The digital laboratories have revolutionised the Indian education system, fundamentally redefining the process of learning and teaching with the help of digital tools. An Elets News Network (ENN) report
The Digital media and laboratories connect the students, the teachers, the researchers, and the partners to the ideas and projects in physical and virtual spaces. Much better than the rote learning, the digital laboratories help the students virtually repeat the experiments for examinations. It helps save physical resources used for experiments in the laboratories, said Sindhu Aven, head of Academics, Zee Learn Limited.
A cursory glance at the case studies mentioned below reflects the huge strides digitisation can make in a short span of time.
- Many schools have seen an improvement of 20 percentage points — from 68 percent to 88 percent — in the proportion to its students who scored “proficient” on all core-subject state exams, like reading, math, and science in four years since its conversion to a 1-to-1 laptop programme.
- Carpe Diem-Yuma leads the state in student academic growth and last year achieved an average 92% proficiency and 40% advanced performance on Arizona’s math and reading assessments.
- According to the e-learning Guild 2013, the learners had 40% higher skill based knowledge level, 11% higher actual-knowledge level, and 9% higher retention rate, as per meta analysis of instructional effectiveness of computer based simulation games.
- According to research institute of America, e-learning has the power to increase information retention rates up to 60%. It implies that it is also more effective in terms of knowledge acquired during the learning process.
- According to a 2009 study from the Department of Education, the students who took all or part of their class online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through traditional face-to-face instruction.
It is not always possible to conduct the experiments in the laboratories at home or even schools. The endeavours sometimes also drill holes into the coffers, however deep and long it can be. Besides, the laboratories have an element of structural uncertainty.
One can never know what can be required next. The experiments in Chemistry, for example, are particularly difficult to conduct under controlled conditions. Where a laboratory is physically impossible, a digital laboratory can come up with virtual space for a student and even a teacher to complete the experiments. An experiment in a physical laboratory is ever demanding, sometimes springing surprises even from the most unexpected quarters. Technology can be both a master and a slave. Thanks to the digital tools, technology is a new teacher taking multiple avatars, giving the students enormous control over time, place, path and/or pace.
According to Vishal Bisht, (CEO, Marksman), the digital laboratories are a rich collaboration of an institution with the clients. A tutorial in a digital laboratory can be simultaneously attended to or viewed at several places. On the other hand, once an actual tutorial is over, it is past forever. Hence, digital learning is no longer restricted to the premises of the school or the academic sessions. The students have broken free from the handicaps of a school without teachers and those of teachers without schools, books without copies, copies without books.
Sindhu Aven, head of Academics, Zee Learn Limited said, “ Special needs education is in complete synchronisation with technology. Digital labs help children with special needs to manage communications, maintain focus, and provide engagement. Digital labs increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of children with special needs. Example Autistic children are visually oriented and more comfortable communicating via technology than directly. Also, digital labs are universally safe and provide a controlled experience that is helpful for students with special needs.”
Proliferation of Internet access devices has given students the ability to learn anytime, anywhere and everywhere. According to Vishal Bisht, CEO, Marksman, “digital laboratories and e-learning save lot of time. The same information and data can be used again and again. The digital laboratories are extensions of the geographical barriers. A professor speaking at a seminar can be simultaneously broadcast or telecast to so many places,”.
- Path: Learning is no longer restricted to the pedagogy used by the teacher. Interactive and adaptive software allows students to learn in their own style, making learning personal and engaging. New learning technologies provide real time data that gives teachers the information they need to adjust instructions to meet the unique needs of each student.
- Pace: Learning is no longer restricted to the pace of an entire classroom of students. Interactive and adaptive software allows students to learn at their own pace, spending more or less time on lessons or subjects to achieve the same level of learning. More than just providing students with a laptop, digital learning is a combination of technology, digital content and instruction.
- Technology: Technology is the mechanism that delivers content. It facilitates how students receive content. It includes Internet access and hardware, which can be any Internet access device – from a desktop to a laptop to an iPad to a smart phone. Technology is a tool, not an instruction.
- Digital Content: Digital content is the high quality academic material delivered through technology. It is what students learn. It ranges from new engaging, interactive and adaptive software to classic literature to video lectures to games. It is not simply a PDF of text or a PowerPoint presentation.
- Instruction: Educators are essential to digital learning. Technology may change the role of the teacher but it will never eliminate the need for a teacher. With digital learning, teachers will be able to provide the personalised guidance and assistance to ensure students learn and stay on track – throughout the year and year after year – to graduate from high school. Teachers may be the guide on the side, not the sage on the stage.
Once digital learning is integrated into the academic curriculum of the schools, India will not lag in student assessment programmes and lead from the front instead.
“Good communications skills are perhaps one of the most important criteria of success in life. English language because of its global reach has made its learning almost mandatory for success. Language learning cannot take place as other subjects. Language is a skill and it can be learnt only through use and practice. ”
The educational standards in India have been deteriorating in recent times. Assessments of Indian school students by two different entities are indeed discomfiting. In the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test conducted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) for South and South-East Asia, India was second last — barely nosing out Kyrgyzstan. Incidentally, China topped the assessment.
If that seems like some consolation, wait. In its 10th year, The ‘Annual Status of Education Report, (ASER), 2014, continues to illustrate the all too dismal state of learning outcomes of children in the rural India. It also indicates that the enrolment in private schools is steadily increasing and that students in these schools have better learning outcomes than those of their peers in government schools.
As has been previously the case, Madhav Chavan, the CEO–president of Pratham Education Foundation, sums up this mammoth document in his note that precedes the plethora of tables, figures, and charts. He writes, “But its [the Government of India’s] neglect of learning outcomes has definitely contributed to a growing divide in every village and community between those who access private schools or tutors, and those who do not”.
While there is no doubt that the ASER 2014 report provides interesting data about learning outcomes of children in rural India, the rhetoric that has surrounded the report is deeply problematic and has been widely circulated amongst popular media, policymakers, and educationists. Put simply, two points have been emphasised somewhat repeatedly.
First, learning outcomes of students attending private schools are better than those attending government schools. And second, students are leaving government schools to join private schools in large numbers.
Limitations of rote learning
Long after the Right to Education Act was cleared, what continues to ail Indian education? The problem: the wrong focus and skewed priority. At present, the authorities are simply seized with ensuring that all children are educated. While there is nothing apparently wrong with this, it simply reduces education to statistics. The responsibility for ensuring the students to learn and imbibe what is taught is missing. Rote learning only works to a certain extent. In today’s hyper-competitive environment, rote learning without comprehension won’t take the students farther than calculated. For example, rote learning only works with standard questions. Re-frame the same questions from another angle and the students schooled in rote learning cannot comprehend them and respond appropriately.
Fortunately, there are solutions to surmount such learning problems. Simply pinpoint the actual problem and then choose the right solution. Instead of rote methods used in traditional teaching, the schools should use such modern means as introducing interactivity and personalisation in education. In this regard, digital learning and interactive education methodologies can provide solutions. Digital learning uses such modern as computers and tablet PCs — something today’s generation is most comfortable with.
In fact, the students have taken to technology like the ducks to water. This compatibility between the students’ receptive minds and the limitless possibilities of digital technology has led to paradigm shifts in the K-12 (primary and secondary levels) education system globally. Where the adults were once befuddled by fast technological transformations sweeping the globe, children welcomed these swift changes. The truth about this transformation is gradually becoming evident as the schools slowly adopt interactive classroom teaching and virtual learning systems by marrying information with communication technology. Of course, the transition from traditional teaching methodologies to modern modules has had hiccups at some stages. The reservations, paradoxically, were voiced by the teachers and parents, not the students.
However, as more schools embraced technology, the skeptics realised the significance of what they have been missing. Modern education transcends the brick walls of classrooms, as well as the borders and boundaries of nations. As education becomes an interactive voyage of discovery on colourful computer screens, the students of all ages discover exciting prospects of the studies. Digital teaching modules offer integrated solutions that assist teachers in classrooms via the use of software, hardware and school support services. Once considered just a ‘job’ by teachers and ‘dull and dreary’ by students, interactive learning has now become an enriching experience.
Moreover, interactive learning promotes critical thinking among students, too. Students no longer accept what the teacher says at face value. They are unafraid to pose unconventional questions that cannot be answered via stereotyped responses. Students would earlier think twice before replying. Today, teachers need to marshal their facts before answering offbeat queries. Such interactions fuel the creative thought processes of not just students but teachers, too.
With technology — and activity — based modules, digital learning tools make teaching easier for teachers, while facilitating faster learning by students. Interactive teaching is immediately followed by practice sessions. Consequently, comprehension and retention capacities of students soar, unlike traditional teaching, where monotonous lectures lead to the lowest student-retention capacity. Besides being user-friendly, control functions of many digital teaching modules allow the teachers to monitor real-time performance of every student. Although the students have personalised consoles, the teachers hold the administrative rights to make classes fully functional. The teachers can then allocate personalised lessons to each student, as per their specific levels. After the lessons are submitted, the teachers are well placed to assess performance levels of each student. Assessment is an important cog in the learning process, since it evaluates learning outcomes, provides remedial inputs and offers a powerful set of solutions towards consistent development of students.
Implementing assessment programmes assist teachers in ascertaining students’ strengths and weakness, thereby planning future lessons in sync with the pace of students. Besides taking a great burden off teachers, user-friendly teaching modules make the concepts simpler for students to understand.
Furthermore, interactivity aids focused concentration for longer periods. All this ensures students termed laggards in class could now deliver aboveaverage performances. Given the element of fun and interactivity that digital learning programmes bring into classrooms, the teachers may find it difficult to label students as slow learners. Students taught in this manner possess an array of creative, problem-solving, communication and analytical skills — the best means to succeed in the 21st century’s ultra-competitive environment. With most modern schools in Indian cities and towns introducing computers and computer education, the time is right to adopt digital learning technologies across the classrooms.
Once digital learning is accepted by most schools across the country, India will no longer lag in student assessment programmes but lead from the front instead. Considering India’s rich cultural heritage and millennia-old teaching traditions, this would be its rightful place amongst the global comity of nations. Digital learning has five advantages over the traditional teaching models, said Vishal Bisht of Marksman, elaborating further, “firstly, it saves time. What the traditional models of teaching will take several hours and days to finish, a digital tool will take much shorter time. Besides, the reach is far and wide. The geographical barriers are overcome”.
The traditional models are driven by the books. Recycling information was not possible those days. The same information can be recycled now.
Secondly, it brings in the qualitative changes. The concepts, far too complex for a tender mind, are simplified by the digital laboratories. The digital platforms and screens are 3D enabled. A digital picture on the screen helps one visualise the concepts, impossible to visualise otherwise, given the complexity of the concepts.
Thirdly, the increased collaboration between the institutions and the students at several levels is a huge improvement over the age-old archaic model.
Fourthly, e-learning, clouding seems to have infused a fresh lease of life into an otherwise archaic and stagnant system. The classrooms and the laboratories are alive now. The teachings, the evaluations are all personalised, customised to the needs of every student.
Powered by success in North America and stories of early adoption of mobile tablets in K12 schools, under graduate and post graduate courses; device manufacturers, operators, app guys and cloud service providers made a beeline for private university owners to adopt to technology in education. This is where it became tricky. Not armed with the right knowledge and failure of early business models in the education sector in India – both private universities and entrepreneurs burnt their fingers with early editions of mobile technology in education. And as Don Norman puts it “this incident brought a delay of adoption of mobile technology in education because early users saw it problematic and unadoptable.” Within a couple of years, things have changed.