Latest technology makes education more accessible and personal
Education is becoming more accessible, more mobile, and more personalised to reach students with different learning abilities and styles, thanks to the latest computer and communication technology.
This is what could be observed at the BETT Show, one of the most important showcases of technology in education held at the beginning of each year in London. The show attracts Maltese visitors from both the education and the technology field as several exhibitors in the show are present on the island.
This year’s edition, which saw around 30,000 visitors and over 600 exhibitors, has proved how the fast-paced ICT industry plays a significant role in different aspects of education. From hardware to software, from pedagogical approaches to systems of assessment and administration, there was much to see, try out and think about.
This year’s event opened with an important statement by the British Education Secretary Michael Gove who announced that the current ICT curriculum will be revamped and students will be having more computer science and programming instead of learning simple skills such as how to use a word processor. He described the current English curriculum as a “mess” which could harm the country’s economy.
This echoed the words of former Google chief executive officer Eric Schmidt some months ago who criticised the UK’s educational system which did not produce the bright computer experts as it used to do in the past.
The announcement was well received at the BETT show which was about to offer the latest technology for teachers and education managers for every level of education and every level of ability, including special educational needs (SEN).
A first glance of the exhibits immediately brings to the fore the emerging trends in educational technology. First of all, education is moving more online, with the role of class work changing rather than being phased out. Teachers are being provided with tools to make their lessons available on internet and for students to attend classes and to learn from the resources available online.
Indeed there are many flavours of virtual learning environments (VLE), or e-learning platforms. They provide space on the internet where teachers and students interact in a virtual way, most of the time complementing the time spent in the classroom. These VLEs are accessible online 24/7 and provide teachers and students with more flexible ways of teaching and learning. For example teachers can publish resources which are available to students every time they are online, both at school and at home. Parents could also be engaged more thanks to the communication functions of the platform.
Most of the educational software on show was available for integration in these VLEs. The range of such software was breath taking, available for any grade from kindergarten right up to university. However there was not just a wide choice for teachers, as managers could also check the latest on offer in terms of assessment, school management and child safety online.
Having said that, it is quite obvious that we are breaking away from the now established habit of getting learning resources online from a desktop or a laptop computer. The next big thing is tablets and smartphones, making education possible on these small, easy to carry around, mobile devices that connect to internet wirelessly. Most of the educational software at BETT was being made available for both traditional PCs and the new smartphones and tablets, especially the Apple iPhone, iPad and the Google Android-based devices.
This in turn leads to a new trend in education: ubiquity and personalisation. Having your class resources available on your smartphone and tablet means that, as a learner, you choose the time and the place where to study and learn, and this does not require the use of the cumbersome computer.
This does not mean that classes will disappear anytime soon. On the contrary, there were many exhibitors with physical classroom resources, ranging from comfortable furniture to interactive whiteboards and other class-based technology. Indeed there were many suppliers of interactive whiteboards which truly confirms the death of the traditional pen-based whiteboard and with it the “chalk-and-talk” method of teaching.
The interactive whiteboard, connected to a computer, comes alive as the teacher can show videos, presentations, scribble, draw, and do a lot of things. The teacher can record a whole lesson, and then upload it onto an e-learning platform. The board can be used with very young kids for interactive games.
Indeed there is an attempt by the makers of educational technology to make their products both educational and fun. There were video game console manufacturers that showed how certain children can learn while having fun, because they set children thinking, communicating and even moving to stay fit!
Though the BETT show provided more educational content than pure technology, there were some interesting technological updates on show.
The computer manufacturers did not sell desktop computers but brought their latest laptops, especially the ultra-thin new generation, which are lighter to carrier but still powerful. The desktop, except the new generation of all-in-one computers that have the computer system hidden inside a monitor, is truly dead and buried.
3D televisions and monitors were also on show, and their application in education, such as in 3D animations of the human body or how things work, were truly fascinating.
The touchscreen interface ubiquitous on smartphones and tablets has permeated onto other technologies, as the touch of a hand is slowly but surely replacing the mouse and the keyboard as an interface.
All these technologies are meant to give the best education possible to all children. But some children need special attention, and the BETT Show had a whole section dedicated to SEN. Children with special educational needs are not just the children who suffer from mental or physical disability but includes children who need particular attention in their schooling. The SEN section showed how technology can really make a difference with these children and support them in getting the best education possible in their individual circumstances.