March 18, 2012 / The Daily Star

As the floor mama insisted on switching off the multimedia projector, students were queuing in front of the computer, hurriedly plugging in their pen drives and copying the week’s lecture. I pushed past the queue in hopes of getting my USB drive plugged in – I had another class to catch and was not sure whether I had enough space left to store another PowerPoint presentation. At the epitome of a said digital revolution, pen drives seem to be a fundamental tool of a student and PowerPoint slides represented the arc of changing times and modern technology. While elbowing fellow inmates, I tried recalling the times when lectures were merely hours of ranting and for the few tech-interested lecturers, encompassed a couple of manual slides on an overhead projector. Today, thanks to the call of a globalized world, a multimedia projector and the flight of USB drives symbolized a modern classroom – via which, again thanks to technology, education has suddenly more interactive.

The projector phenomenon steals attention from more pressing issues. The inclusion of technology or tech-savvy practices within classrooms, and the age old debate on who needs to adapt – existing infrastructures or new discoveries. How can we use technology to make education more substantial, more interactive, more intuitive and essentially, more effective?

Over recent years, several interesting things have happened across the globe that exemplifies significant implementation of new media and technology to bring changes in the education system. The Khan Academy, one of the most discussed trends in this regard introduced free online videos where textbook topics and subjects were taught on a virtual blackboard in the form of storytelling. Although similar things were already being used by MIT and Stanford, the Khan Academy took virtual learning to a new level by covering topics ranging from elementary school to postgraduate courses. Think.com allowed teachers and students to collaborate on project ideas on a password-protected, Internet-powered virtual space, while Diigo acted as an online notebook when researching with our resident best friend, Google. Glovico.org allowed students to learn new languages by setting up video classes (video conferencing) with native speakers of the language across the globe. In addition, papers have been repeatedly published to show how social networking and online gaming can have a positive impact on cognitive learning, and essentially an evolution of the human mind versus the so-called revolution.

However, for an economy that has yet to guarantee fast internet at affordable prices, the merits of the aforementioned resources may just as well be limited to the wealthy few. While many universities have installed wireless internet (that often requires students to queue outside the media and web department to get their laptops configured) within their premises, its true independence and sheer learning power of the Internet are yet to be explored. Classrooms are still limited to PowerPoint slides and photocopied lecture sheets; perhaps in some cases, a few case studies from online versions of The Economist or New York Times or exposure to Youtube videos or a seductive affair with Wikipedia. What is missing from the picture is an overall physical presence of technology to not only do things outside the classrooms, but simultaneously create more opportunities and self-learning within the classrooms. As opposed to multimedia projectors, simple adjustments like emailing assignments, creating a Google document for group projects, using Facebook for focus-group discussions and announcements, and restructuring lectures to take the form of stories and interpersonal learning through Wiki-powered virtual forums can together create a more innovative and low-bandwidth friendly environment for tech-supported learning.

The modern times demand infrastructural changes. Many local universities now post administrative notices online, allow students to register for courses from their home computers, create opportunities for parents to monitor course results on a password-protected website and so on. Some teachers even email lecture sheets or text students on class schedules! While such improvements may seem slow and almost trivial, the shifting curves of tech-supported classroom practices are already in motion. What needs to be done is ensure quality internet services, functional computer labs for students and a digital archive that inspires research beyond what will appear in examinations. Projectors may as well be the first step for multimedia supported learning, but in the absence of adequate teacher training and an attitude change in the process of learning, PowerPoint slides can merely replace cheating notes. The 21st Century demands projectors to be made obsolete, and self tutored learning to be powered through more interactive and open minded classroom practices.

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