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How Does Technology Change Learning and Teaching in Formal and Informal Education? - Teaching to Learning Paradigm

Arthur C. Clarke says, "Before you become too entranced with gorgeous gadgets and mesmerizing video displays, let me remind you that information is not knowledge, knowledge is not wisdom, and wisdom is not foresight. Each grows out of the other, and we need them all." We live in a world of data that can be organized into information and that information can be used to create knowledge. Over time that knowledge may become wisdom and that wisdom that stands the test of time can become the future.

It seems that the days of the Socratic teacher are fast fading. By this I mean that the digital world gives everyone an opportunity to find his or her own expert, not necessarily in the classroom. The internet and other digital resources provide students and teachers with the means to reach out to the world and extract the information that they find most interesting, whatever it may be. In the classroom there are so many things that the students know more about than teachers do, simply because they are able to do the research that was once tedious and required many trips to the library, yet now only needs a few clicks of the mouse.

I believe that the teacher's new role is eventually going to be that of a facilitator, giving hints and directions to find the knowledge rather than dishing it out on a silver plate. Of course, some of the good teachers do this already, and will find it easy to use technology to expand their resources.

The concept of our living, an extended time in the consciousness of a computer, is a good concept. Even the extending of our life spans to 100 plus years is giving us some things to think about. In 1900 a woman's life expectancy was 47 years and she would have on the average seven children. On that life pattern a woman's life was certainly child bearing and child rearing. With our doubling of women's life spans we have created a whole new concept of what it means to be female. If we can live inside a computer and remain sane then we will alter radically our concepts of humanness. As such we might be able to create a message and receive it 50,000 years later. My guess is that we will have evolved into very different entities if this comes to pass. Kurzweil has given us some 21st century concepts to ponder. Everything changes in such a perspective, childhood, education, marriage, work, and certainly the concept of retirement. These are interesting concepts to contemplate.

Knowledge alone does not ensure that we will use it wisely. As Buck Fuller and others have observed knowledge can be used for evil as well as good. Ironically, advancements in technology bring both negative and positive aspects. What is it that enables us to have the wisdom to use our power wisely? How can we develop in our students an ability to critically use the data, information, and knowledge that they can now control at their fingertips? We are unlikely to put the "genie" back in the bottle. Therefore, it is essential that we as teachers learn how to instill in our students an ethical use of information and knowledge.

Ray Kurzweil predicts that by 2010 we will have personal body LANS. He further predicts that by 2020 we can store our brains in a computer and that they can learn. An interesting question arises about the morality of doing such things and if we do how do we relate to the expansion of our brainpower? These speculations have not got us beyond the next 100 years much less 50,000 years. Until modern medicine extended life we did not have a world population explosion and life spans were half of what they are in today's developed world. A sobering fact is that more scientists are alive today than have ever lived on earth. More importantly more people are alive today than have died in the history of mankind on earth.


INDIVIDUALIZED LEARNER'S PLANS

Technology allows us to have an Individual Learner's Plan (ILP) for every learner that includes (1) medical records, (2) social records, (3) psychometric records, (4) academic achievement records and (5) other relevant records. Based upon these records each learner will have an individualized educational plan. Each child will have a weekly update of how they are achieving their goals and objectives. Individual Learner's Plans and records can be given to students on Smart Cards that enable them to have their records and use them when they transfer from school to school.

Classroom Goals and Objectives

Each class will have a class website that details the overall goals and objectives for the class. It will have relevant weekly information about what class activities and objectives for the whole class. It will have a parent section that discusses the relevance of the goals and objectives for each week. The site will have examples of problem based educational solutions for class teams working towards specific objectives.

Student Assessment and Evaluations

For each child there will be a portfolio assessment file that provides examples of individual work and team work that the student is doing in order to meet the goals and objectives of their Individual Learning Plan. If a learner is falling below expectation of his or her individual learning plan, parents will be alerted within one week of the status of their child.

Electronic Management and Support for Teachers

To teach at schools is one of the most isolated professions today. It is possible to have an electronic Teacher's Associate that has (1) relevant grade level national and state standards in a relational database that equates standards and resources, (2) online chat activities with comparable teachers, (3) online access to Master Teacher mentors, and (4) access to content specialist. Such resources must be made available to every teacher at his or her desk. By 2020 or much sooner the Teacher's Associate can bring digital library materials to the teacher's desk. Moreover, desktop publishing can be at the building or classroom level. Individualized textbooks can be made for each student as needed. In the Gulf War pilots were trained with the Pilot's Associate, therefore we know a great deal about creating such systems. Several states are developing some form of this type of resource.


PROMISES OF TECHNOLOGY

Is the promise of technology real this time? Thomas Edison and many others thought that motion pictures would change forever the role of the teacher. Radio was heralded in the late 1920s and 1930s as the savior of our education system. After World War II overhead projectors and audio filmstrips were to become the meat and potatoes of learning resources. Television would do it because now one good teacher could reach the world. As a matter of fact good learning research demonstrated that all of the innovations not only could provide learners with interesting lessons, but that people actually learned from them. During World War II Disney Studios developed some of the most effective animated learning systems designed to teach very specific tasks. All of these aides to learning and teaching have in given situations proven to be effective in the learning and teaching processes.

However, even with their record of success they have not significantly changed the patterns of learning and teaching now present in most schools around the world. Technologies up until this time have been supplemental aids to the classroom. In this respect they are added expenses to the regular classroom activities. The only effective measures of educational innovations are (1) Does the innovation increase the master skills of the learner? (2) Can the same level of learning be accomplished in a shorter period of time? And (3) Can a teacher teach more students to the same level of accomplishments? Since none of the technologies mentioned before have done much more than provide aides to the traditional classroom it has been an added expense that becomes difficult to justify in cost accounting. How then can we say that networking and computers are changing learning and teaching? Aren't they just another fad that will fade away like the other learning technologies? Because new digital technologies merge all of the previous resources into one accessible unit they have the potential for being very different.

  1. The new technologies can give us real world simulations.
  2. Learning modules can be accessed at anytime and from any place.
  3. Virtual teams of learners can work together to solve problems.
  4. Effectively designed programs can provide immediate assessment and evaluation to the learner.
  5. Real world problems can be worked on and access to experts can be available to assist the learners.
  6. New technologies can give us voice-activated dialogues between the learner and the computer.
Just as books changed the way we stored and retrieved information in the early 1700s and enabled us to invent the modern schoolhouse Internet will change the way we think of learning and teaching. I believe that digital technologies and Internet will change the way we store, use and retrieve information. It is because of these changes that digital technologies are very different from others that we have used in education. I also warn against thinking that the technology alone will bring about the change. The technology only allows us to think of new ways of learning and just as books required good authors the new technology will require new kinds of learning design engineers. Professionals will evolve who can take the research from learning theories and blend them with the technologies. It is not a simple or inexpensive task, but we already see some glimpses of what the future may bring. Technology has already changed the way we communicate in families.

Technology extends our communications abilities. It expands it beyond face-to-face talking. It expands it beyond the printed page and reading to a new dimension. It is building among all people a new and more efficient means of sharing ideas and information.

There is no question that a child growing up in a digitally rich knowledge and information society matures and grows in a world we have never known before. What influence to these factors have and how is learning and teaching different?

In this vastly complex world learning and teaching are different because of the digital age? The perplexing issue is just how is it different? That is what we will focus on in this discussion. With the current Colorado tragedy we have many self proclaimed experts detail just how youth are going to the devil. However, I would remind you that if you read Socrates he too felt the youth of his day were going to the dogs. Perhaps as we get older we have some comfort in damning youth because we know that we are leaving this life and if the world were getting better we would like to stay a little longer. Research has shown that all communications and information technologies influence child growth and development. It can as it did in Colorado result in disasters. The challenge is to manage such resources for good rather than evil uses.

Since knowledge has expanded is it just too hard for children to master high academic standards? NO, we have always had more knowledge than a single person could master. So the extent of knowledge is not the problem with learners and teachers. It is however more difficult to agree on what the CORE curriculum should be.

If learning and teaching are different from the past what are the characteristics of that difference? For the past decade or so American educators have been asking to define the National Standards for content areas. Some would like to return to a classical education suitable for the 1890's and others echo the progressive education movement started in the 1870's. There are conditions today that enter into the general society that our decisions must consider.
  1. Information is accessible in many more places today. Radio, television, cable television, recorded materials, Internet, and the common telephone are available for learners of all ages.
  2. Special Interest groups from hobbies to choral singing groups to Star Trek group meetings and clubs are available.
  3. The society is more inclusive of diverse people including disabled people.
  4. Age differences are merged and a 14 year old can dialogue with a Nobel scientist if their skills, knowledge and interest are the same.
  5. More learning takes place outside the school, in the home, church, library, museum and little league parks.
The digital world has blurred the walls of the schools and places of learning. Individual learners can learn anywhere anytime and at their own pace. We have always had some children that use broad community resources, but the ease of doing it today is greater than ever.

Technology offers us a tool to create universal literacy. One of the greatest things that holds many people back around the world is illiteracy. We have the knowledge and the technology to provide at least a billion palmtop computers to people around the world. The sound, pictures and text in such palmtops can bring the world to a new level of literacy. Illiteracy is the cause of suffering around the world. It is not out of the possibility that a worldwide effort to reduce and erase literacy through the use of technology is worth the gamble.


CONCLUSION

  1. The basic perspective that I comment in this essay is from human/machine perspectives. Another perspective could be human/machine/human and I find this perspective more practical and more likely to reveal future technology trends. While some talk about AI as inevitable, I do not perceive. There are several fundamental flaws in our understanding of human knowledge systems and ability to transform those systems that will prevent us from true AI.

  2. There are two different goals that seem to be referenced in the article:
    1. Skill training for competency.
    2. Understanding of knowledge.
These are very different goals and the technology applied to support these goals varies in their success. The examples that are referenced often do well with one but not the other. The latter (Malcolm Forbes senior coined the masthead for Forbes magazine "With all thy getting, get the understanding") is a fuzzy logic problem and ill suited to automation. The comment on ILPs is the basic slight-of-hand for futurists: if we are able to have more facts the results of the same process will improve. The reality is that the process and the data are flawed and in improving the data we will reduce the errors but do little to improve the process.
  1. The Learning Paradigm was invented with the concept of a university or "place of learning". The premise remains the same: place the learner in an environment where the knowledge, both human and recorded, is readily available. The web based courses I have reviewed work well when they remain true to this original premise but allowing physical separation. As a scientist first and a technologist second the question always remains on the hypothesis and the experiment that will prove the goal is attainable.
For human learning I am not sure we have moved much beyond speculation of a goal and remain far from measurement or scientific results.
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