Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Illusive Innovation: Technology of Education

The technology revolution in education is one of those things: Forever so promising, the kind of thing consultants cling on but something that persistently under-delivers. Despite the promises that technology will change the world, only a minority of the students who are brave enough to try out technology-led education actually completes the course of study. Despite the predictions that technology will dramatically improve educational access, technology-led education helps supplement lifelong learning for college graduates, but do very little in shifting the landscape in terms of access. And, despite the expanding power of technology and improving infrastructure, technology-led courses remain a poor distant cousin to campus-based education.

In fact, if anything, most educators wrote off technology as one of those fads. They still do, despite the buzz around the MOOCs. Some of this is about lazy comfort of somethings never change, or at least may only change slowly, such as people's urge to go to college. And, some of it is a genuine reflection of the poverty of technology-based education, its persistent failure to engage and retain students. 

If this is a fad, however, this is turning out to be an expensive one. Millions of dollars are invested in technologies of education today, and most institutions, whether they believe it or not, whether their tutors like it or not, put money and effort in technologies of learning, if nothing, for vanity purposes at the least. The governments love technology-based education, as this allows them a temporary reprieve from the discussion on the broken promise of educational access and opportunity society. Like good democrats, the love the promises of progress that technologies of learning may bring, notwithstanding the current costs of unthinking implementation, which buy them some time, at least another term. 

The signs are, however, that the technologies of learning are becoming serious, life-changing, finally. This isn't happening where one would expect, the cosy corners of conferences in London or New York, but rather in dusty rural corners of Asia and Latin America. This is not happening with the smartest and sleekest of devices, but with recycled PCs and feature-impoverished mobile phones and stripped down tablets. This is happening not with predictive learning software but with that other technology that undelivered for ages before coming on its own: Video. And, this is happening with social innovations, the efforts such as Open Courseware, which allows the educators a new way of thinking about content, and new educational thinking, which deconstructs the teachers' role in the age of ubiquity of information, and transfers 'granny functions', as the education thinker Dr Sugata Mitra calls it, the role of encouragement and support, to a local mentor, whereas keeping the knowledge critical areas technology-delivered and scalable.

The point then, as the technology of education comes of age, the successful models look decidedly less glamorous than the consultants made you believe. And, in the forefront of this revolution are not the global conglomerates who try to fit uncomfortably into the digital age with their very industrial age mentality, but nimble start-ups and crazy social reformers. The real revolutionary learning technology isn't the supersmart Google Glass (though it may become one day) but the rather unremarkable Google Search. And, while the traditional educators are running for cover and complaining endlessly about this technological invasion (how many times I have heard that plagiarism is due to all things digital), the others have accepted that the non-digital education is meaningless and moved on. 

This is not meant to be the swansong of fancy learning technologies, but the starting point of their getting mainstream.

1 comment:

VB said...

Hi Supriyo,

Great post. You must look at the cMOOCs and how they distribute learning with self-organization of sub-networks at their core.

Keep up the great posts!

Viplav

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