How technology helps students study better
Tuesday, 24 January 2017
Deccan Herald, 23 January, 2017
19 January, 2017
Until a few years ago, the big question was about how technology could help in teaching and learning.
That question is redundant today, when most teachers, at least in urban and semi-urban centers, may find it difficult to survive without their smartphones. Given this, a more valid question would probably be – how can we enable school education to be in sync with the way children interact and learn outside the classrooms? Most of what children learn is outside the formal structure, through real and virtual networks. But let us leave that aside for now and zoom in on three aspects of formal education: school learning, peer-to-peer learning, and self-learning.
Schools provide children with physical spaces to bond, interact, learn and play. No virtual environment can take the place of real classrooms, playgrounds, labs and libraries. You don’t get better spaces than these to cement the skills that children need to work in teams, tinker, experiment and learn from each other — especially when such learning happens under the guidance of accomplished teachers. So, what kind of technologies should be promoted in schools? We need technologies that encourage social learning or learning in groups. Some of these include virtual labs, collaborative or competitive games and gamified assessments. However, this space still seems to be dominated by ready-to-use videos and animations.
The concept of Makerspaces is yet to catch on in Indian schools. Makerspaces are designated places for students to tinker with hardware, programming codes, robotics as well as physical manipulatives to construct objects or novel experiences. Google Cardboard (a virtual reality device), for example, is an affordable way to allow students to virtually land on the moon or travel back in time to figure out historical and geographical contexts as experienced by people earlier. Or, take augmented reality, where real observation is amplified by technology – like scanning a real plant to view its characteristics in 360-degree 3-D view.
No one doubts the effectiveness of projects to foster research and presentation skills. However, they need to move out of mere information gathering and presentation, to activities where children become creative directors, using technologies available at home. When the focus shifts from the aesthetics or quality of the finished project to the authenticity and novelty of the process and the idea, we can be assured that learning has moved beyond the mere assimilation of information.
Research about higher education in the US says that the use of devices connected to the Internet in classrooms harms learning outcomes. However, students could use devices that are not connected and which only have relevant learning content stored in them, where textbooks or reference books are enriched by the possibilities of technology: videos, interactivity, virtual tours and so on. At the same time, we should be careful of such a model degenerating into controlled tutoring, erasing the agency of the student.
Notions of privacy are changing. Young people who have been handling technology since their childhood have fewer reservations than older people to share information online. We can argue about the rights and wrongs of these behaviors. But we forget that behaviors are often shaped by the environments we occupy. And let’s face it: a large portion of an adolescent’s environment is occupied by devices, gadgets, apps and social media. Caution and discipline are required, but you cannot pull the plug from this connected world. The task for educators is to figure out how to encourage peer-to-peer learning, mentoring and academic rigour through virtual connections.
Most importantly, there is the reflective aspect of learning, where the only company you keep is yourself – traditionally associated with activities such as observation, reading, underlining, taking notes and testing yourself. These activities are still important; the difference lies in the way they are done. Smart books, virtual reality (VR), online videos, learning games and augmented reality (AR) are now as integral to self-learning as traditional books and notes.
Personalized learning technologies are becoming sharper with the coming of age of big data and learning analytics. What needs to be stressed upon is a conscious development of metacognitive skills, spaced and repeated practice, focused reading and note taking, critical reflection and so on.
To sum up, educational technology is not limited to ‘access to content’. It provides an active space for creation, interaction and forming connections. So, does education.