Teaching in the technology-driven world

Today, if you ask parents about their children’s classroom, they would describe a room full of students with a teacher standing at the front of the room lecturing. If you ask teachers about their classroom, they would describe a room full of students listening and taking noted based on their lecture. If you ask school administrators about the learning of students, they would describe some annual exams where questions are based on how much “knowledge” was retained by the students. If you ask the students about their learning, they would describe many hours of memorizing materials to pass an exam.

Even in the technology-driven world, many teachers are still using the traditional lecturing method and most education systems are still relying on the traditional exams to check on how much students can memorize the “knowledge.” Of course, it is easier to lecture and give exams to determine “pass” or “fail” than on the students ‘learning and their development of skills. Many teachers and school administrators still believe that this traditional method works well as it has lasted for hundreds of years and there is no reason to change it.

A few years ago, when teaching in Asia, I met a teacher who told me that he remembered the entire history book with the all the dates, dynasties, and names of emperors. I told him that even I admire his good memory but today, those details are no longer important and should NOT be part of the teaching. I explained: “Why to memorize anything when most of these materials are available on the Internet? With a few keystrokes on “Google”, you can get all the information that you need in a few seconds.” He asked: “Then what do you teach?” I answered: “I teach students NOT to memorize when they all have smartphone or laptop that can get them to Wikipedia or other educational websites. What they need is to develop the ability to evaluate those materials, organize and analyze them to form their own knowledge that they can apply to do something useful. What I teach is HOW to solve problems, HOW to logically come up with answers, or HOW to think critically based on information that they have. In another word, I DO NOT focus much on the WHAT but more on the WHY, HOW and HOW TO.”

Today many teachers are facing a challenging situation because the old traditional method is no longer effective in this fast-changing world. However, I understand the reasons why many teachers are still using the lecturing method. The fact is they do NOT have the TIME to learn new methods as most are very busy with their daily lives. Many teachers have LARGE CLASSES with all type of students at different levels so lecturing is still a better choice. Teachers also have no reason to change because parents and school administrators only accept BINARY GRADES (Pass or Fail.) Since most exams are still based on the memorization of facts and formulas, focus on ROTE-MEMORIZATION is the only approach. Many parents will complain if their children do not pass the exam so the “TEACHING TO PASS EXAM” is the preferred way of teaching.

Although there are debates about how to change the education system, nothing has happened because of these reasons. What we needed is a major attitude shift among government officers, educators, parents and teachers that they must change in response to the need of this globally-connected world. The education system must prepare for the next generations to face the challenge of their time. Teachers must be trained in the new methods designed to develop better knowledge and skills, NOT memorization of facts. Curriculums need to be revised for better interactive, dynamic, and relevant, NOT passively following formulas. Exams need to be updated for measuring abilities, skills and knowledge, NOT for a pass or fail or just getting a degree. Because the future generations need to be ready for their future jobs and our society needs to be ready for all the changes come from the Fourth Industrial Revolution.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University

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