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Here’s how technology can transform learning and education

The current Covid-19 pandemic has underscored the critical role technology can play in education, especially in mitigating situations like prolonged closure of educational institutions.

It’s time for educators to begin imagining new possibilities, innovating new pedagogies and transforming learning in a meaningful way with technology, say the authors.

It’s time for educators to begin imagining new possibilities, innovating new pedagogies and transforming learning in a meaningful way with technology, say the authors.

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The current Covid-19 pandemic has underscored the critical role technology can play in education, especially in mitigating situations like prolonged closure of educational institutions. 

Worldwide, teachers leveraged cloud-based video conferencing technologies to connect with learners so that teaching and learning continued uninterrupted.

Paradoxically, the initial euphoria about the affordances of technology was soon replaced by technology fatigue and growing reservations about its side effects. 

Lamentations from parents, students and teachers included concerns about over-reliance on technology, technology replacing human teachers, and students not having the necessary self-discipline to engage in sustained online learning.

However, despite these misgivings, there are two critical reasons we should continue with technology integration in education.

First, the rapid advent of technology in all aspects of our lives has shifted the debate of whether technology should be used in education to how it can be used to prepare our youth to become confident citizens of a modern society. 

Since technology affects the health, wealth and productivity of a citizen, any form of education that does not empower the learner with the necessary skills and dispositions to thrive in a highly technology-centric world is inadequate.

Secondly, technology is a human product. It is a tool designed to aid and empower us to create, communicate and collaborate better. 

The cavemen began with petroglyphs. Then, pen and paper were invented. Then, computers, tablets and the internet. 

Today, we are at the threshold of a new frontier powered by artificial intelligence and quantum computing. 

Not taking advantage of the technologies of our times is analogous to putting a brake on the progress of our civilisation. 

In Singapore, the big questions for us are: What is the future of technology in education? How do we tackle challenges similar to the ones wrought by Covid-19 in the future?

The answers lie in the ways we use technology for education. 

Today, we are all familiar with the home-based learning strategies that mirror the lecture approach commonly used in face-to-face settings. 

However, rather than using technology to replicate traditional instructional approaches, the focus should be on leveraging the power of technology to transform pedagogy. 

This can be done by creating new ways of teaching and learning that foster new types of interactions or learning outcomes previously not possible without the support of technology.

An example of a transformative strategy that educational researchers are currently exploring is the knowledge building approach. 

This approach is based on how researchers work — by asking meaningful questions, seeking answers and co-constructing explanations. 

In a two-day workshop designed by researchers and tutors at the National Institute of Education, a short lecture on vertical farming was given to a group of secondary and primary school students which prompted them to ask questions on how and why vertical farming was being done in Singapore. 

The students explored various concepts such as light and photosynthesis and how technologies could support conditions for optimal plant growth. 

In small groups, they collaboratively constructed different models of vertical farming. 

Through this exercise, they gained in-depth knowledge about photosynthesis, optimal light conditions and the potential of vertical farming for sustainability. 

Concurrently, they also experienced collaborative learning, learnt about the power of collaborative idea improvement and gained confidence to pursue their inquiry questions.

So what roles did technology play in supporting such learning? And, how is such learning with technology transformative?

In this instance, Knowledge Forum, an online forum that captures students’ idea development over time and makes their learning and collaborative knowledge construction process visible, supported the entire learning process. 

The analytics at the backend of this platform was used to analyse students’ learning data. 

Word clouds generated with a click of a button showed the keywords used by them and reflected their frequency of usage. 

Using inbuilt analytics, the teacher monitored the key concepts and ideas being explored and provided necessary intervention or guidance. 

Social network analysis enabled the review of interaction patterns among the students. 

Monitoring of the group processes was possible with access to information such as who has read the notes, acted upon notes by peers and has posted notes that attracted the most responses, etc.

In the above example, technology not only transforms how teaching and learning are happening but also how assessment is being carried out by harnessing data on students’ learning behaviours. 

It makes a new mode of assessment possible. 

Assessment, now, need not always be a separate activity or test after learning. Assessment evidence and data can now be captured throughout the learning activity. 

What is noteworthy, when technology is used to transform learning, is the human-computer partnership. 

It is not used to mimic the best human instructor but rather to facilitate collaborative idea improvement among students, make their learning visible and provide data that assists in understanding their progress in learning. 

Instead of passive learning, students are engaged in active learning with the support of technology. 

In a nutshell, it is not so much about learning about technology or learning from technology, but rather, learning with technology. 

It is about leveraging technology to amplify our learning capacities and capabilities — physical, cognitive and social. 

Critically, in the example given above, technology does not make learning easier or make it superficially fun. 

Students still have to do the hard work that learners are supposed to do — think, discuss, construct, create, reflect, and so on — all essential for meaningful learning to happen. 

Technology does not compete to replace these critical learning processes. 

It does not rob the students of these learning experiences and opportunities. Instead, it augments and amplifies human intelligence and capabilities. It becomes our intellectual partner.

In conclusion, although technology has indeed saved education from the tyranny of Covid-19, this is but a low hanging fruit. 

If we really want to achieve transformative learning with technology, then we should steer towards leveraging the human-computer partnership which can empower our learners and engage them in meaningful and deeper learning with technology. 

Technology must be used to support teachers in designing meaningful learning activities and experiences rather than translating old pedagogies into their new digital avatars. 

It’s time for educators to begin imagining new possibilities, innovating new pedagogies and transforming learning in a meaningful way with technology. 

It’s time to let go of our misgivings about technology and find ways to overcome or circumvent these challenges and reap the opportunities and benefits that technology affords us.



Dr Tan Seng Chee is an associate professor and Tsering Wangyal is a lecturer at the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University.

Related topics

Technology education school Covid-19

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