In many cases, our classrooms would still be recognisable by time travellers from the 19th Century, with the 'sage on the stage' leading from the front, as passive recipients look on. With the news filled with talk of AI and machine learning, is it time for the classroom to be transformed? Is education ready for the robots? We explore some potential opportunities.
Why is technology important?
More than half of the world's population are now digitally connected. And all aspects of our lives are touched by technology. For most of us, that's been a good thing. Advances in medical technology mean we live longer. Arguably, our lives are fuller. Our social lives are easier to manage than they once were, and we can connect with people from the around the world. The internet gives us access to information more quickly and easily than ever before. Our home lives are more comfortable with the convenience of modern machines, and smart tech is helping to put us more in control. Our health and wellbeing can be improved by collecting and using data about our activities. And our work lives have been transformed by different application of technology, for many of us making them more interesting and rewarding.
With all that come changes in expectations. Millennials and GenZ now expect to have access to technology as they go about their lives. We need to develop new skills so that we're able to benefit from the digital revolution. Where should we start to learn those skills? It makes sense that this starts as early as possible. At the same time, we should expect to benefit from advances in technology in all aspects of our lives, including our education.
What tech should we use in the classroom?
I think there are two ways to think about technology in schools: skills development; and student experience. Let's take these one at a time:
Skills. It's no secret that new skills will be needed in the future. These extend from basic computer literacy to advanced coding skills. The UK government has started to recognise this, funding a new Institute of Coding to help build relevant courses within UK universities. But surely this has to start at a much earlier age? We know that the number of women working in tech roles needs to grow, filling at best 25% of the tech roles in major companies. University is simply too late to encourage interest and develop knowledge. This article by Cleverism sums up the challenges faced by women in tech.
Experience. From intelligent tutoring to adaptive learning and testing, the technology is ready for us to use in different educational settings. So why don't we? AI and machine learning can tailor a learning experience to each individual, making sure they develop an understanding of each subject area before moving on to the next. Feedback is also personalised, responding much more closely to each student's needs. A teacher simply can't provide this level of support to classes of 30 students.
Time for change?
Even with this brief look, common sense points towards the need for change. But the answer isn't as simple as replacing all traditional methods with technology. Learning is communal experience as much as anything else, and groups of students still need to be together - physically as well as virtually - to learn the social skills required for life. An appreciation of the Arts and Humanities is also essential to understand and navigate the world and the people in it. But there is a need to act. We need to question our basic conception of education and what it should look like. And we need to do more than just tinkering around the edges. The time has come for a fundamental change to how we think about education and technology.