Educators – Keep Up With the Future

For educators it’s so obvious that it’s not often enough acknowledged that our professional work is all about preparing young people for the future. We know, deep down, that when we preside over forms of education that don’t take full and effective notice of the future, however uncertain, are a failure to fulfill our duty and responsibilities to our students.

Especially in the field of technology and particularly technological changes’ impacts on society there is a reality that once something new comes to the public consciousness there is a tendency to over-anticipate the impact in the short term and under-estimate the long term impact. one of the results of this is that people’s first reaction to something like Artificial Intelligence is to get very excited, but then when they don’t see immediate impact in their own lives personally they downgrade their expectations to the point of disregarding the long term impacts for them. When those long term impacts arrive, too often people aren’t adequately prepared and there may even be anger as the effects take over.

So, as educators today in a world that sees the timeframes of change getting shorter and shorter we have a great need to keep up our understanding of future changes and to be actively engaged in the debates and discussions about their implications for the lives of our pupils. And, incidentally, this is not just important for the science teachers, though the excitement and anticipation of what’s possible in the future can certainly play a big part in motivating students to pursue the sciences and to be interested and excited to learn.

However, my experience is that too often teachers struggle for sources of good, up to date and informed information. I believe educators could do a lot worse than to follow the work of Mr Peter Diamandis.

Peter DiamandisPeter Diamandis 2S

Who is Peter Diamandis? He’s best known for being founder and Chairman of the X-Prize, as well as being the co-founder of the California based Singularity University (with Ray Kurzweil). Between them they have access to inside knowledge on the changes taking place in many major areas of invention, innovation and those areas where change is going to have the biggest impact in the future.

In January 2020, along with Steven Kotler, will be publishing a new book – The Future is Faster Than You Think. In the run up to the book coming out he’s sharing excerpts from the book weekly through a fascinating and some amazing email newsletters. In the last few months Diamandis has been blowing my mind with amazing and very understandable (for a non scientist) information on the current forces that are changing our world; 5G, 3D Printing, expansion of the mind, VR, AR, Artificial Intelligence, future of food, sensors, health and wellbeing,

Here’s Peter Diamandis himself summing up some of these issues and their implications at the annual conference at Singularity University:

 

One of the best ways for teachers and educators to keep up is to subscribe to his email newsletters, starting with ‘Abundance Insider’ – full details at his website:

Peter Diamandis Website

To finish, if Diamandis is right about even half of his predictions, and particularly the timescales, then we are looking at an amazing and exciting decade ahead. Such a time of phenomenal change offers enormous opportunities for our students but also poses challenges for those ‘left behind.’ We need to be informed.

Schools and IT Hardware Acquisition

educational-technology__zoom

“Look how hi-tec we are! Look at our techie bling!”

This was the message that thousands of schools were seeking to put out to the public around 7-10 years ago when they bought and installed interactive white boards. Some even felt the need to put massive display boards outside the front of their schools to tell parents, prospective parents and the local community that they had invested in this technology. This should have been a worrying sign to everyone. This hardware wasn’t being acquired and installed for education reasons or reasons that had anything to do with children, their learning or the ability of teachers to enhance that learning.

People were bemused when I was Director at The Shri Ram Schools that in the midst of all this we had still not installed any of these boards. This wasn’t motivated by being tight-fisted or unwilling to invest. Rather, each year we would carry out an assessment and concluded that installing the boards would actually be an obstacle to the changes we were seeking to bring about in teaching approaches and methods. The technology would have become a hiding place for teachers who were reluctant to make real internal changes and step out of their comfort zones. The result – more investment in training and a strong focus on supporting our teachers through their changes led to better implementation of personalised learning, differentiation and new and more effective teaching methods.

And for all those other schools? Sadly, all the evidence shows that the fears that I and my TSRS team had were well founded.  Those schools installed the hardware, paraded it to people as a reason to believe that their schools were something special, but their presence changed little about the way teaching was done (meaning they had very little, if any, effect on student learning).

The negative position was even confirmed in some research in late 2017 that I was personally involved with. It showed that even in schools where there were high proportions of teachers trained with PGCE and with a great deal of experience, over 80% of the teachers used the interactive white boards for nothing more than ‘showing pictures and video’.

Now, I have some radical news for you – you can do all of that with a large flat screen TV in the classroom and a) the picture quality is miles better, and b) the cost is only about 60% of the overall cost of all the classroom hardware and software for an interactive white board. So, as a result, it doesn’t make education or financial sense to keep putting these boards in every classroom in new schools, or replacing them all when they reach the end of their productive lives.

Now, I’m not saying all was bad. There were still around 20% of teachers who were using these boards as they were designed and they were contributing to some great learning. Most often, these tended to be in early years classrooms where the interactivty and participative nature of the learning suits the children, their ages and the material being learned and in science and maths fields for some topics where they can be really useful to convey and manipulate complex data, graphs or 3-D graphic models of body systems etc. So, I still believe there should be some installed in some rooms of a school – where specific good reason can justify!

But, think what schools could do with the surplus funds freed up.  School Heads will always have good uses for such freed up funds.

White boards

Another area on which I’ve continued to be baffled is with regard to creating, setting up and equipping computer labs. Why do schools keep doing it blindly, without questioning or challenging what they’re doing – especially when setting up a new school? From an owner/ promoter’s perspective in the most simple terms, a computer lab is a pure cost centre. Children leave a classroom empty and unitilised to go and occupy the computer lab for a period of time. If that room wasn’t a lab it would be a more standard learning space, so it becomes income generating (you can accommodate a certain number of students in that room at whatever are the fees of the school. This may often be more than the typical revenue from one standard class of students as these rooms are often designed to be double the size of a normal classroom.

My principle reason for saying this is that in the world we live in today IT is ubiquitous and it comes to us. The days when we physically moved to a space for the purpose of using IT is long past. There are a whole variety of arrangements that schools can use – trolleys for charging and moving tablets or laptops, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) schemes, loan and buy back personal devices arrangements etc. The reality is that we don’t really need labs for anything except high end programming and CADCAM type work (so, just one lab even for a very large school. Of course, if you’re in India, you will still have to have at least one lab – because the examination board insists you must! Such is life, huh.

After attending a couple of big conferences in India and Malaysia in the last 4 months that included exhibitions, I fear we’re destined to prove we learned little from those past experiences with the interactive white boards. I felt a sense of deja vu.  Except, where in the past every second or third exhibitor was peddling electronic white boards their 2019 avatars are extolling the amazing and stunning benefits of hardware for Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) or Robotics. But, again, all the clues are there – this seems too often to be at least as much about school marketing and impressing parents than about bringing in new and radical changes to student learning   It’s more bling to show off, to prove credentials of modernity and progressive nature in the school, where the approaches to teaching and the underlying ideological approach to education, its purpose and methodologies haven’t really changed.

Before a school introduces new technology there’s a need for a ‘warts and all’ deep and searching internal audit and self-assessment that needs to start right from – what do we exist for, what are our purposes? The next question is, why are we considering buying this technology and how does it figure within the context of our current approaches to teaching and learning? What would need to change if we are to harness the learning potential of this technology and how much confidence should we have that those changes are possible and likely? This analysis gives clues about whether it does or doesn’t make sense to go ahead to bring the technology in (and the timing).

I hope i’m wrong. Because, if i’m right there are very real risks that instead of such technology becoming tools to progress the changes in education that our young people need, they either contribute nothing, or worse, get in the way and become an excuse not to change or innovate. This is not the time to allow blockages and inhibitions to get in the way of education reform and change. With a world pace of change accelerating beyond anything we’ve ever experienced before, we have to have an education system that is open, ready to change, flexible and responsive. otherwise, we will fail to do our duty by young people and society at large.

 

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