07 July 2012

Digital Classrooms

Digital delivery of lesson concepts seems to rapidly replace other modes in classrooms all over the world. Government Departments of Education and Corporates seem to join hands to bring in cost effective technology in K-12 classrooms. A very good move indeed.

But, providing children and teachers with cost effective computers and tablets alone it is not enough; it is important that the full benefits of technology backed education reach all children. This means that we should make broadband and education technology accessible to all schools including very remote ones. Equally importantly, we should see that all teachers are trained to use education technology in meaningful ways. Otherwise, we may end up doing more harm than good by contributing to widen the already existing digital gap. It is very useful to learn from documented experiences abroad such as those contained in this news report.

Amidst a glaring digital disparity between schools in countries like ours, there seems to be a wrong assumption that digitally backed classrooms are superior to others. Many elitist schools in cities like Chennai seem to benefit from such assumptions.

Though animations and simulations bring in numerous advantages than textbooks and still images, many research studies have proven that digital delivery of lessons succeed only when these resources are of quality. The most basic requirement for a quality resource is a set of clearly defined aims and objectives. (When developing any quality lesson material, I think that the path of  flow involved should be somewhat like that in a `thread' of oil which we see when some dense oil is poured from a container).

In countries like India, there is a fasle notion that products from developed countries are better in terms of quality. In my experience, I  have found this not to be true always. In every country and community, there are textbook and multimedia developers who develop substandard materials as in this example from New Zealand. As we can see, there is an obvious blunder in how the conept is presented, as illustrated in the following image:

The image shows magnetic north pole to be near the goegoraphic north pole. In reality, magnetic south pole is near geographic north pole. This is the reason why the north pole of any freely suspended magnet points toward geographic north pole due to the force of attraction by the south pole of the Earth's magnet which is near the geographic north pole. In other words, north pole of the freely suspended magnet points towards geographic north pole. Any junior high school physics student would know this.

When I happened to see this picture several months back, I communicated with the web developer using an option available at the webpage explaining the mistake with a request to correct it. But still the mistake is not corrected.

It is simple common sense to expect that any resource for children, whether it is a conventional textbook or digital content, to be free from mistakes (factual or conceptual). With numerous textbooks and digital products flooding the market, it is important for schools to select the best material.

I think that the main difference between conventional modes  of content delivery such as textbooks and digital modes is that the latter enables wider access to information (thanks to internet) and possibilities for exploratory learning (for example by manipulating different parameters and observing responses in a virtual lab) and  instantaneous interaction. Hence all principles which we need to follow in developing any good textbook are applicable in digital dimension as well.

Though digital classrooms, if properly planned and used, can transform how children learn, role of the teacher (or more aptly `facilitator') will always remain to be crucial as indicated in this report. If we walk into any digital classroom and observe, we can easily find the truth in the above statement. (Giving a digitally packed computer to kids and leaving them alone is just like giving a textbook and leaving them alone).

As professionals we all know that cognitive processing in children is more effective when they work with audiovisual materials than with lesson materials in the print format. This means that diluted quality in digital resources will be reflected far more obviously than in printed textbooks. This fact makes it necessary to consider quality aspects when developing digital resouces far more carefully than when developing a conventional textbook.

As an education professional who has been involved in developing and using digital resources for nearly 25 years, I like to write about how we best can proceed in this direction from my own experience as well as from research based evidences, in my future posts (when I find time).

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About Me

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Chennai, Tamilnadu, India
I am a retired K-12 Education Management Professional. I have worked at different levels in K-12 school systems, textbook publishing, elearning and Education NGOs. I have held memberships in The Association for Science Education (UK), American Association of Physics Teachers and The Malaysian Institute of Physics. I hold a 1st class B Sc Degree in Physics followed by B Ed [English and Physical Science] and M A [Childcare and Education] degrees. My published works include 59 articles in teacher development magazines in India and the US and a book entitled `Creative Classrooms and Child Friendly Schools' (listed in Amazon). This book is almost an anecdotal account of my professional experience in six countries (including Cambodia where I worked as Technical Adviser to the Ministry of Education, Youth And Sports). I served as mentor in the Certificate of Teaching Mastery Program offered by Teachers Without Borders.