Union

At the intersect between education and technology

December, 2017

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Are Australian universities failing their students?

Higher education is big business, especially in Australia where it’s a billion-dollar industry. Around a million young Australian’s attend university under the perception that the degree they get upon graduating will be their best chance at securing a stable future. But is it really?

Over the last decade, the higher education industry in Australia has shifted to a demand-driven system, courting higher numbers of students than ever before. Australian universities spent three-hundred million dollars on advertising over the course of the last financial year, and have spent 1.7 billion dollars over the last seven years, pouring funds into digital marketing and SEO strategies amid a climate of fierce competition for both local and international students.

But despite spending big on marketing, it seems universities have been failing to teach it. There have been complaints from within the marketing industry that graduates are coming out of their studies unprepared and lacking the needed skills to perform in the workplace. With the rapid pace at which digital technology and related marketing strategies develop, many students finishing a three-year degree are a step-behind the industry standards.

In fact, business related degrees in general, seem to be failing students once they reach the job market. Accounting and finance degrees have seen little change over the last thirty years, despite massive disruption within the industries themselves. Education too, has come under fire for not adequately preparing graduates for the reality of the classroom. And programming graduates are entering the workforce without any security training.

The truth is, courses at Australian universities still assume a relatively static workforce, where graduates aren’t required to continuously adapt to new environments and engage with new technologies. 60 per cent of professions will be impacted by automation within the next 10 years, however students today are still training for today’s jobs. Training for jobs that, very likely, won’t exist by the time the time they enter the workforce.

Universities are archaic institutions, but they don’t have to remain that way. Current teaching methods at Australian universities are dated, lacking in practical skills and hands-on experience and students are all too aware.

According to recent surveys, at least twenty percent of current students are worried they’ll graduate without the practical skills they need, and only a third of university students believe their degree will get them the job they want.

Data released by the Australian government has highlighted this uncertainty, showing that only two-thirds of students are completing their degrees. Of those who do finish, fifteen percent of students are still unemployed four years after graduating.

It’s time for Australian universities to reform, and make meaningful changes to traditional courses. Universities should invest in new technologies and incorporate their use within degrees, and units need to include more flexible learning experiences that focus on present trends, as well as providing the historical perspective. Adopting changes like these are just small steps, but they’re necessary ones if Australian universities intend to better prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow.

Students pay a lot for the privilege of attending university. Understandably, they expect the degree that they get at the end be worth the paper it’s written on.

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Making Learning Fun with Education Technology

Smart phones, laptops, gaming devices and internet are ubiquitous influences in contemporary society. The education space has been traditionally slow in the adoption of technology. But with conventional methods of learning becoming redundant and technology proving to be a game-changer, the education system needs to embrace innovations in web-based education technology. Technology has an immense potential to change the role of a teacher from a transmitter of information to a facilitator of the learning process and make learning a fun-filled and memorable experience.

Laptops are crucial to learning and should be used to their optimal potential. Students can use laptops to complete homework, share and review their work, while the teachers can give assignments and conduct evaluations with the help of computer software. Tablets are also a very handy tool for learning. They enhance classroom learning by facilitating easy access to text-books and lessons and can be used to access the internet.

The internet is a treasure-trove of information about everything and from every corner of the world. The students should be encouraged to use the net to supplement the classroom teaching, enhance subject-specific know-how, and complete the assignments and projects. They should be motivated to pursue learning on a 24/7 basis by making use of the abundant e-books and courses available online. YouTube and Vimeo would also be useful in supplementing the learning process.

The students of today, especially the millennial generation, are engrossed in the social media world. Facebook and Twitter platforms can be effective means of promoting discussion and sharing of study resources among students. Twitter can be a bridge between the young sharp minds and well-known experts in their respective fields. Blogs can be instruments for the students to showcase their academic work and latent creativity. The students can respond to classroom lectures and social happenings by posting their thoughts and impressions on the class blog. The feedback would in turn encourage students to improvise on their learning and creativity.

Game-based Learning can enrich the learning experience. Kids love to play games. Mobiles and tablets, equipped with educational games revolving around a subject or a topic, can trigger and bolster learning. Games can also promote mental development through a process of positive reinforcement and healthy competition.

One needs to, however, tread the internet with caution as nefarious world of hackers and malware are lurking behind its underbelly. Malware is a huge illegal business that involves the creation and spread of malicious viruses, spywares and fake security software. The risk of a malware attack can be minimized by installing firewalls, changing passwords and updating software on a consistent basis. It is also advisable to use web malware scanners to determine a website’s susceptibility to potential hackers and malware and detect if it has already been compromised in any way.

Technology has the potential to transform learning into a fulfilling and fun-filled experience, provided the teachers integrate the available technologies into their teaching methodologies and curriculum.

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How tech is disrupting education

The rapid evolution of technology has caused disruptions in most economic sectors over the last two decades. However, the education sector has been relatively less-affected by changing technologies, until fairly recently. Technology providers have made dramatic inroads into the education industry over the last few years. Many experts are of the view that the industry is at crossroads insofar as adoption of technology is concerned. The top five that they predict for the next few years are:

  • Use of augmented/ virtual reality: It is expected that education will become increasingly interactive, thanks to augmented and virtual reality. For instance, the history session at school need not remain confined to the classroom. They can, with the help of virtual reality apps, transport themselves to ancient Greece. It is estimated that active learning is fifty per cent more effective than the traditional classroom learning model of education. Given that the concept is still in its infancy, the real effects will only be known in the years to come.
  • Personalised learning: One of the greatest weaknesses of the traditional education system has been the ‘one size fits all’ approach. Across the world, educators have had limited success in tailoring the pedagogy to suit individual requirements of students- until now that is. Technology is enabling personalisation of education in a manner that was unimaginable even a few years ago.

Blended learning allows a combination of self-learning and instructions from a teacher, giving students a certain degree of control over the pace of learning as well as the learning path. Adaptive learning can similarly empower students by analysing user responses and adapting the learning experience based on it.

  • Real time feedback: The traditional system of evaluation involves end of semester or end of year examinations to verify learning outcomes, leaving little scope for mid-path correction. However, modern education technologies can map student progress in real-time, enabling timely intervention to assist students overcome areas of weakness.
  • Devices in the classroom: As the teaching/ learning experience increasingly becomes technology driven, it naturally follows that the devices such as laptops, tablets and other such gadgets will become an essential part of the learning experience. In fact, it is likely that those devices will figure prominently in the classroom in the years to come, due to the affordability provided by falling prices and student discounts.

The proliferation of such devices combined with online connectivity will empower students and teachers alike with information extending well beyond the traditional textbooks.

  • Transformation of learning spaces: The very concept of a learning space evokes images of a classroom with rows of desks and chairs facing the teacher. All that is rapidly transforming, as blackboards give way to smartboards and textbooks are replaced by smart devices as discussed above. Even more remarkable is the fact that learning spaces are no longer confined to the classroom or, for that matter, the premises of an educational institution. Online education using apps such as skype, or Google Hangouts is already a common phenomenon. Its only a matter of tie before colleges and universities cotton on to this trend.
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