EdTech – Transforming Education

The technologies changing our schools and universities

Technology is revolutionising almost every sector imaginable and education is no different. Institutions are taking a step away from the chalkboard and looking to new ways to enhance the learning environment, and we’re not just talking interactive whiteboards.

Schools, colleges and universities alike are experimenting with Virtual Reality, 3D Printing and Advanced Robotics, culminating in an unmistakable trend towards digitised learning. The application of innovative technology in institutionalised education has made knowledge far more accessible, especially through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). These mass-participant, digital lessons supply students with learning materials without requiring their physical presence in a classroom. They’ve become so popular that Oxford University, the oldest university in the English-speaking world, has developed its own which will begin early next year. The willingness of the prestigious university to offer digitalised learning illustrates just how much technology has influenced traditional study. The culmination of different technologies as educational tools has given rise to the term ‘EdTech’. So, what exactly does EdTech refer to, and how has it disrupted traditional learning?

Tech adoption in education

So far, students in various different learning environments have been able to use VR, 3D Printing, Advanced Robotics and MOOCs. Virtual Reality is already used in schools to transport students to another world, making lessons far more engaging. VR startup Nearpod has released virtual reality classroom plans that can be changed to suit specific lesson structures. When it comes to 3D Printers, the experimental, efficient production process has an obvious place in educational environments. Nottingham University, Sheffield University and the University of Exeter are all investing in 3D printing for educational purposes. In the U.S., Harvard and Cornell are doing the same. The development of social robotics has facilitated the creation of NAO, a robotic teaching assistant made by SoftBank Robotics that specialises in Science, Technology, Economics and Maths (STEM).

Outside of the classroom, MOOCs have enabled learning for people who may not have access to educational institutions. As well as offering a new online course, Oxford University is also part of a nation-wide project to explore quantum technologies. Various universities are collaborating as part of the project, funded by the government. Excluding MOOCS, each of these current examples are contained within institutionalised education. However, museums and galleries have long used tech to complement their exhibitions. This is where Augmented Reality works incredibly well – museum-goers can download a mobile app which guides them around exhibits, popping up with fun facts and engaging graphics that bring the collections to life. In future, we could see the application of Artificial Intelligence in the classroom or lecture hall, helping to answer questions objectively and concisely. VR, too, has especial potential for continued use, considering how easy it is to get hold of cardboard headsets. The availability of DIY 3D Printing will also enable collective and individual creativity, minus the hours spent hunched over a woodwork desk.

But what about subjects outside of STEM?

It’s often suggested that technology is far better suited to STEM subjects, and when classroom robots like NAO are programmed solely with these subject areas in mind, it seems like a convincing argument. The humanities, the arts and languages seem to be a second thought. However, even though SoftBank’s robot TA might not be able to help you structure an essay, other technologies could be easily applied to subjects outside of STEM. Imagine 3D Printing an artefact in a History lesson about ancient Egypt? Or using a Virtual Reality headset to wander through the Amazon rainforest in a Geography class? And now that AI is getting closer and closer to understanding ethics (even predicting the outcome of human rights trials), there’s potential for its use in Philosophy and Religious Education too.

How has EdTech disrupted education?

The adoption of technology in educational environments is socialising students, no matter what age, to understand and perhaps more importantly to accept advanced technology. It’s also doing the same for everybody else involved in the process of a student’s education, whether that be parents or teachers. Technology has generally encouraged the accessibility of knowledge, making it less daunting for prospective learners. As well as this, online courses and Virtual Reality have the power to bring education to students in remote or developing areas. Looking forward, EdTech could lead to changes in the way pupils are examined. At the moment the use of laptops in closed examinations (other than I.T.) is reserved for dyslexic and dispraxic students. But if students are taught via technology, surely they should be examined, at least partly, on how they use it? It could be argued that digitalised learning means there is less need for a student’s physical presence… However, this is unlikely to have a negative effect on institutionalised learning because the process of going to school is incredibly important for human interaction and development. Most university graduates would tell you that the most rewarding thing about their degree was the social experience, rather than the study itself. This is much the same for teachers and professors – an AI system may eventually threaten the profession by knowing more than qualified teachers, but it can never deliver the same human experience.

EdTech isn’t going to kill off traditional institutions because they’re adopting innovation and using it to improve learning. However, it will erode traditional teaching methods. This isn’t exactly surprising – iconic black chalkboards, for instance, have long been classroom antiques. Unless you’re a grizzled professor with a vendetta against change, the replacement of ‘old learning’ with tech-enabled education can only be a good thing. It encourages curiosity, bringing learning to life. Through VR and MOOCs, education can be delivered to developing and underprivileged areas so that all students have the same opportunities. Of course, there are obstacles to ubiquitous education in the form of logistics and cost, but technology can help to overcome these barriers gradually. Another important consideration is the extent to which governing powers are willing to invest in technological projects undertaken by schools and universities. As finance enables enthusiastic adoption rates, students can wave goodbye to battered old textbooks… But not indefinitely.

Have you taken part in digitalised learning? Will technology continue to favour STEM subjects? Which innovative technology will have the biggest impact on traditional education? Comment below with your thoughts and experiences.