Digitalisation of Education
The illiterate of the future are not those who can't read or write but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. Alvin Toffler
The digital transformation of education in Slovakia is almost like a mysterious white lady. It has been talked about a lot, written about for a long time, but nobody has seen it properly. We are not just talking about the digitalisation of school administration or grading. The real white lady is the digitalisation of learning. It's actually a paradox: our adult lives are routinely conducted digitally, many of our work problems are successfully solved technologically, and much of our communication is done digitally using software applications and intelligent assistants. This saves time and resources, while teachers are chronically short of time and schools are acutely short of resources. Moreover, in the context of digitalisation, the learning process of pupils in our schools often resembles a journey into virtual reality, albeit on a steam engine. It is now quite clear that digitally intelligent technologies cannot be made an enemy or a victim in schools. Rather, it should be an organised effort to guide young people towards sensible relationships with them. One form of developing these relationships is to use digital technologies for learning in ways that provide resources designed for the purposeful development of thinking and knowledge.
Surely, above all, in school it should be about the young person - the digital native - to build and establish a certain self-regulatory power that will allow them to rationally divide time and attention between direct and digital contacts, or to functionally link them and thus successfully carry them out. This requirement is not new: there is still a need to help pupils to develop defence or protection mechanisms that enable them to react quickly, communicate appropriately or refuse sensibly in the digital environment. For now, let us conclude with a hypothesis: digital learning cannot be a white lady in the 21st century, although we do not yet fully know whether the current generation of digital natives can be more strongly influenced to learn in digital environments than in direct social interactions. However, it can be assumed that their attention can be purposefully sustained in the digital environment, their thinking can be slowed and improved, their communicative capacities expanded, their cognition enhanced, and so can their knowledge. (In favour of the hypothesis is the fact that in a digital environment it is possible, for example, to listen concentratedly, to develop a dialogue, to speak independently, to explain disagreement, and so on. By the way, the text you are reading right now was created in a digital environment and you are likely to perceive it on a digital display. However, this text would not have been created without focused writing or slow thinking and requires focused and therefore slow reading).
What could digitalisation of education look like in practice? Let us assume a complex educational process that works with modern technological and digital tools. It should therefore be a digitally anchored system of educational programmes that can be used to guide the learning process in different contexts. It is essential that such a system makes it possible to monitor the impact of learning processes, i.e. the development of the cognitive qualities of specific people (in general: to think correctly, to know purposefully, to communicate independently, to make intelligent decisions and to act appropriately). Such a system should certainly serve schoolchildren first and foremost, and should therefore at the same time be a tool that strengthens social relationships, while continuing these links formed through education beyond the formal phase of education. Let us emphasise that we are talking about a digital platform for lifelong learning, i.e., its use should help people at any age and in many different social roles – pupils, teachers, parents, grandparents, citizens, consumers, employees or employers.
If it is to be a sustainable system in the long term, it should, as a matter of priority, make it easier for teachers both to prepare and to implement learning in everyday circumstances and during unexpected events, for example in situations where education cannot be delivered in a standard way - a situation we experienced during the pandemic, and as a learning society we have clearly failed when confronted with unexpected constraints. Of course, if we are talking about a systematic tool built for people living in the 21st century, it should serve not only in moments of school learning, but also, for example, when, say, a grandfather is suddenly put in charge of a digitally native granddaughter who has to think about something, communicate something or create something at a certain time. There is also the explicitly extra-curricular situation of an employee, such as a postman or cashier, who will have to unlearn and learn something new in order to be able to apply themselves in a new, perhaps as yet unknown profession. The need for new learning can be expected to occur relatively frequently for adults in the 21st century.
A digitalised system could certainly not be successful if it did not enhance learner communication. We still assume that digital natives - they make up virtually the entire school-age population - can be more usefully influenced in or in conjunction with digital environments. Of course, we reckon that learning communication implemented outside of school, for example at home, will also be accompanied by teacher supervision. Teachers would therefore not need to be physically present for the extra-curricular tasks, but could at least have access to whether and how pupils have progressed or are progressing with the tasks. Teachers would not have to be connected to the digital application around the clock, and they may or may not be able to react immediately to completed tasks. Let's face it: we cannot want teachers to be slaves to the learning connection. It should therefore be a communicatively flexible system in which teachers enter in a targeted way, i.e., according to the needs of the pupils and with regard to the limits of their working time and their mental capacities. The system should help teachers with different workloads: they don't have to invent, dictate pages in a textbook, just mark a task adapted to the needs and cognitive level of a particular pupil – they have an overview of whether and when the child is working. Teachers do not have to be "always on" the digital system - they can simply register a report and thus record that the learning tasks are completed in the system.
There are many times in a teacher's life when there is simply no energy to invent and create - lessons, learning activities, worksheets and so on. In the new digital environment, the teacher should find ready-made learning situations and paths, prepared learning scenarios, organized and cognitively varied tasks that are in line not only with the pedagogical requirements in the Slovak Republic, but also in the European Union. At a critical moment, many of these situations or scenarios only need simple moderation; in times of creative invention, all of them can be creatively or adaptively entered into. If teachers need any reassurance, it is first and foremost the knowledge that their work is helpful, that they are useful as educated and educating professionals and that they are demonstrably successful as teachers.
The first place to have access to the progress and results of a pupil's learning life in a digital education system is the parent. The parent should have a realistic and clear picture of how their child is performing in school, what learning outcomes they are achieving, and in which areas of thinking and communication their child needs help. At the same time, teachers should have the educational tools to do this in a targeted way, enabling them to make informed decisions about which cognitive dispositions of particular children to focus on in face-to-face or digital learning process. The proposed digital system should include a fast and accurate apparatus for detecting the extent of a child's progress or underachievement and to report clearly on their cognitive development. The conversation between teacher and parent could thus look much more concrete and perhaps even clearer, for example: "Mr. Jambrich, please see that Philip works out the math problems assigned. You don't need to help with the solutions, the problems are in Filip's profile, he has them on his computer or mobile phone. He is not on his own for many of these tasks - Filip often learns in a team, at school and at home, but I have picked up that he has also been learning in the tea room. If Filip's group doesn't understand something, they can ask me one or two questions at most during a task. But he knows that. Really, I have to commend him - he has convinced me that he understands poems and fiction very well, he understands exactly what he reads and he likes to comment on it. What do you say to that interview in his portfolio? We haven't had that here for a long time, he's certainly a B1 at reading, and he can also find clever reasons for what he's read and how he's understood what he's read. He argues easily, he's on high level, certainly close to B2. Last time, for example, he disagreed with Rufus. By the way, he likes to write. You have probably noticed that. We recalled his earlier poem and compared it with his latest poem. What a difference! Otherwise, a Christmas present for him is easy to find, it's nice to know what Philip is interested in and what he's good at... Maybe a book about maths or mathematicians would be my recommendation."
The digitalisation of education also has a systemic dimension that goes beyond the individual school. It is perhaps difficult to dispute the observation that the quality of a school is based on which benefits the learning process brings. This benefit can be understood as a measure of the cognitive development of pupils, i.e., as a ratio between the baseline and current levels in selected cognitive areas (qualities; competences). One of the other preliminary requirements for a modern digital system may be the following: the findings on the cognitive progress of pupils in schools should be accessible to all authorities with an interest in education who are entitled to have this kind of data. The principal or head teacher should have an overview of the learning processes in classes, work teams or student groups (perhaps regular digital control would be enough), of the learning outcomes in the school, they should know which teacher should work, with whom and how. In turn, headteachers should be informed about how their schools are doing, where they have reserves and where they should focus. At the same time, the proposed digital system should generate data that can be used to identify and express the cognitive state of an individual, a class, a grade, a generation or a population. The resulting data should not only be a serious object of scientific analysis and interpretation, but above all a key means of targeted educational support. After all, without measurement, learning progress is unidentifiable, inexpressible, and therefore difficult to achieve and demonstrate. The degree of pupils' learning development that has taken place under the supervision of the school then corresponds to the educational benefit of the school in question. This value can then be seen as the school's educational quotient, which needs to be monitored regularly and evaluated continuously.
Contemporary schoolchildren in Slovakia enter digital reality on a daily basis, communicate in it, create and solve problems in it, and face various challenges and tasks through it. A responsible society should lead them into the 21st century in such a way that they will be able to communicate in it, not to create problems, but instead to solve them effectively. It is likely that many of these interactions will emerge in the digital environment, they will be communicated in the digital environment, but they will have an impact mainly on the living, non-virtual and non-digital reality. For that reason alone, we should not allow young people to wander restlessly around the ramshackle ramparts, searching in vain for the beauty of thought or the secrets of knowledge.
All of the cited dispositions and components of the EduQ educational application were defined and described by a team of authors led by Darina De Jaegher. Dispositions are part of the Database of Cognition and Social Interaction Descriptors (DaCoSiDe).
All rights reserved EDUAWEN EUROPE, Ltd.
Karel Dvořák PhD. – DaCoSiDe expert tasked with the creation of A2/B1-level methodological guidelines and certification tools
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