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We live in a world of rapid economic and technological change. Digital technologies have a very strong impact on every aspect of our lives, affecting how we communicate, find and provide information, construct relationships, deal and buy goods and, critically, how we learn and teach. Now learners bring rich experiences to the classroom acquired from a technologically enhanced world. Younger learners grow up using mobile devices, games and other electronic equipment for communication and entertainment. Mature learners, meanwhile, are gradually more likely to have internet access at home and to use technology at work.
In the years ahead, the decreasing cost of computation will make digital technologies handy to nearly everyone in all parts of the world, from inner-city neighborhoods of developed nations to the rural villages in developing nations. We can call it a digital age as these technologies are transforming the lives of the people; how and what people learn throughout their lives. It is just similar to the "green revolution" which was made possible by the biotechnologies, now the new digital technologies will definitely bring "learning revolution" in education sector.
But certain prerequisites are required to make learning revolution possible. These digital technologies in education and particularly in the classroom will work only when the ideas and approaches (traditional or conventional methods) are transformed into constructive one. Researches reveal the fact that in spite of using ICT in the teaching and learning process, ideas and approaches remain largely unchanged. To take full advantage of new technologies, we need to fundamentally rethink our approaches to learning and education- and our ideas of how new technologies can support them.
Integrating technology in education is a complex issue taking many forms that differ in purpose. This will range from replicating existing educational practices through digital media with technology as tools, to transforming education to bring about new learning goals. The passive 3 R's should be replaced by the more dynamic 3 C's of collaboration, creativity and communication. These features challenge the traditional basis for teaching in schools.
Learning versus Information:
When people think about education and learning, they often think about information. It indicates our direction to the conventional/behaviorist method of teaching where a teacher is the source of information who pours his/her information into the empty vessels i.e. learners. Now, it's quite natural that people see a direct connection between computers and education. Computers permit people to transmit, access, represent, and manipulate information in many new ways. Because education is associated with information and computers are associated with information, the two seem to make a perfect marriage.
But this focus on information is limiting and distorting both for the field of education and for computers. If we want to take full advantage of new digital technologies, and if we want to help students become better thinkers and learners, we need to move beyond these information-centric views of computing and learning.
Over the past fifty years, psychologists and educational researchers, building on the pioneering work of Jean Piaget, have come to understand that learning is not a simple matter of information transmission. Teachers cannot simply pour information into the heads of learners; rather, learning is an active process in which people construct new understandings of the world around them through active exploration, experimentation, discussion, and reflection. In short: people don't get ideas; they make them. As for computers, they are more than simply information machines, despite the common use of the phrase "information technology" or "IT." Of course, computers are wonderful for transmitting and accessing information, but they are, more broadly, a new medium through which people can create and express. If we use computers simply to deliver information to students, we are missing the innovative potential of the new technology for transforming learning and education.
Fig. 1, Learning in the Digital Age
ICT is like "finger paint" which can be used for designing and creating things and only then these digital technologies can live up to its potentials. Only creating and designing activities offer the greatest new learning opportunities with computers. Psychologists and philosophers like Piaget, Vygotsky, Bruner and Dewey have also shown that our best learning experiences come when we are engaged in designing and creating things, especially things that are meaningful either to us or others around us. When children create pictures with finger paint, for example, they learn how colors mix together. When they build houses and castles with building blocks, they learn about structures and stability. When they make bracelets with colored beads, they learn about symmetries and patterns.
Like finger paint, blocks, and beads, computers can also be used as a "material" for making things-and not just by children, but by everyone. Indeed, the computer is the most extraordinary construction material ever invented, enabling people to create anything from music videos to scientific simulations to robotic creatures. Computers can be seen as a universal construction material, greatly expanding what people can create and what they can learn in the process. Learning in a Digital Age explores ways in which technology can help higher education institutions meet the challenge of lifelong and work-based learning.
Rethinking Teacher's Role:
In the recent years school education sector has realized that the teacher is the ultimate key to educational change and school effectiveness. The teachers do not merely deliver the curriculum, but they also develop, define and reinterpret. It is the task of teachers to tackle with the technology and to grow their learners to acquire "skills of the 21st century". In the current scenario, the voice of the innovative teacher in the country is barely audible. We still have teachers who are authoritarian in nature and represent themselves as the sole source of information. These types of teachers resist changing their pedagogical practices in spite of facing problems and challenges during teaching-learning process in the digitally growing world.
Preparing learners for the demands of the 21st century requires committed, innovative teachers willing to push existing restrictions. It is also about effectively using the emerging technologies to enhance teaching and learning strategies. The unique and rapid changes happening in this field present various problems for teachers who are willing to experiment with their teaching and learning, roles and responsibilities, learning atmosphere and situations, patterns of interaction, strategies and theories, as well as, modes of assessment. ICT has given new roles and responsibilities to the teacher. ICT challenges the existing authoritarian role of the teachers as the sole source of knowledge and information and demands to be themselves learner first. Teachers themselves need to learn the new way of learning, and in addition to new ways of helping others learn. This also means a considerable shift in the role of the teacher and in all structural aspects of the school system.
Fig. 2, Roles & Responsibilities of the Teacher in the Digital Age
The greatest teachers teach naturally. It flows from them like a gentle rain; they can't help but teach. ICT is just another tool in the toolbox of a good teacher. ICT expects teachers to give the students middle stage in the classroom, providing opportunities to explore and inquire for their learning. Teachers should act as guides, facilitators and advisors, building linkages between their students' individual interests and understandings and the common skills and knowledge society expects them to acquire.
Rethinking Learner's Role:
Students in a traditional classroom are passive. They listen and react to the teacher's direct instruction. NCF, 2005 also articulates that "children's voices and experiences do not find expression in the class. It further says that children will learn only in an atmosphere where they feel they are valued and our schools still do not convey this to all children". But ICT has changed the way students learn and the styles of learning they adopt. The learner today has multiple resources available to them. They are ahead of their teachers in using the technology and accessing information in various fields. They are less dependent on teachers and prescribed text books. They build upon their existing knowledge and derive their own meanings. It has provided them freedom and flexibility which was not available earlier. Learners have active, reflective role in this digital age.
Fig. 3, Learner in the Digital age
Today's children are "growing up digital." Their view of the world is very different from that of adults, thanks to exceptional access to information, people, and ideas across highly interactive media. Today's children are the latest model of human being. Looking at the world of children is not looking backward at our own past-it's looking ahead. They are our evolutionary future.
But, it also proposes the biggest problem in the teaching-learning process in the present digital age. A common scenario today is a classroom filled with digitally literate students being taught by linearâ€thinking, technologically obstructed teachers. Students have been exposed to these technologies or similar ones early on during their formative years while their teachers have just been exposed to it only recently. As a result, the students are sometimes more capable with the technology. In spite of this teachers are rarely given the chance to learn how to use this technologyâ€â€teachers are given the tools, but not the knowledge. Teachers increasingly are learning the technology on their own time. Students on the other are confident enough to use these technological advancements effectively and they even prefer it more on traditional methods of teaching and learning. Learners now have freedom to explore, discover and inquire whatever they want.
Now majority of the nations are recognizing that improving education is the best way to increase wealth, enhance health, and maintain peace. India is one of those nations who have already moved towards the direction of educational reform. But, these reform initiatives are superficial and incremental, and do not get at the heart of the problem. These initiatives included new forms of testing and assessment, but leave in place existing curricula and existing teaching strategies. We need to transform the pedagogical approaches and roles that teachers and students are playing presently. Following aspects needs to be thinking critically and transformed if India wants to progress and move ahead in this technologically advanced world:
Rethink how people learn: We need to fundamentally reorganize school classrooms. Instead of a centralized-control model (with a teacher delivering information to a roomful of students), we need a constructive approach to learning. Students can become more active and independent learners, with the teacher as facilitator and guide to the learning. Instead of dividing up the curriculum into separate disciplines (math, science, social studies, language), there is a need to focus on themes and projects that cut across the disciplines, taking advantage of the rich connections among different domains of knowledge. It simply means integrated approach. Instead of dividing students according to age, we should encourage students of all ages to work together on projects, enabling them to learn from one another.
Rethink what people learn: Much of what children learn in schools today was designed for the era of paper-and-pencil. We need to update curricula for the digital age. One reason is obvious: Schools must prepare students with the new skills and ideas that are needed for living and working in a digital society. Secondly new technologies are changing not only what students should learn, but also what they can learn. There are many ideas and topics that have always been important but were left out of traditional school curricula because they were too difficult to teach and learn with only paper, pencil, books, and blackboard. Some of these ideas are now accessible through creative use of new digital technologies. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we need to transform curricula so that they focus less on "things to know" and more on "strategies for learning the things you don't know." As new technologies continue to accelerate the pace of change in all parts of our lives, learning to become a better learner is far more important than learning to multiply fractions or memorizing the capitals of the world.
Rethinking Technologies: In addition to rethinking our approaches to learning and education, we also need to rethink the technologies that we provide to young children. Most of the available computers are meant for the adults only but there is need to develop such technology that is worthy for the young children. Programmable bricks are such examples of these technologies. Digitally manipulative blocks and modules need to be developed and incorporated so that students can themselves get hold of their learning.
Contemporary beliefs regarding learning have moved away from knowledge transmission models of simply imparting information to constructive knowledge models where knowledge is constructed. In the process of meaning making, technology is roped in to support the communication and construction of new knowledge resulting in new learning. The role of ICT in education can be seen as learning about, learning with and learning through ICT. ICT or digital age resources today offer great opportunities in education sector and especially to our schools for the beneficiary role they provide in information, learning and research. It clearly states that teachers should be digitally literate in order to use these ICT resources and tools. Existing traditional practices and roles necessarily be changed by the use of technology in the classroom. Teachers must be a facilitator and direct the students towards the right direction where as students should be provided with the freedom to explore, discover and inquire. Resources should be made available to the schools in order to fulfill this objective and teachers must be educated digitally. It means, curriculum of teacher education will eventually be transformed into ICT based curriculum and exploratory pedagogical practices. Constructivism has already emerged as the new educational theory and technology will follow it in practice as it emphasizes on collaborative learning, real-world projects with authentic assessments with students accepting responsibility for their own learning. Teacher training curriculum also need to be redesigned as teachers should themselves be learner and digitally educated to be capable of using these ICT tools.
Success in the future will be based not on how much we know, but on our ability to think and act creatively. The explosion of digital technologies has established the need for creative thinking in all aspects of our lives, and has also provided tools that can help us improve and reinvent ourselves. Children should play a central role in this transition to the "Creative Society". Childhood is one of the most creative periods of our lives. We must make sure that children's creativity is nourished and developed, and we must help children learn how to extend and refine their creative abilities, so that the creativity of childhood persists and grows throughout life. To achieve these goals will require new approaches to education and learning and internal inspiration and support system from our education system as well as the readiness to change and learn from everyone even from the students.
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