At the intersect between education and technology

October, 2017

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Why EdTech Needs to Participate in a Changing World

Today, we stand at the forefront of a changing world. Every second of every minute, new data is being created. Attending a recent conference, an interesting statistic was utilized. 65% of today’s children will work in a job that does not exist yet. 65%. That is an incredible amount of people and changes to industry, but it is important to reflect on what that really means and where it starts.

The first considerations are not what could be, but are founded in what is occurring today, while we prepare for tomorrow. At this foundation, as a society it is essential to consider the influences of technology today. Education technology (also called EdTech), is changing faster before. Where it used to take weeks or months to understand fundamentals of how to teach the right way to all the different learning styles, is now being done in weeks.

Teachers are being given access to products that enhance their ability to teach. This type of teaching increases learning by allowing participation in a changing world. From various online courses to paid surveys, participation nw adapts to the learning styles of the users while connecting the important points of hands on learning that can be left behind with the implementation of new technologies.

What do the technologies look like? In many cases, we are already using them. Many schools have implemented a ‘Bring Your Own Device” protocol. By utilizing a BYOD method, allows educational systems to keep up to date for minimal cost. In fact, many schools have already been removing stand alone desktops from the classrooms in favor of tablets, or other devices like personal cellphones.

In many cases, educational technologies incorporate programs that use databases. A successful example of these types of databases is CMMS Software. This technology enables priority development, due date alternations if needed and problem reporting. To further the benefits of educational technology in the classroom, in the hands of the right teacher a database program like the one mentioned above can stimulate cognitive capabilities beyond expectation.

However, there are challenges facing the incorporation of educational technologies in the classroom. First, a teacher whom is willing to utilize and take the time to learn these programs is essential. Teachers are the driving force that will increase the ability of the next generation to fulfill the 65% of jobs that have yet to be created.

Next, it is essential to provide access to these software programs and the devices that support them. In a ‘No Student Left Behind’ society, this needs to be incorporated at an academic level that is sustainable for the cognitive abilities of children. The consistent investment by schools does not end at the purchase of a product. There is the need for constant technological change as well as updating and virus/hacker protection.

Since the invention of the telephone, humanity has been on a steady climb to technological change. Whether it was the development of the light bulb, or a hand held ‘smart’ phone, the changes are necessary for the advancement of youth who use educational technologies.

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Mental Health in the Classroom: are today’s teachers equipped to tackle it?

Almost half of the school-aged children in the United States experienced a traumatic event in the home in 2016 and incidents of mental health in children have risen dramatically in recent years world-wide. Mental health problems affect 1 in 10 young people in the United Kingdom, yet 50% of primary school teachers surveyed in England said they were unsure how to support children with mental health issues. A survey of 600 principals and teachers by Australian mental health charity beyondblue found that 47% said they didn’t have the time to dedicate to the mental health of students in the classroom.

A recent survey conducted by the Scottish Association for Mental Health found that only one out of 100 teachers in the country recalled training on mental health issues and how to spot them during their time as a student teacher.

Many teachers, worldwide, report feeling as if they do not receive adequate training in how to counsel and engage with students on mental health issues or controversial subjects.

Yet with their daily access to children, a teacher can often be in an ideal position to notice the tell-tale signs and symptoms of some sort of trauma or mental illness early on. There’s also evidence to suggest that in half of mental health conditions, symptoms will begin to emerge by age 14, meaning that teachers properly trained and equipped to deal with these issues means pupils could benefit from early detection and treatment.

There have been some efforts by governments and school to begin to address the gap in training. Wales has recently undertaken a new initiative designed to help provide support to school teachers and pupils by making specialist health staff accessible regularly to schools.

One school in Melbourne, Australia is also taking a new approach to tackling mental health through counselling and education. Ivanhoe Girls’ Grammar School runs a ‘fail week’ which encourages students to recognise the importance of failure to learning and development, the even includes teachers showcasing their own stuff-ups in the form of video footage.

But more still needs to be done if we want to seriously tackle the problem of youth mental illness, the problem is complex and a two-day training course or online module, while providing useful tools, is not necessarily enough.

The sort of guidance that teachers are expected to provide to students in a 21st Century class room goes beyond Professional career guidance or counselling. Diversity counselling, trauma counselling and anti-bullying initiatives, as offered by Naya Clinics are all becoming more and more necessary to help young people tackle the issues and hardships they may be faced with. In an industry where many are already overworked and strapped for time, placing the onus of identifying and recognising symptoms on teachers, as well as expecting them to provide the support, confidence-building and counselling, is too great a burden.

Government and community initiatives need to also train and help parents, relatives and friends. The battle for combating mental illness and reaching those students affected is a shared burden. It begins with counselling, not just in one office in a school, but in the classrooms, in the home and in the community.

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The Voice of Technology in the Classroom

George Couros, Canadian educator of innovative teaching says, “Technology will never replace great teachers, but technology in the hands of great teachers is transformation.”

To be sure, teaching was a totally different experience a generation ago. That was an age where teachers alone possessed information and presented it to students in the classroom, and students absorbed it. Today, much of what the teacher presented in days of yore, is available to students online. Therefore, teachers are now recreating their role in the classroom, with the aid of technology.

Teachers no longer spoon-feed information during school hours. Instead, they use technology to assist students in solving problems, in enhancing and collaborating in the learning process. Says Andrew Kim, a Steelcase WorkSpace Futures researcher, “More and more, classrooms are becoming places where knowledge is created versus consumed by students.”

However, two surveys of teachers undertaken in recent times, one by the Pew Research Center in Washington DC, and the other by Common Sense Media, a nonprofit based in San Francisco, California, reveal the existence of a widespread belief among teachers that students using digital technology with such frequency is hindering their attention spans and ability to persevere in the face of challenging tasks. Associate director for Research at Pew, Kristen Purcell, says that there is another perspective to these research findings – that is, the education system needs to change according to the way students learn. She said, ““What we’re labeling as ‘distraction,’ some see as a failure of adults to see how these kids process information. They’re not saying distraction is good but that the label of ‘distraction’ is a judgment of this generation.”

The students of today grew up with digital technology, and it is part of their daily lives, and so, a vital component of their educational process. Today’s students have become more independent in the classroom than in the past, and expect technology to be a requirement in education, rather than an added benefit from the school system. The corporate world is an added ally in this process, as they provide complementing apps to help the students in their quest for knowledge, while aiding teachers in a changing teaching environment.

New technologies in schools are always considered an extension of teaching, an enhancement of what the teacher provides rather than something to replace the teacher. Technology helps in lesson preparation, simplifying the teacher’s task. Teachers also use technology as an aid to assessing students. There are apps like ClassFlow which allow the teacher to determine how well the class has understood a particular lesson. It allows the teacher to determine how well individual students have comprehended the lesson, and, in turn, the teacher is able to provide appropriate feedback to students. Technology has helped break down the boundaries of the four-walled classroom, allowing students and teachers to share ideas and collaborate in ways that were not possible before.

With the advent of technology, learning at all levels is happening remotely as well as onsite. For instance, students access content online away from their classrooms and use the knowledge in the classroom subsequently, by engaging in discussions or group work. As Andrew Kim says, “What’s interesting is that as learning is becoming more virtual, the virtual activities are actually becoming more physical. You might say the virtual and the physical are meeting in the middle.”

And so, it is obvious that technology will not replace teachers. However, teachers who use technology will probably replace those who don’t.

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Tertiary Cybercrime is a Real Threat

Cybercrime in general has been on the rise in 2017, but universities have been increasingly amongst the targets, with the education sector seeing first-hand the effects of the growing sophistication of hackers and digital criminals.

In July, Newcastle University in the UK fell victim to a phishing scam in the form of a website fraudulently operating using its name and logo. And Canadian based MacEwan University lost 11.8 million thanks to an email scam which phished for the universities financial details by sending emails to staff requesting they update account details with current vendors. Africa too has faced an increase in attacks, with Zimbabwe’s National University of Science and Technology amongst the most recent targets.

But it isn’t only phishing which poses a cyber security risk for universities.

Cyber criminals are also launching hundreds of attacks against the world’s leading institutions every year, attempting to steal university research. The primary areas of interest to digital thieves are medical and engineering records and research. FOI’s obtained by The Times showed that Oxford experienced 515 cases of unauthorized access to accounts in 2016, and the research targeted varied from medical advances to military grade stealth fabrics.

What makes tertiary educational institutions such a common target? It’s thanks in part to the massive staff email servers and intranet which keep universities connected, which provide multiple entry points for a trojan, or phishing scam, to take hold.

And on top of that, there’s also the coming and going of hundreds of laptops, smartphones, tablets, music players and a range of other digital devices carried in and out by students, staff and contractors, every day.

Experts agree that the best way to prevent these sorts of scams is education, the institution as a whole has to learn to back up data and to beware of phishing emails. Ensuring that staff and students at universities understand the need for patch-management and proper cyberhygiene is one of the easiest ways to keep sensitive data and research safe.

But there are other methods available to help protect against cybercrime. An obvious way to help prevent phishing and email scams, is to ensure they have the best SSL certificates available, which offer high-authentication methods to differentiate real websites from fake ones.  

Responsiveness in the moment is also something which universities can struggle with when it comes to dealing with a digital threat. Well-developed incident management plans can assist with controlling losses and mitigating damages.

Monitoring systems that regularly scan and quarantine Malware are just as vital for large, interconnected networks as home networks, if not more so. Universities should be investing in the right protection software if they want to keep their users and data safe.

The unique threats posed to universities from cybercrime are only going to increase as the complexity and cunning of hackers and malware developers continues to increase. Through 2017 and beyond, the question of cyber security should be a major issue on the board of tertiary institution across the globe.

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