Are you a digital citizen? I ask the question of the reader. Have you ever asked yourself what the word digitalisation really means? What is the relationship between digitalising society and development? Why is the state so keen to promote this concept?
First, to clarify the concept of digitalisation, this simply means the process of transforming traditional methods into new ones entrusted to electronic systems.
For example, issuing various licenses, paying bills electronically, buying things from stores and Websites over the Internet and applying electronic systems in educational, commercial and other fields all fall under the concept of digitalisation.
We must recognise that the idea of a digital society has become a necessity for all those seeking to develop and improve services and facilitate access to them among a broad range of beneficiaries.
Digitalisation focuses on the use of technology within institutions and other bodies, both governmental and private, to help improve the operational efficiency of them.
The need for information technology, now used in all aspects of life, whether related to transactions with the public or the private sector or between individuals, has become more urgent than ever before.
It is enough to say that digital transformation saves costs and effort, improves operational efficiency and regulation, betters quality and simplifies procedures for access to services to the public, and creates opportunities for creative and innovative services unlike traditional service-delivery methods.
It also helps create public acceptance of the services of various institutions or companies. The implementation of digitalisation also creates huge amounts of data and information that can help decision-makers in such institutions monitor performance and improve the quality of their services, in addition to analysing these data to facilitate decision-making and set goals and strategies.
In recent years, the concept of digitalisation has also entered education. Trends in education have changed because of the increasing need for a highly educated workforce, raising expectations of higher educational outputs.
Today’s education system has become life-long, with the result that education has to be transformed digitally in order to meet expectations and maintain the continuity of this process.
Learning initially adapted to a face-to-face environment is now being carried out in an environment led by computers and digital technologies.
From here comes the idea of virtual education, the demand for which is increasing by the hour. Research focused on learning in virtual-learning environments has shown that students are willing to accept the opportunities offered by such environments, where learning is more independent of time and space constraints, unlike traditional campus education, while at the same time achieving the required quality.
Learners see virtual-learning environments as offering more opportunities for communication with teachers than traditional classrooms.
In 1886, University of Chicago president William Rainer Harper in the US said that “a student who has prepared a certain number of lessons through ways that match what happens in school knows about the topics related to the lessons and can handle those lessons better than a student who simply reclines in class. ”
In the UK, the Open University has pioneered the concept of distance-learning by providing blended learning environments based on audio and video recordings since 1970.
With technological progress and the spread of the Internet, Internet-based education is now rapidly developing in universities around the world, including the Open University.
Educational institutions are constantly seeking to employ new technologies to become ever more productive, to manage development strategies, and to effectively rebuild curricula to meet the needs and expectations of diverse students.
Today, teaching with a whiteboard and markers has largely become a thing of the past, and teachers have shifted to making use of projectors, DVD players and e-learning systems to display tutorial videos and short sessions online to help students understand that learning can be fun.
Many schools now come with TVs or projectors attached to their whiteboards, making it easy to shift from a normal classroom session to an interactive digital one. This can make students pay more attention to what is taking place in class, as we are now in a digital era where Google is the go-to place.
In a digitalised society, books have migrated to Kindle and tablet computers. Notes, references and other information in PDF format can be easily accessed on laptops, phones and tablets, and this is a good way to encourage students to study better.
There are also systems for testing in a digital manner. Students can be given online quizzes and assessments that they can take from home, replacing the kind of homework that they can always find excuses for not doing.
By adopting digital systems, the interaction between a teacher and a student does not have to end at school or in a classroom. Online communities mean groups or teams can stay connected online, submitting projects, discussing topics or expressing ideas.
Teachers can set up platforms for students to communicate their ideas, suggestions and subject-related queries for them to solve at any time.
Being open to online activities like these keeps students more focused even outside of school, even without their realising that the learning process continues even after classes are done.
Most learners today are “digital citizens,” and this means that it is the responsibility of teachers to acquire the digital skills to teach the new generation of students for whom digitalisation is part of their personality and identity.
With the increasing use of the Internet, virtual-learning environments are the future of all educational institutions. This is a fact that all parties to the educational process, especially teachers, must recognise.
They must start looking for opportunities to develop their technical skills so that they can see eye-to-eye with their digitally literate students.
* The writer teaches in the Faculty of Arts at Menoufiya University and is a former visiting professor at Wake Forest University in the US.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 18 October, 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Digitalisation and education