For me, the central questions raised by the advent of computers in education are:
- How does the arrival of computers affect the teacher and what implications does this have for his role?
- What have computers changed or made possible and what implications does this have for the teacher’s learning?
Keeping in view these questions, we can look at different facets of the emerging scenario and the responses demanded from teachers in the IT era.
Firstly, the information explosion that computers have made possible, makes access to information relatively simple. In particular, the Internet is capable of responding to the simplest query or search with an overwhelming amount of information. Students with access to computers can acquire information on any relevant topic with ease and speed. Multimedia and professional techniques of presentation – using graphics, audio, video combined with textual data - make the process of assimilating this information more efficient and enjoyable.
This raises a key question: can acquisition of information, by itself, be considered as learning? Clearly not! And yet our society and most teachers have given great importance to acquiring information. This is why all education courses in the country are content-oriented and place little emphasis on the process of learning.
Here then is the first lesson for the teacher! If the teacher has been acting merely as a bookish dispenser of information and that too in a boring, mechanical, repetitive way, then he should move over and be ready to be replaced by the computer – which can do the same task in a more interesting way.
However, since learning is not the mere accumulation of information, the computer revolution challenges us to find the true significance of the process of learning. Does the process of learning allow for the learner to discover meaning and connections; discover, on his own, the facts and principles, discover also his own mental processes and the relationship between the two? By keeping knowledge or information apart from the mental processes that act on these, do we not create barriers to learning?
Hence the teacher, in the IT era more than ever before, needs to understand the mental processes behind learning: how information will be processed, how knowledge comes into being. He must also become aware of the inherent limitations of any kind of knowledge. Only then will he not get swept away by the information deluge of the present era, and be able to structure suitable learning experiences for his students. This is one great challenge of the information revolution for the teacher.
The computer can, no doubt, be a great aid to self-learning by the student. Suitable packages available through CD-ROMs or learning sites on the Internet provide novel ways of engaging with course content and developing basic skills. If the student can pick these up on his own, could this not be seen as a tremendous opportunity for the teacher? As less of his time has to be spent on imparting skills and knowledge, he can spend more time on helping students apply skills to real situations. Students and teachers could also seek out the ramifications of ideas from a global perspective, work at integrating the processes of the mind with their actions in the outer world. Again this is a challenge to the teacher, to extend the reach of the learning process.
There are two other possibilities that computers have opened up for students today, which require the teacher to equip himself adequately too. One is the facility for creating aesthetic multimedia simulations of real world situations. This compels users to display not only their intellectual understanding, but also develop their skill in creating aesthetic presentations, using their grasp of the essentials of shapes, colours, sounds and harmonious combinations of these. With these new features on the computer available, how can the teacher remain restricted to his specialized area of knowledge? Can he too then be learning these techniques along with his students?
Networking of computers also permits group working and interactive learning. This may involve on-line discussion, working in modules and then integrating them, as well as seeking assistance from one another to get a task done more efficiently. This enables the learning process to be more learnercentered rather than teacher-directed. The teacher is then more of a facilitator than an instructor. Can the teacher start visualizing and working at these new possibilities that are quite different from the way teachers have worked until now?
To summarize, computers and the IT revolution are here to stay and grow. Teachers cannot be like ostriches and bury their heads in the sand. Teachers will need to rework time-honoured techniques of instruction to make use of the new opportunities of the IT revolution, if their inputs are to be relevant and acceptable to the young in contemporary society. Schools will, therefore, need to address the question of how teachers are to be equipped to respond to the challenges. This may involve firstly providing adequate opportunity for teachers to work with and use computers, leading on to discussions on the implications of using computers for learning, and strategies to use the power of the computer. The negative side of computers and the implications of networking indiscriminately with the outside world also have to be met. Most of all, schools will, more consciously, need to become places where students and teachers may integrate the process of learning and education at the outer level, with deeper, inner questioning.