OPINION: Technology in education – a forecast for 2018

Student in the library

Digital transformation and the rise of millennials are dominating global headlines as they disrupt the status quo. Rapid advancement in technology has also led to the advent of innovative solutions across various industry verticals with multiple use cases, drastically improving the way we interact or accomplish tasks.

As millennials come of age, the modern student is one that uses technology in virtually all aspects of their personal lives. It stands to reason that these digital natives would expect the same tools to be available in the classroom. To achieve optimal learning outcomes, a change in teaching methods will be necessary, complemented by the vast range of educational technology in the market.

This issue is especially pertinent to Asia, where 60% of the world’s millennials are expected to reside by 2020 according to Accenture. In Hong Kong, a Nielsen study determined that video is by far the most popular medium amongst the country’s audiences, driven by the popularity of television and the explosive growth of personal computers and mobile devices. Hong Kong’s digital transformation efforts are expected to be further catalysed by its Smart City initiative, with information technology and data at the core of the initiative.

Mirroring what is happening in the enterprise space, I anticipate digitalisation to sweep through through campuses in Hong Kong in 2018. Here are my thoughts on some enhancements I foresee taking centre stage over the coming year in Hong Kong’s education sector:

Data-led student intervention

There has been significant groundwork around the creation of systems and standards to facilitate the collection of student data for intervention and retention purposes. Standards such as xAPI and IMS Caliper are important because they allow data to flow between systems in a standardized way. Without this data flow, it wouldn’t be possible to make sense of the vast tracts of siloed student data.

The good news is that a growing number of vendors have already adopted these standards and are creating ed-tech tools that wrap intelligence around the data – for example, to determine how well individual students are doing, where they are struggling, and how they can be helped to improve on their scores.

In Hong Kong, the Education Bureau (EDB) provides a set of tools for schools’ self-evaluation. Used in tandem, these tools allow schools collect and analyse comprehensive student data. This enables educators to review the effectiveness of their learning and teaching efforts, and elicits insights not just on student academic performance, but also on their personal development.

Such tools will be a precursor to more intelligent ones that will feature more granular levels of personalization, as well as predictive capabilities that can help to flag up potential issues so they can be acted upon promptly.

In fact, we are already seeing the availability of some early predictive tools that model large cohorts of data and then overlay students’ first term grades to predict outcomes. For example, the results may show that student A has only a 70% chance of graduating in economics, but a 95% chance of graduating in accounting & finance were he/she to switch courses.

Rethinking classroom design

The move to digital campuses makes it possible to rethink the traditional classroom design and inject more flexibility. This is what Indiana University in the United States is trying to achieve with its active and collaborative learning initiative, Mosaic.

Mosiac refashions classrooms depending on the use case – for example, instructional teaching, collaboration or student presentations. By adopting a flexible classroom model, educational institutions will be able to deploy cameras and screens quickly and easily for things like: projecting content onto walls, filming student presentations, and displaying group work to other teams.

A similar ‘Multi-Functional Classroom’ initiative is currently in use at The University of Hong Kong. Its classrooms are designed for active learning supplemented by technology, coming equipped with flexible seating and digital, audio-visual communication tools to enhance learning experiences.  Moving ahead, I foresee more schools adopting the flexible classroom model as ed-tech matures.

The consumerisation of VR

At a recent trade show, Pearson displayed Virtual Reality (VR) content and a pair of VR goggles on its stand - and no books. That says a lot. Content used to be primarily text and images with a few educational videos thrown in for good measure, but the notion of what constitutes content has shifted radically – now encompassing virtual spaces.

I foresee VR featuring strongly in the education sector in 2018 by virtue of its sheer potential. The immersive nature of VR makes it highly suited for educational purposes, for any subject. Using VR, educators are able to digitally transport learners to distant locales that may be prohibitively expensive, inaccessible, or dangerous.

Educational institutions across the world are leveraging VR technologies to enhance teaching and learning. A key example would be the use of these technologies by vocational educators in Hong Kong, where VR is used to to create realistic simulations of workplace environments to provide a hands-on learning experience without compromising safety.

Many VR experiences already exist for free (or for a small sum) on the web. With falling costs of adoption as VR technology matures, we’re likely to see more universities building them from scratch. Some higher education establishments in the US have already launched VR labs where students can capture and edit VR-based projects, especially in the arts (e.g. dance, music).

Learning to be digital citizens

In a digital world where everyone’s voice is equal, the best production wins – even if it has been created by someone wishing to do harm and/or someone with no authority.

Moving ahead into the new year, I expect to see a higher emphasis across the education spectrum on teaching the younger generation how to be good digital citizens. This entails educating them not only on the use of digital creation tools, but also on the ethics involved – appropriate behaviour online and how to distinguish the fake news from the genuine content.

Moving ahead

The recently concluded Microsoft Asia Digital Transformation Study determined that Asia Pacific’s education sector displayed a clear sense of urgency in embracing digitisation. Despite this fact, only 23% of respondents stated that they had a digital strategy in place.

These findings clearly indicate that Asia Pacific’s education sector still has a long way to catch up to their Western counterparts in embracing the digital revolution. However, if the current state of things is any indication, we can look forward to exciting times indeed.