A Report on Higher Education and Technology
The contrast between the private sector and the state sector in Universities is stark when you look at the investments in technology. A large proportion of university classrooms look as they have for decades – large rooms, with seating arranged in traditional rows and columns, lit by a few bulbs and tube lights and a blackboard at the front. Yes, of course, they have been ‘computerised’ and many do have projectors in their classrooms. At least some classrooms. Students, in many of them have access to computers, though often it it is rationed access. Contrast this with the investments of the private sector in their universities who use these amenities to attract students to their campuses. Classroom conditions are better – acoustics, climate control, lighting, net access and of course projectors and microphones.
Using technology in education is not just about bringing Mahomet to the mountain, it is also about the mountain moving to come to Mahomet. Both, educators and technology need to move closer to each other to work effectively. Education technology has now, just about, come of age and become accessible in more ways than one. Not only has the cost gone down, both in absolute terms and relative to average income levels, but also technology has become more user friendly.
I clearly remember the first computer to be allocated or purchased by our school, that year a Kendriya Vidyalaya. Decades ago. It came in a box, mysterious processes that we did not see had conspired to send this magical box to the school. No instructions. No support systems. No training. Well, at least not before the box arrived. It was a PC. The youngest teacher in the school, the yoga instructor was handed the box – the others too old or ‘experienced’ to deal with these new fangled ideas. He plugged it in. Spent hours figuring out how to connect the keyboard, monitor and ‘box’. Switched it on. A green dot blinked. He pressed a key on the keyboard. The cursor.. well still called a dot/line since nobody knew any more.. moved down. And blinked. I was called to help. Why me? Because I lived on a campus where they had been using a mainframe computer for years, and I had visited the grand rooms (airconditioned) where the mammoth machines were kept. And had handled punch cards (anyone remember those?).
We have come a long way from those days. Sugato Mitra’s hole in the wall experiment, years ago, surely offered more than a blinking screen to the slum kids – which enabled their learning. A new device today offers so much more in terms of usability – it has walked a few steps towards the educator. The educators too have moved on from a phobia of computers to grudging acceptance of its usefulness, especially after the internet proved that access and communications were much more effective than earlier methods. Even so, many professors in higher education do little more than email or create their papers and presentations on the computer. Despite having so much at their disposal. Often, even simple tasks like printing out a paper (why print at all??) or sending out an email are delegated to a younger assistant.
One of the biggest challenges in India today is helping educators get on to the technology bandwagon. Many use sophisticated smartphones, have access to good technology, are and badgered by vendors offering them customised products and services. Some, indeed many, have their own websites. At the same time it is also true that higher education institutions have been unable to build and use systems that make learning seamless and effortless. Having a website, or offering a static list of information is not really using the potential of technology to its fullest. A step forward is to use it for marketing the institution – both for potential students and as an ambassadorial tool. Some offer learning materials online, including lesson videos. It is time to do that and far more to create a vibrant learning habit. For the mountain to go to Mahomet.