Learning apps, virtual libraries, 3D printers in school classes: many possibilities are shown in the discussion about digital education. At the same time, experts also warn of excessive expectations and possible risks, for example with regard to data protection. It takes to use the new techniques in a meaningful and trustworthy manner for teaching and learning. New technologies can enrich education.
What opportunities do digital technologies open up in education?
Among other things, we can more easily see what is happening in teaching and learning. Because digital aids take on a kind of protocol function. That is a big step forward. Class work, for example, “only” provides information on what learning outcome the lesson ultimately led to. However, if the data shows relatively early on that the path there – the teaching-learning process – is not being successfully completed, you can intervene in good time. Then lecturers can, for example, tailor their seminars more closely to the individual needs of individual students. You can focus more on their previous knowledge and skills or offer them different or differently prepared content.
Are the high expectations of digital education justified?
First of all: regardless of the resources used, lessons must continue to be attractive and well structured. However, the new technologies can enrich education if they are used correctly and what is tried and tested is not simply exchanged. For example, it would not be good if school books were simply read on the tablet instead of on paper. Nothing would be gained from this pure media exchange. But if students can add comments that can be read and reflected on by everyone else in real time, things would be different. Teachers could even specifically bring a pair of students into the discourse. Another example of a sensible use of technology: School children film each other during sports exercises and use these recordings to reflect on how they could improve their technology. Digital education is therefore always successful when it provides specific added value to the learning objectives or when it increases the efficiency or effectiveness of teaching-learning processes.
Isn’t there still a lot to be done on the part of schools and teachers?
Here I would like politics not to proceed according to the watering can principle, but to pay attention to sustainable development. It is not enough to provide all schools with WiFi, virtual reality glasses or whiteboards. The schools must also be able to operate and maintain them efficiently – and know how to use them sensibly. For this, the teachers must be trained sustainably. Any reservations could be counteracted by explaining the possibilities to the teachers. There are, for example, interesting studies that show that teachers were certain that they were paying equal attention to all of their students. With a simple sensor, however, it was possible to prove that this is not the case. Such knowledge helps to reassess one’s own behavior.
How can research contribute – for example on the subject of data protection?
We can professionally support a critical discourse and advance it with impulses. And data protection is a good and important example of this. There are many fears about this topic, also for historical reasons. You have to take them seriously. Because big data should not be used in the way it sometimes happens in China. There, citizens are assigned a number that is intended to express their social reputation. It is calculated from several data sources and has real consequences. There it sometimes depended on the results of only one test which secondary school children could go to. And the test was done by a private company. We definitely don’t want any of that. Data should only be used in a supportive manner and not too dependent on numbers.
With its data protection tradition, it could take a pioneering role here by approaching the topic openly and proactively. The education system must prepare future citizens to become a responsible part of digital society. And when it comes to how to reflect, deal with data in a trustworthy and transparent manner, and how to interpret numbers, scientific advice is of some use.
Trustworthy handling of data: Can you give an example from your work?
My special focus is on learning analytics, i.e. the evaluation of data from educational processes. This data can come from a class, a school, or an entire country. Data protection always plays a central role for example on learning difficulties – are intended to give each individual constructive feedback and thus help them to achieve their learning goals. What we don’t want is to put someone in a kind of digital pillory. The aim is a humanistic handling of such systems, which should support the learners in their further development and not put them in competition with one another.