Technology is influencing nearly every facet of modern life, and education isn’t any different. Or is that really true? In many ways, education looks a lot like it has been for years. Laurentius de Voltolina did an illustration in the 14th century showing a medieval Italian university lecture. Many who see this recognize the scene easily given the modern day parallels. The teacher is lecturing from a podium in the front of the room when listening or students are sitting in rows. A number of the students seem to be following along and have their books open. Some of them look bored, and a few are even sleeping or talking to others. Modern classrooms don’t seem much different, although current students might have distractions like tablets, smartphones, laptops, and social media. The cynic might say that technology hasn’t done anything in terms of changing education.
On the other hand, the reality is that technology has changed education profoundly. For instance, technology has broadened access to education. In the medieval times, books were quite the rarity, and only the elite had the chance to get an education. Those who wanted an education had to travel to places of learning in order to get one. Now, there’s an overwhelming amount of information content, including books, images, audio, and videos, that the Internet makes available to anyone with access. Also, formal learning opportunities can happen online anywhere thanks to online schools, universities, and training programs. Technology has resulted in an unprecedented expansion of access to learning opportunities.
Technology has also broadly expanded opportunities for both collaboration and communication. Traditionally speaking, classrooms were relatively isolated, which meant that collaboration was limited to just the other students in the same building or even classroom. However, modern technology provides avenues for collaboration and communication that just weren’t possible or even dreamed of previously. Students in rural classrooms might learn things about the Arctic by keeping up with an expedition of scientists visiting the region, which can be done by viewing photos and reading blogs; they might even email questions to those scientists or video conference with them. Students then can share what they’re learning with other students in other states who are also falling the same expedition. Students can use things like Google docs and wikis to collaborate together on group projects. Classroom walls aren’t the barrier any longer they used to be, since technology has provided new ways of collaborative work, communication, and learning.
Technology has also started changing the roles of both teachers and learners. If the traditional classroom is depicted in that illustration by de Voltolina, then the teacher is the central source of information, which learners receive passively. This model of learning can be called ‘sage on the stage’ in reference to the teacher; education has used this model for a very long time, and it’s still used a lot today. However, given the educational opportunities and increased access to a lot of information thanks to technology, many modern classrooms are seeing the role of the teacher shifting more to a ‘guide on the side’ where students are taking an increasing responsibility in their own learning as they use technology to find relevant information. Universities, colleges, and schools across the nation are starting to redesign their learning spaces to use technology in a new educational model that fosters more interaction in small groups.
Technology is quite powerful, and it’s a tool that can change and support education in numerous ways, from simplifying life for teachers in terms of lesson preparation to creating new ways in which students can work and learn together. Given how the Internet has global reach and there are a plethora of smart devices people can use to connect to it, the era of education anywhere anytime is here. It’s up to education professionals to maximize what technology has to offer the field.
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