‘If learning becomes more rewarding with engagement then why not use immersive VR and sophisticated robots to cultivate communication, creativity and critical thinking?’ Asks Adrian Pennington.
There has been much discussion in education circles about how education has to change in order to provide students with the relevant skill sets for a digital (internet of things, social media, video everywhere) age. After all, the current generation is immersed and using technology from early childhood so it makes sense for educational establishments to make technology from display signage to BYOD an integral part of communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity.
Technology is as much a part of the classroom as lights and teachers are constantly looking for interesting ways to integrate technology into their subject areas and lesson plans,” says Ian Abernethy, director of sales, UK, Peerless-AV. “IWBs and touch screens are the most common used technology for the encouragement of student engagement, collaboration
The key trends, certainly in primary and secondary schools, are Interactivity and collaboration, according to Crestron Business Development Manager Marc Poffley. “We are still seeing a growth in the Interactive Touch Screen market and also a huge request for BYOD technology. With FE/HE it is more about multiple devices to deliver content whether that be online content delivered through room PC’s, visualisers delivering images of items put under them or lately the use of Skype/Video Conferencing to have
multiple sites coming together or a specialist third party delivering knowledge from either a medical or corporate facility.”
Even as this type of edtech become standard, other emerging interactive technologies are coming to the fore. Virtual Reality (VR), for example, may have galvanised the film and TV entertainment community into all manner of content experimentation but the format is equally applicable to education.
Applications including teaching via virtual classroom, providing virtual campus tours to prospective students and the Google Expeditions program that allows students to go on a virtual field trip.
“Even in the simplest of forms, by making it possible to transport and immerse trainees and students in remote or non-existing environments, VR education will be huge,” says Anthony Karydis, CEO of VR producer Mativision. “It will soon be possible to allow proper interaction so the learning process will be enhanced even further.”
Singaporean production company Beach House Pictures is developing software to enable multiple users to experience the same interactive content at the same time. Content subjects will be based around cultural and historical sites beginning with a VR sim of the aftermath of the 2015 Nepali earthquake.
Augmented reality (AR) set-ups involving ultra high-resolution display technologies combined with interactivity are some of the most impressive solutions available right now. However, much smaller evolutionary steps can be just as exciting.
“Compare the impact of a tiny image of a Rembrandt or Picasso painting in an old school book with the power of a high definition image of the same painting projected onto a proper projection screen or shown on a video wall,” invites Tobias Stumpfl, CEO, AV Stumpfl. “The visual experience may be literally life changing for some of the students.”
Edge Hill University in Liverpool recently became the first UK HE/FE institution to incorporate a four-screen CAVE (cave automatic virtual environment). The immersive 3D virtual system is part of a £13m Technology Hub and will offer students and businesses the chance to experience real life scenarios in 4K resolution, anything from emergency situations to complex surgery and lab reactions. Replete with state-of-the-art biotech laboratories and big data servers for research, the building will also house a programmable child-sized robot. The use of robotics, especially tied to coding, is a key part of the ‘maker’ trend, the use of technology to problem-solve and support new opportunities for creativity and ingenuity.
In particular, robotics has the potential to help address longer term gender gap issues within education which have tended to leave females outside of traditional STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) subjects.
“At present, robotics solutions are often utilised in after school /extra curricula classes,” reports Mike Fisher, analyst, Futuresource Consulting. “To gain long term acceptance, robotics need to be integrated into the
curriculum for use in the classroom.”
“The opportunities for using sophisticated robotic devices in classrooms is increasingly realistic, but in many western countries computer programming still hardly ever get a mention in the curriculum,” stresses Stumpfl. “The first step has to be to evaluate and update the curriculum. Toy manufacturers are possibly doing more to educate the children of the world in this context
than most governments.”
Several governments are pushing a digital agenda to stimulate a technology literate workforce as part of wider economic strategy. The UK government, for example, has introduced coding as mandatory to the Computer Science curriculum from the age of 6. The German government has just announced a E5 billion investment fund for ICT in Education as it realises it is falling behind. Futuresource Consulting reports multiple major investments in EdTech in Africa (with Kenya the most prominent).
But Singapore is arguably taking the lead. The city-state identifies education as key to its ability to compete against far larger regional economies like China and the equally effervescent neighbours of South Korea and Indonesia.
A national scheme has introduced tech toys Bee-bot, designed by UK firm TTS, and the MIT-created KIBO, into pre-school classrooms to prompt learning through play about sequencing and assembly. A more advanced €10,000 robot called Nao (designed by French-based Aldebaran) is familiarising older children with AI at secondary schools.
“Most of what we know as adults about robotics comes from Hollywood and can be intimidating, so Nao is a revelation to adults too,” says Adrian Lim, education director for the local Infocomm and Media department.
A number of buses have been retooled as mobile tech labs to reach outlying Singaporean districts or institutions which can’t afford permanent investment. Onboard, pupils can experiment with wearables, learn to programme drones, and go hands on with 3D printers and laser cutters.
While tech is not necessarily the reason for some of today’s innovative teaching techniques, it is certainly supporting many of them. This trend is mirrored at the Integrated Systems Europe where the presence of education related technologies and activities continues to grow.
ISE has always had solutions and products for education, and educational buying groups attend the show, ISE2017 welcomes the addition of a dedicated education hall. This will feature an edtech theatre which will cover important issues for education buyers. Vendors will be discussing crucial issues such as securely connecting BYOD hardware to an enterprise network, adopting the ‘Smart Campus’ approach that’s appropriate for your institution, and using data to help drive
“Technology is growing in importance in the education sector, but still has much to prove,” stresses Fisher. “Technology is only an enabler, there are still too many examples of money being spent in education on technology with no clear usage plan and not enough teacher training.”
The real-time distribution of information, whether it audio/video or text based, is creating a lot of opportunities. “Technology is only as efficient as the teaching approach and should be the foundation of any digitalisation,” says Stumpfl. “Simply buying dozens of tablet computers for classrooms makes little sense, unless there are didactic reasons for using them.”
At ISE 2017 learn how technology will further enhance the learning and teaching experience.