A laptop computer or an iPhone app for kids can only help young learners to a certain extent, but for holistic technology-based learning, more advanced, customized tools and gadgets are required. In this post I will cover my wishlist of ed-tech gizmos that would be incredibly helpful in this regard - but, unfortunately, do not yet exist:
- Computer programs that foster personalized learning - Not every student is equally brilliant, and that, in turn, results in e-learning modules not being of equal help to all of them. It is not enough to ensure that class-toppers and the relative laggards have access to the same technological resources. It would be ideal if the computer and mobile learning programs made use of artificial intelligence (AI) to assess the mental capacities and learning preferences of students - and lessons were shared accordingly. There should not be any hard and fast rule that everyone has to finish learning sets of lessons within the same time-span.
- Subject-based mobile applications - With cyber technologies and iPhone application development in India and abroad growing exponentially over the last few years, many English and math-learning programs have become available. However, there still remains a considerable dearth for subject-specific tools. A senior grad student of chemistry or psychology still has to browse through library catalogs and/or try to find his/her way through the wealth of information on the internet - to gather all the required references. Things would become much easier if such in-depth information were available via a couple of mouse clicks or a few mobile screen swipes.
- Information-filtering tools - This is one factor where physical libraries still win over virtual learning resources. At schools, colleges and universities, teachers invariably mention the titles, author names and publisher details of the texts that students have to consult. However, when it comes to the web in the K-12 classroom environment, the onus is on the young ones to filter through the gazillions of websites - to find authentic, updated information. We really hope that there will soon be a tool which would help learners to simply punch in the topic they wish to know about - and the list of the most relevant sites would be displayed. Time would certainly be saved!
- Tools for maintaining student information and monitoring performances - Many parents and students are quick to point fingers at teachers at the slightest pretext - but what is often not realized is the tremendous burden the latter have to undertake. The classroom learning progress of every student (in multiple classes) has to be tracked, attendance reports prepared, homework graded, and behavioral aspects monitored and recorded. An average database tool, or even the best iPhone app for kids cannot really lessen these pressures on teachers. It would be great if tools that facilitated automated homework-checking, student record-maintenance and parent-teacher interactions were discovered.
- Study timetable applications - For a school or college student, there are subjects galore - and on average, quite a bit of time is lost while procrastinating on what subject or topic one should study on any precise evening (at home, after classes). Yes, there are kids and teens with razor-like systematic precision in their minds - but for all others, there should be a mobile application that would inform which subject (in fact, which modules/chapters as well) that a student should study on any given day. All that the users would have to do is enter the entire curriculum details in the app, at the start of the semester.
- Idea-tracking gadgets - Good teachers emphasize greater classroom interaction and student brainstorming sessions. During such activities and Q&A sessions many interesting ideas are floated (both by students as well as tutors), which, unfortunately, get lost in the myriad of other lectures and discussions. Using a video camera to record all class activities is not really a satisfactory solution to this issue. What’s required is a software program that functions on a real-time basis, and maintains a database of new, innovative ideas introduced by anyone in class. Later on, others can deliberate on them - and decide whether the ideas are indeed worth exploring.
- Tools to alert students about subject updates - Except for the basic ground rules of any subject (Newton’s Laws of Motion in Physics, for instance), ideas and thoughts continue to evolve. Just like it is of essence for students to consult only the latest editions of textbooks and references, it is important that they are made aware of all such new developments, innovations and breakthrough ideas through education technology. It is, admittedly, a challenge for software programmers and mobile app developers to come up with such learning aides. However, if and when they succeed - students would no longer have to deal with old, outdated lessons and theorems.
- Live shared screens - Apart from requiring technological finesse of the highest order, this would require collaboration among the leading learning centers from across the world. By flipping on the live shared screens, students from one part of the world can view - or even participate in - discussions that are taking place in classrooms in other cities/countries. Shared screens would also facilitate presentation of case studies and demonstrations to learners simultaneously, irrespective of their precise geographical location. Learning techniques would, expectedly, become less skewed.
- Class preparation tools - Teachers are supposed to resolve all queries of their students. The former, however, are not robots - and there is every chance that a teacher does not have the answer of any particular question at a moment of time. (S)he can always get back to the concerned student after a day or two of research - but it would be much more efficient if there was a tool that helped to prepare a list of all possible queries that might be associated with any topic/subject. An out-of-the-box question can still leave a teacher stumped - but the probabilities of such a scenario would be considerably lowered!
- Time-keeping applications - While students should never be in a tearing hurry to complete learning any lesson - it is equally vital that they do not waste too much time on relatively simple topics. There should be a dedicated timer app, which would track the number of minutes/hours spent for getting a proper grasp of any particular study module. The recorded time can be compared with that of peers - and, if required, techniques for learning the same lessons more quickly can be shared. Self-monitoring is crucial for students, and an app like this would be instrumental for that.
- Programs that combine learning and fun - Fat, boring texts do not appeal to most students. While there has been a definite shift towards e-learning, teachers and parents still make a demarcation between apps and software that are ‘for learning’ and ‘for fun’. It is high-time we had more of such applications that had a nice blend of academic lessons and interactive games (this would encourage teachers to recommend their usage as part of study activities too). Experts on mobile app development and education software are already working on such multipurpose gadgets and tools for students. A fun program might contain subtle lessons - while a learning app can have a few built-in games.
While we are beginning to see some of the developments, particularly in the area of learning algorithms where learning management systems (LMS) adjust their content based on student ability (see MobyMax and Fishtree for example), we still have a long way to go. Parental control tools and applications also need to become more efficient and user-friendly. We are well on our way to facilitating technology-oriented learning for students, and these tools would surely help.
Are developers and programmers of education tools listening?
Ross Smythe is the chief concept developer at Teknowledge Mobile Studio. He regularly writes on the web, primarily on various topics related to education technology.