Meri Nasilyan-Lowe, Course Director for Digital Pedagogy, Digital Transformative Education Department, Carnegie School of Education, Leeds Beckett University
By living in this rather digital era and the society of digital natives and digital immigrants, it is often debated whether the hype around new technologies is justified and to what extent. The term ‘technology-enhanced learning’ seems to be on the agenda of every educational institution now when the world is facing the Covid-19 pandemic which drastically changed and shaped the way we do education. Nonetheless, despite the hype some teachers and educational institutions are not still fully embracing this new realm of digital education.
Why technology-enhanced learning is not being as praised as it is assumed to be? Maybe the term ‘enhanced’ needs to be more clarified. What is it that technology has come to enhance? Is it the school curriculum, teaching, or students?
With the hype of technologies overtaking the world and the field of education, the whispers that technology will one day replace teachers, seems to become a topic for discussions among policymakers, students, schools, and teachers themselves. In 1937, an article was published in San Antonia illustrating the teacher in the future looking like a machine (very similar to computers we have now). A claim made more than 8 decades ago is a very current issue in today’s education system – so what is the role of teachers in this modern world and why do the changes happen, but teachers are not always part of them?
So, if we accept that what was published in that article back in 1937 could be true, then, we need to be more understanding of the teachers’ resistance to all the changes. Teachers’ isolation from the technology and the ‘ideal’ technology-enhanced classroom can be understood, as they do not necessarily see their role in that context. But is there even such a thing as an ideal classroom? As a course director for digital pedagogy, the top tip I share with my students and colleagues is that online teaching does not have to be perfect because our face-to-face teaching is not, so why do we put this pressure on ourselves to conduct a perfect lesson/lecture? This could be traced to some claims made by Mitra (2007), stating that the teacher who can be replaced by a machine – should be. Strong claim and clearly very controversial! In addition, putting this pressure of perfectness in digital literacy does not help at all.
"When discussing the topic of technology and teachers, a clear distinction should be made between teachers and the act of teaching"
Teachers have been introduced to technology in the least likely way, hence, they think of it as something neutral, and not important for education. However, the pandemic not only shed light on the past issues but introduced new ones as it became evident that digital literacy might be viewed as something overly complicated and not well explained at all. So, could it be that teachers fully appreciate the support of technology for better teaching practice and the lack of willingness to use it are merely due to lack of training and comprehensive exposure? When discussing the topic of technology and teachers, a clear distinction should be made between teachers and the act of teaching. What technology does is brings a change in the teaching but not the teachers. The sooner, schools accept that technology is a means of teaching rather than a teacher, the easier the transition will be. Simply putting computers in a classroom does not guarantee that the students will learn something. Using technology does not mean also using it meaningfully. Therefore, schools do need teachers.
However, teachers should also need to accept that teaching is not merely about the repetition of practices that are already there, but rather about introducing something new. They should also be accepting of the fact that the new practice can even be ‘radically’ new (Biesta, 2012, p.7). This way schools will not only be about learning but teaching cannot happen in other places. That’s why I am more in favor of the good old term ‘pedagogy’. In the light of recent digital reality in education, the term digital pedagogy is gaining its place in the spotlight. By aligning the two together, it can become easier to see the bigger picture and not view anything digital as something alienated for traditional teaching/learning but rather a new exciting era in pedagogy.
It was assumed that technology is the radical change and it somehow contradicts the traditional view on learning to be repetitive. Maybe this serves as a reason for schools to be unwilling to incorporate technology into learning because it is not based on repetition of things and therefore is not seen as reliable or serious. However, the pandemic changed our expectations and opinions about this as we all started to take the technology a little bit more seriously and prepare for the worse scenarios.
It is fascinating how the debate on technology traces back to nearly a century and still is current despite the invasion of it on modern lifestyle. This is most probably what makes technology so important yet contradicting traditional schooling. The more students are seen as digital natives and teachers—as immigrants, the more they created a disconnect between the outside world will be.
Has Covid-19 shaped a new direction to address this divide? It is too early to make any perceptible statements, but the fact that schools and HE institutions will think about their preparedness for future instances of this kind can hardly be denied.
Jonathan Daitch, Associate Provost for Online Education, Western University of Health Sciences and Jonathan Labovitz, DPM, FACFAS, CHCQM, Associate Dean, Clinical Education and Graduate Placement Professor, College of Podiatric Medicine at Western University of Health Sciences