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Science fiction or science fact? Can we predict what tomorrow’s edtech will look like?

When it comes to the future advancements of education, technology has the potential to be a powerful enablement tool for teachers.

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Virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), apps, cloud-based platforms and robotics are all expected to make a big impact in the world of education over the next five years (The State of Technology in Education Report, 2016). Of course, without a crystal ball (or a time-machine for us techies!), none of us know just what’s around the corner. Something which is perfectly demonstrated in a 1995 Newsweek article which discusses the “alleged” benefits of technology.

“Do our computer pundits lack all common sense? The truth is no online database will replace your daily newspaper…How about electronic publishing? Try reading a book on disc. At best, it’s an unpleasant chore: the myopic glow of a clunky computer replaces the friendly pages of a book. And you can’t tote that laptop to the beach. Yet Nicholas Negroponte, director of the MIT Media Lab, predicts that we’ll soon buy books and newspapers straight over the Internet. Uh, sure.”

The author went on to add:

“Then there’s cyberbusiness. We’re promised instant catalog shopping – just point and click for great deals. We’ll order airline tickets over the network, make restaurant reservations and negotiate sales contracts. Stores will become obsolete. So how come my local mall does more business in an afternoon than the entire Internet handles in a month? Even if there were a trustworthy way to send money over the Internet – which there isn’t – the network is missing a most essential ingredient of capitalism: salespeople.

Clearly, in 1995, current technological capabilities were such that it was impossible even to conceive of an eReader, and Amazon was just an infant having been born the preceding year!

While it is funny to look back and laugh at such assertions, are we really any more capable of foresight in the 21st Century? In a world where half of the jobs of tomorrow don’t yet exist (and half of today’s jobs may not exist tomorrow), how can anyone predict what the future of edtech might look like?

What do we actually know about the future of technology in education?

There is no denying that the internet has already profoundly changed the teacher-student relationship. However, while technology is being used as a lesson based tool in many classes, its potential as a means to support the delivery of a contemporary learning experience across all disciplines has yet to be fully realised. But. with more and more teachers waking up the immense benefits of edtech that’s all set to change; with robotics, cloud-based platforms, apps and coding becoming a core part of the learning experience, while helping teachers to adopt flipped and collaborative learning.

Certainly, in the not-too-distant future, VR and AR have the potential to alter the world of learning forever; helping pupils to understand complex subjects and theories. Find out more about using VR in the classroom.

Likewise, A.I. has become so advanced that the idea of self-driving cars and immersive gaming is now accepted. And, while AI has yet to advance the education industry, many predict that a world of Intelligent Tutor Systems, with computer software that can track the mental steps of a student during problem-solving tasks, diagnose misconceptions, and estimate the pupil’s level of understanding isn’t too far off.

As part of the Disruptors Debate, Virgin asked some primary school children what they think the school of tomorrow might look like. They’ll be the ones inventing the technology after all.

“There will be robot teachers that have chalkboards in their tummy that pop out with a stick”. Louie, Aged 7

Are the machines about to take over the classroom?

The good news for educators is that while A.I. may soon be replacing the average worker, there is sound evidence to show that primary and secondary school teachers only have a 0.44% and 0.78 % probability of being automated respectively. Face-to-face contact is still hugely valued by parents, pupils and our wider society, and it seems there are still some human interactions and compassions that simply can’t be automated.

In fact, while the role of the teacher is being redrawn, the one thing the 1995 article does have in common with current attitudes towards edtech is the assertion that “no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher”.

When it comes to future advancements, technology has the potential to be a powerful enablement tool for teachers; helping them to become more productive, less stressed, and more successful. So, rather than being frightened about what the future might bring, teachers should be encouraged to look to new technology with enthusiasm.

What’s more, with technology set to be increasingly prevalent, both in and out of the classroom, all educators must incorporate edtech in some shape or form, on a day-to-day basis (even if they don’t consider themselves to be a technology user) if they don’t want to be left behind.

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