1. The zeal for all things digital…

The zeal for all things digital…

It is crucial that any new digital education initiative is relevant to the context it hopes to enhance, and the learners it aspires to inspire

Published: April 20, 2015 12:02 AM

A quick study of the history of innovation in technology reveals how the duration between the development of one piece of technology and its next avatar has declined exponentially across the eras. Today, the turnover for the next new “invention” can be as little as few weeks, sometimes. The current paradigm is characterised by its zeal for all things digital, no less affecting to a significant extent perceptions and actions taken within the world of learning and education. Digital education trends in India are subject to the factors of commercial appeal, the ability of the target audience and global influence.

As far as hardware and education technology is concerned, we believe that smart boards will continue to capture the imagination of a sizeable chunk of the upwardly mobile market segment. These are devices that allow for the old functions of a black or green board in a classroom, and also come with enhanced interactive capabilities that permit the instructor to seamlessly incorporate audio/visual or tactile components to the lesson. However, the key difference today is the growing maturity of buyers. There is an unmistakable veer towards scrutinising the quality of the educational content that comes bundled with the hardware. Those based on sound principles of pedagogy and instructional design, with a keen understanding of how technology can truly enhance learning, will survive at the end. It’s no surprise, for “content is king.”
Smart boards and quality content thereon have the potential to reduce the need for physical books, but they remain mass ICT. There are two larger trends at play.

One, schools across the country are starting to carry the baton of going the “bag-less” way. With schools gradually phasing into the provision of mobile technology, the numbers of tablets and digital books in the hands of the students is on the rise. There is a strong indication that this is going to spread further, be it to cater to multiple learning styles or by sheer influence of keeping-up-with-the-Patel.

Two, this year we are likely to see greater investment in individualised learning. Innovative educator voices have been getting louder about the unique nature of each child’s learning graph, and therefore the obvious requirement of facilitation and instruction that is tailored to the individual student’s needs. This is thought to be too idealistic and is logistically unwieldy in a country where the average student-to-teacher ratio abounds in the region of 50. Greater financial commitment to e-learning and m-learning will naturally open the way for opportunities in creating adaptive learning spaces and more meaningful ways to conduct formative assessments through a child’s educational journey.

Consider the less privileged side of the technology divide, where smaller races are being run and won. While the world either engages with this technology or moves onto more resource-heavy individualised attention, rural India is making moves to revolutionise its own context. We are seeing a growing number of schools—who cannot afford to leapfrog to the latest technologies—finding known creative ways to bring technology to their classrooms. Investing in a projector, albeit shaving a solid portion off of the budget, is a game-changer in terms of a real introduction of video stimulation, a sense of pride, and therefore a stirring of long-term commitment to continue expanding student exposure to technology.

Expect to see social ventures continue working on solutions that include bringing affordable mass ICTs to under-served areas. Opportunities in thin client and multi-seat systems still remain fairly meaningful interventions in digitally uninitiated areas. Add to this the third and the most exciting development, the recognition of the impact of connectivity as witnessed by the efforts we have seen rural education institutions making in the field.

This brings us to the internet’s call to seize its educational possibilities. Barring the obvious language barrier, the internet is unequivocally an educational equaliser by all other counts. It has the potential to democratise access to quality content, no matter what phase of learning a student is in. Bringing the conversation to the web has resulted in two large trends.

One is the movement of action and behaviour with regard to creation, saving and collaboration on the internet, aka “the cloud.” Marketing materials for cloud computing courses can be seen plastered nearly everywhere, touting the ability to engage with the cloud as a new finagled skill required of professionals. As with any technology push, the age at which one acquires application skills decreases, and there is no doubt top computer science curricula at the school level will naturally lead the way in addressing this need.

Two, the massive open online courses (MOOCs) that are freely available in nearly all parts of the globe. The Indian government, too, has shown its solidarity with these initiatives by undertaking one of its own through the HRD ministry, called the Study Webs of Active-learning for Young Aspiring Minds or SWAYAM (meaning oneself in Sanskrit). In collaboration with several IITs, JNU and IIM Bangalore, the initiative aims to offer college-level courses from across disciplines. From the global vantage point, it is not surprising to see governments of emerging markets enter the realm of MOOCs.

Yes, through it all, recall the implications about the ephemeral nature of a trend. When in doubt, we leave you with Veritasium’s Derek Muller who uses the video medium to provide the education fraternity a fantastic reality check, called “This Will Revolutionize Education.” The long and short of it is that it is absolutely crucial that any initiative be relevant to the context it hopes to enhance, and the learners it aspires to inspire.

By Rupesh Kumar Shah

The author is CEO, InOpen Technologies

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Tags: Digital
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