I had a Ghanaian teacher during my secondary school days that taught me that education is simply the training of a child to be able to live and to be lived with. Is it this simple? Yes, education is all about interactivity but people make it unnecessarily complex. Learning looks hard, but it can be made easy when there is a group who are trying to figure things out and working together to achieve a common goal. Education is more than simply absorbing information.
It’s about asking questions, challenging the status quo, and empowering students to make informed decisions and draw conclusions. Then came the kiss of software technology as vast majority of educational institutions are extending their brick and mortar classrooms into digital format. In this classroom, education is being reinvented to take advantage of new technologies, online mediums and web applications. But lectures, whether online or in the flesh, play only a limited role in education. Research shows that the human brain accepts new concepts largely through constant recall while interacting socially. It is software technology that turns a one-way dialogue into multi-point conversations, facilitating actionable collaboration, as social platforms are now important tools that support the online learning.
Online digital education is just education. But there is a difference between information delivery systems and education. The Internet, verbal instruction, demonstration, lectures, manuscripts, and books are all information delivery systems. Some things do get easier or better with technology just like learning. The discovery of the Web (World Wide Web) paved way for an increase in people having access to information, and improved teaching and learning. This is why you can now have your lectures on-the-go listening to free lectures on iTunes, and watching lectures online on a Smartphone or iPad.
Salman Khan (www.khanacademy.org) floated thousands of free learning videos that are available at anytime. Salman Khan’s new learning model proposes that if the lectures are hanging online, then clarification and working of problems could be left to the classrooms. The point here is not to reduce education to watching hours of online videos, and it’s not to remove teachers from the educational process. To the contrary – it is to use the teachers more effectively using software technology. Wiener Schiznel argues out three important components of the khanacademy among which are:
1) Teacher’s time
At the moment, teachers spend more than 50% of their classroom time delivering a lecture. This is somehow a waste of teaching time and talent. Instead, students can look at the lectures themselves online. With online video simulations they can at least rewind and listen to them again. Then, they can spend the time in the classes doing creative work, discussions and exercises with the teacher’s assistance.
2) Student’s speed
At the moment the traditional teaching method requires that all students go through the learning material at the same speed. This is not very efficient, as it results with most students both underachieving and getting bored or moving on through the material without learning what is needed. With Khan’s approach you can let students go through the material at their own speed. You can still challenge them to do better but you don’t need to abandon the slower students because the class has to move on
The teacher can track each student’s development in a comprehensive way through a software dashboard. He will be able to easily identify who has what kind of problems or strengths and use this information to develop the students to their best possibilities.
It’s like what the Internet did to the business world, newspaper and magazine business is about to happen to education. The Internet has turned every known business model inside out, and newspaper firms are throwing their paper versions into the dustbin. People are designing and redesigning the knowledge enterprise. If I may use the words of Michael Crow most students in our schools are trapped in a linear construct following a pre-designed path. They are highly constrained by the present learning model which is enough reason for the modern student to go beyond the linear student. There are assumptions that surround the notion of a traditional classroom based teaching. When we chip in the assumption that with online classrooms students could move at their pace, then most of the early assumptions of grouping students in a class according to age, and the teacher staying in front of the class could be shattered (Salman Khan).
Education saw lots of stunning transformation from the ancient paperless mode of learning to the discovery of printing, and now to the paperless online digital classrooms. Now, online activity is at the core of how schools envision their futures. Access is the one distinguish feature that stood out in online learning. Access is when someone in a rural part of Nigeria benefits from the expertise of a teacher in the US or UK through online video streaming. Online learning will give millions of students access to the world’s best teachers and other educational resources. The writing is now clear on the wall that through online video streaming, a professor can have more impact in a couple of months to the academia tutoring online students than having two decades of lecturing in a brick and mortar classrooms.
The library, bookstore, forum, e.t.c. can now be personalized and suspended in the online cloud. The digital teacher can now type an assignment and share it with more than hundred students. All these students could work on one page of the assignment at the same time while chatting with each other. When a student steps out to take lunch for instance, he can come back and rewind what he missed and continue working with the other students on the same single page of the assignment. When all students have completed their assignments, the teacher can grade individual assignment on a software dashboard and all students can have privacy to their scores. Using the same dashboard the teacher can generate a white board where he can make illustrations to the students, and students from different parts of the world can actually write on the whiteboard, or he can generate a quiz feedback to all students in a multiple choice format to collate their feelings about the assignment. He can also open an online calendar where students can book for time slots to personally chat or see him. The teacher gets an email or forum update 30 minutes before each booking. No paper, no printing, no pen. This sounds like Voodoo.
Primary education is one of the world’s biggest problems. We have 1.5 billion children, and 67 million are currently out of school (unesco.org). Primary education differs from secondary or tertiary education in the sense that at primary level children are only taught to learn how to learn and develop passion for what they learn. But the issue now is that children at primary school level have developed better browsing skills than their parents, they are actively involved in social networking, and are participate in complex online or cloud gaming. These children are eminently suited in a role to transform the present learning ecosystem.
Adopted and modified from the book ‘Building a Digital Classroom’ by same author.
Aliyu Ahmed Ahmed
Internet Security Advisor