Christina Watson - CEO of Via Afrika

There has been much excitement about digital technologies in education and how they are revolutionising the classroom.

From textbooks being brought to life with augmented reality, to apps that allow learners to test themselves whenever and wherever they want, the forms in which the ‘e’ in e-learning come are multitudinous.

Learning processes are no longer what we grew up with and what teachers were trained in, and the developments have led to questions about the role of the teacher in technology driven education.

  • What is the teacher’s job if learners are doing things at their own pace and competency level?
  • Is the teacher still expected to lead lesson work, and if so, how?
  • Has the teacher become obsolete?
  • With the ease digital technologies bring to education and the simplicity with which information can be accessed online or through tablet devices such questions can be understood. Understandable, but misguided in my opinion.

    As increasing numbers of schools go digital, many teachers are witnessing a change in their roles. To be sure, some see digital technologies in education as simply traditional teaching in disguise, but it’s more than that.

    In the classroom of tomorrow, the teacher is no longer the lone transmitter of information, standing in front of a class giving 30 minute long lectures to learners. In the classroom of tomorrow the teacher assumes a new role as facilitator, coach, and guide.

    For effective e-learning to take place there has to be a constructive overlap between content, pedagogy and technology.

    In terms of technology, we not only require the device, but also the infrastructure to support the device. We also need to ensure the competency of both learners and educators, at the use of the device.

    With regard to content, it needs to be suitable for use with, and on the technology. We often harp on about the need for e-learning content to be engaging, while forgetting the importance of it remaining relevant to the curriculum.

    The final element needed for effective e-learning to take place is the right pedagogic approach.
    For e-learning to be effective, educators will have to change their ideas on how lessons are presented, and learners assessed.

    This change will see less of kids sitting in rows and listening to the teacher, but more of a teacher being on the sidelines listening to what kids are doing and saying and providing that guidance.

    But as the teacher still has a key role to play in the classroom of tomorrow, there’s one core concern which we cannot ignore: Training. When it comes to training educators in these new technologies, the training has to be outcome specific.

    Additionally, we cannot come at the issue of training with a one size fits all approach. In as much as we tout the benefits of e-learning “individualising” the learning process for learners, we need to look at the training of our educators in the same way.

    Training has to be differentiated to levels that match the teacher’s needs. And most importantly, training cannot be seen as a once-off occurrence, but rather something that requires constant follow-up and reinforcement.

    The teacher’s role remains vital, but to be effective facilitators, coaches and guides, the technology at the centre of the classrooms of tomorrow must not leave teachers behind.

    As Tate Makgoe, the MEC of Education in the Free State said at an event launching our digital libraries initiative in Bloemfontein a few months ago, we – both the public and private sector – must partner at the level of development. We need to work hand in hand to develop the capacity of our educators.

    Teachers – only second to parents – are shaping and developing the minds which will lead South Africa into the future.

    Teachers are the killer apps in the classroom of tomorrow. But for them to be these killer apps, we need to provide the support, development, and training, that is so necessary.

    Without this training the potential returns e-learning has for our learners in the classroom of tomorrow will remain beyond our grasp.

    This article was first published in Education South Africa