At the intersect between education and technology

  • Why Our Growing Dependence On Technology In Schools Is Not Always A Good Thing

    The Naplan failure – which saw up to 60 percent of the Australian school students undertaking the online test experience connectivity issues and other technicalRead More

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  • Education Technology Is Bigger And Better Than It Has Ever Been

      In the academic space that spans the globe, there is quite a lot of attention to detail and overall focus placed around how toRead More

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Charting a New Path to Career Success

Old technologies and jobs are either fading away or morphing into something new. Emerging technologies such as AI, IOT, blockchain and analytics can cause massive disruptions in existing jobs and industries, but also have the potential to create wealth and new kinds of jobs. The education system, in its current form, is woefully unprepared to capitalize on evolving job opportunities as it has its roots and was designed to support the age of industrialization. It is therefore time for policy makers worldwide to rethink the existing education system. They need to eliminate the bias towards tertiary education and focus on technical and vocational education.

Educational innovation and change is already in the air, albeit in selective pockets. Finland is poised to become the first country in the world to over-haul its education system by discontinuing school-level subjects and adopting a phenomenon-based learning methodology. In this approach, the students would bridge the artificial divisions between various disciplines by studying a concept through multiple lenses of science, geography, history, etc, thereby equipping themselves to better handle real-world issues. Do-it-yourself or alternative education is also gaining popularity as it teaches relevant skills for a fast-evolving environment.

Technological advances are allowing students to attend lectures without being physically present in classrooms. Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) pioneers such as the MIT, Stanford and Harvard are making top-quality course content available online free of cost, and alternative education providers such as Khan Academy, Udacity and Coursera are supplementing these efforts.

A floating school in Lagos and a gender-neutral school in Stockholm are beacons of innovative thinking in education. Vocational courses in unconventional fields such as jewellery and communication would be another means of riding the disruptive wave. Mass Communication courses are already gaining in popularity among the millennial generation of students. Pet grooming is another interesting career option at a time when people are becoming increasingly animal-friendly and willing to spend money on their pets. Connoisseurs of food and drinks can choose courses and careers in hotel management, wine and tea tasting, while adventure lovers and travel freaks can opt for courses such as scuba diving. Cartography could be an interesting area of study for those passionate about geography and related disciplines.

In the fashion space, gaining an expertise in gems and jewellery is the way forward. There are ample opportunities for designers (who design bracelets, chains, necklaces, nose rings, earrings, armlets, engagement rings, etc), trend analysts, merchandisers and brand managers in the jewellery segment. Film and television courses could bring in the glam factor and monetary returns in equal measure. And with the corporate and film industries coming into their own, the field of image consulting can be a pertinent career choice.

The British author and global educational advisor Sir Ken Robinson has rightly emphasized the need to reform the education system in order to realize human capacity to the fullest. Education needs to evolve to keep pace with the changing societal dynamics or risk being rendered irrelevant.

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What Blockchain Means for Higher Ed

While there has been plenty of buzz around blockchain and the ways it’s going to revolutionise everything from global finance to our daily lives, the implications of this new technology for the Education industry hasn’t gotten a lot of attention.

But, a new patent from Sony has hinted at the idea that the Japanese tech giant might be developing uses for blockchain in education. Back in August last year, Sony announced it was cooperating with IBM on a suite of education services that used blockchain to secure student records and data sharing.

According to digital marketing experts, One Stop Media, the largest users of Blockchain technology will be industries that require strict proof of identity. Blockchain offers a digital identity solution where authentication is secure and indisputable, and using it can mitigate data manipulation by internal or external threats.

Something education providers are all too aware of since universities and colleges became serious targets for hackers throughout 2017.

Adopting blockchain technology could provide plenty of benefits for the higher education sector.

Perhaps most exciting is its ability to permanently and securely store all records. Student records contain life-long identifying information. Maintaining the privacy and security of student data stored by academic institutions is of paramount importance, often involving costly storage and disposal processes for the boxes of paper-files. Blockchain could essentially eliminate paper from the equation; issuing reliable certificates and awards, transferring credits and keeping track of achievements of a student’s entire academic career.

When we breakdown all the hype and jargon surrounding it, the blockchain itself is simply a ledger. A record of transactions. In the case of cryptocurrencies, it’s recording the financial details – who sent it, how much was sent, who received it. It’s a pattern that is ideally suited to recording academic credentials as well. Essentially, a grade for a paper or a course is just another type of value, and the pertinent information is exactly the same as in a financial situation, who issued the grade, who received it, and what it’s total value was.

In this way, blockchain also removes the need for having a central authority validate certificates and transcripts. Instead, the technology will be able to make all diplomas publicly verifiable and available, eliminating the need to submit copies to employers to prove you have a degree. It will even be able to track citations and first publications, instead of relying on a supervising body manually performing the tasks.

Blockchain-based cryptocurrencies also have the potential to simplify payment to institutions, as well as significantly reducing the costs of data management across the board.

But the biggest obstacle to blockchain’s adoption by the higher education sector is a cultural one. Education has always been a slow adopter of new technologies, and it’s often the students at institutions who adopt technology trends first, forcing universities and schools to fall in line with student demands. The blockchain provides a transparent platform on which a rich, secure global network for higher learning could be developed, but it’s up to the education sector to use it to its advantage.

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What our schools should really be teaching

Let’s face it, the world is changing from analog to digital, from hypothetical to practical. Rather than play catch up after leaving school, here are the four things that basic education should include.

  1. How the Internet works

Going online is one thing, but making a virtual home is another and the latter is becoming more and more crucial. From the moment one decides to create a website, they are bombarded with a whole dictionary of vocabulary. There are words that one has never even come across, much less understand or even worse: words that one knows but fail to comprehend, usually technical and accepted as part and parcel of the virtual world we have built around us, but with no true comprehension as to what it stands for. The first thing a new web-owner learns is the difference between a domain name and a server and how both is needed to run a fully functioning website that can receive visitors. Then comes the harder bit, search engine optimization, various plugins and designs. While it is true that one may employ the services of SEO companies if need be, schools should be able to produce people who are capable of working for them.

  1. How to Adult

A commonly shared theme amongst millennials in particular. Many of them feeling as though they missed out on a course preparing them for the ordeal of humdrum adult life. Bills, taxes and various employment or health benefits and laws, the rules that govern a society are either passed down by their parents or learnt through trial and error. However, one might assume that it would be in that government’s best interest if their next generation is already well versed in being a productive and effective citizen upon leaving school.

  1. Empathic Social Skills

Kindness and compassion are both highly desired traits and yet not actively encouraged or taught in school, focusing solely on knowledge and by-the-book-intelligence. While IQ and EQ might stand for very different things, they do have logic in common. The only logic teachers are interested in teaching are mathematics and therefore, creating students with a distinct lack of empathy and social skills. This also leads to difficulties in becoming a well-adjusted adult, especially since younger generations are becoming increasingly self-absorbed and are incapable of seeing past anything but their own desires.

  1. Life Skills

Light-bulb changing seem to revolve around many jokes, yet the joke’s on us – how many really know how to do it, fresh out of high school? How to fix a leaky faucet? How about unclogging a drain? There are even those who do not know how to work a washing machine or that the toilet floor requires a good scrub in order to remove grit and mould. Things that may seem of little to no importance, as they are skills that one pick up with age, but it would be nice to start life with the basic skill set needed to keep a home running in tip-top condition.

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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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Advancing Innovations in Post-Secondary Education

The first joy that many of us attribute to being in a post-secondary education is the moment the letter of acceptance arrives. Stacked with it, potentially a few other acceptance letters, and maybe a few rejection letters as well. We bide our time and wait for the first day of classes, many of us packing our bags and leaving home for the first time, while never knowing how research paper writing is done.

Entering this type of education can be a far cry from the lives we led before. Maybe in a previous life you were a high school student, or maybe you have left the work force for re-education. Either way, it is a new way of learning and students must be prepared to write papers while drawing on corrected information.

Gone are the days of pen (or pencil) to paper and welcome the world of BYOD – Bring Your Own Device. Today these education devices are being used by many to communicate through different devices. For example, Colleges and Universities are using Skype to minimize classroom environments, which could in turn decrease distractions for other students due to classmates working on other school work during these times.

However, education technologies are not all Skype and minimal interactions. Many students are benefiting from the availability of the internet. While using these technologies can be antagonizing for educators who have failed to maintain with the pace of societal changes, these same machines are improving students’ abilities to create dynamic research papers. There is the ability to fill in the gaps where a Teachers Assistant has not. This is in ways such as a full understanding of how to write a decent paper.

A decent paper that includes a solid hypothesis, a structured analysis and a critical look at all sides of the proposed approach. Not all TAs can provide this, and a simple tool like the internet can help. This educational technology has a plethora of people whom are willing to support a student through these academically difficult times.

Even a simple tool like YouTube, can teach someone face to face, how to properly research an academic writing paper. There are many websites and articles that can provide misleading information about educational technologies that are available, therefore having someone to visually provide cues can improve student performance.

Finally, it is important for a student to note, that the person teaching them was once a student too. The difference is that the person educating them may not have had the advantages of learning how to cite or write research papers from multiple sources. They were at a disadvantage, because if they did not understand how it was taught, a book was still their only resource.

But this is not all that research writing is about.

Connecting old ideas with new ones, advocating for a solid stance on the position of the paper and providing reasonable, supported documentation is the final step. Research paper writing is challenging, especially when coming from high school or different employment, but if utilizing proper educational technologies, there should be lowered difficult but it is important to reflect essential services if necessary.

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Fighting Fake News in the Classroom

According to research from Stanford University, school-aged students are easily fooled by false information they encounter online. Since the 2016 US election, there has been a lot of discussion about the proliferation of fake news, and experts, including those involved in the study at Stanford, have described it as a threat to democratic values.

But it’s not only about fake news. Fabricated news stories are only part of a much bigger problem. Information and misinformation, advertising masquerading as news, half-truths and opinions presented as hard facts. The problem is more like an information tidal wave.  

Young people, especially, get a large portion of their news from social media feeds, which are notorious for spreading false information, and sponsored and embellished content. Just because children today are surrounded by technology, doesn’t mean they are inherently aware of the dishonest ways that it can be used. Being digitally literate doesn’t not guarantee that a child will be able to critically analyse the digital media they encounter.

To try and tackle this problem, and provide kids with the right tools to help them educators around the world have launched programs, teaching journalism and content creation techniques to prepare young people to become savvy digital communicators and help them sift fact from fiction as they navigate the bewildering digital media landscape.

That can involve giving children the ability to spot tell-tale signs of fake news. Things like bad spelling and grammar, claims that can’t be backed up by evidence, odd URLS or advertising links. Helping children understand concepts like Search Engine Optimization or SEO, can help them decide whether a source will be credible as well. Being aware of how Google’s algorithms rank sources of information can help kids understand how authoritative a site is.

High Schools in the Czech Republic have been teaching teens how to identify propaganda online, and in Sweden, students as young as 10 years old are taught responsible ways to consume news. Elementary schools in Kansas and California have teamed up for ‘fake news challenges’ using skype to get fourth graders in separate states to write their own fake news articles, and present them alongside real news via skype sessions. The opposing class then had to determine which news article had been fake, and provide their reasons why. Innovative ideas like this not only teach kids how to be critical of the information they receive from the news, but also when they receive it from their peers.

Programs and initiatives like these help students learn to detect biases and agendas online, and empowers them to distinguish fact from fiction. This approach makes students more than savvy communicators and consumers. They become informed and critical thinkers, effective problem solvers and content creators that can advocate for themselves and the public.

Equipping today’s youth with the tools and know-how they need to make sense of the digital world is the best way to ensure that their critical thinking can still flourish surrounded by a digital soup of advertorials, misinformation and fake news.

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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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