We are in a new decade and the pace of change driven by new technologies and technological advancements looks set to continue, even to accelerate rapidly like no other time in history. This will impact every aspect of how we live and work, with advancements across sectors such as health, energy, transport, industry, and how we interact with each other.
Key to understanding the significance of the technology theme in education is to consider the range of drivers that are evident at all levels, from government policy through to local school practices. These include:
In every part of our lives technology is reshaping expectations and enabling new possibilities. Many of the emerging technologies are very different to what we have experienced in the past, requiring us to find new ways to adapt to digital change in more sustainable ways. This continuous and rapid change means that skills in the teaching workforce will need to be frequently adapted and upgraded.
New technologies like AI, machine learning and educational software aren’t just changing the field for learners. They’re also shaking up the role of educators, creating philosophical shifts in approaches to teaching, and remodelling learning spaces.
The important thing here is the pervasive nature of change that occurs when a new technology is introduced. Because technological change is not additive, it is ecological, when you add a new technology you don’t simply change something, you change everything.
Digital technologies have been used in schools and early learning services for more than three decades now, starting with mainframe computers followed by desktops in computer labs, which were then moved into classrooms. What followed was the desktops being replaced by laptops and more recently by tablets and mobile phones. The shift in ownership of tablets and mobile phones, and what is done with them, reflects the changes across all areas of our education system towards a more personalised, learner-centred approach.
In the past 15 years the trends we’ve identified have seen developments with technology in the following areas that have had, and continue to have, significant impact on education:
The examples of how technology is impacting education and the consequences are myriad, so instead of trying to cover the field here we’ve chosen to focus on some of the things that we believe represent the big ideas and drivers for the future.
First up, as digital technologies have become more ubiquitous and a part of our everyday life, the United Nations declared that internet access is a fundamental human right in 2011. This has led to a focus on the provision of equitable access that has included projects to address a range of concerns about the digital divide, including BYOD, home access, device lease programmes, internet in libraries and public spaces, and the provision of open education resources.
Being a part of a digitally-enabled future means that every citizen must have the access and capabilities to participate in this way. This in turn creates a driver for learning settings to ensure that they are not only providing opportunities for learners to learn about all things digital, but that they themselves are operating as digital-enabled organisations. For example, Haeata Community Campus in Christchurch considers the expansion of internet access to enable students to use their devices to access their learning at home and at school at the same fast, safe and uncapped rate, to be a game changer for how they operate.
The concept of what a computer is has changed markedly over the past decade or so, with mobility being a key factor here, along with the touch interface these devices afford. The release of the Apple iPhone in 2007 heralded a new wave of mobile and touch technologies that have now become commonplace. This combination of mobility and intuitive user interface has completely altered so much of our human experience and expectations of what we can do with these technologies. In her CORE EDtalks video: Tara Fagan describes some of the benefits of using mobile devices, and challenges educators to reflect on how they are used, not only for teaching, but for children's learning. In his article on the future of mobile learning and implications for education and training David Parsons from Digital Promise provides a well-researched review of the promise, challenges and dangers of the future of mobile learning.
Of course, with all of the benefits has also come the risks. We have seen a steady increase of focus on things such as the protection of our digital identity, online privacy and data security, as well as an increase in the incidence of cyber-bullying, screen addiction and online crime. Keeping our learners safe has long been a focus of organisations such as NetSafe, which offers some valuable advice, but the real responsibilities lies at the local level with teachers, parents and the wider community, to ensure that our young people are well educated in how to make wise decisions about their use of digital devices. Many of these things are new for educators as well, so should be a part of a well informed and designed induction and professional learning programme.
As highlighted above, the ability of mobile devices to offer high level performance is a result of the shift from applications and resources being stored on the device, to being stored in ‘the cloud’ - that vast network of storage capability that enables truly ubiquitous access. Southland Girls’ High School provides a useful example of how cloud-based solutions are being used for communication and collaboration in their school.
This ubiquitous access has enabled further transformations in the way education settings operate, particularly in the way they are able to interact with their communities. The rapid rise of real-time reporting as an alternative to the traditional six-monthly approaches is a good example here. Platforms such as SeeSaw, Educa, Storypark and Linc-Ed Hero provide easy to use ways of making family/whānau a part of learning. The benefits of this have been confirmed by the Education Review Office whose research shows that parent-school partnerships are key to increasing achievement.
In educational settings we’ve seen an uptake of things such as 3Dprinting. Learners are exploring this technology’s ultimate ability to mass customise and conveniently produce just-in-time virtually all of the objects we need to operate our businesses. For example, Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Waiū o Ngāti Porou created protective face masks for frontline health workers in local medical centres and hospitals during the Covid-19 lockdown.
The focus on Artificial Intelligence (AI) began to appear in our education settings and classrooms more recently, but interest is growing steadily. Now and in the future AI will play a pivotal role in teaching and learning across a range of education organisations. Children and young people will be able to learn through AI systems with adaptive software that can personalise their learning opportunity, for example, it will be able to respond to specific questions and discussion. We have a company in Aotearoa New Zealand, Soul Machines, which is already trialling their AI with students. Another example here is Amy, the online maths tutor. On first exposure Amy may seem to be a simple drill and practice application, but it is actually a very powerful, AI-driven tutoring system that learns from the way you interact with it and uses that information to personalise how it teaches you based on the specific ways you tackle the problems set for you.
AI will join the field of virtual and mixed reality platforms, creating a powerful combination of immersive user experience. Both virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are now being used in many gaming platforms. The promise of these technologies has yet to be fully realised in education, but it is clear that advances in these areas will see them become a major part of the future of user experience. Nick Babich of Adobe Xd Ideas suggests that in the era of digital devices, we have an opportunity to enable better learning with technology. Virtual Reality (VR) seems to be the natural next step for the evolution of education. This view is supported by Professor Jeremy Bailenson from the Stanford Graduate School of Education, who suggests that virtual reality offers a captivating way to learn - in the classroom and beyond. An example from closer to home of this thinking being used in practice can be seen in Journeys of Manu - Maramataka. It involves developing platforms for indigenous story-telling and sharing mātauranga Māori (Māori sources of knowledge).
While AI in education is still in the emergent phase, exploring the goals around the intended use of AI is a conversation worth having now for educators, learners and their whānau in all settings.
Looking ahead to the next ten or so years it would be unwise to try and predict what we may see in terms of specific technological advances. However, our monitoring of the trends and patterns in this area over the past 15 years suggests that whatever may emerge will likely demonstrate the following characteristics:
Some questions that may help guide your thinking and discussions within your education setting at a strategic level are:
Some books you may enjoy reading:
Examples in Practice:
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