Students' Development in the Digital Age: Intellectual Freedom or Frivolity?
by Eric Milner (USA)
The emerging trends of technology tools and e-learning practices have an intense influence over the educational system in the USA. During this time of revolutionary approach towards designing and delivering courses and programs, many new opportunities, challenges, and complications have become apparent. Online education does provide efficient and timely access to learning materials, but today's educational technologies are merely vehicles that deliver instructions without influencing students' achievements. Although e-learning technologies were widely accepted as an effective addition to the traditional learning theory, the quality of teaching and learning practices has not been essentially improved.
During the times when education was not dependent upon technology, it was based on three theories: behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism. The cognitivist school of learning is based on the premise that learning is an internal intellectual process that involves thinking, memory, abstraction, reflection, motivation, and meta-cognition. Behaviorism (based on the research of Watson, Pavlov, Skinner, and Thorndike), understands learning as an action influenced by external stimuli. The theory of constructivism is focused on the active processes of learning through which the learners construct new ideas, concepts, models and structures, and associate them to previous knowledge. The introduction of technology into the classroom revolutionized the approach of educators towards teaching and inclined them towards constructive practices; however, the foundations of all three educational theories remain valid in the era of online learning. In the digital era of education, teachers are expected to blend add technology into these teaching methods. Their practices include usage of different educational technology tools into the classroom, as well as encouraging their students to attend online lectures. Due to the fact that no incentives are provided for these activities, not all educators are capable of coping with the extra burden.
With the ability to access a myriad of online courses and learning resources, an increased number of students decide to opt for online courses. “Although the number of programs and courses online continue to grow, the acceptance of this learning modality by faculty has been relatively constant since first measured in 2003.” Educational technology has the ability to increase a student's potential, but requires resources and commitment to be done right. Unfortunately, educators still haven't found an effective approach towards the students in the digital age. “Teachers are being asked to learn new methods of teaching, while at the same time are facing even greater challenges of rapidly increasing technological changes and greater diversity in the classroom… relatively few teachers (20%) report feeling well prepared to integrate educational technology into classroom institution.” Although the percentage of educators who are ready to adapt to the changes is now greater when compared to those 20% measured in 1999, teachers are constantly facing changes and challenges that force them into unknown surroundings. Since today's students are used to visual content and usage of technology devices, they expect to be taught in a way that entices their imagination. Teacher-training programs do not provide educators with all knowledge and experience they need for effective usage of technology in the classroom. That leads to improvisation – the type of frivolity that invades the boundaries of freedom.
Improvisation and experimentation with different tools and methods lead to uncertainty and misrepresentation of the teaching and learning processes. Under the illusory veil of free access to education, the contemporary system is faced with a decline of the intellectual, cultural, and spiritual interests of students. The concept of education that is being forced by schools, governments and society leads towards a complete demoralization of the learning process that inhibits the student's thoroughness and introspection. Rousseau's assertion that “man is born free but is everywhere in chains” confirms itself regardless of the age we live in. The fact that students are able to get high grades through practices of plagiarism, academic dishonesty and usage of paper mills paints an unpleasant picture about the broader spectrum of today's system. Through free access to technology tools, students are becoming passive participants in their own education.
The entire history of education is based on development and progress. No educational model is final, and we can certainly state that today's digital education is leading towards a decadent and meaningless culture. Undisputedly, the “ex cathedra” educational system was ripe for a substantial reform. The outdated curriculums, lack of student-teacher contact and ignorance of practical skills were some of the problems that were effectively addressed with the digital reform. However, the absence of a calculated approach to designing new curriculums and implementing technology into the learning process generated new problems of improvisation, plagiarism, passivity, and indifference. Digital tools have a bright future in the educational settings, but educators are yet to find an effective, meaningful and appropriate way of integrating technology into the classroom.
As Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” It's on us to decide whether we use education to change the world for better or for worse.