Educational Technology

Article

March, 2021

Educational Technology: More questions than Answers (Part 1)

The partnership between education and technology that has been evolving for nearly half a century has undergone a revolution in the last two decades. The degree and pace of change in this relationship has made us all, those working in education and those not, stop and think about it – ‘whither are we going?’ Is it good for education? Is it an attempt to serve the vested interest of technology? Will it help students and teachers or will it be an additional burden on them? Will it be possible to manage the required logistic requirements?

It all started with ‘technology in education’ – chalk, blackboard, paper, pencil, pen, printing, over-head projector, computer, etc. Teachers were the masters of the act who used these as and when they wanted/needed.

All thinking and planning of instruction was done by the teacher and s/he used these to facilitate the communication of the message to her/his pupils. Skinner’s (1960) idea of Programmed Instruction paved the way of ‘technology in education’ moving towards ‘technology of education’. Onset of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and World Wide Web popularity in 1990s gave another strong push to ‘technology of education’ as it opened the door of computer having a dynamic relationship with the user. It remained no more a medium to make the message reach effectively, but now the talk was of understanding and catering to the needs, objectives, teaching/learning strategies and processes of learners and teachers by creating appropriate resources and making it available and accessible to them using technology.

Technology which used to be the equipment started contributing in story writing, scripting, shooting and direction, etc. Here lies the source of fear that technology will make teachers and many others in the sector redundant in the coming days!”

Challenges have made humanity take many leaps of faith. Covid-19 posed an unprecedented challenge to education along with other walks of life. Students, parents, teachers, schools and the education system as a whole forgot the fear of technology and jumped on the bandwagon of technology to ensure that things don’t stand still. Radio, television, Zoom, Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams, YouTube, WhatsApp all received attention. Teachers were hurriedly prepared, available resources started getting used, new players entered the field and newly created resources of varied quality started pouring in. Schools and teachers came out of their despondency and started reaching out to their children by whatever means possible. 

Ever increasing smartphone penetration in India played a significant role in the story, despite the fact that a significant number of children could not be benefitted because of the lack of gadgets and/or connectivity. Efforts were made to circumvent this by delivering and collecting material to and from their home, but it had serious challenges and limitations. Many well-meaning and well-intentioned individuals and organizations rightly kept on questioning this unsystematic, unplanned and unprepared use of technology in and of education; BUT DID WE HAVE A CHOICE?

Now schools are reopening. Students of class IX to XII have returned to the classrooms across the country. A number of states have also started classes VI to VIII. In all probability, primary students too will return to classrooms by the end of February or early March 2021. Government of India came out with the New Education Policy (NEP) 2020 during this Covid-19 period when schools and colleges were locked down. NEP 2020, like other policy documents of last three to four decades, talks about the crucial role of technology in education; but it also talks specifically about blended teaching-learning in schools, digital resource development at the state and national level and online in-service teacher capacity building. These specific recommendations of NEP 2020 have added fresh fire to the debate of technology and its advantages and disadvantages in education – school education in particular. Teachers and scholars of education have once again started talking about the dangers of going the technology way. If this has to happen the way envisaged, it is important to understand and respond to their concerns and allay their fears to get their support and cooperation without which the goal would never be achieved. This is my purpose of writing this blog. The first concern about bringing in technology in education comes from our understanding of the nature and process of human learning and impact of technology on it. Learning in essence is neither a repetitive practice leading to automatization or imitation as behaviourists thought, nor an individual psychological process conducted by a solo-scientist learner as cognitivist understood. Learning as we understand today is a psycho-social activity in which others (teachers, peers, etc) play an important role with whom learners work with within and/or without the school. Blended teaching-learning approach is feared to have a negative impact on the role of others and in turn on learning. We need to understand that technology will still be used by the teacher and in the way s/he finds it useful.

In addition, if we can visualize the potential of AI which is still developing we will be able to see that it has the potential to develop sensitivity and intelligence of the kind required to play the role of ‘the more knowledgeable other’ in the process of learning. The next concern about bringing in technology in education relates to the nature of aims of education and limitations of technology in helping to achieve them. Aims of education are broadly categorized in knowledge, skills, values and attitudes. Educationists are more worried about value education as values and attitudes are supposed to be learnt and practised mainly through social interaction and negotiations. Since technology tends to reduce the duration and frequency of human interaction, it is thought to be detrimental to value and attitude education.

Let’s try to understand this concern. This assumption or apprehension of technology having an inversely proportional relationship with human interaction is not correct as shown above. What technology might influence is not the frequency or duration of human interaction, but its nature as it will free teachers from a lot of routine and mechanical things that they do today and they will be able to devote their time energy to more creative and innovative aspects of teaching-learning. Let’s try to understand this concern from another perspective. Values are ethically derived and socially sanctioned which members of a society cherish – for example value of life. The attitude that grows in this context is our likely behaviour/response in situations where we face threat to our life. (There is a further level of complexity to it – clash of values where we have to make choices – which I am not going into for now.) To understand it more clearly let’s take an example of a person wanting to cross a road. He sees a car racing towards him at a fast pace. Now, he has to take the decision whether to cross the road or wait for the car to pass. What goes on in his mind – life is valuable; I must make sure that I do not meet with an accident; what is the distance of the car from the spot where I am standing?; at what pace the car is coming?; how fast can I cross the road?; and finally, will I be able to cross the road before the car reaches the spot? On the basis of these calculations he may take one of the three decisions – i) I am crossing the road, ii) I am not crossing the road till the car passes, and iii) I am not sure.

Does not it all sound like an algorithmic process where data from sensory perceptions is fed into to operate upon? AI may begin with the given value of life and by virtue of its potential to establish a dynamic relationship with the user can use the sensory data and operate the algorithmic process to reach a conclusion. AI succeeding in developing self-driving cars capable of negotiating the maddening traffic on the road in our mega cities which involves much more complicated data set and algorithmic calculations goes much beyond this simple example. This can help assuage our concern regarding the values and attitudes education and have a bit more faith in the potential of technology. The third concern is a much broader and more puzzling and terrifying one which is about the relationship between human beings and technology as it will develop in future.

In fact, it can be understood in two parts – i) Whether human beings will become cognitively subservient to the technology which will act as a not so benevolent master? ii) Whether technology will lead to a modern kind of slavery where human beings will use it as their slaves – personal, professional and social?

The next blog that follows will make an attempt at understanding these two parts of the third concern

About Author:

DR RAJESH KUMAR
Lead Academics at EdIndia Foundation.

Dr Rajesh worked as a teacher of English in colleges and universities in India and abroad. He also worked with Digantar and Azimpremji Foundation as the Executive Director and Education Specialist respectively

DR RAJESH KUMAR
Lead Academics at EdIndia Foundation.

About Author:

Dr Rajesh worked as a teacher of English in colleges and universities in India and abroad. He also worked with Digantar and Azimpremji Foundation as the Executive Director and Education Specialist respectively

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