Is Technology The Future Of Learning?
For many years, now, the idea of enhancing education through technology has been a hot topic. At first, everyone buzzed, technology was going to revolutionize the field: Laptops, tablets, smart TVs in every classroom would help teachers teach better and help students learn better.
But more recently, that buzz has given way to a milder view, one held by some of the tallest giants in the tech field. When the iPad launched in 2010, Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, revealed his children hadn’t used it; he and his wife limited their kids’ use of technology. The same news article revealed that Chris Anderson, former editor of Wired and CEO of 3D robotics, had time limits and parental controls on every technological device in his home.
So if these people are limiting kids’ exposure to technology, from screen time to Internet access, is a “smart classroom” really the best idea? To answer this, we need to first define what we mean by the phrase “technology in the classroom”: Teaching that uses a screen to impart knowledge to students. Then, we need to break it down into more targeted questions.
WHAT IS THE GOAL?
This has to be the first question asked when we consider the intersection of teaching and tech. If the goal is to use technology as a replacement for a teacher – such as teaching a concept or skill solely through a program or videos – then it’s a bad idea. Education isn’t just about imbibing facts and concepts; it’s about learning to interact and apply knowledge within a society. If the element of human interaction is removed from teaching, then there will be a large gap in a child’s development—a gap that technology can’t fill.
However, if the goal is to aid a teacher – such as using online videos or content to introduce key concepts, or assigning projects that require kids to use technology to research a topic – then educational technology can be beneficial to learning. The teacher is then on hand to put the knowledge into context and stimulate discussion. A program or app may be able to help kids practice math or teach them all the countries on a map, but only a human teacher can help kids connect that knowledge to other information and form a holistic view of the world. Educational technology, as it is now, is not interactive, contextual, individualized or adaptable enough to do this.
Yet even when a goal is beneficial, a technological solution still may not be appropriate. The goal of lessening students’ physical burden of carrying textbooks and reducing environmental paper waste is an admirable one, but tablets are not the answer, not yet. Textbooks still have many advantages over devices including: They are more easily and less expensively replaced and upgraded; more difficult to lose or damage; and do not depend on a charged battery for use.
WHAT IS THE CONTENT?
The content quality of educational videos, programs and apps can vary widely. Too often, it is developed not by teachers, but by IT professionals who lack knowledge and experience of children’s developmental stages and corresponding best methods for communicating knowledge. Content not suited to students’ age or background knowledge is worse than useless; it can confuse children on key concepts permanently.
Even if content quality is high, the communication of it can be a problem. Surprisingly, though Indian education takes place in many languages across the country, proper translation into regional languages is often a secondary concern for educational tech products. Children faced with a substandard translation of a concept can become confused and have difficulty grasping future, related knowledge.
ARE WE EQUIPPED?
The “we” in this question is the workforce of teachers around the country. As I’ve said before, educational technology cannot replace a teacher, it can only aid. But if teachers aren’t trained on how to incorporate technological aids into their lesson plans – i.e., where to pause in order to interact and explain; what topics are best suited to an introduction or for practicing via technology – then technology can’t even do that. Instead, technology becomes at best busy-work that lacks context and at worst, a baby-sitter. In order for technology to become a useful tool in a teacher’s toolbox, Indian teaching institutions will need to change how they train teachers.
Technology touches every aspect of our lives, now, including education. It could be the future of learning – it has the potential for great change and great impact – but only when complemented by the human element. And until we consider why and how it is used, and whether our teachers are prepared to use it, technology is better left at home—and even then, in small doses. I think Jobs and Anderson would agree.