Story image

A help or hindrance: How technology is shaking up education

By Catherine Knowles, Fri 29 Jan 2016
FYI, this story is more than a year old

You’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it twice, you’ll hear it a hundred times: technology is driving massive change on a worldwide scale.

It’s becoming impossible to move through this world without coming into contact with technology in some way.

It’s being used in every industry and is at the core of a growing number of jobs.

Methods and systems that have existed for decades are being fundamentally questioned and re-shaped.

This isn’t the time to resist and hide behind out-dated methods, it’s the time to step up, be bold and get actively involved.

This is the view of Frances Valintine, The Mind Lab by Unitec chair and founder, who is at the forefront of education and futuristic technology research in New Zealand.

More recently, Valintine attended the Executive Program at the Singularity University in Silicon Valley.

Joining some of the brightest minds and influential leaders in the world, Valintine spent a week looking at emerging technologies and how these will disrupt and transform the world as we know it.

As the founder of The Mind Lab by Unitec, the education provider leading digital and collaborative learning, education is a key focus for Valintine.

Valintine talked to Techday about the biggest changes taking place in the education space, and how teachers and parents can not only survive but also thrive within it all.

Keep your coins, I want change

According to Valintine, traditional teaching methods, where rules, regulations, controls and retention of information reigns supreme, are being done away with in favour of new approaches that are driven by enquiry-based learning, exploration and creative thinking.

“You don’t need to be in the education system too long to realise this model is really broken.

“Retaining information, well it’s out of date as soon as you retain it. So we need to learn how to filter information,” she says.

“We now understand the cognitive process of learning so much better.

“Instead of saying everyone is the same, systems are becoming more flexible and adaptable,” she says.

New learning methods and technological tools are becoming commonplace in schools around the world, proliferating through New Zealand primary schools and making their way into secondary education as well.

With new learning methods, context is everything

According to Valintine, contextual learning has become the focus for a number of schools, particularly with students 12 and under.

Because of this, the structure of a students’ day is beginning to look very different, she says.

Subjects no longer exist in isolation, and instead of students studying Science, Maths, History and English in 45-minute chunks, they are learning about a particular topic in an in-depth, investigative way that uses real world examples.

For instance, within the context of ancient Rome, in a single class a student could learn about currency and financial markets, language, food, architecture, religion, culture and more.

“In a topic-based scenario students are actually looking at influence of literature, art, culture, academia, and knowledge,” says Valintine.

In this instance, assessments are also approached in a completely new way. Instead of functioning as an exam that focuses primarily on retention, they are based on displaying understanding by articulating knowledge, for instance through a portfolio, re-enactment, or demonstration.

Some schools in other areas of the world are looking at making assessments more closely aligned to how we function in the world today. For instance, enabling the use of the internet during exams.

“This is how we solve problems today,” says Valintine. “To find the answer I still need numeracy, literacy, and evaluation, but I also need to re-write and re-purpose [the content] in my own words to show comprehension,” she says.

This mode of learning and assessment is not about prescription but discovery, she says.

“It’s about taking away the chalk and talk model, deconstructing and reconstructing things. It's about encouraging student, action-based learning and looking at how things are made,” she says.

Technology tools aren’t everything, but they are an enabler

There’s a lot of talk about whether technology is a help or a hindrance, whether these tools are preparing kids for the big-wide world or creating bad habits.

According to Valintine, it’s not a question of whether students are or aren’t using technology, it’s about how they’re using it.

She says some tools are proving to encourage students to think deeper about topics and engage in whole new ways.

Virtual reality (VR) is going to be a crucial tool used in education this year, thanks to increasing affordability and range of educational content, according to Valintine.

A year ago Google Cardboard was the cheapest VR option at $5, a few years ago a similar contraption would cost $400-$500, and now plastic devices are available at less than $20 each, Valintine says.

As costs drop, those creating VR content are emerging in earnest.

“If you look at United Nations, The World Bank or anyone who’s trying to convey strong messaging to our global leaders, then they’ve gone in and made Virtual Reality videos.

“And if you look at the quality of the content being produced, it’s being produced mostly around education," she says.

VR can be used as a means for providing students with a greater understanding of the world around them, and the catalyst to a discussion about a particular topic, she says.

“You could be talking about environmental causes and situations, and give students the opportunity to experience the sights, sounds, feel of it,” she says.

While 2D textbooks and screens are somewhat limited, 3D content is immersive and can better connect communities, according to Valintine.

“We are going to get better at connecting communities globally. Schools and classrooms exist in vacuums, but what we’re seeing is the emergence of a sharing culture,” she says.

Changing perceptions and looking forward

With change this profound, it’s inevitable that some principals and teachers will be unsure and resistant.

“When what you know is a very strong fixed position, and change sits outside what you absolutely know to be, it’s difficult to embrace,” Valintine says.

For one, parents who enjoyed their experience at school and were successful don’t see anything wrong with the traditional way of doing things, she says.

What this completely ignores, however, is that the world has and is changing, she says.

In order for New Zealand’s youth to get the best possible head start, education providers need to accept the fundamental fact that this change has been in the making for decades and technology here to stay.

Valintine encourages parents to find a school that their child responds well to and educators to keep experimenting.

It isn’t going to be a clean transition, she says, but it’s meant to be messy.

Valintine says education should be messy in every sense. It should exist in different sizes for different people, allow for different schedules and encourage different skills.

She says the biggest mistakes have already been made - schools are realising the ‘me too’ approach doesn’t work and are tackling it in their own way.

They’re beginning to take it slower, do one or two things really well, and are seeing the benefits more so than those that do everything at once.

“There is a growing awareness that this isn’t all going to happen overnight, and a much more steady as she goes approach.

“It’s all about making sure New Zealand is ready for where it’s going to be. This is the year we need to start talking about what our students need for the future,” she says.

Recent stories
More stories