Even as economic models undergo a sea change, and technology advances at an exponential rate, what constitutes education remains just the same. Its role too has not changed. At the most fundamental level, education imparts the knowledge of how things in the natural, social, and physiological domains work – and enables people to solve problems and create value.
But as the economy and the society evolve, the subjects of education can change. And as technology evolves, it can give us new ways of imparting knowledge that would make its comprehension and reproduction much better.
No two people acquire knowledge the same way. This learning limitation, however, is conveniently ignored in traditional classrooms. In this context, the entry of digital technology and artificial intelligence is considered a boon as they promise to customise teaching to suit the unique learning styles and paces of students. Once online, students have the choice to pick up any form of presentation – visual, auditory, reading, writing, or kinaesthetic, on any idea related to any subject, whatever works best for them.
MOOC and phygital classrooms
Consider the avalanche of quality content from the portals of what is now known as massive open online courses (MOOCs). It was in 2001 when the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA, a pioneer in MOOCs, announced the launch of its OpenCourseWare project. The goal was to put all its educational materials of undergraduate- and graduate-level courses online and make them available for free for anyone, anywhere.
MIT, thus, set the floodgates of open courses. Every higher educational institution worth its salt followed suit. Today, the web is a learner’s paradise, awash with world-class lectures, presentations, demonstrations, quizzes for self-assessment, tests, and forums for doubt clarifications. Like MOOCs, the phygital mode of classrooms that fosters blended learning, combining physical and digital platforms, is here to stay. The recent COVID-19-led restrictions on physical movements and meetings accelerated the pace of the adoption of the phygital revolution, which otherwise was always the writing on the wall for educational institutions ever since the explosion of the web.
The phygital concoction is aided by connected devices such as smart boards that give instant access to subject materials in multimedia, and help in the digitalisation of the entire process of teaching, besides providing metrics on the effectiveness of teaching. Though the online space is a big source of distraction for students, devices such as ebook readers can help students attend uninterrupted sessions of focused learning.
Tech for compassion and reality
Artificial intelligence (AI) can simply mean a personal teaching assistant, as the technology stays with every student until his or her understanding blossoms, before taking the student to the next level in the endless pursuit of knowledge. This must be what compassion in teaching is all about for a student, who otherwise misses the bus often as his or her human teachers rush through their lectures, under the pressure to cover portions and the sway of frontbenchers, who are ever ready to nod their heads.
An offshoot of visual communication that has caught the imagination of the teaching world is the presentation of content using virtual or augmented reality. Be it a solar system or a human heart, it comes alive for students. Once the headsets are on, the subjects are within the grasp of senses to explore in real-world dimensions.
The broad outcome of the adoption of these, and many other, educational technologies is that the student is now at the center stage. To denote student-centricity of classrooms, people term the current functioning of tech-enabled education as ‘studentskul’, instead of gurukul, where students can change teachers, to use the cliché, at the click of a button.
However, one must not get carried away with technological breakthroughs. For sure, from the perspective of educators, the only value created in a classroom is the lucid presentation of knowledge. Technology is there primarily for reach and effectiveness. Otherwise, the fountainhead was, is, and will be the venerable teacher who knows how to present effectively.
Rahul Agarwal is Chief Technology Officer, Aakash Educational Services Limited