Identifying talent: the impact of digital education

As 2020 comes to a close, education and online learning has been forced to adapt to accompany students during the COVID pandemic, but what exactly is the impact of digital education on the traditional classroom?

Not so long ago, the classroom of the future, consisting of a multimedia station and maybe a projector – but more likely a television on a rolling cart – was touted as the greatest advance in education.

Today’s classroom of the future permits simultaneously teaching students physically in the room and those attending class from home. In the era of COVID, with reduced class sizes and students having to self-isolate should they become exposed to the virus, digital education is an idea whose time has come.

Last March, adjusting to a temporary switch to online learning wasn’t terribly difficult but, now, with all indications being that remote learning will be a permanent feature of students’ learning experience, teachers at all levels are revising their pedagogy and devising new ways to connect with their students.

A teacher’s ability to detect flares of brilliance, discern hints of insight and distinguish genuine talent – as opposed to a display of ability with no actual talent driving it takes particularly human qualities and years of training and practice.

Can technology identify academic skills in the same way that a teacher can?

Essentially, the practice of teaching has not changed for centuries: Teachers teach, students take notes and do their best to keep up with the flow of knowledge and remember what they’ve learned. In this regard, technology can greatly enhance students’ learning experience while boosting their intellectual growth.

The success and increasing popularity of student-led learning initiatives and progressive teaching strategies such as differentiated learning are uniquely suited to the digital environment. Through these new ways of educating, teachers have novel means of uncovering and cultivating student talent.

The five academic skills students need the most as they progress into higher education can also benefit from technology, composition and comprehension in particular.

Teachers who make use of tech-generated feedback for writing assignments permit their students to compare their essays or written responses with their peers’. Such software platforms highlight similarities in reasoning while uncovering gaps in their knowledge, which encourages students to reflect on their efforts and pursue independent learning to fill in what they missed during their lessons.

Other academic skills, such as discourse, analysing academic texts and understanding lectures are less benefited by educational software and programmes which proves that even where a more substantial advantage could be had through technology-driven learning, teachers are still an integral part of the educational process.

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What is technology’s impact on peer to peer learning?

Savvy teachers have long adopted the practice of pairing or grouping students for mutually beneficial learning. Such groups contain a mix of talents; one group member may be intuitive while the other has a good understanding of the subject matter and a third excels at putting things into context.

There is no reason that such initiatives need to stop when technology is present and active.

“It’s a new paradigm in education focused on mediated peer interactions.” Cathy Davidson, David Goldberg from The Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age.

Multiple studies show that the peer-to-peer educational practice is uniquely suited to the digital realm and, indeed, could revolutionise the teaching profession. Several educational theories, collectivism and constructionism among them, embrace the peer-to-peer learning model as superior to the traditional idea of learners being empty vessels craving their filling of knowledge.

Peer-to-peer is a turbocharged form of cooperative learning that doesn’t exactly take the teacher out of the equation; rather, it gives instructors more latitude to plan lessons and arrange materials expressly for delivery in a peer-managed learning programme, either online or in the classroom, or a combination of both.

Would that also allow teachers to identify vocational skills through digital learning?

How can vocational skills be identified online?

Inasmuch as students must work independently and develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills to manage working in the digital realm, one might say that they are passively cultivating pre-vocational skills with no teacher-led initiatives involved.

However, it would be difficult to gauge qualities such as manual dexterity, social skills and the ability to communicate effectively strictly through engagement on a digital platform. This aspect of education demands in-person interaction, at least some of the time.

Conclusion

Education is evolving, in part because COVID has forced changes and in part simply because the time for changes in education is long overdue but we would be foolish to forego classroom learning altogether.

Digital education opportunities certainly add valuable resources to teachers’ arsenal and enrich students’ learning experiences but in-person learning offers advantages that simply cannot be matched in the digital realm.

Does technology sound the death knell for classroom learning or herald a new age of opportunity in education?

If in-person instruction is judiciously blended with technology, the latter is the obvious answer.

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