EdTech 2013

Oct 04, 2008

Miles Berry

A really interesting day on Thursday as part of the ‘Expert Reference Group’ for Nottingham University’s Becta sponsored CAPITAL project. The day was a Delphi style horizon gazing one, chatting about what we thought the trends and potential disruptions might be affecting technology assisted learning over the next five years. The process itself was a fascinating one as a degree of consesus gradually emerged, but it’s probably not my place to pre-empt Nottingham’s report.

Nevertheless, I see no reason not to record a few of my own hunches for where we might be heading, and where the biggest differences might come from. Five years are not that far ahead: the things that will be mainstream in primary education in 2013 are likely to be happening already on a small scale, perhaps overseas, perhaps in another sector or perhaps in a different field entirely.

I think, and indeed hope, that there’s something of a swing back from the instrumentalist focussing on core skills that we’ve seen, with greater opportunity being made for creativity, independent learning, play and a child-centred approach, feeding in perhaps from the bottom up, with this sort of approach being given some prominence in the legally mandated EYFS.

Again, after the ring-binder years of national strategy schemes of work, I do hope we’ll see a re-professionalizing of the, er, profession. The signs are encouraging: the plethora of Masters offered by universities and taken up by teachers, some of NCSL‘s work, the renewal of the subject associations and the opportunities for informal, networked professional development which technology like the TES forums and Web 2 make possible, to name just a few. Collaboratively content creation tools across all media bring at least the opportunities for teachers and students to take charge of the resources they use: moodle courses are proof that this can work, and work jolly well.

Following Jim Knight’s announcement at BETT and the more recent one from the prime minister, I think the relationship between home and school is likely to strengthen, but I’d like to see this as a two way street: yes extending learning from the school into the home (perhaps even by VPN access to the school network), but also the other way, being more willing to acknowledge informal, home based learning in schools, and perhaps opening up the experience of ICT in schools to resemble more closely the richness, variety and interconnectedness of (some) students’ use of technology at home.

I suspect there’ll remain a place for institutional VLEs over the next five years, at least as a place for drawing together the resources and activities selected by the teachers or the institution. The really interesting stuff is likely to happen outside of the VLE, in best of breed tools fit for particular purposes: think Google Docs, blogs, diagram, graphics, photo, video editing and sharing; cloud computing. Gluing this together will be the PLE in one form or another, with seemless transition to an e-portfolio that’s actually useful for end users. Doing this using existing tools might get tricky if the risk-aversion surrounding e-safety gets worse than it already is

The home access thing though might be a bit of a sideline, as the connectivity and tools present on high-end mobiles, like my treasured iphone, become the standard – each child having access to the semi-infinite resources of the net and their network of friends and family from their desk is going to be technically possible by 2013, less clear is whether it would be allowed. There’s a convergence or collision point approaching (perhaps it’s here already) between the school-provided tech (class sets of laptops, PDAs etc, often quite locked down), and the unrestricted access to the net which they (could) bring into school with them – smartphones and 3G dongles. The challenge is going to be finding ways of using this individual and possibly independent access to the net in ways that are genuinely educational – how to move the conversation, searches and content creation on from the trivial to the significant; much as it goes against the grain to say so, I suspect there’s a role for syllabuses and qualifications here as some form of motivator, but then rich, formal+informal, multimedia e-portfolios (or just searching for a person on Google) will offer a different sort of motivation to contribute something that matters.

I think there’s quite a creative tension is that between personalisation and community. The model of personalisation which appears to be advocated by the DCSF and Becta is based around that of tailored resources and activities a kind of educational longtail, which makes it difficult to preserve the social dimension of learning that’s worked well these last 5000 years. On the other hand, where young people do exercise the choice and voice that I would see as integral to any true understanding of personalised learning, we see communities emerge – the net, and especially web 2.0, acting as a way of connecting learners together in a way that had previously been prohibitively difficult. The smart tech that web 3.0 should bring will perhaps provide the means to bridge this gap, and I’d expect to see increasing use made of datamining techniques as more and more assessment and pupil profile data moves online.

BSF will, I’d expect, continue over the medium term. I remain pessimistic about how this is going to leave schools in terms of the control and choice they have over their technology, but the above points relating to personal access to technology and resources for teachers and students might yet make that an irrelevance. In the longer term, one returns to the question of should we be Building Schools for the Future, given that so much that now characterizes the best of education can be mediated by technology in the home and in the real world. As with open content in HE (eg MIT, ITunesU, the OU, etc…), perhaps the institution does continue to offer value added: tutorial support (how’s that for personalised), a face-to-face community and, obviously, accreditation.

A change of government might well happen between now and 2013: greater independence for schools (eg academies, Swedish style schools) would, probably, accelerate some of the above; a Daily-Mail inspired back-lash against technology assisted education and/or an e-safety panic might set some of this back quite significantly. Concern over climate change might well bring the possibilities of home-based learning higher up the agenda. Outsourcing and off-shoring of teaching in shortage subjects becomes more possible as technology improves, although their may be fewer (if any) shortage subjects if significant numbers move into teaching as the credit crunch leads people to seek more secure employment.

Five years, an eightfold increase in Moore’s Law terms, isn’t that long. Back in 2003, how much of today’s mainstream ed-tech could have been predicted? Whiteboards, certainly, as there were already lots in use; VLEs, certainly, working from groupware applications in the real world and their use in HE; personalisation, perhaps, by looking at the way businesses were dealing with customers, and indeed Demos were doing leading work on this from a public sector perspective five years ago; m-learning, again yes, by analogy with PDAs in business; web 2.0’s enthusiastic adoption by teachers, perhaps not so much. I wonder whether five years is enough for some of the above, and what the unexpected things will be…