By Arun Kumar Tripathi
How does technology change learning and teaching in formal and informal education?
It seems that the days of the Socratic teacher are fast fading. The digital world gives everyone an opportunity to find his or her own expert, not necessarily in the classroom. The Internet and other digital resources provide students and teachers with the means to reach out to the world and extract the information that they find most interesting, whatever it may be. In the classroom there are many things that the students know more about their teachers, simply because the students can do research that was once tedious and required many trips to the library, yet now only needs a few clicks of the mouse.
I believe that the teacher's role will eventually be that of a facilitator, giving hints and directions on how to find knowledge rather than dishing it out on a silver plate. Of course, some of the good teachers do this already, and will find it easy to use technology to expand their resources.
Promises of Technology
Is the promise of technology real this time? Thomas Edison and many others thought that motion pictures would change forever the role of the teacher. Radio was heralded in the late 1920s and 1930s as the savior of our education system. During World War II Disney Studios developed animated learning systems designed to teach very specific tasks. After World War II overhead projectors and audio filmstrips were to become the meat and potatoes of learning resources. Television allowed one good teacher could reach the world. As a matter of fact, these innovations not only provided interesting lessons, but people actually learned from them. They have all proven to be effective in the teaching process.
However, even with their record of success they have not significantly changed the patterns of learning and teaching now present in most schools around the world. The effective measures of educational innovations are 1) Does the innovation increase the master skills of the learner? 2) Can the same level of learning be accomplished in a shorter period of time? and 3) Can a teacher teach more students to the same level of accomplishments?
Technologies up until this time have been used as supplemental tools to the classroom. In this respect they are an added expense to regular classroom activities that becomes difficult to justify in cost accounting.
How then can we say that networking and computers will change learning and teaching? Are they just another fad that will fade away like the other learning technologies? New digital technologies have the potential for being very different because they merge all of the previous resources into one accessible unit.
-- The new technologies can provide real world simulations.
-- Learning modules can be accessed at anytime and from any place.
-- Virtual teams of learners can work together to solve problems.
-- Effectively designed programs can provide immediate assessment and evaluation to the learner.
-- Learners can work on real world problems and have access to experts.
-- New technologies can give provide voice-activated dialogues between the learner and the computer.
Just as books changed the way we stored and retrieved information and enabled us to invent the modern schoolhouse, Internet will change the way we think of learning and teaching. Digital technologies will change the way we store, use and retrieve information. It is because of these changes that digital technologies are very different from others in education.
However, I also caution against thinking that the technology alone will bring about the change. The technology only allows us to think of new ways of learning. Just as books require good authors, the new technology will require new kinds of learning design engineers. Professionals will evolve who can take the research from learning theories and blend it with the technologies. It is not a simple or inexpensive task, but we already see some glimpses of what the future may bring.
Individualized Learner's Plans
Technology allows teachers to have an Individual Learner's Plan (ILP) for every learner that includes medical, social, psychometric, academic achievement and other relevant records. Based upon these records each learner will have an individualized educational plan. Each child will have a weekly update of how they are achieving their goals and objectives. ILPs and records can be given to students on Smart Cards that enable them to have their records and use them when they transfer from school to school.
Classroom Goals And Objectives
Each class can have a Website that details the overall goals and objectives for the class. It will have relevant weekly information about class activities and objectives. It will have a parent section that discusses the relevance of the goals and objectives for each week. The site will have examples of problem-based educational solutions for class teams working towards specific objectives.
Student Assessment and Evaluations
For each child there will be a portfolio assessment file that provides examples of individual work and team work that the student is doing in order to meet the goals and objectives of their Individual Learning Plan. If a learner is falling below expectation of his or her individual learning plan, parents will be alerted within one week of the status of their child. Electronic Management and Support for Teachers
Teachers today are among the most isolated professionals in the workforce. An electronic Teacher's Associate could provide 1) relevant grade-level national and state standards in a relational database that equates standards and resources, 2) online chat activities with comparable teachers, 3) online access to master teacher mentors, and 4) access to content specialists. Such resources must be made available to every teacher at his or her desk. By 2020 or sooner the Teacher's Associate can bring digital library materials to the teacher's desk. Moreover, desktop publishing can be done at the building or classroom level. Individualized textbooks can be made for each student as needed.
Too Much of a Good Thing?
Since knowledge has expanded, is learning and school just too hard for children to master high academic standards? No, we have always had more knowledge than a single person could master. So the extent of knowledge is not the problem with learners and teachers. It is however more difficult to agree on what the core curriculum should be.
If learning and teaching are different from the past, what are the characteristics of that difference? For the past decade or so American educators have been asking to define the national standards for content areas. Some would like to return to a classical education suitable for the 1890s and others echo the progressive education movement started in the 1970s. There are conditions today that enter into the general society that our decisions must consider.
-- Information is accessible in many more places today. Radio, television, cable television, recorded materials, Internet and the telephone are available for learners of all ages.
-- People participate in a wide variety of special interest groups from collectors to choral singing groups to Star Trek conventions.
-- Society is more inclusive of diverse people including disabled people.
-- Age differences are merged. A 14-year-old teenager can dialogue with a Nobel scientist if their skills, knowledge and interests are the same.
-- Learning happens in places outside the school, such as in the home, church, library, museum and little league parks.
The digital world has blurred the walls of the schools and places of learning. Individual learners can learn anywhere anytime and at their own pace. We have always had some children that use broad community resources, but the ease of doing it today is greater than ever.
Technology extends our communications ability beyond face-to-face talking. It expands it beyond the printed page and reading to a new dimension. It is building a new and more efficient means of sharing ideas and information among all people.
Arun Kumar Tripathi is a research assistant with Telecooperation Research Group at Technical University of Darmstadt, Germany. His interests include ubiquitous learning, AI in learning and education, cognitive aspects of human-computer interactions, the interface of philosophy and technology, and use of the Internet and computer technology for distance education.