Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Reading and thinking about the frontiers in education

This is the 5th in a series of posts about the things I’ve been thinking about and blogging about in 2014. Working at a school like ASB that is so focused on the future, and being part of its R&D team means it’s inevitable that I will be doing a lot of reading about trends that are going to impact education. I already wrote a post about the big world trends such as population increase and distribution that will be likely to impact schools and universities, but now I’m going to write about technologies that are starting to be adopted in schools. Each year I look forward to reading the Horizon Reports, and this year there were also two new reports that focused on different regions of the world. Here is a quick run-through of the trends, identified in the reports, that I thought were worth thinking deeper about.

Higher Education
The Horizon Report for Higher Education usually comes out at the start of the year. I’m always interested to see whether any of the trends that are identified for universities are also being seen in schools. For example many universities are starting to use online environments as part of their courses - and content is being made more dynamic and accessible to increasingly larger numbers of students through MOOCs. For a number of years, schools, too, are seeing students engaging in online courses. The Horizon Report notes that "there is a growing interest in developing tools and algorithms for revealing patterns inherent in data and then applying them to the improvement of instructional systems”. Online learning is a good source of data which can be used by teachers to modify and individualize learning in both schools and universities as technology can help detect patterns of students' successes and failures. Combining data driven analytics and online learning can lead to courses catering to all types of learning styles, leading to more student success.

Universities also face challenges from the rise of social media in learning - these challenges are due to the low digital fluency of university faculty. Yet social networks are continuing to grow and educators need to be sharing links about what is being studied in class with students. The report states that social learning is a key skill for teachers, but notes that while digital media literacy continues to rise in importance in every discipline and profession, very little training is given in digital literacy skills and techniques.

K-12 Education
The Horizon Report for K-12 Education is released mid-year. This year, in addition to some of the trends common to universities, there are some other trends that appear to be more specific to schools, the first of which involves rethinking the roles of teachers in using technology for delivering content, assessing students, collaborating with other teachers, and documenting and reporting on student work. Nowadays many teachers are engaging in professional development using online tools and social media to build learning communities and develop resources. In addition there has been a shift towards deeper learning with students becoming more actively involved in project or challenge based learning and more emphasis on real world application. Flipped learning is becoming more common as teachers are using both the physical and virtual learning environment to extend or rearrange the learning day - with the internet being used to access learning materials at home followed by collaborative group work and project based work at school, where students tackle complex problems and learn how to communicate their findings effectively. We talk a lot at ASB about keeping education relevant. With a number of alternatives growing to formal schooling, the Horizon Report authors argue that schools must rethink the value of education from a student’s perspective, and consider what they provide that cannot be got in any other way - possibly this will involve a consideration of how important it is for students to socialize and participate in extra curricular activities that enrich their minds and bodies.

International Schools and different trends in education in Asia and Europe
In June, when the full Horizon Report K-12 report was published I started considering how these trends are impacting (or, in many cases, have already impacted) education at ASB. BYOD, cloud computing, games and gamification and learning analytics were all identified as important developments coming in the future to schools, though these are already in place at ASB. In October two new Horizon Reports were issued for the first time: one using data from international schools in Asia and the other based on what is happening in schools in Europe. The report on Asian international schools considered sixty different technologies that are likely to become important to international schools in Asia over the coming five years. Cloud computing and mobile apps have already reached mainstream use in many schools, and international schools in Asia are seen as leading the way with creating their own cloud networks to increase access to content from mobile devices. Learning analytics are around 2-3 years away from widespread adoption in Asian international schools, though some individual schools are currently using this technology in the pilot phase.

Makerspaces are technologies being adopted in the near term in Asian international schools though in other regions of the world this has been slower to make an impact on education. Games and gamification are also listed as technologies that all schools will adopt, though the international schools in Asia appear to be incorporating this into school curriculums several years ahead of other world regions.

Another trend that has been identified by international schools in Asia is the shift from students as consumers to students as creators. Rather than learners demonstrating their knowledge of a subject by taking tests and writing papers, they are increasingly being encouraged to create video reflections and bring their creative ideas to life by making new products. As a result, school leaders in Asia are starting to rethink their physical spaces and how the school day is structured to promote more critical thinking and creativity.

On the other hand, the Horizon Report for Europe identifies 2 other major trends as being imminent in schools in Europe: the changing role of teachers as a result of technology and the impact of social media. European schools see students' low digital competence as being a major challenge, in particular when it comes to actively participating in the design of learning activities. The more widespread use of cloud and tablet computing, however, are seen as being the drivers of change.

This year I’ve been interested to explore these trends, along with possible reasons for there being differences in international and national schools, as well as in different regions of the world. For me keeping relevant is the most important thing that educators should be discussing - and let’s hope that these discussions continue to influence education in 2015 too.

Photo Credit: Mark Wassell via Compfight cc

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