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“Teachers must lead the digitization"

White social robot with ipad in its hand.
Photo: Alex Knight on Unsplash
Published Oct 07, 2020

After months of pandemic most of us have embraced digital tools - especially teachers who have been forced to take on remote teaching. But where does the digital push forward lead to when it comes to learning, what will education and learning look like in the future? What are the innovations waiting around the corner? We had a talk with Stefan Hrastinski at Digital Learning (via Zoom of course), to get a glimpse of the future.

The spring of 2020 goes down in history for many reasons. For Stefan Hrastinski at the Department of Learning, it became a close study of his field of work: seeing an entire campus using digital tools.

” This is a huge boost for a new way of thinking, that everyone has been forced to try it out.”

Stefan Hrastinski at Digital Learning

Stefan believes that many teachers previously haven’t prioritized developing their digital teaching, partly because the merit system rewards research, thus making it a low-priority issue.

” I hope that most people will have found something they feel comfortable with, and a few things they want to continue developing.

But, there is also a danger of suddenly being thrown into something new, like digital tools, without including the existing knowledge – distance courses is hardly something new. Researchers call the teaching during the pandemic "Emergency remote teaching".

” What we experience during the pandemic is a rapid shift from campus to distance. But it's easy to get stuck in a certain technology. Like Zoom. Many people use Zoom to lecture, they talk to a powerpoint. It is a natural first step, but it is easy to get stuck there instead of exploring tools that make the job better. Maybe you should record a short video instead? Then you can meet in Zoom, well prepared, and discuss, something Zoom is better suited for.”

The innovations are not being used

Any revolutionary innovations that will turn teaching and learning into something completely new doesn’t seem wait around the corner, if you ask Stefan Hrastinski.

” You can try out new exciting technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR) and robots, but you must not forget everyday life. There are already plenty of digital tools that can be used to develop teaching and learning that are not used to any big extent.”

The future will – hopefully - be about a different way of thinking. Here the digital tools play an important role. These will take over basic lectures and exercises, ie the basic learning where you can practice with a computer over and over again.

” Here AI can have a role in adapting exercises to what a specific student need. And when we meet, whether on campus or digitally, I hope we will do so to discuss exciting and challenging issues. Human encounters are, and will always be, important.

The role of the teacher changes too, according to Stefan. The teacher will not only be the one who lectures and answers questions but also someone who creates environments facilitating for the students to help and learn from each other. He takes TalkMath as an example, a platform that already exists today, where students can meet in real time and solve mathematical problems together - or with a teacher. Something that is also needed in subjects other than math.

” We must create opportunities for students to benefit from each other. If we only lecture and convey information, we will miss the full potential of the internet”, says Stefan.

” In the platform Canvas that we use at KTH, you can also work in groups, for example with a math problem. There are lots of features in Canvas that can be used to support students' learning, where they can give feedback to each other and answer each other's questions, have ongoing literature discussions, integrate film with exercises before lessons… We could use this better than we do today, Canvas is unfortunately mostly used as an administrative system.”

Share teaching material

He also wishes that in the future we have developed a culture of sharing teaching materials to a greater extent, which will also be simplified if we work with more digital material.

” That’s what we do with our research, we want to be published with open access, so that knowledge within a certain field can be developed. In education, we often work isolated and produce our own teaching material. But we would really benefit from sharing our material, everything from powerpoints to exercises and video. As a teacher, you can then reuse or adapt other people's teaching materials, no matter where in the world they you are. Internationally, this is called open educational resources.”

But change does not come by itself, nor will it be dictated from authorities. Ultimately, it is we who decide which road to take, says Stefan:

” Many hope that new technology will come and revolutionize education. Ten years ago it was MOOC and today many people are thrilled about AI. But it’s us, the teachers, who drive digitaztion by deciding which digital tools we want to use - and above all how we use them.”

Text: Anna Gullers

Useful links

The Department of Learning has recomendations on how to use digital tools when teaching. The content has been agreed by ”Grundutbildningsutskottet” at KTH.