How technology makes good teachers better

By: |
New Delhi | Published: November 14, 2016 6:02:36 AM

Augmented classroom learning is as important as increasing participation from students.

A textile brand known to produce memorable advertisements released a heart-warming piece a few years ago. It featured a senior schoolteacher on his last day at work. The students bid farewell to this loved fellow by gifting him a suit from the same textile brand with a message that says, “To the man who taught us everything, thank you.” The ad overwhelms you with a bunch of emotions.

I was fortunate enough to have studied from some of the best teachers in our country. So, the advertisement really made me nostalgic.

In 2014, we began researching about ways to meet the education needs of our country. I was convinced that we couldn’t and we shouldn’t be trying to replace teachers. Although there was a lot of interest in augmented classroom learning, there seemed to be no good solutions. John Dewey came to my rescue.

John Dewey was an American philosopher and educational reformer. He proposed that education should integrate learning with experience and wanted to test it in schools.

As natural as it may seem today, it was a rather radical thought back then. His ideas and results from his experiments formed the basis of learning by doing pedagogy and helped originate the ‘experiments in lab’ culture.

Flipped classroom is a uniquely 21st century twist to Dewey’s ideas. It rearranges how time is spent both in and out of class to shift the ownership of learning from educators to students.

Students consume the content at home and engage collectively at problem-solving and discussion at school. The process is similar to verifying a reading in a lab. The process of discussion encourages them to ask relevant questions and arrive at a solution step-by-step. ‘Flipped classroom’, when it works well, is one of the most promising pedagogical tools available to us.

But unfavourable student-teacher ratios inhibit efficient, elegant implementations. In a class with 30-40 students, intending to discuss their ideas and viewpoints, there is but one teacher. As a result, the discussion, which ideally should have been led by students and moderated by the teacher, ends up in becoming a discussion of 5-6 active learners. To add to the conundrum, existing methods for taking test and suggesting learning outcomes of students are limited in depth and breadth of assessment. The time lag between tests and results prevent teachers from understanding learning outcomes and evaluating whether all students have been able to keep up with the discussion.

Increasing participation is an obvious goal in classroom communication. However, if only handful of students participate in discussions, class sessions become a lost opportunity to assess and promote learning. With Eckovation, a social learning app, we set out to augment the classroom discussion through chat-based virtual classrooms. The goal was to help the reticent students shed their inhibitions and also to enable the teacher to check learning outcomes in real life. Indeed, a lot of teachers using the app have been surprised to see normally quiet students in class participate quite actively online. But the most astonishing fact was that once these students had started participating in discussions online, they continued showing increased participation offline too. This has been accompanied by improvement in the overall learning outcomes of the whole class.

As with any new technology, there are both threats and opportunities associated with the internet and the smartphone. It seems obvious, but we often forget that technology is not an end in itself and must be used in the service of humanity. Good teachers can’t be replaced. They play a critical role in shaping the personality and life-long values of their students. But technology can help, and stories such as these restore our faith in technology as a positive force for improvement.

The author is CEO & co-founder, Eckovation, a team that is working to bring innovations in education sector

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