Creativity in the digital world: Interplay of technology and humans

Digital technologies, no one would disagree, have disruptive implications for economic and social structure including educational institutions. What is interesting is that these implications are not predetermined. It ushers an era where discontinuity is the most salient feature. ‘21 Lessons for the 21st Century’ by Yuval Noah Harari’s is yet another scintillating investigation into some of the most urgent issues facing the exciting future before humanity. Harari asks, “How do you live in an age of bewilderment, when the old stories have collapsed, and no new story has yet emerged to replace them?”

Amidst all the conspiracy theories and the Luddite fear, what is clear is that education was never so accessible to all as it is now. The boundaries of textbook and schools are broken for all practical purposes. Digital technology now allows us to find entirely new responses to what people learn, how people learn, where people learn and when they learn. In addition, the best of teachers and the best of institutions’ content are all available at the click of a button.

“Digital technology now allows us to find entirely new responses to what people learn, how people learn, where people learn and when they learn.”

Thus, they enrich and extend the reach of excellent teaching as never before.

Today, learners can choose the content that is most relevant. They have freedom to get hold of, ‘form of the content’ that is most suitable to them. They are at a liberty to choose the teacher or facilitator who speaks the way learners understand better. A whole new range and new forms of learning are available through interactive, non-linear courseware. Others use state-of-the-art instructional design, highly intuitive software, gamified learning nuggets,sophisticated simulation and bot-guided social media to support various kinds of learners.

In the age of digitization, education faces another dilemma. Now the educational content are being bundled into byte sized modules. This way, they are more digestible as well as flexible and friendly to the technology carriers. MOOCs (massive open online courses) are also adjusting similarly as are the degrees being offered. Degrees are chunked into modules; modules into courses; courses into short segments. However, the fundamental challenge is that the routine cognitive abilities that are easy to teach and easier to evaluate are also the easiest to digitize, automate and thus, outsource. An AI-enabled Sophia can do much better in these routine jobs than any efficient or experienced teacher can hope to achieve.

This is a time, to borrow the phrase of Harari, ‘when profound uncertainty is not a bug, but a feature’. Such an abstruse digital flux also presents us with great opportunities. A learner today is not saddled with limited choices between the textbooks, reference books, physical laboratory, etc. There are several options available to tap on. Even textbooks look so different in the digital world.

Technology as educationists from the world over have shown, does not offer pre-determined options or limits or constrains the possibilities, but it opens creative possibilities. “Innovations in Open and Flexible Education” by Kam Cheong Li, Kin Sun Yuen, Billy Tak Ming Wong (Editors), Springer, 2018, captures a broad range of innovations in education all over the world. It covers a number of case studies based on digital pedagogy, such as flipped classrooms, to present how teachers have used creativity while dealing with technology in education.

The case studies and practical applications presented here illustrate the effectiveness of new modes of education in which the latest technologies and innovations are widely used in the global context. The book also gives a good idea of the educational use of social media, mobile learning, educational resources and MOOC (massive open online courses). It also deals with the theoretical discussions and practical applications in the use of augmented reality and educational technology to improve student engagement and pave the way for students’ future studies and careers.

In this context, ‘Geneo’, the versatile learning app, is a case in point. Incorporating insights from deep learning theories and practical issues that a learner faces, ‘Geneo’ aims to make the process of engagement vibrant and deep. Here, every page of the NCERT textbook is available in digital form. A learner can read a chapter of the digital book, underline or take notes and share ideas/concerns with friends. Each page is tagged with appropriate resources – videos or exploriments simulated virtual experiments. It gives students a variety of ways to engage with the content. The inbuilt assessment gives them an instant view of their level of understanding. AI-enable features learn from an individual student’s performance, diagnoses the learning difficulties, and throws up customized    assessment every time s/he decides to assess his/her performance.

Geneo also provides the pedagogical flexibility to a teacher for using the methods of blended and/or flipped classroom.”

To make the learning a wholesome experience, a Geneo student can post their queries to a mentor, a pool of highly qualified resource persons who get back with their responses quickly. Since the learner is at the centre, it is s/he who has the last say in deciding if his/her query is resolved or not. If not, the intense engagement and dialogue must go on.

Geneo, therefore, is one such example of how technology can be leveraged better to the advantage of the learner. Teachers have been using ‘Geneo’ in the class by taking full advantage of this versatile digital solution. Geneo also provides the pedagogical flexibility to a teacher for using the methods of blended and/or flipped classroom.

The way technology-induced innovations are shaping up in the field of education, it is clear that digitalization is connecting people, educational institutions, countries and continents in ways that increase our individual and collective potential tremendously. The same forces, however, also make the world volatile, complex and uncertain. However, it is the nature of our collective responses to these disruptions that determines their outcomes. It is the continuous interplay between the technological frontier and the cultural, social, institutional and economic contexts and agents that are mobilized in response which matter in the end.