Teaching in the Digital Age

“The real question is not if teachers should be replaced, but rather what new roles they should play in helping students to navigate in the uncharted and unedited world of the internet.”

Inter-European November 11, 2021

We live in a dynamic information age where digitalization is transforming all facets of society, not just work environments. We started by digitizing documents, then we digitized businesses, relationships, emotions and most recently we started to digitize decisions using artificial intelligence. Digital technologies are becoming part of a new knowledge infrastructure that is being steadily integrated into everyday life and is more and more present in educational practices. This integration of digital technologies into education was accelerated further during the lockdowns motivated by the recent Covid-19 pandemic.

The digitalization process has created a shift in students’ educational motivation, which is now based on personal interest, emotions, and engagement. The Internet has also radically changed how people access information. Instead of relying on information stored internally in their memory, people are increasingly outsourcing to the Internet and retrieving the information when needed. This cognitive offloading is not necessarily a negative thing, but may have some consequences that have not been identified yet.  Because students have increasing access to information and resources online, people may start questioning the relevance of teachers as primary providers of knowledge and skills. 

The real question is not if teachers should be replaced, but rather what new roles they should play in helping students to navigate in the uncharted and unedited world of the internet. As Herbert A. Simon, Nobel Prize winner in Economics in 1978, so eloquently stated: “in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” The role of teachers is changing from just being a knowledge provider to becoming a constructor, creator, facilitator, and coach helping students work effectively within stimulating online learning environments. 

Today’s teachers need to assist learners in acquiring digital literacy, becoming active cooperators, and evaluating the quality and validity of new sources of knowledge. The digital transformation defies teachers to become more and more flexible, innovative, and prepared for these new and challenging roles.

Fortunately, going beyond simply imparting content is not new for those of us who embrace an Adventist philosophy of education. For more than one hundred years, our teachers have been challenged to be more than mere knowledge transmitters, but rather to focus on each individual need, helping students to develop a high standard of knowledge and moral stature. The tools used can be different, but the mission remains the same.As Ellen G. White says in her remarkable book Education: “The teacher’s usefulness depends not so much upon the actual amount of his acquirements as upon the standard at which he aims. The true teacher is not content with dull thoughts, an indolent mind, or a loose memory. He constantly seeks higher attainments and better methods. His life is one of continual growth. In the work of such a teacher, there is a freshness, a quickening power, that awakens and inspires his pupils.”

Author

Peixoto, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor at the University of Coimbra, Portugal, one of the oldest universities in Europe. He is also a researcher at the Institute of Systems and Robotics. Although his main research interests are in the field of assistive robotics, he likes to study the influence of new technologies on education and society.

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