Mapping The Future Of Education Technology – Part 1

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Imagine a future in which intelligent classrooms will be able to learn how students think, and then deliver individually tailored lesson plans based on a specific student’s academic strengths and weaknesses. Imagine teaching in a world where, through the use of augmented reality, students will not just study dinosaurs, but will be able to see them walking through the school grounds as if the dinosaurs were actually there!

These things, as fantastical and fanciful as they might seem, are not so very far away. Just think about where we were only 10 years ago. Social media had only just emerged, Wi-Fi was still in its infancy and smartphones were relatively dumb by today’s standards.

The nature of technology is one of constant, sometimes disruptive innovation, and the challenge for everyone, schools included, is to keep pace with the future that is before us.

One thing is certain: technology is changing how we teach and how we learn. It will continue to change how we access and interact with the content that shapes our educational experiences at a rapidly accelerating rate. In order to better understand what sort of developments we might reasonably expect to see emerging in classrooms over the next few years, we caught up with some of the larger players in the technology market at the recent EduTech conference in Brisbane.

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One such technology giant we spoke with was Lenovo. Ask most people if they have heard the name Lenovo and they will say yes. Ask them to explain what Lenovo do and they might have trouble telling you. This is partly because Lenovo have spent the last few years completely restructuring their organisation.

Since acquiring the IBM personal computer business back in 2005, Lenovo has become one of the biggest, if not the largest, suppliers of laptop computers to the education market word wide – a fact which gives Lenovo the kind of credibility that carries a lot of weight when one starts discussing technology and innovation in education. What many people do not realise, is that Lenovo’s personal computer business, while considerable in size, is only the tip of a much larger technological iceberg encompassing a wide range of technologies from smart TVs to smartphones, tablet computers and gigantic server farms. According to Paul Hutchings, Lenovo Australia’s Education Industry Lead, “One of the big challenges education has today is that it is predicated upon a model that sees ICT as important and as such, demands certain ICT related deliverables. Furthermore, the national curriculum now has language that speaks of entitlement to these deliverables such as blogs and wikis. So technology is no longer just being taught as a subject. Instead, technology is rapidly becoming the tool we use to deliver content and help students. En masse, we are able to see a functional improvement at the assessment level using the current device of choice within schools be it a smart phone of tablet or laptop.”

Acceleration
As advancements in the development of education technology and its application in teaching and learning continues to make waves around the world, the prospect of more profound and efficient learning outcomes makes education more exciting than it was even just a few months ago. The transformation we see happening is one that is more and more exciting as we see it accelerate.

Possibly no one knows more about the accelerating pace of technology that Intel. Now one of the largest computer processor manufacturers in the world, it was actually Intel’s founder, Gordon Moore, who coined the now famous Moore’s Law back in the early 1970s when he first predicted that computer processors would roughly double in power every 18 months or so. This prediction holds true to this day and, according to most industry experts, the exponential development curve predicted by Moore’s law shows no sign of slowing anytime in the future.

Being at the very cutting edge of technological development puts Intel in an interesting position with regard to being able to determine future trends in education technology. Not just because they build the processors that power many of those innovations, but because they have strategic relationships with organisations all across the technology landscape. It is from this privileged and knowledgeable position that they are able to see a larger picture, helping to bring key organisations together to create a bright new future in education technology.

John Galvin, General Manager of World Ahead and Education at Intel, says, “It is no secret that technology is changing rapidly. We now have teachers asking us what our wearable technology strategy is for the education sector. We have been doing some work on eye tracking.”

According to John, much of this work centres around being able to determine, not just what students are looking at on screen, but also what they are looking at in the classroom. Knowing what students are looking at and paying attention to, how often their eye travels back to a particular question, sentence or problem, and what attracts their attention, can provide valuable insights into comprehension, understanding and engagement levels.

“Soon you are going to be able to predict how well or poorly a student is going to do on a quiz,” states John Galvin from Intel. “You are going to have a much more holistic view of each student and you are going to be able to measure what engages and motivates them. In the next couple of years, we are going to see some breakthroughs. I don’t think we are really all that far away from being able to do some really amazing things.”

Digitised Classrooms
For years, schools have subscribed to the idea of a paperless classroom. More than just a technological ideal, the paperless classroom has some very significant benefits by way of environmental impact, as well as reductions in waste, labour and costs. However, in reality, many schools have already come to realise that achieving a truly paperless classroom is more difficult than first thought. According to recent research, the paperless classroom might also be unnecessary and possibly even detrimental. A more achievable and affordable goal in the immediate future might instead be to seek significant reduction goals through on-demand printing.

Jonathan Oestler from Possibilities Management Group says, “In schools we are seeing a progression toward a fast-paced and on-demand digital age but we don’t want to lose some of the learning that takes place along the way. For some, digital information viewed entirely on screen can be perceived by the brain as transient, or not ‘real’. Going down just the efficiency path and saying that everything should be electronic might carry the consequence of putting some of the learning experience at risk.”

However, it is not just how we monitor and interact with information that will change in the coming years. We can expect to see some significant changes in how educators deliver information. The old ‘chalk, talk and entertain’ paradigm will eventually give way as newer, more dynamic, engaging and entertaining methods of teaching emerge.

David Saltmarsh, Educational Evangelist from JAMF Software, says, “If, in the near future, you are still finding yourself tethered to the front of the room, you are still ‘lecturing’. You are doing basically the same thing that you’ve always done, except you are tacking on a digital component. If you are evaluating the effective use of the school’s learning technology, you should be asking, ‘is what we are doing student-centered? Does it address higher order thinking? Is the digital book the students use a flat PDF version of a textbook or is it truly interactive with built-in assessment tools’?”

Simply taking two-dimensional printed resources and recreating them as two-dimensional digital resources fails to capture the value in digital technology. The challenge for educators and vendors alike over the next few years will be to find ways to not just enhance the education experience with bells and whistles, but to instead test traditional assumptions around teaching; Assumptions predicated upon 19th Century resources and practices. Those educators that assume that, because a particular teaching style or system worked 10 years ago, it will still work today, are wrong. In reality, every day use of technology is impacting on brain development in ways we could never have predicted. Therefore, it is incumbent upon educators and technology vendors to become more innovative. It is increasingly important to find new ways to engage with students in order to deliver, monitor and measure learning outcomes.

Over the next few issues of Education Technology Solutions, we will present a series of articles based on insights from technology developers designed to help create a road map for education development in the coming decade. From the death of email to the rise of social media and BYOD, we hope to provide valuable insights designed to help educators better understand the education landscape of tomorrow so that they can begin laying the right foundations today.

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Scott Patterson

Scott Patterson

Scott Patterson is a Key Industry Consultant working at the forefront of creative design, web and application development, social interaction and engagement, and Digital Education Platforms.