Many people leave their mark on our lives; by their actions, words, or mere presence. Foremost among such people are our teachers. Teachers shine relentlessly as a burning beacon of inspiration, coupled with an unquenchable love and grit, and guide us as we make our way on the bumpy roads of life. This indelible mark that they leave on our impressionable minds shapes our very future, in more ways than one.
Elementary, my dear Watson!
We meet countless teachers, throughout our life. Why, then, do we remember some of them for our entire lives while some fade into hazy obscurity? What is it that sets the great ones apart? What merits this deep rooted remembrance? Why are these teachers the flag bearers of their community? Besides having a pleasing personality and passion for what they love, the ones we tend to remember the most are the ones who made learning fun; the ones who made calculus seem like learning the number line. A lot of this boils down to the teaching methodologies and innovative techniques they used, to help break-down fairly complex concepts into simpler ones and to make it seem like, pun-intended, child’s play.
Innovation and pedagogy: A closer look
Let’s take a step back and examine why innovation is so important in teaching. We first need to understand the pedagogy behind today’s education systems and methods. The methods that were used for teaching decades, or even centuries ago – one teacher lecturing a class of students (each unique and with the potential for greatness), is still in practice today. It’s a one-size-fits-all model that is all too surely going out of style. Teaching has long been a mechanistic procedure by which students are taught something based on a single text approved by a group of holier-than-though wisemen. It seems rather puzzling that just a handful of people, however brilliant they may be, can decide what will appeal to a million minds. Such a lethargic pedagogy then leads to widespread disillusionment among the student community.
Add to this the advancement in technology – where anything can be searched at the tap of a button. Why then do students need to be trapped in an age-old system of counter-productive techniques? To counter the monotony induced, any kind of innovation in teaching methods breathes new life into the decadent education which is currently in place. Here’s a fact byte – In a survey conducted on Greek final year students, about 80% said they lacked interest in the curriculum and that 67% did not like their professors’ teaching. If we look closer to home, we can see that the feeling here is quite the same among the student community. Clearly, both the pedagogy and the teachers need to evolve to meet the needs of the student community.
The way forward
Now that we’ve established the ‘why‘ of the need for innovation in teaching methodologies, we need to focus on what innovations can be used and how we can get there.
A glaringly obvious but not adequately fleshed out maxim can be applied here: Technology is the way forward for education. It is understandable that a majority of teachers today are intimidated by technological advancements, and shy away from the active use of technology for teaching purposes. Studies have shown that most of these fears stem from a feeling of being replaced by technology. It is important for teachers today to understand that they are indispensable to the learning process. However, technology can be the friend that guides them and shows them analytics and insights into student behaviour that they never could’ve observed alone. They can use these insights to then focus on the problem areas or address the subject material in a different manner for certain students. Instead of shying away, the need of the hour is to embrace technology and the promises and potential it offers, with open arms.
Leading by example
Once teachers and educational institutions at large, have the willingness to take the plunge and experiment with new technologies, the rest is like writing a page in the history books of years to come. Simple techniques like showing documentary videos during history lectures go a long way. I remember having a History professor who used to do exactly the same thing, and his lectures were always jam-packed! Again, this needs a bit more analysis and fine-tuning. Airing a documentary means showing students something the textbook can never cover. Videos on historical fact or myth aren’t necessarily politically correct and can espouse a certain ideology. But they let us see the faults in our ancestors and learn from it. Isn’t that the very essence of historical education?
A lot of permutations and combinations on the same lines can be used to achieve a similar outcome. For example, inviting bureaucrats in class or a visit to the legislature as part of a Political Science class. Chemistry classes can have weekly in-class experiment sessions or easy home-based experiments for students to get a better understanding of the basics through trial and error and hypothesis testing.
What does this mean for students?
Largely, innovation in teaching methods is more about introduction of the students to the practical aspects of the subject at hand. Once a student sees the utility of a subject beyond mere grades, the day isn’t far when he/she will start displaying genuine interest in the study rather than the subject. When that day arrives, we can truly say that education has transcended it’s narrow cage to something revolutionary. Students become better at actioning-out all the varied data they receive, and become better analytical thinkers and problem solvers, rather than just simply memorising facts that can be easily googled. They learn to think outside-the-box, and not simply tread on the safe or time-trusted path. Access to new technologies and teaching methodologies gives them the freedom and confidence to question, to find solutions and to shatter old moulds and create their own unique path and road to learning.
These students can then be the teachers of tomorrow and infuse wonder and excitement into the minds of a whole new generation of go-getters and free-thinkers. It’s not that far fetched a thought, wouldn’t you agree?