Mrs Ayotola Aremu, a professor of Educational Technology, is the director for the Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI) of the University of Ibadan. In this interview with MODUPE GEORGE, she says technology is critical to effecting teaching and learning in tertiary education. Excerpts.
Today, so much has been said about the importance of the integration of technology into learning. Why should education be technology-based?
I am an advocate for the use of technology, but I will always say that technology is not the solution to every educational problem; and that is why as educational technologists, we just want to do a neat analysis. We are in what we call an internet era; a digital world. A globalised village is what we exist in, where knowledge is expanding. What you learnt in four\five years of your course in school might have become obsolete by the time you are getting out. By way of technology-based learning, we want to give our students the ability to be lifelong learners so that they are not just dependent on the content that they have learnt in school. Apart from supporting the content delivery, it encourages students to keep on learning, researching, discovering and finding out information that will be beneficial to their careers. Technology integration in learning is key because now, one can go online and learn so many things; but if you do not have the skill to be a continuous learner, then you have missed it. Secondly, the generation that we are teaching now depends so much on technology; their world is a world of technology. If you want to get into their world, use technology to teach and help them learn. There are other reasons, but to me those two are germane.
But don’t you think there is a sense in which technology itself can be a form of hindrance to effective learning in the class?
Like I said, knowledge is changing all the time, even I as a teacher\ facilitator, I might not have the most current gist about the content and I go to class and I say this is it and a student comes up and say ‘no, yesterday I learnt that this has happened’. How did the student learn? It is through technology. If I as a teacher I am technology-savvy or have access to technological tools, even right in class I can own up and say this is the situation of things as of when I knew it, but let’s find out right away; and if there are internet facilities in the classroom, why not? Immediately everyone begins to look for the new development about the issue. Another thing is, the students are technology-savvy and they are what we call digital natives. People from our own generation are migrants into the digital era. We did not grow up with it, but they are natives so it is natural with them to use technology. So, if you say do not utilise it in teaching and learning, it is like you are killing their nature somehow.
Considering the near crippling budget, epileptic power supply, internet failure, among other shortcomings in deploying an effectively distance learning education, which is technology-based, how ready are we?
Well, due to various things on ground we may think that we are not ready, but so far you are holding a smart phone and you have data on it, you are ready. The generation of students we are training hold smart phones and they have the data. What else do we need? I understand we are not ready in terms of students when it comes to the laboratories or other facilities having internet services, which will be at a cost to institutions, but in terms of attitudes, mindsets, mobile devices, our students are ready. Now, the cost is no longer to the institutions but to individual; and that makes the whole thing crippling. If a student doesn’t have money to pay tuition fees, to be technology-vibrant is not going to be easy. This is where the government should come in,
How informed and proficient are your facilitators in the deployment of technology in the classroom setting?
Just like I said, we are all at various levels. The university runs workshops to create awareness. Different departments have come to CEI at various times to train staff. If you are just migrating into something, you may not know how beneficial that thing is to you. Some of us are already at the base level of sending information to the students using technology at the level of packaging our contents using presentation software like PowerPoint slides. Some have moved to the level of saying ‘oh, this thing is quite useful. I can get my students into deep discussions if I can package my learning, especially if I can do some instructional design, I can engage them to a level using Facebook, Whatsapp and so on. Saying this, I’m not talking about writing your notes and posting it online; I’m talking about creating activities, group work, collaborative exercises, discovery and enquiry activities that will engage the students.
What is the attitude of students towards this switch?
They are really enjoying it; it is natural to them. Though for some, it is quite challenging, especially for those who should be supported in terms of finances. It is not all of them who possess smart phones; not all of them can afford data, and that is why if the facilities are on ground as it in other campuses across the world, then no student will be left out. I know many of them are struggling to keep up, but we just hope that facilities will improve. Ideally, they should have centres where they can sit down or be able to connect to Wi-Fi anywhere on campus to do their assignments or any academic work. I can’t imagine the extent that our students will go in terms of deep, insightful and engaging learning if they have all these facilities at their finger tips.
Some school of thought believe that the use of technology interferes with the traditional way of learning which creates the atmosphere for team work, punctuality, class attendance, hard work, to mention a few. What is your take on this?
I would say if we do not do it right, then what you have just described is what we are going to have. That is why facilitators who intend to use technology effectively should learn something about Instructional Systems Design (ISD). This is all about how do I design my instructional system as to achieve the kind of outcome or output that I’m expecting? For instance, if I want my students to always be on time, how do I design instructions to get them to do that? How do I reward or sanction them if they do not do the right thing? It is the proper use of technology that will lead to that, and we cannot properly use technology that way if we are not trained in instructional design. I agree that it is not everybody that will want to or would need to be trained in instructional design, but you could get people who are trained in it to help you develop your content. If you talk about students being creative, there is a way to do instructional design to engage the student’s creative and critical thinking, problem-solving and team-working skills online.
What is the university out to achieve by creating a special Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation?
The major thing here, according to our vision/mission, is to transform the society through creativity and innovation and we do that through our entrepreneurship education. We want to train students to be aware that they have something within them; skills that they can develop, and that there are so many opportunities out there crying for somebody to take them up. There are so many problems in the society crying for solutions, and they could be the solutions. It is about looking beyond your area of discipline. The centre is like a bridge between the society and the university in terms of what is happening out there. What does the society need? The society needs graduates who are employable; graduates who can set up enterprises. We have been able to carry that into the university system through CEI.