Technology is seen as a revolutionary agent in many fields of human endeavour, including education. Much has been written about the opportunity that technology provides in restructuring the entire approach to formal education. A couple of decades ago, television promised to make education, until then accessible to only a privileged few, available freely to the ‘masses’. The internet is now offering a similar promise of not just easy access but much more.
When Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) first appeared, it seemed as if higher education in colleges and universities was under direct threat. With instruction material from the most reputed educational institutions in the world made available free of cost and with ready access to the teachers in those institutions, why would one pay extraordinarily high tuition fees to attend college when the same knowledge was available from one’s home?
In recent years Khan Academy has made available a large collection of short, simple and explanatory videos across a range of subjects. They have gone one step further in aligning this content with educational curricula and providing a testing and assessment platform for schools to individualize student learning, 1 a holy grail of sorts in modern educational discourse. Will Richardson, a popular speaker in educational forums, stresses that, “It’s an amazing time to be a learner”, 2 a statement which draws our attention to the fact that we live in a world today of abundant content with easy and instant access to the sum of human knowledge. Richardson argues that there has existed a disconnect between what schools want children to learn and what children really want to learn for many years now.
Technology can bridge this gap today by allowing ‘productive learning’ to happen, where children will pursue individual questions they want answers to and will find the means and resources for this with the help of the internet. Technology is seen by many as a force which will enable a shift away from an industrialized, same-age classroom model and allow for children to discover a spirit of enterprise in themselves as they explore learning, unencumbered by place, time and convention.
A contrarian voice is questioning the assumptions of the above promise. The critics of a technology-led revolution argue that education is not just about efficient imparting of knowledge. Even where that has been the objective, studies have shown that heavy spending on technology has not necessarily improved standardized test scores. 3 More fundamentally, it is argued that teaching-learning is essentially a human experience.
In an article titled ‘Unplugged Schools’, 4 Lowell Monke states that one of schooling’s most important tasks is to compensate for, rather than intensify, society’s excesses. For instance, the Waldorf schools worldwide have chosen to subscribe to a teaching-learning methodology which emphasizes physical activity and using one’s hands in daily tasks in a bid to promote creative thinking, movement, human interaction and improved attention spans—skills which they believe are inhibited by computers. As part of a study 5 in 2004 to explore the application of digital technologies for the socio-economic growth of poor communities in India, Kentaro Toyama has suggested that technology cannot replace strong leadership, good teachers and involved parents and, in the absence of these, can act as an amplifier of socio-economic inequalities.
Yet more critics of the indiscriminate use of technology in today’s world such as Nicholas Carr ask if we are unknowingly sacrificing depth, clear thinking and originality in favour of speed and cross-learning by incorporating digital tablets connected to the internet into the classroom. 6 It is suggested that deep learning is a result of slow and deliberate thinking. Technology seems to be nudging learning into becoming an individualistic act, in a world in which relationships are increasingly becoming virtual, rather than face to face. Will this ready acceptance of the digital world only further magnify this phenomenon? What could be the impact of this for the future of education?
What should a school do?
We are at a juncture in time now where there is a push from all around— parents, educators and the government—for schools to adopt technology and become modern.
The word ‘technology’ can mean different things in an educational context. On the learning side, it could mean schools providing laptops to each student to use as a learning tool when connected to the internet, to work on class assignments and submit homework. On the teaching side, it could mean a ‘smart classroom’, a phrase used to define a classroom which has ready access to the internet, large projection screens and digital whiteboards to deliver and capture multimedia-driven classroom lectures. Yet others suggest that technology be used to enable parents to have direct access to student records and communicate with the school, using websites and messaging tools.
Defining the framework
It appears that stakeholders in the educational system, be they policy makers, schools or parents, often choose to take one of two polarized viewpoints, for or against , implying progressive thinking or the lack of it. A closer examination of the question of whether a school should adopt technology or not reveals that the real benefit perhaps lies, not in responding with a ready, pre-meditated ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, but arriving at one after evaluating and applying the question in specific educational contexts, which in turn may be informed by a broader educational philosophy.
This insight then allows an educator the time and space to not hurry towards a conclusive solution but to pause at various points and re-examine the issue from different aspects. It is also clear that one, or even a few questions alone, might not be sufficient to comprehend the issue in all its complexity.
What one would perhaps then need would be a way of thinking, a ‘decision framework’ if one will, to approach the issue. We find that such a framework can be built by asking a set of focused, individual questions in logical order spanning multiple, larger categories of questions. Such a framework could be a useful tool-kit which educators can use in situations concerning a specific technology-adoption dilemma in their institutions. We have given below a sample framework with four categories of questions.
In the framework above, ‘it’ refers to the technology that is being considered.
Applying the framework
It can be an instructive exercise for educators to apply this framework in real-world situations regarding technology adoption. As an illustration, we have chosen to examine online learning platforms which allow students to take control of their learning and work on skills of their choice, at their own pace, resulting in individualized learning paths in the classroom.
What is ‘it’?
An Online Learning Platform has substantial online educational content and assessments across subjects. These platforms allow each student in the classroom to:
Pursue a self-paced individual learning plan
Use multiple digital resources to learn a topic: text lessons, lecture videos,
practice tests, solutions, study techniques and online discussion forums
Take online assessments with real-time results and answer keys
Compare one’s performance relative to a class
Pursue the topic for further learning
It also allows the teacher to:
Track and understand individual academic progress of each student in
Modify learning paths for students based on progress
Compare the class performance relative to a larger population
How does ‘it’ work?
The Online Learning Platform provider has created large amounts of educational content which is centrally stored on the provider’s computer servers. The provider has then created a website which allows users to create individual accounts and access this content through a computer/ tablet/smartphone. The website software tracks the content used by each individual user account, along with other information like tests taken, marked scored and learning paths pursued. The user does not have any data storage requirements and does not need to install any specialized software applications on computers to be able to access these platforms.
Curriculum: The given curriculum is structured into modules, topics and concepts in a laddered, sequential manner for each subject. Criteria, such as pre-requisite knowledge for certain concepts, are built into the curriculum.
Learning material: For each concept, an introductory text or a video which explains it is made available. Other tools like animations, real-life images, graphing and simulation aids and audio material are provided.
Assessment and testing: Assessments are both formative and summative. Questions are typically in the MCQ (Multiple Choice Question) format and drawn from very large question banks. They can be tailored to a student’s preference in terms of dif?culty levels. Results are instantaneous, and suggestions are made for further study and testing.
Learning pace: Each student has the ?exibility to progress as fast or as slow as she wants within a learning path. The student can re-visit a topic multiple times and within that topic take multiple tests.
What does the school need to have to be able to use ‘it’?
The school will need the following to be able to implement it:
Access to an online learning platform (either free or purchased, subscribed
Individual student access points (tablets, smart phones, PCs, laptops)
to the online content either provided by the school or purchased by the
Technical (computer) and platform-speci?c training for teachers on how
to use the website
Why does the school need ‘it’?
Is there a current ‘need’ or ‘problem’ of the school which ‘it’ is serving?
There is a need for teachers to be able to come up with strategies for individual learning to happen within a common classroom.
Is the need being addressed a significant one for the school?
Students in any given class are at different levels of understanding and ability. With a common instruction mode within the physical classroom, some students may be bored and feel held back (because the level is ‘too low’) while others may be disengaged and feel inadequate (because the level is ‘too high’). Creating differentiated instruction plans so that each student is engaged actively in their learning is a significant challenge.
How is the need being addressed by ‘it’?
This online learning platform approach has the possibility of allowing students to deepen their learning at home on an individualized basis through watching lectures and taking tests. They can come to the classroom to clarify doubts, plan their learning paths and submit physical assignments. This allows each student to progress at a pace which is customized for her which in itself is desirable for the classroom, allowing students to take responsibility for their own learning.
Are there other solutions which address this need? How do they compare with ‘it’?
The school could look at employing an alternative non-technology based approach where more than one teacher is available for the class. The classroom could be split into multiple groups of students, based on their current academic comfort levels, and the teachers could work with each of these groups separately after a common, introductory class to enable academic reinforcement and deeper learning. The school would have to explore creating sufficient laddered academic content in the form of lesson text, tests and practice exercises at multiple levels which would then be used for the smaller groups.
What are the real ‘gains’ and ‘costs’?
Who benefits from the use of ‘it’ and how?
is not tied to a common lesson plan
is freed to pursue her own learning paths, suited to her abilities
is able to get immediate, online feedback
- can revisit and practice lessons as often as required
is freed in many ways—classroom management, preparation of materials, paper correction
will now have time to provide specific feedback to each student based on
individual progress and performance
The online learning platform website:
acquires a new set of users resulting in generation of valuable student and school performance data
What are the new, previously impossible gains for the school?
Teachers in the school will now have access to objective data pertaining to individual student performance and difficulty areas at any point of time as well as aggregate data rather than an impressionistic understanding.
What is ‘its’ full lifetime monetary cost for the school?
While there may be no content licensing or subscription costs depending on the choice of the online learning platform, one should also look at other allied costs like computer laboratory hardware upgradation, classroom infrastructure enhancement (whiteboards, projectors, screens, audio-visual systems) and service and maintenance costs for this hardware.
What are the non-monetary costs? Are there other tangible or intangible losses (loss of culture of the school, relationships)?
Adoption of an online-based teaching approach like this could cause a change in the current relationship between the teacher and the student and between the students themselves. In the current context of the school, the teacher is responsible for the entire well-being of the child and not just the academic aspect. This will have to be discussed and examined carefully. How would the student see the school in this new context? Would it impact the other non-academic work and activities the student partakes in at school?
How does ‘it’ change behaviour?
Is ‘it’ currently synergistic with the school’s larger educational philosophy? Could its adoption or its future evolution cause a drift away from this philosophy?
The school is a place where one learns both the importance of knowledge and its irrelevance. It sees education as not just academic competence and mastery but as a way to understand oneself and how one relates to the larger world. Academic excellence, while very important, is still only one aspect of the educational endeavour of the school.
The school is concerned with relationships and how the student relates to other people around her, both inside and outside school. To use a predominantly technology-based approach, where children (and teachers) would spend substantial amounts of time in front of a computer, is a concern and a departure from a culture which emphasizes learning about oneself through contact with nature and other human beings.
Will its adoption cause new, undesirable patterns of behaviour or suppress old, desirable behaviour, either in teachers or in students?
In teachers, this new technology-heavy approach may lead to a lack of flexibility and creativity in classroom teaching. Another concern is that teaching may become an essentially narrow and mechanistic process focused solely on results.
In students, this may lead to greater sense of disconnect, with nature and people. Learning may also become a very individualistic process with very little interaction with classmates or the teacher. Dialogue and conversations allow for a student to learn from others, to see approaches and perspectives that may differ from one’s own. A process of thinking together and struggling together could be abandoned.
Adoption of this approach could result in an unduly measurement-oriented culture in the school.
In the preceding section, we have applied the framework to online learning platforms that allow for individualized learning paths. Here is a summary of the salient points that have emerged:
The technology addresses a real need in the classroom—that of students being able to learn at their own pace and along a path suitable to them.
It provides an efficient solution to this need. Complete information about a child’s learning process is readily available to the child, the teacher and if need be, the parent.
This very efficiency might make learning mechanistic and result-oriented, focusing on that which can be done only through electronic media. This might cause a move away from sensorial learning and contact with nature.
A highly individualized learning environment might impact a child’s relationship with others and prevent collaborative learning.
Where a school places emphasis on results and individual success, this might be a promising technology to adopt. In a school where sensorial learning and relationships are important, this technology might be detrimental. Whether this technology may be adopted without a loss in sensorial learning and relationships is open to further examination.
We see that the application of the framework provides for an objective reasoning of a stance that a school might have otherwise taken ‘intuitively’. It might also lead to reconsideration or a change of position. In any case, it could allow for a more nuanced understanding of the various factors involved and move schools from a generic for-or-against stance.
In Krishnamurti schools, it is likely that many decisions will hinge on questions in the bottom left quadrant of the diagram above, which deal with philosophy, culture and relationships. Academic excellence is only one part of the entire learning process in these schools and even what constitutes academic excellence is often debated—is excellence merely that which can be measured?
Different schools using the same framework may come upon different responses and conclusions, depending on what constitutes education in that institution. The application of the framework may even lead to a clarification of the school’s educational aims and throw up questions that have hitherto been unexamined.
- http://www.wired.com/2015/10/salman-khan-academy-lab-schoolreinventing- classrooms
- http://www.wsj.com/articles/technology-in-classrooms-doesnt-always-boosteducation- results-oecd-says-1442343420
- http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB100014240527487040253045752849 81644790098