Teaching and learning are no longer restricted to the classroom as new devices allow students to learn just about anywhere.
WELCOME to the new age learner where students no longer depend solely on their teachers to feed them knowledge.
After all, why should they when information is now available at the swipe of their finger?
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) School of Language Studies and Linguistics Assoc Prof Dr Radha M.K Nambiar explains that the 21st century learner is someone who is in touch with technology but needs to be critical and analytical when processing content from various sources, be it print or digital, while remaining ethically responsible.
In layman’s terms, someone who is “ethically responsible” is one who checks and verifies the credibility of content before sharing it with others.
“At the same time, the person must be able to create credible content. That person should also be aware of cultural difference and how these cultures interpret information or events differently.”
She shares that the 21st Century Literacy Summit Report defines “literacy as a set of abilities and skills where aural, visual and digital literacy overlap”.
“These include the ability to understand the power of images and sounds, to recognise and use that power, to manipulate and transform digital media, to distribute them pervasively, and to easily adapt them to new forms.”
Dr Nambiar says youth today start developing their technological and collaborative skills from a very young age.
“It’s not uncommon to see young children playing with their iPads at restaurants while waiting for their food.”
“Although young people today seem to be wasting their time playing games online, gaming is actually an effective form of collaborative learning.
“They are communicating with others to form strategies. There’s a lot of collaborative effort and group work going on,” she says.
No doubt then that Gen-Y and Gen-Z have been exposed to technology from the moment they can walk and are tech-savvy.
Dr Nambiar says what they need from their teachers is guidance on how to apply their tech knowledge and become “masters of content”.
She explains that today’s youth actually come into a classroom wanting to find out how they can utilise the content (information) they already have access to, citing her students as an example.
“I can see that halfway through the class, they’re tuning out and turning to their devices to find more information on what I just talked about.
“Ultimately, they are more interested in expressing their understanding of something. That seems to be more important than the actual content,” she says.
“According to Duke University Prof Cathy Davidson, it is no longer about reading, writing and arithmetic.
“Davidson actually talks about the need for learners to have the fourth ‘R’ - she calls this algorithms, computational skills because today’s learners are not just accessing information, they are creating content,” adds Dr Nambiar.
Rising to the challenge
“Whether it is in the school or a university, the classroom has to undergo some sort of transformation to meet the demands of today’s learners,” she says.
To develop and make use of the advanced technological and analytical skills, Dr Nambiar says teachers and educators should give them tasks that require them to read, understand and apply information rather than just regurgitating facts.
She suggests allowing them to use their creativity in manipulating technology to produce unique work.
“Teachers do not need to test their understanding of content but instead should encourage them to apply the content.”
She then cited an example of the Critical Literacy class she conducts where students are asked to analyse a magazine before coming up with their own at the end of the course.
“This is all an exercise to make them start thinking,” she says.
She adds that being able to think and evaluate the myriad of information available needs to be taught so that the learner embraces “digital citizenship,” which is the ability to know if they are using the information they obtain morally and ethically.
Dr Nambiar says UKM is embracing the “flip classroom” format which has students watching lectures online before meeting in class for an intensive discussion on the topic.
This, she says, is a better use of classroom time and allows students to learn at their convenience.
“Teachers are now facilitators and no more spoon-feeders,” she adds.
She believes that although Malaysian schools are well-equipped technologically, the schools themselves are not able to cope with students who have different intelligence levels, all grouped in the same classroom.
“The notion of teaching to an entire classroom doesn't actually exist anymore because every student is different. When a teacher uses different methods, they’re actually catering to different learning styles,” Dr Nambiar says.
She suggests teachers hop on board the social media train and encourage their students to form Facebook groups whenever they have to work in groups.
“Teachers can then be invited into the group to monitor their students and offer suggestions, while allowing them to take charge.
She says that the Government’s computer literacy efforts such as the smart schools and 1BestariNet programmes should be better utilised by teachers in a more creative manner to engage students in learning.
Dr Nambiar says that the Education Ministry has also taken a big step forward by incorporating more graphics and visuals into textbooks.
Learners these days prefer visuals, she says adding that utilising multimedia with short videos and sounds were necessary to pique students’ interests.
“Students need to be given the opportunity to articulate, create ideas in new forms using tools of technology. Give them activities which are very interactive to engage them,” Dr Nambiar adds as this encourages collaborative learning.
“Today, students can even ‘interact’ with the materials they are reading,” she says.
This, she says, is done when people participate in online forums or post their comments at the bottom of articles they read. Everything they do is collaborative, she adds.
Dr Nambiar hopes the country’s educators will embrace a teaching style that caters to the abilities of the new age learner so as to not waste their talents in technology.
“This is the reality now and I think it’s something that we (as educators) have to embrace because our learners have changed and their demands are different.”
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