Technology provides us with some wonderful tools to enhance learning. As a result, there has been a very strong movement to have us believe that technology can almost take over education. Hence, we have the rise of the Khan Academy and its clones, as well as MOOC’s, webinars and the like.
These technology-based forms of learning can only replace a didactic form of teaching. They are often an excellent way of front loading, or providing knowledge, and are a (usually) more engaging version of the “sage on the stage” in the classroom.
Where technology currently falls over is assessment – we are not quite yet at the stage at which a computer can evaluate open-ended responses to questions. Consequently, the overwhelming bulk of assessment of online courses is by multiple-choice tests, which is all that most software applications can handle. This tends to reduce such courses, regardless of their other content, to a glitzy method of “chalk and talk”. Assessment of more open responses requires a substantial human commitment behind the software, which possibly defeats the purpose.
At the moment, the optimum use of technology might be giving students some provocative questions, some suggestions of applications and resources and then getting out of the way.