the social and cultural perspective analyzes how learning changes in different contexts, such as institutions, corporations, informal learning environments, communities of practice, etc. and how technology can change organizational styles, curricula and methodologies.
The relationship between technology and education
In ITD research activity educational issues come first and are followed by technological ones. The latter are represented by solutions to educational problems and are characterized by various aspects which have to do with disciplines, cognition, methodologies, structure, organization and, of course technology. This principle does not preclude research work to explore educational features and potential of specific technologies.
Results and their transfer
Results refer to different areas - theoretical reflection and design of methods and models; design of innovative software systems; experimental analysis; models for result transfer; cognitive and social analysis. Often such research investigations have important implications as to the transfer mainly to:
o the school system with which ITD collaborates at an institutional level;
o academic institutions as to integration of e-learning and face-to-face teaching at university level, the delivery of online courses, teacher training in the use of ICT in education, the promotion of conditions supporting a real pedagogical sustainability of ICT integration in university education;
o vocational training in order to study and experiment formative strategies oriented to exploit the potential of network technologies to connect formal education and informal learning.
However, aspects of basic research activities are also present and they are both favoured by applied research activities (e.g. to understand how a given skill develops in children and which is the range of individual variability) and by research works on the understanding of new cognitive contexts (e.g. the detection and modelling of cognitive dynamics occurring on the Web).
The international sphere of ITD research activity and the national one.
The international context, in particular the European one, is stretegically crucial for the educational technology sector (see the Lisbon Agenda and the Declaration of Bologna).
The institute is actively engaged in EC research programmes and in specific international associations. Since the early EC programmes, like DELTA, COMETT, ESPRIT IV-V-VI Framework Programmes, ITD has always participated to many EC funded projects and has collaborated with major European centres, often as project leader. Presently ITD is involved in projects within the VII framework programme (IST-Information Technology Society), the e-content Plus Programme, the e-learning Programme and the Leonardo da Vinci Programme.
The participation of ITD in the EC funded networks of Excellence is particularly significant (VI and VII Framework Programme-IST. They promote integration of major European scientific groups operating in the field of Technology Enhanced Learning. Since the early EC educational technology initiative (Prometeus 2000-2002), the institute has actively participated in projects oriented to scientific integration and its researchers have played leading roles in carrying out such projects. The institute has been partner in the Kaleidoscope network of excellence "Concepts and methods for exploring the future of learning with digital technologies" (2003-2007) and has contributed to the design and promotion of the STELLAR network of excellence "Sustaining Technology Enhanced Learning Large scale multidisciplinary Research" of which it is presently a partner.
Moreover, and through its researchers, the institute participates in many committees and international research groups such as IFP (International Federation for Information Processing) Technical Committee 3 on Computers and Education, the ACM SIGCUE (Computer Uses in Education), the International Forum for Educational Technology and Society (ETS), the ISLS (International Society of the Learning Sciences), etc.
Educational research and in particular educational technology research is necessarily strictly connected with problems and needs arising from specific educational contexts. Consequently, the national sphere plays a very important role. Nevertheless, the international sphere is highly important in the study of methods and principles, in designing tools of general value, in the analysis of the interaction between different cultures and of the supranational cultural sphere.
At a national level the institute has collaborated with the Ministry of Education for twenty years in many joint projects and in various areas of interest (teacher training, online learning, educational software library, educational technology for school at hospital, software accessibility, etc.). ITD has collaborated also with regional and local branches of the Ministry of Education and with INVALSI (Institute for the evaluation of the Italian education and training system), as well as with a number of schools where ITD has often carried out specific experimentations.
Collaboration with universities concern the study of factors of various origin (pedagogical, technological, professional, economical, systemic, cultural. etc.), affecting e-learning sustainability at an academic level and the pre-service teacher training.
At present the institute is also involved in region-funded research projects. It has activated a spin-off for products marketing and promotes training courses in the field of educational technology both for corporate and public institutions.
Last but not least, in 1993 the institute has founded TD Tecnologie Didattiche, the only national journal in the sector of educational technology. Such journal has been certified as "a publication of high cultural content" by the Communication Authority.
Characteristics of the scientific production
The research activity of the institute has a strongly applicative connotation with reference to problems of the various educational contexts and their solutions. Consequently, in a single project conceptual aspects, the development of prototypes (interactive educational environments, communication and collaboration environments, multimedia educational materials, "tangible" educational objects, etc.) and their field experimentation might be interwoven. On their turn, experimentations are characterized by educational long-term processes, sometimes even on a multi-year basis and contracts explicitly feature a transfer component.
Such condition implies a global evaluation of the research work represented by scientific publications, developed prototypes which are often very engaging from the point of view of software development, and the quality of transfer processes.
Director with special contract: 1
Permanent Staff: 44
23 technologists and support staff
Research fellows: 14