Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Changing role of technology for teachers inside classrooms?
--Anurag Shukla
(Anurag manages the Learn, Out of the Box programme in Jharkhand)

Recently I had an opportunity to visit a school run by one of my friend’s mother in Delhi. The plan was to observe few classrooms and then share the possible outcomes of my visit to all teachers at the end of the day. I had the least idea of what I was going to encounter. The moment I walked into a classroom, it appeared to me that I had entered into a time warp. There was a smart board, instead of a traditional blackboard. Most strikingly, students’ desks were folded aside to make the room for the activities being performed by the students. There was a projector to showcase short-films, activities or project works to the students. The teacher was supporting students in their task, without unnecessary interrupting their pace of learning. School had even provided the teacher with a tablet to help herself in her own capacity building. This experience transformed the way I always looked at the technology in the classroom.

Technology is changing our classroom practices faster than we had envisioned. It has added many dimensions to teaching, learning, monitoring, and performance evaluation inside a school. The teacher, who used to be a ‘sage on the stage’ was soon becoming a ‘guide by the side’. It is the first time that technology is being talked about in terms of ‘process’ framework, rather than ‘equipment-driven’ model. This change in perspective to the technology has been possible only after the introduction of digital technologies, where students also get the chance to explore and experiment with different learning tools. Before we get into the implication of the digital technologies onto the instructional design matters inside the classroom, it would be worthwhile to look at the nature of technology usage in educational context in India.
The initial impetus to technology in education and classrooms came in form of government sponsored schemes such as the Educational Technology (ET) Scheme and the Computer Literacy and Studies in Schools (CLASS). This included the supply of radio-cum-cassette players, color televisions, micro-computers, present-day computer labs, and even satellite-receiving terminals.

When the first time technology was introduced in the education, it implicitly relied on widely accepted sender-receiver construct. But as the awareness about the integration of the technology into the classroom grew, various aspects such as behavior of learners, educational objectives, content analysis, evaluation etc. made their entry into the core of the educational technology domain. However, the large scale impact studies done on the government supported educational technology showed the serious under-utilization of the programme. No link between the broadcaster and the teacher in the classroom could be established and learning from the programme could not be sustained beyond the sphere of immediate class. These audio-visual programmes also did not show any definite pattern supporting the classroom transaction or supplementing them in any constructive way. Since these equipments were costly, their supply was limited to only few elite schools in the metropolitan cities. These schemes were largely supply-driven, equipment-centered, and disseminative in design. Scant attention was paid to the development of the entire support system that would establish ET as a reliable, relevant, and timely intervention.
The audio-visual and computer literacy led support models did not impact the teacher’s control over the class. He remained the interpreter and disseminator of the knowledge, which he was supposedly acquiring from the radio and TV waves (programmes run by All India Radio and Doordarshan for supporting teachers in their classrooms).

The next phase of technology support came in form of providing computers to the schools, with emphasis on making teachers and students’ computer literate. These computers were rarely used and the creation of the post of computer teacher further created the division between the curriculum teachers and the teacher appointed for computer operations. The technology was never integrated to the classroom. Acknowledging the fact that there is not much data available on the efficacy of computer distribution programs on the learning levels of the students, it would be safe to say that it provided the much needed access to students at these schools. It also led to the growing realization that the usage of computer should go beyond the computer literacy.

Through the hyper-innovations in the information technologies in the first decade of the millennium the classrooms have been transformed. The technologies are being increasingly integrated into the school systems. Now it is common to see projectors, television screens if not expensive technologies such as smart-boards in the classrooms. The teachers have become facilitators whose role is now to support the learners’ specific needs. They have to now make sure that their students are learning new age skills. The technology has made it almost impossible for a teacher to remain physically unmoved while transacting a class. He now has the responsibility of supervising each and every student in their process of learning. The folk pedagogies, which are somehow incoherent to the technology led education, are now being replaced by more engaged pedagogies.
Every day, new emerging technologies are making their ways into the classrooms, only making the situation more tense and chaotic, for all; teachers, students, regulator etc. This rapid change in technology has met with extreme reactions from teachers. At one end, the enthusiastic teachers have welcomed it wholeheartedly, with belief that it would make their jobs easier and enjoyable; one other hand, there are teachers who take on the technologies by rejecting them in totality. Their argument is that the technology has very limited usage in schools and it would never change the basic administration of schooling systems.

Technology is fast entering our everyday spaces in ways one could never imagine even a few years back. Governments and those in power are also taking note of this tool which is giving its citizens a voice. While technology penetrates classrooms in the years to come, its long term impact is yet to be tested. However, it can safely be said that a new element has entered the classroom after a long time which is challenging the existing ideas of a teaching & learning. Only time will tell if this new tool changes the way we conceive and learn or become a blip of bright spot in the otherwise glorious history of human innovation!