Making learning technologies deeply personal and human-centred

Technology has the undeniable ability to transform and improve lives – and it is here to stay. But, before we allow ourselves to be swept away by this statement, education technology has a chequered history that has been dogged with ill-fitting and misguided solutions that fail to stick. It is no wonder that many schools and teachers lack confidence and feel burned and let down by their experiences of EdTech.

All too often, computers have been used as a means of substituting existing teaching methods with a digital replacement. Simply digitising how maths is taught and enriching it with appealing graphical content and attention-grabbing games does not lead to long-term adoption or significant gains in pupil progress. As an industry, we also need to be less consumed with chasing quick sales and ‘low-touch’ solutions that negate ongoing contact with schools. Technology solutions need to be carefully designed with a deep understanding of the classroom, the practice of teaching, the digital literacy levels of teaching staff, and a healthy reality check around what it takes for a school to fully adopt a new platform or piece of software.

Beware of buzzwords

The UK’s EdTech landscape is littered with the remnants of the ‘next big thing’. Trade shows and conferences, overflowing with echoes of empty ‘game-changing’ promises, quick fixes and similar flights of fancy from software suppliers competing for schools’ attention. We need to be less obsessed with producing off-the-shelf products flaunting marketing buzzwords such as AI, AR and VR to stand out from the crowd, focusing instead on how we can use technology in harmony with the essential skill of the teacher. To genuinely make a difference for the long term.

Artificial Intelligence Augmentation

Artificial Intelligence and machine learning will bring many benefits to schools in terms of automating systems and processes to improve operational effectiveness. But, full AI – machine code that is self-aware and indistinguishable from the performance of a human brain – while being many years away from reality, also has shortcomings. It is strongly believed that it will never truly be able to match or improve on human ability in tasks that require complex problem-solving, personal interaction, linguistic nuances and emotional and social intelligence. Where technology can really excel and bring about significant step-change for schools, will be achieved when combining the best of both worlds. Andrew W. Moore, Dean of the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University, estimated that 98% of researchers are focused on engineering systems that can help people make better decisions.8 This approach is more akin to IA – Intelligence Augmentation – than AI.

A new approach to an old technique

Personalised learning – an approach involving tailoring education to each pupil’s needs – should be the answer to ensuring every child fulfils their potential. But critics say it has previously achieved the opposite, resulting in overburdened teachers struggling to differentiate for each and every child, and disadvantaged pupils becoming trapped by low predicted grades.

Creating technology solutions that place teachers and learners at the centre of the experience can have a profound impact on engagement, confidence and long-term adoption. And, while machine learning and AI will no doubt have great potential to improve the operational effectiveness of schools in the years to come, we are still decades away from understanding and being able to harness its full potential for good.

Sources

  1. National Education Union Teacher Workload Survey, March 2018
  2. ‘Retaining and developing the teaching workforce’ – House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts, January 2018
  3. ‘State of Education Survey 2017’ – The Key & Ipsos
  4. ‘Education Indicators in Focus – 2012/04 (April)’ – OECD
  5. ‘Provisional GCSE and equivalent results in England, 2017 and 2018’ – DfE / National Statistics
  6. Skills for Life 2011; PIAAC 2014; National Numeracy YouGov Survey 2014
  7. ‘Why is numeracy important?’ – National Numeracy website (January 2019)
  8. ‘Artificial Intelligence: 10 Things To Know’ – InformationWeek, November 2015
  9. Full details on this research at: https://sparx.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Sparx-Case-Study-all_v2.pdf