Technology and Learning

High-level administration goal is to increase the number of college graduates and reduce achievement gap. The questions immediately appear- how are these administrative goals affecting the goals for engineering education and how can we utilize them to improve the current system in the specific issues that we identified so far? I believe that we have to start from the human behavior. Research tells us that our current “seating-time based” measures of educational attainment are not working anymore, and we need to modify the system by organizing it around competence, flexibility and individual approach to students. The system needs to relate to beliefs, identification, independence, usefulness to goals, and choice – since they all relate to interest, motivation, effort and educational achievement. A step towards this is increase in students’ self-directed learning, by partially giving up power by teachers and allowing students to take control and responsibility for their own learning. Then, we can include project-based learning
with real-world problems, discussion, evaluation, re-design, group work, reflection, broader impact perspective, lifelong learning, etc. In addition, we can have improved assessment techniques, and all that in different size groups or for individual work inside of larger learning communities that can include teachers, different-level students, experts, and parents.

Something of this scale was impossible to accomplish 20 years ago, since the necessary technology was not developed. However, we now have the technological basis that can be used for fostering learning and assessment. Most of the software and hardware is readily available. We have broadband Internet, improved processing and graphical power, wikis, blogs, digital content, mobile and real-time access to information, social networking tools, etc. However, it is not just that obvious technology part – just as
blackboard and chalk were a revolution at some point in time as a tool to present large amounts of information to many people, they required additional development in standards, methods and practices. Potential areas for improvement are:

• Revise standards on state, district and other administrative levels
• Develop new learning methodologies for learning and assessment
• Provide large-scale training for teaching force technology skills
•Further develop technologies, such as simulations, collaboration environments, virtual worlds, games, and cognitive tutors
• Leverage social networking technologies and platforms for creating communities of practice and crowd sourcing environments
• Increase the access to technology through reducing software, hardware and Internet prices, supporting open-source technologies, and building the necessary infrastructure
• Develop metrics and methods for frequent evaluation of productivity and achievement

All this would make us first rethink basic assumptions in the higher education system. Interconnecting students, educators, parents, school and governmental administrators would require the increase in responsibility in all levels. However, the change cannot be just on the university level. There is a need for a nationwide emphasis on formal engineering education starting from the middle school level. This would start the early development of necessary skills, and allow teenagers to experience engineering as a
process –not just as related to math and science.

Instead of a conclusion, I would like to leave you with one point for reflection – try to imagine the future world where the Department of Education has a research budget equivalent to the current budget for the Department of Defense, and vice versa.
References: Weimer, M., Learner-centered teaching: five key changes to practice, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002.

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