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2018-01-30

Education Trends in 2018 and Beyond…

Maybe we are late to the party, maybe we are early, who knows, but as we are in the Educational Technology space we thought we’d lay out some of our predictions and thoughts on where we might see EdTech go in 2018 and beyond. We have identified four areas that we think the biggest changes will be occurring or continuing and one area that we hope to see change.

Right let's get to it…

An increase in technology in the classroom, duhhh

The classroom is changing. There is no doubt about that. From the Victorian era where a cane and stuffy uniforms were the only way education was taught to the new era of tech taking many classrooms by storm.

VR Headset

VR and AR

In 2017 the ‘hype’ continued around Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR). If you are yet unaware of the differences — VR is a fictitious world in which you can create anything, living inside a Pixar film for example. AR is where information is overlayed on top of the ‘real’ world, imagine something like the computers in Minority Report.

AR photo from Chillelife | Example Augmented Reality

Sevenoaks School in Kent, UK, already begun using VR headsets and experimenting with their use back in 2016. A recent study commissioned by Lenovo found that 94% of teachers in the UK think that VR has a place in the classroom. Further, the benefits of the technology go far beyond an ‘immersive movie’.

VR and AR Benefits:

  1. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths) subjects are obviously well suited to this technology. Understanding thermodynamics, exploring how the sun works, or looking at models of atoms are all examples of how VR and AR can work their way into lessons. We think that the effects will slowly bleed out into other subjects areas as teachers and educational professionals get more comfortable with the technology. The decrease in cost of headsets, one of the major limiting factors, will expedite the process. The new Google daydream headset costs $99 (£70) and significantly lowers the barrier to entry (although phone not included).

  2. Active rather than passive learning

  3. This concept can be taken into maths as well, getting students to solve visual puzzles that representing the mathematical theorems they are trying to learn.

    What is more likely to stick — A² + B² = C² ? Or physically seeing the triangles laid out in front of you and fitting squares A and B inside C?

  4. Not quite in the classroom but VR and AR can take homework to new levels as well. Rather than practising the violin alone in their room, students can play 1st chair in Royal Albert Hall. Or drama students can practise their lines with virtual representations of the other characters, or with a good enough internet connection, they can rehearse with their other cast members.

Who is doing it?

  • Class VR is already doing this, with their own headset and unique lesson planning technology they have really lowered the barrier to entry.

  • Nearpod is taking field trips to the next level whilst remaining in the classroom.

  • Discovery is also producing VR content ready to take students on 360 tours of the amazing places they show on their tv channel.

Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence

Staying in the classroom, these tools have undergone unprecedented advances in the last few years and the barriers to entry keep dropping. Different companies offer machine learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms seem to promise the world; it will not be long before they are everywhere in classrooms.

We don’t think that learning by algorithm per se will be coming anytime soon, definitely not in 2018. However, we see a significant opportunity to enhance the teacher’s abilities with these technologies from assisting in marking work, spotting trends across students test results and even monitoring attention levels in-class.

Working with this data can assist a teacher in providing better-tailored feedback on how a student can improve, making personalised learning plans bespoke to each student. Supplementing this is the ability for bespoke revision plans based on the students yearly performance, identifying real, rather than perceived gaps in their knowledge. AI can flag potential issues that the teacher misses, tracking classroom contributions and whether or not students are paying attention.

Maybe not in 2018, but in the near future we will see an increase presence of anti-bullying systems and online bots monitoring students behaviour, hopefully reducing the amount of online bullying that has been steadily increasing in the last decade.

Who is doing it?

  • One professor wrote his own AI assistant after feeding it data of 40,000 questions and answers from students and previous TA’s.

  • Netex is a company providing AI assisted resources to teachers to help them with lesson plans, and producing materials.

  • CTI’s Cram101 is an AI that changes text books into smart study guides, giving students chapter summaries, quizzes and flashcards.

Gaming In Classrooms

Jumping back to the active argument for learning, classrooms are ripe for a transformation by gamification. According to one study in 2015 almost 2/3rds of students said that having some sort of leaderboard in the classroom would improve their concentration. However, an overwhelming 82% said they would like some kind of level-based achievement in the classroom.

Gamification has been shown to drastically increase retention rates in online study courses, by up to three times. Collecting virtual points, having leaderboards, and seeing how you rank amongst your friends or fellow students is motivation dynamite.

Properly introduced, taking care to slowly introduce and monitor for adverse effects (low student morale if ranked low, or not being able to complete the things their friends can for example), there is large potential to engage students in the classroom better than ever before.

Who is doing it?

  • Companies like ClassCraft are crafting epic adventures for students that almost any teacher can implement for their students.

  • Brainscape has smart flash cards that adapt to the student growing knowledge base.

  • Play Brighter is a website that allows teachers to create missions for students to complete — teachers choose questions they want the students to answer and Play Brighter turns it into a game.

Virtual Classroom Photo by Christian Fregnan

Virtual Classrooms

The next space we think we will see advances in is virtual learning. Rather than in classroom tech, the shift may be coming towards virtual classrooms. Online courses and learning in front of screens has been seeing a steady uptake. The Open University in the UK has been around since 1969 and is the largest university by student count in the country (over 170,000). It is known for its online flexible online courses allowing students to study around earning.

As more and more universities step into the realm of hosting online courses the democratisation of education increases. As someone far smarter than us has said, this is the “information age” and even though there is attempted clamps on freedom of information (cough cough FCC looking at you), the ability to learn almost anything your desire is spreading.

Sites like Udacity and Udemy are leading the pack with online courses, especially Udacity with its nanodegrees. These are particularly important because we believe they are the next stage in online education. Validated and specific learning that can be accessed from anywhere, done at any time at a fraction of the cost of traditionally higher education.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in China. Wu Yan, head of the Department of Higher Education with the Ministry of Education, stated recently that “China has the largest number of online courses in the world. The country leads the world in MOOC construction.” The Chinese Ministry of Education has stated that 3,000 elaborate online courses would start in 2020 and currently, around 70 percent of the courses are provided by China’s top universities.

We believe that we are going to see an uptake in quality of the online courses that are being offered in 2018. A trend being set trying to blend more succinctly the aspects of in-person university teaching (feedback from the professor and engagement with other course members) and the decentralised anytime and anywhere benefits of online courses.

Udacity’s Nanodegrees, which we have already mentioned, are gaining popularity, and seem to quite effective in their offerings of what are becoming known as ‘microcredentials’. These are specific, often niche-esch, skills taught over a shorter period of time. These ‘badges’ for skills that people collect are highly specialised to the jobs their looking to go into. Some of Udacity’s nanodegrees have been designed directly in partnership with AT&T and Google specifically for this purpose. They’ve even doubled down offering your money back if you can’t find a job after 6 months from some of their courses.

Combine this with an ever increasing need for Software Engineers, Data Scientists, and AI/ML researchers and there is a shortage that universities and standardised education cannot fill. Bloomberg reported in June last year that 1 in 10 jobs in the UK are now tech based. Employers are more and more looking for people with technical skills that do not necessarily have to be taught in a classroom. And whilst the most promising development and quality of courses may be in the tech industry in the coming years, over time other subjects will catch up. Once technical skills prove the validity of the model, an increase in trust in the credentials granted by these courses will rise and we’ll see even more subjects making the jump. (We recognise that you can learn a lot of subjects online, however, we are referring to the slow acceptance that online courses grant the same level of education and knowledge as more traditional options.)

Taking online courses even further by combining them with VR could lead to virtual lecture halls, with thousands of students tuning in to watch their professor give a lecture on their subject, from all across the world. Each voting on questions they want to be answered, raising pixel generated hands, and ability to replay the experience whenever they desire. This may help counter the issues faced with just watching on a computer screen and the ease of distraction.

Who is doing it?

  • Edx compile all the free online courses from universities around the world putting them all in one easy place for anyone to access, at any time and from anywhere.

  • Udacity and their nanodegrees we’ve been talking about.

  • Coursera also offering courses from Top Universities with no application required.

Data Transfer by Joshua Sortino

Harnessing the Unseen Data

We’ve briefly touched on how data can help improve education earlier, however, we think that its role is going to explode in the coming years. As the demand for data analytics has steadily been increasing, so has the amount of tools available to handle your data, and the ease of access to said tools. We predict that in the near future it will be common to see data analysis of students wellbeing applied at schools and other education establishments.

These techniques don’t necessarily involve a greater level invasion of student privacy and can be completely anonymised. One suggestion might be tracking the levels of student engagement in their courses through attendance to lectures (punctuality as well), the amount of books checked out of the library relevant to their subject, whether they click on links, or open emails along with the standard test scores. Combine this with AI and ML algorithms and trends will be found that can actively improve students lives.

ActivCampus uses simple plastic cards to track students whereabouts and attendance on campus. Removing the need for sign-in sheets and tracking use of facilities. This data goes a long way to determining a student’s engagement in their study and course as a whole. But it could be better, we envision that in the not too distant future universities may have cameras at the front of the lecture hall tracking students faces.

Back in 2013 researchers from North Carolina State University showed how they could track students level of frustration with tasks in a computer science tutorial. Its not far too imagine this to include attention span tracking and teachers/professors could use in lecture cameras to map this data onto recordings of their lectures to determine what parts of the material the class was slipping away from them. It would allow them to experiment on different ways that they could nudge students into engaging better and hopefully improving their learning experience as a whole.

This tech doesn’t have to be applied just to lecture halls though, its uses are far and wide. Online courses could ask to engage a users webcam to track them studying, marking where they need help (and may not ask for it) so tutors or assistants can reach out and help them get through things they find difficult. Take this data over a long period and it will be able to predict areas that students will be struggling in during exams allowing teachers (or other systems) to prepare specific revision materials for each student.

The Akshara Foundation has shown that data can be used to improve developing countries educational systems. Working in partnership with HP and using over 40,000 data points (often incomplete) data scientists were able to establish optimum teacher-to-student ratio for the region, as well as the optimal book-to-pupil ratio. Finally they demonstrated the real power of harnessing the raw data correctly. They found that there was a significant level of drop out of girls between 11–14. But more importantly they found that this level was significantly reduced if they introduced separate toilets for boys and girls. It is this use of data that we hope will really take off, using it to improve educational standards around the world and encourage students to learn for longer, and to learn better.

Who is doing this?

  • ActivCampus like we mentioned earlier are involved in this space, using key cards to track students attendance and providing real time data on who’s where on campus and when.

  • Jisc offers different tools to track student engagement, including an app which they can download that allows them to track their own progress.

  • E-Student Tracker is a service that allows single point of access to a lot of student and education establishment data, meaning that it is prime to go a few steps further and introduce actionable advice on improving student engagement and assisting in their wellbeing.

Reborn Pheonix from Flickr User Yazan De'mes

The Rebirth of Libraries

When in doubt go to the library. –J.K. Rowling

Whilst libraries at universities, part of archives, or attached to historical significance are fairly well insulated from the current issues facing the rest of their brethren in the UK, those other siblings are having a hard time. From 2011–2016, 326 libraries were shut down permanently. Further, this has resulted in over 8,000 librarians jobs being lost. These are the local libraries in towns, the ones run and paid for by the council having to shutter their doors due to not enough funding. This funding was cut by £25m in 2015/16 in line with the lower amounts of people visiting public libraries and where borrowing plummeted, in some places by half.

Now, libraries in their old form are dead, unfortunately, this is just the case. The information age is well and truly upon us and we can access almost all that we may need to know from the mobile phones in our pockets at a moment’s notice. There is no general need for collections of knowledge such as a library in their old form.

But before people cry out in defense of these again establishments, we agree with you. They shouldn’t just disappear into the wind. They have so many other benefits and a far greater potential as we move swiftly onwards as a society. Libraries Unlimited in Devon, UK is just one such example. They are undertaking the role and responsibility of changing the role of libraries in their communities.

Waterstones is a prime example of one way that libraries could look to regenerate and evolve. Waterstones as a business was failing in 2014, it was moments away from collapse before it was bought and turned around. So what did they do? They doubled down on books, shaking the e-readers that were dominating at the time. They closed underperforming stores, and fired 200 booksellers but at the same time made sure that book managers were in charge of their own stock. Instead of allowing publisher to purchase window space, they would have a committee that would meet each month to decide on feature books. These being the only books that the store was required to hold. Waterstones remarkable revival has had things as simple as lighting changes improve the amount of time that people spend in stores and thus increasing the chance they buy.

Nielsen found in 2015 that 35% of children refuse to read digital books at all with 75% preferring to read real books. So there is clearly a space for physical books and therefore libraries. Waterstones now hosts events, especially for launching books however, it also does fan clubs and simple things for engaging younger children .

We think that libraries need to evolve to cater in some respect to this market. Events, classes, teaching, discussions and clubs are all things that can involve the community. The Code Club which is a project from Raspberry Pi Foundation has shown that there is significant potential to teach code skills to young children (easily extended to night classes for adults who want to learn a new skill or increase their employee ability).

Taking shutdown libraries and turning them into “makerspaces” may be one way to fix the slow decline of libraries as they are now. Makerspaces allow people to create, build and explore all manner of things. Something that one could argue is inspired by the original intention of libraries.

Queens library in New York has begun the evolution, they host classes in key computer skills such as Word and Excel. They have new book days every week where people come from all over to see what has entered their stock. They have high levels of technical access, meaning that people can get on wifi, they can work or study with extra amenities keeping them there longer. Finally, they are going online as well, taking a note from the cloud revolution those people that maybe don’t prefer a hardcopy book can get access to e-books online.

So perhaps not directly in 2018, but in the near future we see a greater adoption of these new style libraries where knowledge is the cornerstone, but there are many avenues to reach that goal.

Who is doing it?

  • Libraries Unlimited is an initiative we mention that aims to regenerate and evolve the way libraries are managed, it is currently operating in Devon, UK.

  • The Code Club is aimed at educating children on how to code and improving their technical practises, some of their clubs take place in libraries.

  • Makerspaces advocate for learning of all kinds, teaching by doing and letting people explore and interact with their environment, from high tech, with 3d printers to low tech and just cardboard and glue.

So these are 4 main areas that we think will see development and changes over the next few years. We’d like to see tools that help combat the fake news, social movement to help improve people’s ability to analyse information they receive and reduce blind following and confirmation bias. However, these are larger problems, with symptoms where the underlying causes may be more difficult to determine and thus may take a little longer to sort.

But we’re optimistic for the future of education, the improvements that it will bring to society, the economy and the future of people.

© 2020 Sam Loyd. All rights reserved.