How EdTech is disrupting classroom learning
TL: DR: Technology can be used to engage students, visualise abstract concepts and promote collaborative learning. Web-based platforms such as WiRead, have been shown to improve critical reading and thinking in students. Teachers must be trained to use EdTech effectively, and students should be encouraged to leverage technology for self-directed learning
Digital disruption is seeping into virtually every aspect of society, and the education system is long overdue for a technological overhaul. No longer do teaching and learning have to be confined to the four walls of a physical classroom. The one-way transfer of knowledge from educator to student is an outdated paradigm.
At the keynote address for TECH-OUT!, a seminar series organised by Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Dr Peter Seow, a research scientist from the Office of Education Research at the National Institute of Education, provided the public with a snapshot of how EdTech—technology applied to education—is being deployed in schools to improve learning processes and overcome obstacles in pedagogy.
Using software and data analytics, teachers are being empowered to engage with their students in more creative and meaningful ways.
Instilling deep learning in students
Learning takes place best when students are challenged to think critically about the subjects they study. When analysing text, for example, students should be encouraged to go beyond reading passively.
“However, many teachers have observed that students struggle to relate and respond to English text at a personal level, much less cultivate an appreciation of literary text,” Dr Seow explained. “This is related to the students’ lack of opportunity to practice critical reading, articulate their thoughts, and be given timely feedback on the dimensions of their understanding of a piece of text.”
Against this backdrop, Dr Seow highlighted WiRead, a web-based platform being tested at Ngee Ann Secondary school. On WiRead, students are tasked to read selected passages and are led through thought-development exercises. They also participate in online collaborative discussions with their peers.
Additionally, the platform accumulates data from the students’ participation, giving teachers insight into the type of comments students make and their depth of perspective. This helps teachers make more accurate assessments of students’ performance so that better feedback may be given.
“With the use of WiRead as a convenient medium, teachers have reported an improvement in the quality of students’ critical discussions of the texts,” he added.
Blending the physical and digital world
In other cases, the core impediment to learning is a lack of “epistemic curiosity”—simply put, if the student is not interested, then they do not absorb new information as effectively. Dr Seow thinks that one way to overcome this inertia is to “make the invisible visible”.
“By replacing [purely] textbook-based teaching with one of inquiry, and by using physical environments with technological platforms to enhance assessment, we can combine real and digital worlds to make students’ thoughts visible,” he said.
As an example, Dr Seow explained how most students are disinterested in plants, but their curiosity can be stoked by engaging them in a physical, visible task, such as designing and maintaining their own garden. This way, students are motivated to take ownership of an actual space.
As they go about tending to the garden, they can discuss concepts of plant biology and ecology via online platforms. Teachers can view, contribute to and stimulate these discussions, thereby helping students consolidate their thought processes and learning. The successful integration of information communication technology and the physical environment is key, said Dr Seow.
Bringing people up to speed
While EdTech can increase student participation, make abstract concepts concrete, and foster collaborative skills in students, Dr Seow emphasised that technological innovations are but tools that must be wielded properly if positive outcomes are to be generated and sustained.
“Teachers must be trained on how to effectively use such tools and platforms,” he said. However, he noted that even as technology becomes more commonplace in classrooms, the human relationship between teachers and students should not fall by the wayside. And like any healthy relationship, all parties involved should make contributions and work together to keep interactions productive and professional.
“Students, themselves, must change too—they should expect a different form of instruction. More importantly, they ought to cultivate their own sense of self-directed learning,” Dr Seow concluded.