Technology analyst International Data Corporation (IDC) has forecast education spending in Asia Pacific will top US$11.8 billion by 2020. It seems Australia is taking a good chunk of that sum given Prime Minister Turnbull’s innovation agenda for schools, which includes funding to boost Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education, along with Gonski 2.0 funding reforms.
Whether readers agree with such reforms, the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) going online, or even Australian of the Year Eddie Woo’s video approach to teaching, the role of technology and its role in acting as a catalyst for innovation within the education sector remains significant. This is particularly true if educators are to adequately prepare students of today for the jobs of tomorrow with skills in cross-disciplinary, critical and creative thinking, problem solving and digital technologies (Education Council, 2015).
Perhaps not surprising, a recent KPMG report (Gabel, 2017) also found that innovation within the digital environment remains a high priority for business leaders going into 2018. Why is this relevant to the education sector?
This rapidly changing landscape is accelerating digital transformation for both educators and students alike. Just take a quick look at the latest Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) findings, which ranked Australian students among the world’s best for collaborative problem solving (Education Matters, 2017).
However, there are more challenges to overcome to ensure students have the right set of skills to thrive in tomorrow’s workforce.
For example, a recent report by Australia’s Chief Scientist said that women currently comprise just 16 percent of its total STEM workforce. It was encouraging to see the Turnbull Government’s AU$8 million allocation in the FY18 Budget to support women in STEM and entrepreneurship; as well as a further AU$24 million to establish a Rural and Regional Enterprise Scholarships program targeting STEM fields of study.
With all these external forces at play, here are my thoughts on the technologies taking centre stage in the classroom over the next 12–18 months:
Artificial Intelligence in Education
The integration of artificial intelligence technologies in education (AIEd) shows no signs of slowing down. A recent report published by Pearson (Luckin et at, 2016) analysed how AIEd will transform education. Imagine the possibilities of each student having his or her own virtual learning assistant, or a bot powered by AI that can support a student throughout his studies, creating a personalised learning journey. Or new assessment models that measure in real time as they happen and can adapt content accordingly. This is starting to happen, with more intelligent app platforms for learning, like Phonics Hero, which have parent and teacher portals that track progress in real time, helping follow the progress of each student – whether they are at home on an iPad, in the classroom, on an interactive whiteboard or sitting at a laptop.
Immersive Experiential Learning
With bring your own device (BYOD) programs now standard in many Australian schools, providing students with high-speed internet connectivity to the outside world through devices like tablets and PCs is becoming ‘education essential’. This has led to the wider use of virtual reality technologies, creating truly immersive learning experiences both inside and outside the classroom. Tools like Microsoft’s HoloLens, Google Expedition and Windows 10’s Mixed Reality Viewer are continuing to change the way subjects are taught as students and educators engage with content and externally based experts in new ways – blending the real and virtual worlds.
The Hyper-Collaborative Classroom
Using video collaboration and digital content sharing can deliver on-demand or personalised learning, enabling access to experts not possible before and providing richer learner experiences for remote-based students. Imagine that the next step for students, teachers and schools would be to go from being collaborative amongst themselves to hyper-collaborative – bringing together knowledge, capabilities and ideas from different institutions, industries, ecosystems and geographies.
A great example of this is happening right now in Australia. Major corporates are backing a new educational Women in STEM program, connecting female students with real-life mentors in the corporate world via an online platform that allows them to see what happens within the business world.
I anticipate that for 2018 and beyond, more educators will be willing to embrace the idea of ‘anywhere learning’ within the classroom, enabling students to learn the way they want, where they want and in a hyper-collaborative manner.
Smart Campuses in the Cloud
In the same way that AI technologies and machine-led learning have driven the smart home movement, there is a similar move towards creating smart campuses. This involves harnessing ICT excellence in the areas of sourcing, management and accountability, catering to a diverse range of needs from learners to educators and campus administrative teams.
IDC also suggests that central education organisations will aim to leverage the benefits of cloud-based technologies to drive cost savings and operational efficiencies through increased cloud-related IT consolidation and shared services initiatives.
Coding Grows from Strength to Strength
Coding continues to grow in popularity and the way it is taught is fast evolving. There is a much-needed increase in private sector technology partners developing innovative educational content and providing guest expertise and knowledge transfer.
Microsoft continues to develop its Minecraft coding programs where students get to learn how to code in real time inside the game. Many other companies are also investing in coding for kids, producing everything from STEM starter kits to accelerated design thinking and logic to professional e-modules for teachers to ensure they have the tools to teach coding within the classroom.
Science Fiction or Reality?
As technology continues to improve, so too does user expectation around being able to connect instantly, from any device or learning space. Likewise, while emerging technologies like AI, bots and virtual learning assistants may still feel like science fiction to many, they will soon be as familiar as using iPads or working inside a video meeting room.
For many, digital transformation is focused on investing in the right technologies that will deliver more open and intuitive collaboration environments. This is only the beginning. In the coming months, expect to see more innovation and new ways that everyone will benefit from ‘next gen’ technologies in both the classroom and, ultimately, the workplace of the future.
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