EduTech in Sydney has been a remarkable experience. A grand celebration of education and an energising gathering of educators ready to share stories and make connections. Despite the rainy weather some 8000 educators came together in the inspiring new International Convention Centre at Darling Harbour and left two days later with heads full of new ideas and wonderings of what might be the future of education. With many ideas still bubbling away here is a brief list of the key take-aways.
Transformation and Change - Not a new trend but as Greg Whitby, of Catholic Education’s Parramatta Diocese says we are confronting the "Radical Urgency of the Now”. The changes which once seemed a long way off are closer than we suspected and our current cohort of five year olds will exit school into a world we may not have prepared them for. The challenge is clear; we must focus now on developing the skills they will require to flourish in a world defined by rapid change, ever increasing technological integration and workplace vastly different to what we have today. Jan Owen of the Foundation for Young Australians concluded the conference with the following statistic: 7 in 10 jobs to be disrupted in the next 5 to 10 years. We are beyond the time when we the goal of improving education will be sufficient, we are in a time that requires transformation.
Creativity, Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration and Human Understanding - If there is a single consistent message emerging from industry, futurists and forward looking educators it is that we know what capacities will be required for success in the near future and they are not new skills. Amidst the catastrophising and predictions of a future bereft of employment opportunities emerges a vision for the future where the most desired skills are ones we have known for the longest of times. The trick will be placing these at the centre of our curriculums and providing students with opportunities across all aspects of their learning to engage and extend these capacities. As we move from a pedagogy dominated by the transfer of knowledge to one focused on building learner dispositions the role of the learner and the teacher are both disrupted. Collaborative learning, a focus on the capacity to act intelligently with the available knowledge and rich experiences of problem finding and solving will become the norm.
We all need to take charge of our learning - Learning is the focus of all that occurs in education and will be a central theme throughout our lives. More importantly, learning is something we need to take ownership of. Once something that happened to us while in school and then at university, learning now is something we are very much in control of. The implications for teachers are profound and some will struggle to adjust their identity to fit the new model. Learner agency, learner empowerment and fortunately teacher agency, are phrases moving into the regular vocabulary of schools and the consequences of this are there to be explored.
Technology is Maturing - With each iteration we draw closer to a time where technology just works, is a part of the environment that we can take for granted. The signs of this maturity are seen in the products on show in the Expo hall. Travel back a few years and you would leave an expo like this having seen many new products and even a few new product categories. In 2017 the products on show for the most part a refinement of what was already there; a little faster, a little lighter, thinner and more polished but there was very little truly ground breaking hardware on show.
Virtual Reality and Artificial Reality are Coming - If there is an emerging category of technology it is perhaps VR and AR, although neither was heavily presented here. Google had its CardBoard headsets available through a vending machine, which perhaps signals that even this technology has transitioned into the mainstream.
Artificial Intelligence - The predicted impact that Artificial Intelligence will have played a significant impact in many of the presentations. Driverless cars, automated workflows replacing cognitive labour and the shifts that all of this will bring to the workplace were described as significant drivers of change. However, there was little of this technology on display. The visible aspect of this, other than the digital assistants baked into phones, laptops and increasingly stand-alone devices such as Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home, is for the most part not a consuming facing product yet.
Robots may be the future of coding - Robots are increasingly the pathway to teaching coding. From SPHERO to larger humanoid robots and drones the education market is full of options and each one is sold as the answer to teaching kids to code. The translation of code into physical movement makes many principles behind coding accessible to students but there is the danger that this reliance could allow a deeper understanding of computational thinking to be missed thanks to a focus on instructional flows.
Commercial Products vs Hacking and Making - There are two approaches to technology on display in the expo booths and the reveal vastly divergent mindsets. At one end are the commercial robots and 'internet of things' (IOT) devices with their out of the box operability. Plug and play technology for the masses. At the other end of the scale are the vendors selling kits of electronics which with the addition of "systems on a chip” such as Arduino boards and Raspberry Pi systems allow all manner of projects to be hacked together. While those with the money are likely to be tempted by the convenience of the commercial products, educators will have to ask series questions about what learning their technology spend will produce for their students. If we want a generation of problem finders and solvers who are adept at tinkering with ideas and hacking new solutions into existence, we will need to provide suitable opportunities for this.
And lastly the acceptance of Growth Mindset theory seems to be complete even if the practical implications are yet to be fully integrated into our pedagogy. Carol Dweck’s presentation was a solid highlight for many attendees who left with a fuller understanding of the complexity of our efforts to shift students towards a growth mindset. With growth mindsets as our goal we now need to look closely at the forces that contribute to an individual’s and even an organisation’s mindset and recognise that the desired change will require much more than kind words.
By Nigel Coutts