It has taken a Black Swan moment to push governments, institutions, teachers, parents and students to consider online teaching & learning as a serious tool for traditional education. In this moment, our approach to edTech from a policy perspective has been exposed.
Not too long ago, I heard that policy makers making the new policy were bent on advising on the ‘cautious’ use of technology in learning, stressing on its ‘harmful’ effects. The foot was off the pedal when it came to edTech. Now I believe there is a welcome change of opinion from the very top of the Government, with edTech predicted to stay on as a credible tool even after lockdowns subside.
This is great! Digital pedagogy can be at the core of teaching – learning coexisting and supplementing traditional modes. But first, we must get over some of the obvious polarization when it comes to edTech.
It is not an either-or. One is not comparing the two or competing between the two. Most often I see opinions sharply divided. Those against edTech complain about increased screen time, unreliability or unavailability of tech, affordability, lack of personal touch, lack of socialization, limited engagement, ease of plagiarization, online safety and a host of other issues. The ones for edTech, focus on flexibility, availability of digital content, diversity, autonomy in learning, access to resources and people globally, interaction, efficiency and so many other plus points. At some point, I think we have to realize it is not the tyranny of the ‘or’, but the symbiosis of the ‘and’.
The other major issue is conflating edTech with technology. There are many opinions that begin with “technology will (not) disrupt education systems”. Both points of view are inherently flawed and misleading. edTech is not technology, is not ICT, is not technology-enabled learning or any of those terms that attempt to separate technology from education or vice versa. Technology should rather be thought from the domain perspective, as a vital affordance that can shape pedagogy, andragogy and heutagogy. It should be thought as a part of education, not something that stands outside of education, affecting it one way or the other. The moment we keep it as an external force, we have not begun even thinking of edTech, let alone its potential. Let us move away from the polarizing conception of technology as separate from education.
One more issue is when you try to use the lens of traditional education to view edTech. Our notion of organization of students into groups, of subjects into the syllabus, of curriculum, of Time and organization of physical days, of interaction, of testing and assessment, of data and analytics, of power and control, of ownership and accountability, of governance and policy – all have to be re-conceptualized for a different reality. We cannot keep shaping our futures with the instruments, techniques and systems of the past! We cannot even think of any theory of learning in abstraction, away from technology. The fact is that there is only one theory, Connectivism, that even attempted to go beyond the conventional theories and embrace edTech. What is needed is new learning theory and more research on what works when education and technology truly come together.
When the pandemic recedes, it will have brought in a new awareness about edTech. Beyond the pandemic, most people will perhaps go back to their old ways of learning and teaching – existing systems of education are fairly resilient in the face of change (for many valid reasons). The challenge that policy makers face is to prepare for the future, to create a decisive role for edTech as a core of teaching and learning.
This challenge is tractable. It begins with changing the lens and re-architecture of the online discourse and space so that it is more relevant and balanced. It begins with creating structured capability in educational leadership, in policy makers themselves, in institutions and all stakeholders. It begins with edTech players taking a longer term view of education. It begins with each one of us, because believe it or not, this is the changed future of education.
Policy makers should and perhaps will look at the following very closely.
- Systematically build capability and capacity for edTech
- Invest in research and innovation
- Set up digital pedagogy, API stacks, multilingual content stores, tools, standards and learning analytics
- Enable connectivity and access
- Set up separate boards of education or systems that can implement different/newer types of edTech; also review existing systems and make strategic changes
- Empower states and central bodies to drive this change through their systems
The path of change is never easy. It causes us to question our most deeply held beliefs. The change that edTech heralds, is one such change. Let us meet it with the strength of reason and our expertise in education and technology.