Technology can help teachers reach more students more effectively

Online tools can enable large-scale mentoring, identify where students might struggle and support collaborative work that gives useful practical experience, says Dil Sidhu

July 1, 2019
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According to Zuzana Molcanova, a physics and IT teacher from Slovakia who is currently working at Microsoft: “Technology will not replace teachers, but teachers who do use technology will probably replace those who don’t.”

Ask any student who their favourite teacher was and you’ll get a response that often describes someone who was able to connect with the student and to bring learning to life. Teachers can use technology as a tool to achieve this and further enable students to learn.

We often hear that technology is changing the way we live, but I would say that it is firmly the way we now live. That includes how we design, deliver and assess and reinforce learning, from primary school through to master’s level degrees, along with making it accessible to a global learner audience.

In my view, teaching should be one of the highest-paid professions in the world. To be a teacher is to be able to effectively transfer knowledge and information to learners in a meaningful way, which makes it one of the most demanding but rewarding of all human activities.

Of course, learners and students also make that transfer more challenging because not everyone wants to or can learn at the same pace or in the same way. So what role can technology play to aid teaching and learning? There are already a number of innovations at work that help both teachers and learners while also increasing the scale in the number of learners who have access to high-quality education.

For example, in-course help algorithms can predict key drop-off points during a course and help to prepare learners mentally for the challenge by encouraging a growth mindset and citing the success of peers as social proof.

At Coursera, we use in-course help to recommend the best review material for a specific student based on the behaviour of learners who have previously taken that particular course.

And with technology-assisted peer grading, assessments can go well beyond multiple choice. For written assignments, for example, learners are given a rubric and required to grade each other. Each person’s grade is an average drawn from the marking of a group of peers. Through testing, it has been discovered that the quality of peer grading mimics, and in some cases is better than, in-class grading.

Meanwhile, mentoring can be done at scale. This powerful and important support tool for learners’ success can be provided through a system that allows mentors to engage with a multitude of learners in a meaningful way. It’s especially important where teachers and faculty deal with large student numbers.

All teachers and faculty are constantly seeking ways to ensure academic integrity and to deter common forms of cheating. There are now automated plagiarism detection systems that have been applied to online programmes. Learners who wish to earn a course certificate online with Coursera are required to verify their name. For our courses that confer university credit, learners must submit government-issued IDs through Jumio, a provider that specialises in ID verification.

Technology can also help to engage and encourage women to study STEM subjects. Female learners who received an email about a machine-learning specialisation on Coursera that emphasised that it had a female instructor were 26 per cent more likely to enrol in a STEM course on the Coursera platform than those who received an otherwise identical email about the same specialisation emphasising a male instructor.

Online learning is also able to support team-based projects for students who are located in different areas around the world. This ability to connect and learn about other cultures and to operate in a virtual team can provide students with practical skills for collaborative working. In addition, the ability to work on online projects while accessing real-time information from multiple sources can give students hands-on experience in problem-solving.

With teachers driving technology-enhanced learning, student experiences can be more efficient and effective, ensuring that the opportunity to learn is available to all, irrespective of their current work or life situation.

Technology, when used in a thoughtful and collaborative way, can also allow the teacher to gauge student progress, learning about those students who may be falling behind and could benefit from directed help from a learner dashboard of metrics.

Dil Sidhu is chief content officer at Coursera.

Dil is speaking at the Times Higher Education Europe Student Success Forum in Madrid 4-5 July. Find out more information and register. 

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