HIGHER EDUCATION

Published on April 6th, 2012 | by drkkr

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Time to Educate Education

The ‘new age’ classroom, where the class faced a teacher on a screen is now morphing into more advanced avatars. Yet we now acknowledge that there is no replacement for the live teacher’s presence, judgement, and personal knowledge of the student’s persona, preferences, strengths and weaknesses.

The concept of a 21st century education now includes multiple technologies. I submit that education in the 3rd millennium must empower a student to maximize every potential of their life with the depth and scale of all the realtime information and technologies at their disposal.

Technology is now the very fabric of our education. Example: a college in the US had mandated that all students ‘check-in’ to the campus on Google Latitude or Facebook Places. Effortlessly done on a mobilephone, this helps with compliance with required attendance student safety and assures parents that the child is where they should be. Indeed, Google Latitude enables real-time map-based tracking, and this system is available for free on all smartphones. All campuses feature wifi free to students, so the cost factor is almost moot.

But what is the implication of all this for education in India? How much has technology changed education? How much will technology change education? How much should technology change education?

Technology’s greatest contribution to education is the result of the convergence of technologies: education is now delivered to a student in the same channels that the student ingests entertainment. Indeed, ‘edutainment’ means that the physical classroom, with all its psychically limiting aspects, has moved into a child’s mind, with all its psychically liberating aspects. Our students are well-plugged into a cyberuniverse that teaches every cybercitizen something new every day. Social networking has made it possible to interact on gender-free ground, which is not senselessly limiting (for girls) or meaninglessly empowering (for boys). A student engages much more because the laptop or tablet on which they study also hosts the most empowering social options of their lives. No more classroom doldrums, it is now a place of engage and enervation.

Technology, via ‘apps’, also promises much: laptop and pad, connected to a overhead projector, instantly include the entire class on a whole new level. There are apps to learn just about anything and with multi-player phenomenon makes participation and competition effortless. The ‘time-to-deliver’ of teaching and the ‘time-to-grasp’ of learning both are shortened and made much more productive. The thrill of teaching and learning makes every effort worth the effort.

Touchscreens are far more welcome than pages. Sharing your efforts is that much easier because it is beautiful and ‘peeping into’ a fellow student’s efforts is that much more visually engaging. And copying during exams is eliminated because it is almost impossible to see what is on a flatscreen from the corner of your eye!

The impact education will have on technology is the most fascinating consideration. Technology always adapts to accommodate a new idea. The net now presents a staggering range of free features, academic resources and class videos from the world’s top colleges. This is a windfall for a students who can now see what is being taught, and how, at the world’s best institutions. Imagine students in India seeing classes from Harvard, Stanford or Yale, on the subjects they are learning … imagine the jump in the quality of our education. We can make this video-watching compulsory and offer extra marks for optional assignments done on them.

The web also offers student-discounted access to professional resources (medicine, anatomy, cartography. Imagine medical colleges gaining from the hi-resolution, 3D and virtual tours of the human body. Add all this to the free video on Discovery, National Geographic and youtube, and we now have extraordinary learning tools.

With pads, even laptops have been beaten at price and portability. Education comes in full strength to where you are. Smartphones themselves add to the mix of choices, joining TV sets at home which now feature wifi, 3G connectivity as a standard feature.

Today a visiting lecturer’s talk can be distributed with ‘comeandwatch’ invites. I have been astonished to meet students who have seen videos of my lectures in cties and colleges I haven’t been to!

As technology and education fuse, parents also gain: they can now, painlessly and at no cost, see and hear the education they are paying for! With online access to their child’s classes, they have the emotional satisfaction of “seeing and touching” a product can give them enormous peace of mind, and can appreciate, and keep pace with their child’s education. The generation gap evaporates …. And thanks to social networking, parents can see that their child is just like their peers, and appreciate the child’s universe.

An unusual fallout of this: the pain point between requiring the fees (for the institution) and paying the fees (for the parent) can be mitigated because there is a real understanding of what is at play. The institution gains, the student gains, the parent gains.

I see a golden future for Indian education if we welcome technology. There is no reason why an Indian student would not be equally facile with adapting technology in everyday study; our children display the same facility with anything technological as children are anywhere in the world. Technology is our trump card.

Students must be helped to embrace every single jump in technology with alacrity. Parents must be included in this embrace. This will turn parents into powerful educational allies of their children. When home and institution are the student’s biggest strengths, imagine how far an Indian student can go, and how effortlessly.

(This article  appeared in Times of India – Higher education Special.The writer is the Director, GRD Institute of  Management,Coimbatore and the author of the book “From Campus to Corporate” published by Macmillan.)

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