Friday, April 17, 2020

Why Digital Content May Be Its Own Enemy

Many of us are feeling gratified that we have now provided a great deal of digital ‘content’ to students of various levels. Apart from issues of access (who has a smart phone, whether the network speed is OK, etc), it is also important to realise that much of this content is about explanations, examples, depictions and assessment. In other words, not necessarily very different from what a fair number of teachers already do in class – and find students not paying attention, not learning and, if learning, not applying that learning when the situation demands. 

This is because the overall assumption is that it is a student’s duty or compulsion to pay attention to what the teacher is presenting. Shift this to digital content and it becomes even more apparent that an overwhelming amount of content just assumes that students need it. 

Well, they don’t.

Because the same or similar thing is in many sources and most of it fails to arouse the student’s interest. In fact, this is an extension of the problem that ed tech faces, that it is a solution in search of a problem. (The other word we have for unwanted solutions being thrust on us is ‘spam’).

So, if we want our content to be used because students want to rather than have to engage with it, here are a few things we could do:

1.     Try to make the question interesting rather than presenting answers (that is something students have to work towards, and use the hints and supports your material provides to come out with their own answers). (E.g., What is a good way to know how many times we blink our eyes? And incidentally, why do we need to blink?)

2.     Help students discover a world that appears to be different and interesting because the new things they are learning are applied to it. (E.g. Why does the marigold leaf help prevent a cut or abrasion on our skin from getting infected? / Did you know that there are more than 20 different kinds of bread that are baked in our tandoors, and that some of them cannot be baked without a specific kind of yeast? / This story happened to an individual who is completely different from all of us - yet we always feel that it could easily be our own story. How do you think the writer does this? // These are then followed by possible areas of information to be explored by the student and fill in a framework that adds up to an understanding of the learning objective at hand.)

3.     Create a reason for students to return to every instalment of your offering. (Tomorrow, we will talk about how these shapes were combined and used to make one of the most unique towers in the world.)

4.     Be humble. Know that the student can switch you off, look away, stop paying attention or look at something else even as you are presenting what you think is the most important thing for your student to know. You have to earn that attention. One way to do that is to stop trying to set the agenda and instead let the student decide what she wants to learn, how much and how quickly. In the days when schools ran ‘normally’, teachers noted students who had access to technology both in school and at home would be far more animated when using their own devices outside the classroom – because on those, they were setting the agenda. Can you design your offering in such a way that the student ‘invests’ in it by taking certain decisions about her own path and progress, which then makes her a committed stakeholder who wants to use your material? 

Coming out with engaging digital material is not rocket science – but giving up our general notions and buy-in into the mythical powers of ed tech is!

23 comments: said...

Critical but very important point.

Chitra said...

As usual Subir,again children are the sufferer's. I was much worried about my children who don't even have enough money to have his dinner. What i am going to do?? I am like searching for ideas to reach them at least keep them in touch in this pandemic to clear their doubts.Actually I am helping myself.

Colin Alfred said...

Great points, as usual from you, Subir! But you mention the problem of kids who can't access - so i'm looking forward to your thoughts on ways of helping them during lockdown...

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