A new model for learning

I was frustrated with my students. Day after day I gave them homework assignments to do, and with predictable consistency they returned the next day with the work either incomplete or not even attempted. This was not looking good for them.

These were first-year students, and the module I was teaching them, Java programming, was mandatory: they needed to pass to proceed to the second year. At the rate they were going, they were not going to make it.

I understood that learning the Java programming language is tough. Some say it is as tough as learning mathematics, but I’ve taught both and can say with confidence that Java is much more challenging for students than mathematics.

Keeping in mind the challenging nature of the language, I made every attempt to ensure my students understood the concepts by constantly testing them throughout the lesson. By the end of each lesson, I was confident they did understand the concepts.

But this only added to the mystery; if they understood the concepts, why didn’t they complete their assignments? I decided to have one-on-one chats with them, and during those chats a student said something that affected my teaching career forever.

“When I need you the most, you are not there.”

What he meant was, when he was attempting the homework assignment, he often ran into challenges and needed to ask questions; but because he was doing these at home, he could not forward those questions to me.

After much research, I realised that I needed to change my approach. The solution, it turned out, was to adopt the “flipped classroom” model, which basically recommended that learning should be done at home, and homework should be done at school.

How would this be possible?

The solution was to incorporate technology in the learning and teaching process. I began to make video recordings of my lectures and upload them to YouTube. Then, I asked my students to go through the videos at home with a list of other online resources, and to ensure they understood the concepts thoroughly before coming to class.

When they arrived at class the next day, I gave them their assignments that they completed in class.

The solution worked like a charm. My students took to this new method like ducks to water and began to perform exceptionally well. Our mutual frustration was over, and I learned a valuable lesson: that the way I approached education needed a major overhaul.

The reason my students thrived in the new environment was because I moved away from the traditional, teacher-centric, lecture-based method to a new one; one where the focus of attention was not the teacher, but the student.

I was no longer the main actor. I became the “guide on the side” rather than the “sage on the stage”.

This is the first major stumbling block in education. We are so entrenched in the traditional mode of education that we fail to realise that it is incompatible with the learning preferences of modern learners. Not only that, but the content is outdated and the methodology inadequate to prepare learners for the world of work in a technology-driven age.

5 C’s of Education

What is desperately needed is a new approach to education, one that encompasses the five “Cs” that are compulsory in 21st-century education: choice, collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity.

In my Java classes I gave my learners choice – the choice to learn the concepts how, when and where they wanted.

I also gave them the opportunity to collaborate and communicate with each other: rather than complete the assignments alone, they would do them in pairs or groups. This required them to work collaboratively and to constantly communicate with each other.

At the end of each session, groups were required to critique each other’s work, and to justify their own approaches in solving problems.

This encouraged critical thinking and creativity.

This solution would not have been possible two decades ago, but thanks to technology, it is well within the grasp of every teacher and student. Today, there are hundreds of technology solutions radically transforming education.

In light of these advancements in technology, people generally wonder if technology will eventually replace teachers.

On the contrary, the role of the teacher will become more important. Teachers in the future will be free to focus on each student, helping them with specific challenges and guiding them along.

Most importantly, they will practice the sixth “C” of education, one that no machine will ever be able to replace – compassion.

So, my standard response to the question is this: technology will never replace teachers, but teachers who know technology will replace those who don’t.

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