Over the past century, technological advances have transformed the way we live and learn. Or haven’t they? Suppose you look at the painting by the Italian artist Laurenzius de Voltolina, who lived between the 13th and 14th centuries. It shows a scene that is perfectly familiar to every student: a lecture in progress, students sitting at the front listening intently to their teacher, and others at the back trying to find ways to entertain themselves. Someone is asleep; another is involved in chit chat. Nowadays, it’s much easier for students to engage themselves: they just switch on their smartphones and go online. This is the first example of how technology has changed our learning habits and our attitudes towards the learning process! But that’s not all.
Access to information
It was exceedingly difficult for a medieval student to gain access to information: books were considered extremely rare. To read the desired manuscript, students would have to wait for about a month or even a year to obtain it. Currently, to gain access to the information needed, you just press a few keys on your keyboard. However, this also has its drawbacks.
There is a great deal of unreliable and false information found on the Internet. Let’s say you’re looking for an answer to a specific question. You discover five links with “Yes” answers and another with a “no” answer. Which one would you believe? Most likely, the five links are the correct answer to your question because they are in the majority, which means that they are probably true. The trick is that they all may be false! The problem lies in the fact that a competent researcher can express an unpopular view. Other links could lead to well-known but incompetent resources.
A frequent complaint from most teachers is that their students are using unverified information found on the Internet. Still, students cannot be strictly prohibited from using this information – they must be given lessons on using it correctly. Presently, this is a major task for all teachers. At the very least, they should educate students about false information: how to identify it, and how to check the reliability of a resource they are going to use.
Teachers’ and students’ roles
In the past, the most common educational approach was for a teacher to share their knowledge during a lecture and for students to write down as much of their newly gained knowledge as possible. The students received the information passively without giving any opinions or taking an active part in the educational process. This model of learning is still in use today. But is it effective?
To obtain knowledge through listening, the reality is, we only memorise about 13% of what we hear. Visually, we gain as much as 75% of the information about the world around us! What exactly does this mean? It means that we can remember what we see and then what we can put into practice. In the past, it was difficult for the teachers to visualise information. However, new technologies have been working to solve this problem.
As the only possible conductor of knowledge, the teacher turns into an “assistant” whose task is to create a favourable environment for attaining information and shows us how to find it. Modern technology makes it possible to organise the process so that students could spend as much time practising their skills as possible and eventually learn to use the material, not just memorise it.
Relationships among students
Over the centuries, students have been limited to only communicating with fellow students in their class or group. Thanks to new technologies, the situation has changed. Students can keep in touch with students from other universities or even other countries! How could this shift in integration improve the quality of our education? Many fascinating international projects will appear (or have already started) with both students and professors participating. International projects, in turn, make the educational environment more competitive: students compete not only with their fellow classmates but also with the crème de la crème in their specialty area.
International projects raise the overall level of student work: talented and proactive students are given the opportunity to earn recognition and perhaps even build successful careers in the future. The broadened horizons also increase the competition between educational institutions. If a school, college, or university fails to provide decent educational opportunities for talented students, they can easily find a better place.
One more important consequence that should not remain unnoticed is that high-level competition creates a more stressful psychological environment. At this stage, it is important to help people – both students and teachers – to adapt and cope with stress. This would imply taking courses in emotional intelligence and conflict management, the demand for which, by the way, is already growing exponentially.
Technology is changing every aspect of the educational process including the relationships between students and teachers, as well as the ones among classmates. New educational models of education are still being shaped. But it is already safe to say that they will be more democratic, flexible, and competitive than the old ones. This is undoubtedly a second wind for the education system!