Digitalisation and Technical Education
by Uwe Wieckenberg
We are in a time of disruptive change, the digital revolution. Artificial intelligence is likely to do many kinds of human work in near future. Robots will deliver parcels, drive cars, provide customer service, work in call centers, and possibly perform operations in hospitals. Digitalisation is by now already part of our private lives. Like all drastic changes, digitalisation exerts a very great pressure to change economic and social conditions.
If this digitalisation exerts a decisive pressure on all living conditions, so does education. How will digitalisation change our education and, above all, how must we shape education to prepare the young generation for a future that is largely uncertain and unknown?
In educational institutions we have relied so far on fixed curricula. These curricula define what students need to learn in order to achieve a certain educational goal. Unfortunately these curricula are far too rarely revised and adapted to newer conditions.
In principle, we prepare students for what has gained validity in the past, but we do hardly prepare them for the future. This fact may be less serious for general education subjects. But for technical vocational training, whether taught exclusively in schools or reciprocally in companies and schools, this fact is much more important.
For complex problems like the one outlined above, there can logically be no simple solution. In the following I would like to outline the basics of how a technical or vocational school can deal with this problem.
Schools usually work in the field of formal education and are therefore bound by the requirements of the respective curricula. These curricula represent to a certain extent the minimum standard, but can be supplemented of course. One of these “additional subjects” - if this is not already defined in the curriculum – might be a comprehensive training in computer and internet skills and competencies.
So the students learn how to use new technologies, especially computers in connection with the internet. However, this can only be the first step towards keeping up with the rapid pace of development in the IT sector.
Another feature of digitalisation is the constant availability of data. All knowledge tends to be available at all times and only a mouse click away. How does the “old” school, which is based exclusively on the imparting of knowledge, find itself in this scenario? Not at all, since knowledge no longer has to be taught exclusively by teachers. That is not to say that nowadays technical knowledge is no longer necessary. Of course, expertise is necessary, but no longer sufficient to meet the needs of digitalisation.
We need to enable students to deal with a new way of gathering information, to determine what information is reliable and how problems can be solved. For this new approach we need teachers who are less knowledge mediators than teachers who enable students to structure, validate and organise the available knowledge.
That's easier said than done, of course.
Didactical Model for the usage of tablet computers in the classroom
The approach described here is based on findings of Ruben Puentedura who developed the SAMR model of how technology can be used in the classroom.
At the beginning one should concentrate on the first two levels of this model: substitution and augmentation (better: “enhancement”) of the classical teaching process in a classroom.
The first level is characterised by simple replacement (substitution) of analogous materials and tasks by digital material. As example, the student books in each subject can be replaces by digital texts. This would on the one hand lead to a remarkable reduction of printing costs and on the other hand students would be introduced to the usage of digital content. This does not bring any functional improvements, but the medium of information changes and the use of digital media can be practiced by the students.
An enhancement is visible on the second level of the model. Basic functions, such cutting and replacing of content or the compilation of texts by the students can be used. The integration of multimedia content (textual, auditory, visual) is also useful. Worksheets provided by the teacher can be filled by students and send back to the teacher for evaluation. Many other applications are conceivable. “Enhancement” represents a functional improvement of teaching which is only possible to a limited extent with purely analogous work material (paper and pencil).
At the beginning of the process it makes sense to concentrate on the first two levels, depending of course on the PC and Internet skills of the participants in order to satisfy the requirements of digitaliation in the first step. Here we are of course still at the very beginning but the first experiences are promising.
It should not be forgotten, of course, that the activities described here only relate to one learning domain, namely the cognitive domain, which is mainly based on the absorption of knowledge. Specific to technical and vocational training, however, is the holistic approach, i.e. the interaction of knowledge, skills and behaviour in order to develop appropriate competencies. The impact of digitalisation on the latter two areas has not yet been fully explored.
The previous considerations are based on experiences in a private Technical Secondary School, the Elsewedy Technical Academy (STA), in Egypt.