Technology is a tool, and one of the most important functions of a tool is to enable learning. As such, technology and education have always gone hand in hand, but the relationship between them is not always straightforward.
Sometimes the adoption of new technological tools has meant that old skills become redundant. These skills may then be forgotten unless someone continues to teach them. In this case, technology can be seen as the enemy of education. But new technology also demands the development of new skills, and can let us do things that were previously too difficult for anyone but a select few to even attempt.
Technology in the classroom
Any all-round modern education must include technology. Learning about technology and its role in society is one part of that education. But the use of technology to make education more accessible, more effective and more engaging, especially to children, is just as important.
Though children need to be taught by their elders, it is often the case that they are more comfortable and even knowledgeable about everyday technology than their teachers. In this case the schools and colleges need to make sure that they are keeping up with the expectations and technological experiences of the students.
Today’s digital natives are more comfortable with a smartphone or other mobile device in their hand than they are without one. Schools and colleges have long viewed phones as an unwelcome source of distraction, often banning them from the classroom or lecture hall. But increasingly their potential as an educational tool is being recognized.
If each student has access to a tablet computer during a lesson or lecture then they can use it to view supplementary material, ask questions more easily, do background research and so on. For younger pupils this approach is often more engaging than traditional teaching methods. In this way what was once a source of distraction is now a key component of the lesson.
Online or virtual learning is now a standard feature of homeschooling, allowing stay-at-home pupils to access expert tuition and teaching aids via video tutorials, online seminars, chat rooms, access to articles and interactive modules and other resources. But these online learning tools are increasingly being used by schools and colleges, blurring the line between public education and home learning as both groups effectively co-exist in the same virtual classroom.
Although a long-standing and historic center of education, Bryant and Stratton College now offers extensive online programs which attract large numbers of students. Similarly, all Bryant and Stratton campuses are equipped with computer labs and learning centers that students can use, and a decent home computer with high-speed internet connection is an essential requirement in order to complete the coursework.
The potential of VR and AR (augmented reality) programs for educational use is still being realized. Examples of their use could include allowing students to participate safely in scientific experiments, have conversations with native speakers in different languages, or be immersed in a completely different time and place for the purpose of historical understanding and empathy. Dedicated VR rooms exist on some campuses, incorporating 360-degree screens and surround sound for maximum effect.
Heads in the cloud
The accusation that a student had their head in the clouds once meant that they weren’t paying sufficient attention, but these days the opposite may be true. Cloud computing can enable remote learning and collaboration unhindered by geographical distance. The educational environment is now no longer limited to the classroom but can reach out around the globe. Access to online software saves schools money and means an entire class can work on the same project online simultaneously or in their own time. The possibilities are endless.
E-books are an economic necessity for many schools and colleges, but they have other advantages besides being cheap to produce and far easier to store in unlimited quantities. An e-book can include multi-media components, while audio versions and the adjustable text size make them easier for students with learning difficulties to use. Many specialist textbooks are now only produced in e-book version, and any student with a Kindle device or other e-reader has access to a vast library that would have been unimaginable even to the most privileged scholar at Yale or Harvard only 20 years ago.
Just from this brief survey we can see that technology has transformed education at every level. There is a greater degree of access to information as well as more possibilities for creative, collaborative learning. The rate of change will no doubt continue to astound us all.