Heads in the clouds

| March 9, 2012 | 0 Comments

ISASA teachers predict the future.

Most educationists have come around to the idea that technology should be a key consideration for school Heads and Business Managers when planning for the future.

Some typical guiding questions may be: which technologies will impact learning in classrooms in one year or less? Four to five? Ten to 20?

Says American education commentator Patrick Ledesma, schools should also be asking: “Are we defined by a culture of innovation when it comes to examining emerging technologies for our potential impact on, and use in, teaching, learning, and creative inquiry?”1

These kinds of questions are on the lips of education policymakers and analysts in the USA, observes Ledesma, prompted by the release of key data such as the 2011 Horizon Report2 from the New Media Consortium (NMC) and the Educause Learning Initiative (ELI). The report authors classified their findings into emerging trends, critical challenges and technologies to watch.

Emerging trends

Don’t take the volume of information made available by the internet for granted, NMC and ELI researchers warn educators. Trend one requires teachers to ask, on a daily basis, how this immeasurably vast – and growing – resource recasts their roles when it comes to “credentialing, sense-making and coaching”.

Trend two: people now expect to be able to access information, to learn, to study and to work instantaneously, whenever and wherever they want. This means school administrators should start considering the fundamental nature of the classroom of the future. Will the physical campus exist at all? Won’t information technology (IT) support be completely decentralised?

Two more important technology-in-education trends concern the way student learning is organised. As technology gives rise to more collaboration in learning, so the idea of solo study tends to look rather ‘old school’. And as we expect our students to work more closely together, says the NMC report, so we should make cloud-based and open-source technologies and knowledge solutions available to all students, everywhere.

Critical challenges

The report also details issues that present considerable challenges to education institutions around the world where access to basic resources is absent. Digital media literacy, for example, is fast becoming the cornerstone of every modern discipline and profession, but what to do if your school doesn’t have computers – or even worse, a stable electricity supply? Appropriate evaluation methodologies need to match the emergence of new scholarly forms of online authoring, publishing and researching, but do your teachers still cling to antiquated systems? Socio-economic pressures are currently affecting access to tertiary institutions across the globe, and new post-school education models – blended learning, for example – threaten the notion of the traditional university. Are your students ready? And perhaps most importantly, software tools and devices proliferate rapidly in today’s classrooms. Does your Business Manager know which ones to buy?

Technologies to watch

The NMC has provided some guidelines. Using a time-toadoption horizon varying between one and five years, the consortium predicts that the following technologies will guide classroom teaching and learning: electronic books, mobile units (smartphones, iPads, etc.), augmented reality (adding a computer-assisted layer of contextual information over the real world), game-based learning, gesture-based learning and learning analytics (using data mining, interpretation and modelling to improve teaching and learning).

ISASA IT teachers know their stuff We asked some ISASA member schools to take the exercise one step further. What will the future look like, we wondered? Schools all over the country weighed in with some predictions.

It’s gratifying that teachers are right on the money. “For many years now, the traditional role of the teacher has shifted, from being the source of knowledge to being a learning facilitator. Technology is an easy way to get students involved in and taking more responsibility for their learning,” agrees Rick Greener, Deputy Principal of the International School of Cape Town and Co-founder of EdTechConf.3 Adds Marius van der Walt, Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) Director at St Mary’s School, Waverley: “It is becoming as important for schools to adopt technology as it is for corporations to be competitive, green and sustainable.”

Mobile device the tool with the most impact Voicing what hundreds of teachers believe, Karen Stadler from Elkanah House says that “the advent of the mobile device has forever changed the future of technology in the classroom”. Moreover, mobile devices – in one form or another – will continue to dominate the education landscape. Says Peter Henning, IT Director at St John’s College: “Next-generation student-owned data tablets will give students all of their notes, textbooks, diaries, productivity and communication tools, plus the whole contents of the internet, right at their fingertips at all times throughout the school day.”

“In years to come, students will utilise mobile learning devices (MLDs) which they will use to store, retrieve, annotate, create, share, download, upload and access any information that they could possibly need,” asserts Greener.

Susan Ausmeier, Head of IT at Durban Girls’ College, speculates that “each learner will own a wireless tablet device which will be capable of connecting instantaneously and costfree to any network, and any other electronic device”. For Wayne Strydom, IT Manager at SAHETI School, interactive flat-screen panels will line a classroom’s walls. Similarly, Delia Kench from St Benedict’s College hopes that “all the walls will be screens that can change. They could show static thoughts, pictures and words that enhance what the teacher is saying. They could also display automatically animated enhancements of more difficult concepts. The walls would be the beginning of my virtual classroom.

We are living in the most visually stimulating time of our lives, yet we are bound by brick walls.” And Stadler, Van der Walt and Ausmeier believe passionately in iCloud technology – online virtual storage of any material, such as podcasts, videos and more conventional revision exercise – as the teaching and learning tool of the future.

Technology equals teamwork

All the ISASA teachers who contributed to this discussion agreed that technology will continue to shift the focus to collaborative learning. “Classrooms will need to be arranged to facilitate this – no longer ‘facing the front’ but facing each other,” says Greener. “Desks will consist of large interactive touch-sensitive screens, where information is dragged around and manipulated creatively and cooperatively by the students while being shared.” In Ausmeier’s future classroom, “gone are the rows of desks – tables are now in arrangements which promote collaboration (e.g. several loose horseshoe shapes), but still allow learners to easily see a central interactive board”.

Location, location, location Many teachers imagine that technology will transform the actual classroom. Ausmeier’s vision is more tame than some, but imminently imaginable. “An electronic bulletin board will pop up automatically upon log-in to display messages and notices from teachers and committees. A central permanent electronic calendar will record and remind students of dates of tests, assignments due and sporting events. Each learner will be equipped with her own wireless headphone and microphone to connect through video with learners from other classes or schools.” Joining the conversation, Ronnie James and Joseph Ellis, the ICT team from The Mountain Cambridge School, predict the welcome death of the ubiquitous book bag in the future. Their prediction that “a single screen will double as a textbook, workbook and teacher resource – your class is wherever you are” sounds infinitely reasonable.

Other educators imagine a more unconventional future. For Henning, traditional location will be rendered irrelevant. “The classroom will become a 3D projected environment in which students can interact and collaborate with the objects of study. Students will watch a performance of Hamlet from the ‘inside’. They could experience the inner workings of a volcano or car engine directly, in a shared and interactive 3D simulation.” Kench’s ‘fluid’ walls would enable her future colleagues to stack classes “side-by-side for instant futuristic team teaching”. Henriëtte van der Merwe from Flamboyant School envisions that “students will take an interactive pad with them to any suitable location where they can follow a facilitator’s lecture, interact with the facilitator and fellow learners via voice response. Learners will move out into the real world where practical applications of new concepts, and computer simulations could prompt on-site problem solving.”

Equity and interplanetary tolerance Van der Walt conceives that such seamless ‘real world’ learning will solve problems of inequity when it comes to accessing quality schooling. “Lessons placed in a library or iCloud will be accessed anywhere, anytime and notions like ‘rural’ and ‘underprivileged students’ will fall away. And in the event of many unplanned events or disasters, work will continue.”

Rina Slabbert, from Kingfisher Private Schools in Limpopo, doesn’t agree that the digital divide will disappear. “It will become difficult for older people to get jobs, because the speed at which new technologies will appear. And those that design new technologies do not think of the lot of poor people. New technology will lead to more poverty and job losses.” Peter Muller from St Paul’s College in Windhoek, Namibia, has a more revolutionary dream. “2011 was a year when the Internet showed its power to democratise societies, when the Arab revolutions were fuelled by Facebook and Twitter. In the future, technology will create a more level playing field.” Adds Kench: “My future colleagues’ students could form study group and debates with peers across the globe and from other planets, for all we know. What better way to inculcate inter-planetary tolerance? Then the teacher could import a quiet river bank setting into the environment to bring the tone down and get the students to engage in some creative work.”

Holograms and extrasensory perception Brendan Botha from Grace College is more than happy to go with such space-age thinking. According to him: “The growing advancements in touch technology and robotics will produce holograms of certain aspects of the subject under study.” Says Greener: “‘Star Wars’ technology has already been developed and will impact on education, with students literally being able to walk through history or a cell or geographical landscapes.” Laura Holdsworth from St Francis College recalls the visionary television programme Star Trek when she imagines that “students will be able to experience all life situations in the virtual reality rooms in school and at home”, and Syndie Williams from Theodor Herzl High School has solved a perennial problem. “Future classrooms will be equipped with sensors that pick up brain waves so that what students are thinking need not even be verbalised, giving rise to extrasensory perception between teacher and learner. This means no more cheating because teacher will know what you are thinking!”

What becomes of the teacher in a futuristic scenario? For Van der Walt, the answer is “iResponse – a unique supercomputer, registering answers to questions. With voice, text or visual requests, this data will be answered and analysed; artificial intelligence delivered in a controlled manner. The student will be able to respond with counter-arguments and the supercomputer will have knowledge of these variables and return a value accordingly.” Botha’s net books will produce “a hologram of a teacher, allowing learners to study in the comfort of their own homes”.

Others are less keen to lose the human element in the classroom to come. Strydom believes his interactive panel, connected to Bluetooth-like technology, will enable one teacher to reach a class of thousands in cyberspace. And Kench feels that any teacher could instantaneously call for reinforcements: “She could beam in an expert or mentor who could guide the class through a specific problem.”

Technology will enable learning styles and assessment ISASA teachers have also given considerable thought to the kinds of learning that technology could support or enhance in the future. “Individualised programmes for learners with different needs will be whipped up by supercomputers,” reckons Stadler. Van der Merwe’s interactive pad will give pupils access to knowledge in a format suitable to the individual’s learning preferences and needs. “For example, visual learners will be presented with information packaged into pictures of different kinds. Auditory learners will be able to listen and speak while learning and kinaesthetic learners will be guided to learn actively. Learners with specific educational needs will find it much easier to learn inclusively because their interactive educational pad could be programmed to suit their own pace and give support as needed. On the sport field of the future, the pad will act as a personal trainer setting fitness and other goals.”

Upping the apps ante

“It would be impossible to ignore the advantages of such a tool for assessment purposes,” adds Van der Merwe. “Pupils with learning delays will be able to see and hear their learning materials and to respond orally where possible. ‘Marking’ will occur instantaneously, providing immediate feedback.”

“Interactive technology will enable students to reflect on their learning at their own pace without the necessity of the teacher having to be there for each student, all the time,” adds Greener.

Botha has also factored applications – apps – into the ‘classroom’ of the future: “I think that apps will aid learners in each subject they study, like dissectible frogs on a multi-touch display device, protecting the planet’s natural resources at the same time. Students will be able to synchronise their apps across devices for easy access.” Adds Donna Calhau, from Blouberg International School: “Babies will be born with ‘ingrown iPads’ on their forearms that will include educational apps controlling their development and their entertainment.”

Big Brother is watching you! Two ISASA teachers have envisioned slightly darker scenarios, included here for discussion in your own staffroom. Fantasises Tracey Bolland, Computer Centre Manager at Marist Brothers Linmeyer: “Prospective parents will be able to pre-plan the lives of their unborn child: choosing an educational field of study, potential sporting ability, academic achievements and other interests via computer applications that will control the genetic programming of DNA strands. Growth spurts (upgrades) will be achieved by placing the baby onto a docking station every few months to ensure that all milestones have been reached. “School buildings will disappear. Only the know-how to select the relevant app to suit the child’s predetermined developmental requisites will be required by parents. The teacher’s traditional role will also fall away, replaced instead by ‘Docking Station Managers’ and ‘Parental Genetic Advice Counsellors’, well recompensed for their talents and skills. They will also enjoy great social standing and will be much soughtafter they have signed special secrecy clauses.

“Failure by parents to ‘get with the programme’ could result in hardware crashes, system failures and even the freezing of their offspring.”

And if the future was up to Mel Marx from St Dominic’s College, the following will be our descendants’ fate: “Social networking has deformed our youth and thus, in the future, technology utilises what we used to know as ‘classes’ and holographic projections to rebuild social relations. Our food has become void of nourishment and thus break time at the tuck-shop is like going to the online pharmacy. Television is a dedicated Internet station. Channels don’t exist.”

Who really knows? Let’s leave the last word to author Wadi Haddad, who says: “Take care… While there are many innovative things happening in education which make it more accessible, exciting, collaborative and inclusive, it is a huge responsibility to consider the future of education. The main reason is that for each individual young person their education is vitally important for their whole life. We cannot perform radical experiments on their education without solid evidence that what we do is better than what has gone before. The risk of making things worse is significant. Therefore, one way to look forward is to look back and identify the aspects of education we would not want to lose.”4

References:

1. Ledesma, P. (2011) ‘Can you Predict the Future Technologies in
your Classroom?’, available at: http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/
leading_from_the_classroom/ 2011/02/can_you_predicting_the_
future_technologies_in_your_classroom.html.

2. Available at: http://wp.nmc.org/horizon2011/.

3. EdTechConf is an organisation that aims to bring together likeminded
schools, teachers and other interested parties for the
purpose of equipping, inspiring and training teachers in the use of
educational technology through local school-based workshops and
seminars and an annual conference in Cape Town. See
http://www.edtechconf.co.za/.

4. Haddad, W.D. and Draxler, A. (eds) (2002) Technologies for
Education: Potential, Parameters and Prospects. UNESCO, Paris &
Academy for Educational Development, Washington, D.C.

Category: Autumn 2012, e-Education, Featured Articles

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