Technology is transforming education. From distance-learning classrooms to virtual reality history lessons in ancient Pompeii, tech has turned the educational paradigm on its head. But are there drawbacks? An international team of educators offers their insights.
EdTech’s impact in Wellington
The technological revolution is booming and changing everything – from how we communicate with others, consume news and watch movies to how we purchase goods. It has also become a major tool shaping the future of education.
Engaging pupils is often quite challenging for teachers. Studies have shown that engaged pupils are 2.5 times more likely to get higher grades in their academic performance than pupils who are not engaged. The use of educational technology (EdTech) in schools is currently the top pupil-engagement strategy used in the classroom. EdTech promotes active learning, and when pupils are actively engaged in class, they are more positive, encouraged and motivated.
Interactive whiteboards are probably the most well-known form of EdTech. They provide a touchscreen display for teachers to share presentations, play videos and annotate documents. Wellington classrooms are equipped with Maxhub boards, chosen specifically for their quality, ease of use and excellent immersive learning experience. These boards enable teachers to screen share devices, screen record, annotate and much more. Pupils can also share their own device screens by scanning the board QR code or using the MaxHub Screenshare app.
In 2017, Microsoft introduced their educational platform Microsoft 365 to help schools improve the educational experience for their staff and pupils. One personalized email address and password allows access to all the Microsoft applications and the school network. Microsoft Teams is our online platform for communication and collaboration, especially in our upper prep and senior schools. Pupils use Teams to communicate and collaborate, empowering them to take responsibility for their own learning while supporting and encouraging their peers. Cloud storage has revolutionized the way digital work is stored. Wellington uses OneDrive to store work, which can be accessed on any device and shared for collaboration. OneNote is our go-to digital notebook for teachers and pupils, and the computing department uses it for a digital record of pupil’s work.
Apple has revolutionized how EdTech is used in the classroom, especially for younger pupils. From creating GarageBand music to learning how to code in Swift, there are multiple applications that help pupils learn. In Wellington, all pupils in the prep school have access to an iPad, with a 1:1 iPad program implemented in Grades 4-8. Pupils use a wide variety of iPad apps, specifically tailored to their age, to present their work in unique and interesting ways. They create presentations and a range of multimedia content, including videos, comic strips and animations. They take notes, plan and record ideas, problem solve, collaborate and create their own content to reflect and expand on their learning and passions. Teachers use a variety of classroom management apps, such as Apple Classroom, and interactive assessment apps to constantly create meaningful learning opportunities for their pupils. Kahoot and Quizzizz are particular favorites for all ages in Wellington, with EduCake, GCSE Pod and Complete Maths being used in upper prep and senior school to revise core concepts in preparation for exams.
We use a number of other interactive devices as well. The science department in Wellington has a large-scale Starlab planetarium. This uses a high-quality digital projector and inflatable dome to provide a full 180-degree video experience. Our own 360 cameras provide opportunities for pupils to make their own planetarium movies. Our virtual reality headsets immerse our pupils in famous art galleries and other cultural destinations.
In Wellington, we are confident in our use of EdTech as a major tool in advancing the education of all our pupils.
Preparing students for the future – now
Learning technologies are continuing to transform education by augmenting and redefining the roles of teachers and students in the classroom. This transformation is not unique to our school, the Shanghai Community International School, or the wider world of education, but rather is a reflection of the world in which we live.
Skills such as student creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, analyzing, designing, remixing and collaboration are very important now, and it is our duty as a school and as educators to prepare our students for this reality. We are preparing our students to be successful in a future that looks very different from today, with jobs, technologies and problems that don’t even exist yet. We are preparing students for a future that we don’t really understand and can’t really predict. Therefore, we need to teach our students to be adaptable and flexible, with the ability to learn, unlearn and relearn as lifelong learners. Technologies are ubiquitous in our teaching and learning environments, and we need to understand how to use them effectively.
We use multimedia and digital video as part of our didactic toolkit to enhance the teaching and learning process. Research suggests that multimedia content increases student motivation, develops self-directed learning, increases achievement and encourages lifelong learning. Many learners prefer multimedia over traditional lectures, as it can streamline learning and provide more interactive learning experiences. There is also evidence that students learn more from images than printed words. Students become producers of new knowledge by creating digital essays, websites, blogs and multimedia presentations through written words, images, voiceover narrations, sound, interactivity, composition, rhythm and pacing.
At SCIS, we also educate our community about the use of technology from both the positive and negative aspects. For example, while technology can increase engagement, we need to be aware that it can also be a distraction. While technology can increase teamwork through collaborating in the cloud or communicating on digital discussion boards, we also need to be mindful that technology can also be isolating for some, so we develop lessons to prevent this. We also recognize that while technology can save teachers time so they can focus on assessment and feedback, we also need to be aware that technology can take time to learn and understand how to integrate it into the classroom. We work together as a learning community to navigate this rapidly changing educational paradigm to ensure that our students are prepared to be successful outside our school’s digital learning landscape.
Learning to embrace in-person and distance ed
For decades, educators and futurists have argued the rate of change will accelerate, and we now know better than ever that living in a state of ambiguity and uncertainty is a skill we must help children face and understand. Technology is helping us with this by allowing us to remain connected, learn in different ways and adapt to living in our new reality.
Living through a pandemic has advanced both the need for online and distance learning, as well as reemphasized the necessity of face-to-face learning experiences that are social, authentic and relevant. While learning from a distance and in person seem like opposing practices, the current reality is that schools are adapting to offer both of these modalities in order to support student learning and wellbeing.
Blended learning has been around for many years, and schools are now beginning to operate in a hybrid modality to meet the changing needs of students and families who live in a global society, as well as prepare students with the skills to be productive and connected during uncertain times.
While technology does not completely transport us through space and time, it can enable learning opportunities, synchronous and asynchronous, from a distance. Schools are becoming increasingly proficient at purposefully designing blended learning experiences for those on campus, while concurrently offering temporary, short-term online learning experiences for students who, for a variety of reasons, are not able to be on campus.
An equally important part of the puzzle is offering rich, hands-on learning experiences that provide students opportunities to apply skills in real-world scenarios and simulations. Schools that focus on social, applied learning experiences will shine in the age of hybrid learning.
At Concordia International School Shanghai, we find examples of this approach in our High School Applied Learning program. Courses such as Big Data Analytics, in which big data analytics are used to solve practical, real-life problems, and the Epidemiology course, in which students design research studies on the spread of infectious diseases and analyze the resulting data, both provide hands-on experiences that are underpinned by technology.
Third century BC philosopher Xunzi once wrote, “Not having heard of it is not as good as having heard of it. Having heard of it is not as good as having seen it. Having seen it is not as good as knowing it. Knowing it is not as good as putting it into practice.”
While Xunzi was speaking primarily of the Confucian way of life, the act of cementing one’s learning by putting it into practice is certainly not a novel concept in the realm of education. Adults the world over may remember with varying levels of fondness the various dissections that took place in their biology classes, the history trips to ancient ruins, or the journeys to local sites of interest to collect data for geographical analysis. Mathematics lessons may have involved venturing out into the wider school community to measure the dimensions of various spaces, while many of the arts and other STEAM-inclusive (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) subjects are by dint of their very nature full to the brim of practical learning activities.
With the world of educational technology rapidly shifting, accelerated further by the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent moves to online and hybrid learning systems, these practical experiences and subsequent cementing of knowledge in students have taken on new and exciting forms.
With a class set of virtual reality headsets, for example, teachers are no longer constrained by budget, time or pandemic-induced travel restrictions. Suddenly, the world is quite literally at our students’ fingertips. They can wander the lively streets of Pompeii and see for themselves how the home of an aristocrat may have looked, and then feel the fear at the distant sounds of an erupting Mt Vesuvius – and live to tell the tale. Physics students can don their headsets – or perhaps a 3D-printed casing for their mobile phone that will give them an equivalent VR experience – and create a detailed simulation to test theories that may be difficult or even impossible to create in the classroom. And where else could a student perform open heart surgery at the tender age of eleven if not in the virtual world? Entire universes of new experiences are available, and now more than ever students can put their learning into practice.
Even better, advances in modern technology aren’t just limited to enhancing the practical learning experiences of our students. Teachers and support staff now have a myriad of tools in their hands enabling them to support their students on a more personal level than was ever possible. Students who might once have been left behind due to difficulties with auditory processing can benefit from having live subtitles appear on a slideshow, while EAL pupils can scan a QR code to benefit from these same automatic subtitles appearing in their own language on their mobile device.
Artificial intelligence can diagnose literacy difficulties in children much earlier than may have been previously possible. This is done without adding to a teacher’s workload, often even reducing the need for time spent on data collection. In turn, teachers can dedicate more time to using collected data in meaningful ways, such as planning interventions and developing even more personalized learning pathways.
And what about wellbeing?
Technology is often seen as the harbinger of doom when it comes to wellbeing. Tales abound of the negative effects of too much screen time, or of the way cyberbullies can now digitally chase their victims home, leaving little time for mental reprieve. Yet among the difficulties that modern students face, we see more technology companies recognizing the need to support digital wellbeing. Imagine being able to monitor what your children look at on their devices – not checking website by website, like some modern-day Big Brother, but checking if they are searching for mental health support or something more concerning. What about their screentime – or your own? What if your device could keep track of how much you use it, the amount of time spent on responding to emails outside of dedicated work hours, and even recommend “focus hours” where all of your notifications are muted so you can focus on getting your tasks done? Advances in technology benefit us all; not only teaching our students about time management and positive digital wellbeing, but also doing the same as their teachers and other support staff, and perhaps even their parents as well.
Well-known technology and gaming companies are quickly recognizing the benefits of shifting toward education, benefiting students who are likely already using their products while once again supporting the adage that true knowledge comes only with practice. Game platforms have been adapted to address educational needs and enhance education, often releasing the “Education Edition” and removing combat and narrative, to replace this with character-led guided tours and museum-style exhibits. Rather than remaining a tool of entertainment, students can learn through play, once again going deeper than previously would have been possible.
Modern classrooms are a far cry from those of old. Traditional lessons may have given students a firm foundation in knowledge, with certain subjects lending themselves better to practical elements, but never before have students had the opportunities that modern technology provides them. No longer are we teaching our students how to merely understand the world around them: 21st century learners are learning how to interact with the world, past and present, preparing to enter a world filled with opportunities and technologies we can’t yet imagine.
It simply starts with education technology: Where we end up is a future even the most advanced data can’t predict.
Our world is saturated with technology and the Internet. Children growing up today have never known a world without it. Over the last 30 years, technology has completely changed the way we live, and it continues to reshape the world at an ever-increasing rate. Education, too, has seen the impact of the technological revolution. While there are positives and negatives with any change, in this article I would like to discuss some ways technology has benefited education.
We have moved into an age of innovation. Technology gives us access to knowledge and tools that allow us to transform the world around us. Students are no longer passive recipients of information, but now, more than ever, are active agents in the learning process. Gamification creates an environment in which trial and error allows students to hypothesize, test and evaluate decisions. The beauty of games is that when you make a mistake, you get to start over. Each failure is an opportunity to learn. The pace at which technology allows us to reset and restart means that learning is accelerated. The only limit is a student’s motivation to improve.
Another group of students was briefed to conceptualize and create a future-minded model of our school campus. With guidance from the STEAM coaches and ICT teachers, they came up with a variety of ideas. These were tested, critiqued and reworked. The final concept required them to learn 3D modelling, virtual reality authoring and animation development using the Unreal VR Engine. The final result is an immersive VR walkthrough of our school campus.
Technology allows for invaluable, real-life experiences for students when used as tools for creation. Creating opportunities for students to actively innovate and practice design thinking inspires them to grow and learn.
(The article is contributed by Craig Griebenow, SSIS K-12 ICT coordinator and Primary School ICT head.)
Far beyond the walls of classroom
It has been over 30 years since desktop computers began commonly appearing in primary and secondary school classrooms. Book reports would be slowly written by keen students still developing their typing skills; digital art was produced using rudimentary graphics software and erratic mouse movements. The most ambitious would attempt simple procedural programming starting with the classic “Hello World” proclamation. Perhaps not an educational technology-driven revolution at this stage, but certainly the beginning of a new chapter in teaching and learning. It would likely be some of these same pioneering students that would go on to develop the AI-powered adaptive learning platforms and the immersive VR learning experiences that are now at the forefront of modern-day educational technology.
Educational technology in international schools can be a particularly powerful and important tool. When employed thoughtfully and creatively, it can redefine the way lessons are taught as opposed to merely substituting for more traditional classroom resources. Students can be transported far beyond the walls of their classroom, allowing them to reconnect with their home cultures and those of their classmates and teachers.
To truly embrace being an internationally-minded community requires us to take advantage of the wealth of connections that we can make through technology. This might mean taking part in a livestreamed lesson with scientists on the international space station or simply forming a book club with a class of students in a different country.
As a design technology teacher, technological advancements have not only enriched the learning environment but also driven the development of the course curriculum. While the approaches to teaching mathematics, physics and history may have changed over the last 30 years, the fundamentals of these courses will have remained largely the same.
This is an entirely different story for design technology, where students are now learning about manufacturing techniques and sustainable technologies that had previously not existed. They have access to classroom computer-aided design/manufacturing equipment that would have been otherwise restricted to professional environments. The students can engage in a truly iterative design process where they can use cutting-edge rapid-prototyping techniques to produce high-fidelity products in response to their design objectives.
Not everyone is so enthusiastic about technology in the classroom, though. Some will highlight that our students are already spending far too long each day staring at a screen. Others might point out that technology does too much of the thinking for us now, with mental arithmetic and spelling being areas of particular concern. While these may be valid points, they must be balanced against the need to best prepare students for a workplace that will expect innovative, adaptive individuals with high levels of digital proficiency.
Perhaps it is sensible to stop short of the grandiose statement that we should be preparing most of our students for jobs that do not exist yet. However, it would be irresponsible and short-sighted not to ready students for a future where digital literacy will be a necessity for us all.