Technology and education part 2

A few weeks ago, a friend who is also a teacher wrote to me that his school is currently applying technologies to the teaching and many students are using a laptop in class etc. I wrote to him: “Does your school use technologies to “transform” the teaching or only “fit it” around traditional teaching as a substitute for what was used on paper or blackboard? Do not confuse the use of technology and the teaching of skills that students need. Technology is only a tool that supplements the teaching. What the school should do is to teach students how to think independently and critically, and how to solve problems because these are the needed skills for their future. In addition, students should also be trained in teamwork, collaboration, and communication as these are required by all future’s jobs. Even if the students know how to use a laptop but if their thinking does not change, they will NOT be able to do well in this competitive world.”

He wrote back to me: “How do you apply technology to improve education? I need more clear examples.” I replied to him that technologies should be used as tools to support the teaching but NOT as a substitute for the teaching. For example, in traditional lecturing, it is difficult for students to understand an abstract concept. Having a video film that demonstrates or simulate an experiment can help students understand the concept better as students can see how things work. A short film about geography can help teachers to explain a certain geographical location or countries instead of just a lecture. A search engine such as Google can help students to do research easier and faster than go through a lot of books to find a specific reference. Since students can find many things faster, they are able to incorporate a lot of information into their learning. There is software available where teachers can monitor their teaching, keep class records such as the number of assignments given, calculate the grades, so teachers can have more time to focus on the content rather than busy with administration works. Today students must be taught to be self-learners where they study class materials that teachers post online BEFORE coming to class so they can spend class time to discuss, to collaborate, to ask questions etc. Since class materials are online, there is no need for students to take a lot of notes but concentrate on listening, asking questions, receiving answers and keep up with the class. If students miss something, they can always go back to the materials online to learn as many times as they need. Students learn more when they have access to class materials at any time. Technology can make learning much easier as assignments can be posted online for them to do and teachers can track all activities online too. For example, how long will it take for students to complete the assignment as well as how many of them can complete on time and how many of them require more time to do that so the teachers can adjust the pace of teaching accordingly. Moreover, if the classroom activities are recorded and posted online, students can access to the video to better understand the teaching of an idea, subject, or concept when they miss a class or re-learn something that they do not understand well.

To transform education means to encourage students to be more responsible for their learning. Today the teaching is changing from the teacher to transfer their knowledge to the promoting of self-learning of the students. The education should change from passive learning to active learning, from a leveling curriculum to an integrated and interdisciplinary one, as these are the skills the job market needed. In the near future, the competitive advantage for all countries will come from their people’s ability to apply technologies as the economy is shifting from having raw materials to having talents. The success of a company will be based on how many talents it has to create and implement the technology. For example, the success of Google, Facebook, and Microsoft is based solely on the talents of their workers who foster innovation, enhanced productivity, and develop new products faster than others. The future of any country is depending on how well they prepare their people for the challenges and opportunities of the fast-changing economy. As technologies like automation, robotics, artificial intelligence etc. are being implemented, many countries who are depending on manual labor will see that their economy will collapse with high unemployment. Even it has not happened yet but it will happen soon.

Since the education system is slow to change, you can see the issues of many college students are getting angrier when they see many graduates could not get a job. Many high school students are losing their motivation to study as they know what they learn is not relevant to what the job market needs. Many teachers are frustrated because they have to teach something knowing that is not what students need. Many parents are confused because they do not know what the future could bring and what skills must their children have to succeed. To succeed in this technology-driven world, students need a broader and deeper set of skills that must be taught in school and education system must change quickly to meet this urgent needs else students will be left behind and never have the chance to catch-up.

Of course, schools must change in a meaningful way, not just using a laptop and multimedia as a supplement to textbooks or paper and ink. As some schools cannot change and may never change but there are alternatives, such as online schools that use technologies to teach more students effectively. I think sooner or later these online schools with the most up to date materials will completely transform the education and provide students with skills that they need to do well in this fourth Industrial revolution.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University

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