In this follow-up post, we take a look through some common education technology resources, and analyze whether they can indeed be of benefit to learners, without teachers being around to offer assistance:
- The World Wide Web - Everyone knows how to log on to the internet - and that includes most preschoolers as well (at least from certain communities). If anything, a five-year old kid is likely to know more about interesting websites, video chatting, blogging and such other basic stuff - than their parents. There is no dearth of educational resources on the web either, be it learning websites or educational YouTube videos. Unfortunately, there are plenty of sites that are thoroughly unsuitable for children too (think: casino portals, porn websites, and even offensive Facebook pages). It is not feasible to put locks and parental controls for all such websites, which can have a harmful effect on the minds of impressionable children. In addition, a teacher needs to tell his/her students about the websites/videos they should refer to - for complementing their classroom assignments in the best way. If that’s not done, a lot of time will be wasted on pointless online browsing.
- Online courses and tests - These are much more objective than having to scour the web in general. That, in turn, implies that such web-based tests and assignments can be handled by students alone. With software development and mobile app development becoming more sophisticated than ever before, such tests can be taken, and courses signed up for, via handheld devices too (which makes learning on the go a lot easier). Most online courses are framed in collaboration with noted academics - and students can pose queries directly to teachers via the electronic medium (via voice, chat or through emails). In the case of web tests, evaluation is generally instantaneous, ruling out chances of delays in result-declaration. The only problem? Certain kids tend to procrastinate a bit too much, especially when teachers are not around!
- Self-learning tools - There are plenty of computer programs (offline) as well as child-friendly mobile apps - which facilitate the self-learning processes of little children. Many of these applications come with interactive games too, for the seamless (and non-teacher-aided) development of the kids’ analytical skills. Teachers, as well as parents, have a role to play while the young ones use such tools too - albeit a relatively passive one. The onus is on the adult guides to encourage and applaud a kid when they successfully learn something on his/her own, address his/her precise queries, and keep him/her motivated, in case (s)he is facing problems with a particular self-learning assignment. It would be rather negligent to think that - since a program or an app is meant for kids, it would render teachers completely redundant.
- Technology-sharing - Let us now tackle ‘the great divide’ in the availability of education technology - between the K-6 students of the West having far greater access to technology than those children in many developing countries, who consider themselves lucky to have even caught a glimpse of a laptop. Academic planners (including politicians) have to take up the responsibility of providing the necessary grants and technology access to the lower strata of societies worldwide (providing fast broadband access across the board at government-aided schools would be a start). Students from such humble backgrounds are not expected to be familiar with technology-usage, and teachers are the ones who can bring them at par with their more advanced counterparts from other parts of the world. A student might be as compassionate as ever - but (s)he would simply not have the means to help those who are not as well-off, without elders stepping in.
- Library resources - This is something which children can mostly handle on their own. Most leading public libraries (as well as those of renowned colleges/universities) have e-catalogues stored on computers. Students only have to punch in the title/author names (in cases, the publisher name and ISBN number too), to find out the exact rack or shelf in the library, where the reference they are looking for is present. Of course, the presence of a librarian is necessary - but his/her role would be more like that of a guard, ensuring that books are not getting damaged, being returned on time, and ensuring that the learners are getting the photocopies/printouts that they require. There are online libraries too, with free or nominal paid membership options. Knowing about them might require teachers’ help - accessing them does not!
- Exam-less, tech-based education - There is a common refrain against regular semester/quarterly examinations at educational institutions - that they make the process of learning mechanical. Exam-related stress is rather common even among young students - particularly among the ones who remain rather casual over the year, and start cramming like crazy, as the days of the exam draw near. So, how about abolishing the tradition of periodic examinations altogether, and letting students use learning programs and mobile educational apps for kids? There would not be any specific goal to be met (e.g., coming first in class - the dream of many parents!). However, such a system would, over time, resemble a radar-less ship. We need to remember that, not all students are equally sincere - and without that bit of extra pressure around, many kids would take an easy, ‘avoid studying at all times’ approach - something that would hardly stand them in good stead in life. The need of the hour is for regular upgrading of courses, to make both the study materials and the way of teaching more interesting, and to make classes more interactive. Exams are here to stay, and teachers have to be present - to prepare students for the same. No number of ed-tech tools can instill discipline in a kid, the way a teacher can.
- The BYOD trend - In order to encourage technology-based learning, the ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD) policy is adopted at many education centers (even schools). Since advanced educational centers generally have wi-fi coverage in campus, kids are not likely to face any problems in using the web-based mobile software and Android/iPhone apps - which can be pre-installed on their handsets. While everything seems rosy about this policy at the first glance - a deeper look would reveal that implementation of BOYD policy can lead to data-security risks. That’s precisely the reason why there is a ban on carrying mobile phones at many offices too. At schools and colleges, there has to be someone in charge of ensuring that the devices brought in by each student is virus-free, and has access to only those learning resources present on server systems, as are absolutely necessary. Who has to handle this responsibility? You guessed it right...teachers again! They might not have to provide step-by-step training to students on how to use smartphones, but they have to make sure that the devices are (accidentally or otherwise) not being misused.
- Technology for creativity - Although there is a definite old-world charm in making sketches and portraits on canvas, almost all types of drawing can now be done on the computer. Thanks to programs like Adobe Photoshop and Google Picasa, editing and adding effects to pictures have also become a matter of a few mouse-clicks. To develop and retain a creative streak in kids, parents can encourage them to start pursuing an interesting hobby - which can range from simple drawing, to conducting small, safe science experiments at home. Teachers, in most cases, are not necessary for this - except for providing the more creative students some extra motivation and encouragement. Of course, if the mom and dad of a kid have no idea of the type of creative skill the latter is interested in, the role of the teacher becomes much more important.
Ross Smythe is the chief concept developer at Teknowledge Mobile Studio. He regularly writes on the web, specifically on topics related to education technology.