Opinion

What the hi-tech drivers of education in the future will be

Sandeep Sancheti | Updated on November 17, 2020 Published on November 17, 2020

New advances in technology are impacting the learning that takes place in classrooms and in the minds of teachers and students.

There are a lot of things that can be said about life and education but the first thing that comes to mind is that neither of them is static; both are dynamic. Whether the system likes it or not, it has to keep changing to keep in line with the times, otherwise, it runs the risk of being left behind in an ever-changing competitive world, driven by globalisation and information technology revolutions. Not many realise a simple fact: education and technology are two sides of the same coin. New advances in technology impact the learning that takes place in classrooms, laboratories, and in the minds of teachers and students.

In the last 15 years, classroom teaching, online learning, or the blended teaching-learning model has gone through a profound transformation. The dissemination, assimilation, and generation of knowledge in institutions where the talk and chalk method seems monotonous in an age where hands on experiences, seminars, and webinars have become the order of the day.

Even examinations have gone through a makeover. Now, there is a provision made in every institution for a continuous assessment as opposed to the older style of a single annual exam. Technology and examination patterns are changing so fast that educators are pondering over whether the day will come when education will dispense with books, papers and pens altogether, replaced by a single device: a foldable liquid crystal display (LCD).

Student primary stakeholder

Student centricity of modern education in India has come to mean many things, the first being a belated realisation that the student is the primary stakeholder and that the system would have to adapt to contemporary young minds and not the other way around. This leads us to the Academic Bank of Credits (ABC) that gives scope for any subject combinations, the merging of the regular with online, the scope for continuous learning, the option of studying anywhere, and, in the absence of specific credits earned for specialised programmes, the option is of getting a Bachelor’s in Liberal Education. The bottom line is that a student has many options. There are avenues for multiple entries and exits with no loss of credits as well as time and effort.

Thanks to technologies and educators, administrators and regulators, education in India also offers the young flexibility to chase their dreams and passion. If the ABC system has given the room for flexibility of moving fast or slow, the time has arrived for curating a degree or even a dual degree, the choice of majors and minors, the opportunity of multi-disciplinary, inter-disciplinary, trans-disciplinary courses and the overall outcome that is based on strategies chosen by the student to suit their desires and the level of use of technologies that one is comfortable with.

Driving dozens

The student of today has not only an array of subjects to choose from, but also a long list of technologies that can augment the chosen field; and in this expectation, technology is getting into a wider spectrum of activities as the days roll by. This student-centric learning has not only facilitated a varied pace and active feedback, but also led to better evaluation of strategies, assessment of outcomes and benchmarks. All of this would be possible because of new technologies, the drivers of education or what I identify as the “driving dozens” as around twelve such technologies are going to be responsible for the turnaround.

About a decade or more ago, it was fashionable to talk of smart classrooms; today we are still talking about this concept, only that the elements that go into a “smart” classroom have become “smarter”, thanks to the advances in technology and its applications. Chris Whittaker, Professor at Dawson College, Montreal, Canada, once described what goes into a smart classroom.“…. students come together in a shared space to construct, manipulate, and negotiate meaning around a canvas. The environments become immersive and learning happens on walls, desks, tables, and in conversations. The interactive surfaces become shared perceptual spaces where students discuss meaning, clarity and come to a collective understanding. When one is in an environment with touch screens dedicated to creating opportunities for shared perceptual meaning, one can dig down and construct knowledge in a deeper way,” he maintained.

But education has moved a very long way and it is not merely confined to higher education. In the days of the Covid-19 pandemic, even elementary, middle and high schools have resorted to online teaching, which invariably leads to different platforms of technologies in varying degrees of implementation. Educational institutions in these troubled times have come to doing examinations via the virtual mode with sophisticated proctoring software keeping a watchful eye on the student taking the exam. We are at a time in which students in science are getting comfortable with virtual labs. If the temptation is to say that all these mechanisms are only temporary in the environment of the coronavirus, there is also the nagging fear that these mechanisms and technologies would become permanent, leading to different kinds of questions, including on the ethical front.

Biometric eye-tracking

Would there be a point in time when machines replace teachers in schools and colleges? Are we looking at game-based learning replacing text books? How does artificial intelligence, machine learning, augmented and virtual reality take over the breadth and depth of learning? How does cloud technology impact networking? Would professors keep a tab on what a student has digested, not by tests and quizzes but by biometric eye-tracking? If smart classrooms by way of high-tech computers and software packages are the order of the day in institutions, how do flexible or foldable displays speak of the future of cell phones and laptops? Or, how does 3-D printing technology facilitate delivering concepts of design, fabrication, prototyping, and finished products?

For example, the technology surrounding biometric eye-tracking, known in some circles as the “Iris”, while used for entering a building in several countries, is also used in super secretive intelligence agency buildings and facilities. In education, it has been pointed out that eye-tracking would help a teacher understand the extent to which a student has absorbed the study material. But in the realm of medicine, advanced institutions are already said to be using eye-tracking to understand the extent of rehabilitation in a patient. In the same fashion, and in the context of global communication, today’s most talked-about phenomenon is 5G. 5G is going to play a critical role in cloud technologies as it can deal with a high volume of data through the internet.

For all those Star Trek enthusiasts, there is the hologram technology that allows people to be beamed in from where ever they may be in a fictional sense, even from outer space. The uses of holograms are seen as not only real, tangible, and viable but also an experience for the next generation of those wishing to participate in meetings, irrespective of where they are from.

Wearable technology to the fore

The world is already witness to wearable technology, starting with wristwatches that perform a host of functions, including mapping vital body signs such as temperature, heartbeat, and monitoring the functioning of vital organs. Importantly, in an environment of online classes, students and teachers are exposed to different aspects of reality interspersed with digital elements to draw out the differences between virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality!

And last but certainly not least, how about game-based or captive learning that is making rapid strides in education? This style of learning makes the student an active participant in the learning process. For instance, in social sciences, the question is invariably posed as to how one climbs up the ladder to eventually become the President of the United States. To fully understand this, students are put through the various political structures of the American government, earning points in digital games. It is not to imply that this digital game-based learning could propel one to the top, but in essence, it is telling students about the practical processes and procedures involved in the race to the White House in an engaging way.

There is a school of thought that believes that technology can never supplant human beings; their argument has always been that humans invent machines and technologies; and that machines cannot re-invent themselves. While teachers are an essential part of education, it would be quite naïve to assume that teaching and education can happen in a vacuum. But in pushing for technology upgradation, there has also got to be a realisation that education has to be tech-savvy but in the context of societal realities.

(The writer is Vice-Chancellor, SRM Institute of Science and Technology Chennai & Past President, Association of Indian Universities, New Delhi)

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Published on November 17, 2020
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