Delany & Co series on London Technology Week continued…
One of the first events to kick off London Technology Week 2015 focused on ‘The Future of Education’ and how advancing technology will impact education. And it raised an important question for me, do we really need Technology in Education (EdTech)?
From an outside perspective, it’s fair to say that my generation (mid-20s) and previous generations have managed just fine without a huge amount of technology in the classroom. We didn’t have innovative technology-based learning in school but we learned and adapted none the less. We were able to succeed in STEM subjects and incorporated technology into our lives out of interest and desire to understand not because we thought it would help us learn. And yet the march of technology has impacted every aspect of life, including education and so important questions need to be asked such as – how do we measure the success of EdTech? or how will children’s use of them be assessed? I hoped to find some of the answers at ‘The Future of Education’, which comprised a series of demos of potential products or approaches to be used in the classroom.
The most impressive demo was from SAM labs: a program that simplifies coding to a blank canvass where students can connect a series of commands represented by pictures to create their desired outcome. It begs the question, do we really need to learn how to code, when programs can be created that simplify coding into a drag, drop and connect exercise?
In another presentation, the audience was introduced to the term, ‘Learfing.’ Originating from Finland, it establishes a premise that technology allows kids to learn how to learn more effectively. While EdTech products all vary in methods and end results, what was clear was the subtle distinction between simply acquiring skills and the ability to problem-solve. By trying to inspire ‘learfing’ or spark the imagination they could be infinitely more effective than traditional learning aides or teaching tools as children are encouraged to explore their natural interests. Britain is currently experiencing a shortage of STEM skills and this does need to be addressed. EdTech, through code clubs and other extra-curricular activities, provided by the school or by Educational Partnerships are currently the best way. A greater number of students can be reached this way but more importantly it provides a different type of environment, where kids are not forced to learn but are learning out of desire to find out more, rather than being force fed. It also provides an opportunity for teachers to observe how best EdTech can fit into their subject and the curriculum, and ensure that it has the desired learning effect and outcomes.
A refreshing idea that also came out of the event was the concept of ‘Digital Inclusion’ where technology with an educational focus can simply allow young people to be good at using technology without having an academic measurable outcome. EdTech then doesn’t necessarily need be tailored to the classroom and as long it can be wide reaching in the types of students it affects – academically strong, arts-orientated, athletic and those who never even realised they were good at using technology in the first place, it can be equally effective. This idea then is particularly important as technology plays such a prominent role in our day to day lives and can very much hinder our ambitions.
I left the event having heard about some fascinating approaches now being tried in learning environments and concluded that, yes technology does have an important role to play. It can level the playing field, for example, and help children to succeed regardless of background, grades or the opportunities afforded to them because at the end of the day, no one will care where you came from or what your academic strengths are if you can create a product or an app that innovates or disrupts the current technology norm.
But ultimately, technology then should be viewed as an enabler, that works in conjunction with educational practises and methods instead of trying to replace them. It’s important to remember however that a.) learning can not only just take place in the classroom but must also happen at the kitchen table and b.) a bigger screen does not equate to a higher quality of learning or teaching. This is easy to forget when we get caught up in the buzz that technology can disrupt education for the better.