The adoption of new technology in schools and colleges across the country is increasing substantially, with the education sector garnering serious attention from major industry players.
For example, Microsoft recently made an education-focused version of its hugely popular block-building game Minecraft available to classrooms around the world, while initiatives such as BBC Micro:bit and Raspberry Pi have enjoyed great success within the school ecosystem.
In 2017 the edtech sector is showing no signs of slowing down, but what can we expect to see over the next 12 months?
Steve Johnson, regional director for Northern Europe at Ruckus Wireless’ believes a greater focus on STEM subjects (science, technology, education and maths) will be key in a world where a growing skills gap is threatening a range of industries.
“For the coming years I think I really am seeing a growth in the investment in STEM teaching. Given the macro environment that we find ourselves in, a rapidly changing world, the advancement of expectations around Brexit, there are certain industries that our education system needs to really support in terms of home grown talent.
“We’ve got the talent here, we just need to direct it in the right way. For me I think we’ll see a greater leaning towards those kind of technology-based, engineering-based kind of subjects.”
Johnson certainly isn’t alone in thinking this. LEGO Education recently joined the HP For Education initiative with the aim of boosting technology skills amongst young people and global STEM education initiative F1 in Schools is working to develop the next generation of automotive engineers.
However, Andy Barnes, director of technology at Bryanston School, believes we need to take this a step further: “Yes, we still are trying to breed coders, but we always lag behind in the mathematical skills of the curriculum,” he said.
“So the trend I see really emerging is innovation, creativity and coding. If we’re going to make a difference as a country and as educationalists, it will be kids that look at, not just the idea that you write code because you want to make an app do this, but how do you change the social interactions of people?
“Learning Python or learning Swift is great, but it’s only a fraction of what we need to do.”
Barnes also believes that, as schools and colleges continue to collect more data on their students through the likes of beacon technology, 2017 will be the year when more attention is paid to how this data is being used.
“[In 2017] it’s going to be the idea of getting all this data that’s inside schools to do some work. All schools have far more data than they use. I think most schools are silos of data because they feel they need to be, not because they know why they need to be. The systems that come along and are able to make sense of it, not just record it, gets you to the sweet spot where, in real time, you as a learner understand what is happening.
“That’s really exciting and there are people starting to look at it seriously, so I think this time next year we’ll be seeing some really interesting stuff.”
By making better use of the data they collect, schools will be able to do things like deliver personalised lessons and learning materials, optimise certain areas depending on their needs and even look for trends to gain insights into areas such as mental health.
In terms of specific technologies, 2017 could be the year when virtual reality (VR) starts to seriously make an impact in education.
Already being touted as a technology that could transform multiple industries, the amount of VR headsets on show at edtech expo Bett 2017 suggests the education sector isn’t far behind in realising the possibilities on offer.
“There’s definitely a place for VR in classrooms and enhancing education in this way is just the tip of the iceberg as I’m certain that VR will become widely used for training in other sectors,” said Colin Bethell, director at Veative.
“The most complex side of VR is the content itself, so in order to make this work effectively in the classroom, content needs to be aligned to curriculums as much as possible. This will then allow the content to go beyond the ‘virtual tour’ experiences we’re seeing currently and provide interactive supplementary classroom learning materials.”
Sanjesh Sharma, trainer at ClassVR, echoed these thoughts and believes VR is the future: “Virtual reality allows you to do things that were previously inconceivable,” he said. “Virtual reality allows you to create the impossible experience.” It
The main question educators have to answer is how exactly VR will fit into the classroom environment, especially seeing as it is still a relatively unfamiliar technology to many teachers and students.
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