From Black Boards to Digital Boards in Class Rooms in India – Challenges and Opportunities

G. Balasubramanian joined the Central Board of Secondary Education as a Joint Secretary and has worked in several capacities in Academics, Examination, Confidential and Administration branches of CBSE. He has also held the additional charge of the Chief Vigilance Officer of the Board. He has been instrumental to the introduction of several innovations in curriculum of CBSE which include frontline curriculum, Communicative Approach to Language Teaching, Information Technology, Alternatives to Homework, etc.
In this article, Balasubramanian speaks of the challenges and opportunities that digital boards have.

The recent statement in the Budget about the intent of the Government to move towards Digital Boards in classrooms from the Black Boards is indeed a welcome move and is futuristic. But whenever I see an elephant tied to the pillar in a temple or in their health resort, I am reminded of a Digital Board. Are you curious to know why? I think the digital board is like that huge elephant which has immense strength and potential, but is tamed and hence believes that it is tied by a rope and hence cannot move out. Should the elephant exercise its choice, the rope is just a feeble thing, it can break in Nano-seconds. And the digital board is conceptually tied to a classical model of teaching-learning, that we are not in a position to unleash its full potential.

Honestly, in many institutions the digital boards are an apology to the kind of technology that is being exhibited. They are used more for window shopping of the organizations to position them as technologically sensitive, relevant and fashionable. The real use of the digital boards is far from average, much below its capacity utilization and offered as a spice to the pre-cooked delivery of curriculum and pedagogy. They need better respectability for their presence in a classroom.
From a letter-packed power-point delivery in classrooms as proof enough for use of technology we need to move to ‘integrated’ use of technology in classrooms.
A few points to ponder
1.      Digital Boards can help in transforming learning
For years, our focus has been on teaching rather than learning. Hence teachers focused finishing their ‘syllabus’ and covering the portions rather than uncovering the curriculum and discovering the meaning of the concepts. Black Boards were used to draw the attention of some important words or important drawings or to describe the reply for a question that doesn’t provoke any thinking. Sometimes they were also used to facilitate the learners to record their understanding. But digital boards have a much better role to play. They can really transform learning methods in the classrooms – because of their dynamic delivery, enabling different perceptional opportunities, scope for variety of expressions, interactivity, visual treat and ability to draw and sustain attention. If these advantages of the digital boards are not exploited, their presence will be more ceremonial.
2.      Digital boards can facilitate better cognition
Effective cognition can be supported through digital learning experiences. Many abstract concepts can be brought to visual modes of expression, thereby facilitating learning perceptions and bridging the gap between imagination and reality. It can help in providing better neural connects and thus triggering thinking. They are less volatile in their expressions as against the vocal model of conceptual transaction happening between the teacher and the learner.
3.      Digital Boards can integrate several technologies
Given its scope to deal with several inputs and integrate them together to give a holistic picture, the digital boards can offer a ‘composite’ view of concepts and hence facilitate comparison, contextualization and comprehension of several points of view in a unified approach. This would help in ‘integrated thinking’ and thus in ‘problem solving’
What are the challenges in achieving the above goals?
1.      Infrastructural support
The installation of digital boards calls for a systemic infrastructural support in terms of power, technical support, maintenance and service supports. In an earlier evolution when the computers were initially introduced into the school system, many of them were kept locked in the schools for the fear of being misused, abused or being stolen. The protectionist approach deprived effective use of them for several years till their use demanded improved trust factors and belief systems. The Government needs to ensure effective support systems in all educational districts/cities including timely and speedy redressal of grievances, so that they are effectively and meaningfully used.
2.      Academic support
The quality of the academic content as of now, is both poor and of low motivation. The kind of content that is largely prevalent appears to be an extension of classical content developed for hard print models. Extension of same and similar pedagogies will be a total mismatch in the digital model. It calls for a renewed thinking which would help the learner to enhance their levels of cognition, which in turn would help in problem solving, lateral and critical thinking and creativity.
More non-formal modes of conceptual dialogues that would help the search of new knowledge, more evolved models of pedagogical interventions that would reach all and diverse intelligence models, better delivery patterns that would further curiosity and help in seeking new and contextual answers to local problems should be in place to ensure the relevance of digital boards.
3.      Teacher support
The criticality of its success lies in having teachers who not only handle this technology without fear or reservation but with a sense of ownership, pride and joy. Teachers need to be trained to diffuse the roadblocks in understanding their own limitations and the limitations of the models they have been practicing for the past few years. Intensive and extensive training to empower them to enhance their comfort level in handling this technology has to be done. Rather, they should be able to reposition their pedagogical models in the ambience of the digital technology.
Road to digital technology in classrooms in India is a less traveled road. Nevertheless, the traffic in this road is going to be acute in the next couple of years to come. With Artificial Intelligence evolving with newer faces of its existence and with augmented and virtual technologies in rhythm with newer technologies, it appears we have a huge opportunity as well as challenge in the years to come. Possibly “Miles to go before we sleep….”