Integration rather than replacement
Some students and commentators have expressed concern over the digital education revolution. They're worried the fast-paced adoption could negatively impact students' learning. A lack of digital training, insufficient bandwidth, and little preparation to adjust to the ‘new normal’ are just three of the significant issues that could result in a poor user experience.
However, e-learning advocates are keen to stress this year (and the next decade) will be about integration and sustainable growth, rather than the rapid replacement of classroom learning. In other words, e-learning will grow and co-exist alongside more traditional teaching methods. "I believe that the adoption of information technology in education will be further accelerated during 2022," says Wang Tao, Vice President of Tencent Cloud and Vice President of Tencent Education. “It will eventually become an integral component of school education, but we will still need teachers and many face-to-face contacts. I envision a new hybrid education model will emerge, creating the best of both worlds for students and higher education institutes."
Students and teachers are on board
At the pandemic's start, the quick pivot to e-learning created challenges for students and teachers. First-year university students were among those worse affected. After all, they hadn't expected to spend their first term isolating in dorms while logging on to a few virtual lectures every week. Moreover, the vast majority were paying hefty tuition fees for the privilege. "I'm forking out thousands of pounds for Zoom calls and a few emails from my tutors," said one disgruntled first-year student.
But after a bit of a shaky start, students and teachers are beginning to embrace digital education. They're also reaping the benefits of a more open, accessible, and personalized approach to learning. In the USA, 35% of teachers agreed online learning allows for more personalized instruction, especially when catering to students' individual competency levels. A similar number also says that digital tools help students stay more engaged.
Another study by Lynn University in Florida reported almost 80% of students preferred e-books over paper ones. The students said the e-books were easier to read and annotate. They were also much cheaper than physical copies. Staff at the Lynn University believe this increased level of engagement is the main reason why results in literacy-based testing are up by over 13%.
Here's a look at some of the exciting technologies driving digital innovation in the classroom...
Investments in virtual reality (VR) technologies are expected to rise by $700 million within the next five years. Much of that will be in gaming, although an increasing number of VR companies are focusing on creating educational tools and software. It means 2022 will bring more apps such as SkyView, which integrates virtual reality overlays of the sky to help users explore the galaxy. SkyView can identify stars, constellations, planets, and even satellites. There's a genuine enthusiasm for VR in the classroom. 70% of teachers want to start using it during class, and 97% of students say they would enroll in a VR-focused course.
Augmented reality (AR) is another booming tech sector. Experts believe investments in AR education tools could hit $5billion by the end of 2022. AR supplements the natural environment with digital visuals and sound, adding digital layers of information onto our reality. AR education tools mean medical students can 'perform' operations or conduct examinations without the need for real-life patients or cadavers. Microsoft HoloLens uses mixed reality to teach anatomy and how to treat different medical conditions. Lens wearers can isolate, enlarge, and even walk inside parts of the human body!
Similar to VR and AR, Extended Reality (ER) creates virtual models of real-world places. ER Platforms like Google Expeditions means teachers can take their classes on a virtual tour of The Louvre or lead them on a trek through the Arctic Tundra. ER can also help students understand what it was like to live through significant historical events. The immersive ER 1943 Berlin Blitz app uses real-life footage to recreate a nighttime bombing raid in Nazi Germany.
Robot teachers aren't science fiction anymore. In fact, they've been in some classrooms for a while. NAO, a humanoid robot designed by French firm Aldebaran Robotics, has been used as a teaching resource for kids with autism since 2013. NAO's software is programmed to improve students' social interaction and verbal communication skills. In China, kindergarten teachers are getting some extra assistance from a small robot named KeeKo. It tells stories, poses logic problems, and reacts with positive facial expressions when students respond correctly.
AI and machine learning
Artificial intelligence can out-think humans in mathematical and logic-based decision-making. However, these smart machines have a long way to go before they can understand and replicate the nuances of human behavior and emotion. As such, teachers are in no danger of being replaced by super-intelligent computers. Instead, machine learning and AI tools will be used for simple, repetitive tasks, including taking attendance, making copies, translating, test marking, and other admin duties. Teachers will then have more time and energy to focus on the human side of education.
Chatbots are another effective tool for educators and higher education institutes. Chatbots are a simple, effective, and cost-efficient way of communicating important information to students or applicants. With chatbots, the response time to queries can be cut from days to just seconds. In the future, sophisticated chatbot software will be able to respond to more complicated questions. For example, they could provide tips and advice on how to write better essays.
Northeastern University in Boston, USA, uses Quick Response codes (QR) to connect students and check on their wellbeing. Scattered around the Northeastern campus on posters, these QR codes provide details of social meet-ups, important calendar events, or mental health support services. Private businesses are also using the codes to advertise their products and services. They were a big help during the worst of the pandemic. Students used them to order contactless food deliveries and take care of other daily tasks while maintaining social distancing guidelines.
2022 is on course to be an exciting year for digital education. New technologies will continue to create exciting and interactive learning environments. Most importantly, a greater sense of accessibility and inclusion will ensure more people can take advantage of life-changing educational opportunities.