Using Technology to Enhance Teaching and Learning

By: Rupesh Kumar Shah, CEO and Co-founder InOpen Technologies

To be technology-literate is one of the mandates of the 21st century. Although even today the basics of language and arithmetic remain the ever sturdy foundation upon which all real life pursuits draw application, the lives living this century have, in a very real sense, been disrupted by information and communication technologies (ICTs). Together these technologies include computers, the Internet, telephones, television, and the radio. Ubiquitous, they are unassumingly stealthy in rendering us hooked, even hapless in their absence. The mandate emerges from this reality. That is, in order to participate in or interact with this ICT-laden paradigm, denizens must acquire a working familiarity with the moving flux of its language, tools, and rules of courtesy.

Furthermore, to truly seize its potential, we must transcend the realm of basic literacy, and move towards ‘fluency’, which relates to a scenario-responsive agility in the way that we are able to wield technology. The first step in creating a healthy learning space that affects this transformation is to demystify and hence ‘normalize’ the existence and awareness of technology. Two ways to do this are a) to teach ICT as a subject (in which, practically speaking, the focus lays on computers and the Internet), and b) to integrate ICT in the knowledge facilitation process. Both of these collude to provide young or new learners the exposure that is prerequisite to their fully realizing the as yet untapped wonders of technology.

EARLY EXPOSURE IS NECESSARY

As with all introductory concepts, early exposure helps to pre-empt the impending inflexibility of a mind jaded with age. It is unsurprising that national civic institutions of Education and Human Resource Development would play the sponge, absorbing said mandate, in recognition of its falling within the purview of their own mandate and duty towards aspiring learners. Since technological knowledge has the potential to be an equalizer, in this context, the term ‘learners’ necessarily encompasses all those involved in the existing teaching-learning matrix: Learners and teacher-facilitators. That is to say, at the ‘beginning’, everybody needs to learn the basics of ICTs, including tomorrow’s teachers. However, what is particular to the latter group is the dual responsibility of keeping abreast with technology themselves, while also investing in acquiring or developing new methods by which to engage in the two aforementioned ways of normalizing ICTs in the lives of learners under their care.

The first way involves ‘teaching ICT’ to new learners. Within formal education in India, this might take the form of schools offering a separate subject that appears on the weekly timetable. The subject is given a range of labels, such as, IT class, ICT class, Computer class, Computer Science, and so on. As such, the name may or may not necessarily convey the scope of what is to be learned. For example, an IT class may only introduce students to the fundamentals like parts of the computers and the basics of using office application softwares. On the other hand, although ‘computer science’ ought to describe learning that which goes beyond fundamentals, and explores the underlying principles that govern the devices and softwares being used, in reality the course may well turn out to be an equivalent of a basic ICT literacy course. That is, if we are going to take the trouble to cover the fundamentals and basic applications, why not use this opportunity to embed an exploration of the ‘how’ and ‘why’ behind the hardware and software? Why not make this an excuse to delve into the underlying thinking process skills required while using office applications and programming, such as planning, stepwise gathering of information, mind-mapping, logical reasoning and algorithmic thinking? Rather than simply learning computer facts, figures and functions, a conscious curriculum such as this engenders the development of cross-disciplinary life skills that forward the learner’s journey towards technological ‘fluency’.

INTEGRATION OF ICTs

The second way involves the integration of ICTs in the process of instruction. This can involve any other subject that is not technology-centered. What does this look like? Take for instance a Grade VII History class. The directive is to do a project on a chosen dynasty of medieval India. Rather than use the old chart paper and felt pens, picture ‘homework’ taking the form of a digital presentation that incorporates text, audio and videos. This way allows dual learning outcomes to be achieved: of History and of ICT preparedness! Or consider a Science class wherein the teacher-facilitator wants to introduce the idea of heat as a function of how little or a lot the atoms get agitated or ‘move’. For a first-timer, this is hard to conceptualize within the confines of a school science lab. Enter digitized, interactive educational content. In the form of animated simulations, previously unperceivable phenomena can now be ‘observed’. ICTs do indeed possess the potential to augment a classroom in a myriad fascinating ways.

To be sure, not all tactics that fall under ‘ICT-integration’ are novel as such. There have always been teacher-facilitators with an inclination to stimulate their learners in ways alternate to chalk-and-talk. The last few generations no doubt have memories of visits to the school ‘AV room’ (audio-visual aided classrooms)! Indeed, devices such as projectors (including overhead projectors for transparencies) have been available for many decades, but their effective use is uncertain. With the advent of smart classes and a host of flashy new educational technology, anecdotal evidence shows that the excitement has extended primarily to their installation and mere presence, without sufficient focus on how best to boost the efficacy of instruction. This would require of the facilitator a thorough understanding of the core concepts, a vision for lesson planning, and most importantly a command over technology that allows it to be seamless interwoven, rather than seen as an add-on or additional work.

In a report published in the Eurasia Journal of Mathematics, Science and Technology Education which collated research conducted on the status of ICT-integration, author KA Bingimlas notes, “after teachers had attended professional development courses in ICT they still did not know how to use ICT in their classrooms; instead they just knew how to run a computer and set up a printer.” So, the challenge is one of providing meaningful and relevant training and professional development. In order to move towards more ‘fluent’ use of ICT in the teaching-learning process, it is imperative that all involved in the profession of instruction and facilitation receive support in acquiring an ICT-integration skill set, above and beyond the standard pieces of an educational degree or its equivalent.