“Colonel Qaddafi is Saddam Hussein’s son” and other reasons why we’re not yet at the future of education

The Apple effect [A Imafidon, 2012] – when Apple does something, it’s as if a whole new concept has been created e.g. the iPad wasn’t the first ever tablet, but you’d be forgiven for thinking it was.

I recently spent my evening at an ACES Presentation Evening. I’m always amazed when I’m invited to attend ACES events. The number of children they’re able to reach, and the inspirational impact they have on lives, really makes a difference. It all presents a strong case for the power of mentoring & inspiration to boost one’s education. In this post, I want to focus on the potential power of technology to boost one’s education – and comment on the future of collaborations between Technology and Education.

The iBooks 2 launch in the week following this year’s BETT show (poor timing, if you ask me) sparked some debate in the twitter- and blogospheres. Why? Because as per the ‘Apple effect’ (see above), an iPad education app made people think out loud about the link between Technology and Education. What role will etextbooks and ebooks play in the future of education? How can the mix of media improve the child’s learning experience? It’s like it’s 1993 and Encarta has just been released.

What’s different this time? And what should be different?

To be honest, this might as well be Encarta all over again. The only difference this time round is that the tablet is portable, so you don’t have to be at a PC and desk to ‘learn’. The technology has now come so far that learning should be a personalized experience, like shopping and news have become. I’m hoping that education goes the way of other industries and becomes more customer (read student) focused.

I’ve recently been able to trial some software with students I teach and mentor on Saturday mornings. Unsurprisingly, the new technology being used has got the kids excited, but beyond that I haven’t been blown away. The older students find a lot of the software patronising (one maths platform for 16 year olds is housed in a comic) and the younger children I allow to use my Playbook decided to change the game once they found themselves having to think too much or use their fingers to count.

The experiments have left me wondering which platform is the most educative. I’ve always been a fan of the passive nature of educative TV programmes, where you effectively learn by osmosis…but the instant feedback one receives on a tablet steps the amount of information retention up a notch.

Another question that comes to mind is cost, and more specifically the notion of a ‘breakeven’ or ROI on resources. What’s the average cost of a textbook? How many textbooks does one use throughout their schooling? How much is the educational discount on a Playbook, Xoom or iPad? And it’s not just the cost of the tablet, but the internet access….it would be a short-sighted shame to think that all the information required for a full learning experience can fit on the 16Gb capacity of the average tablet. I’ve recently seen schemes to make the Internet easily accessible to the average family and have been reminded of the role local libraries currently play in bringing the internet to the masses. The availability of Khan Academy, MathsZone and various other free resources mean that, in theory – Gene Marks, author of controversial HuffPost ‘If I were a poor black kid’ – wasn’t too far off the mark.

So, what do we do, how do we best leverage and personalise the learning experience?

How do we make it customer (read student) focused? I reckon being experimental and reactively tailoring your audiobook vs Youtube vs Kindle balance to the best effect. Switch it up often and observe the results. And then recommend what has worked for you to others, so they can do the same.

Abdul Chohan from the Essa Academy presented at the BETT show Pearson stand on how they’ve done this. They’ve done away with teacher’s desks and a lot of printing by giving teachers Dropboxes, iPads and installing Apple TV around the school. Students get iPod touches with Facebook-like reminders for homework, on a platform that is being beta tested by Pearson. Apple effect not included, this is a step in the right direction. All they have to do next is personalize the experience for each of the students.

Abdul’s anecdote that stuck with me the most was a particular Russian-born student’s use of Wikipedia and its language translations in her science classes. This student had hears a particular word in class, searches it on Wikipedia, using the iPad at her desk and hits the ‘Russian’ translation on the wiki page. She is then able to read and catchup with the class, despite her level of English. There’s no need for her to drop behind due to extra time spent studying English. She’s been able to take the wheel of her own education, and drive…

…I wish my Saturday students were able to do the same – the title of this post is a direct quote from one of my Saturday morning English classes. The original question asked was: who is Colonel Qaddafi?

Someone more akin to the future of learning would have googled Qaddafi’s name as soon as they saw all of the terrible images on the TV/in the papers…and would have known that he is not the head of state of Pakistan either (another quote from that class).

So, for what it’s worth here are my top 3 suggestions for the future relationship between Technology and Education:

  1. Aim to build education around a child’s learning preferences, especially from the age of 11 upwards. Are they an auditory, visual or kinesthetic learner? Take advantage of this, with a diversity in presentation of information, and a bias towards their preference.
  2. Get kids to teach each other – a 1997 study at the University of Texas says that people remember:10 percent of what they read; 20 percent of what they hear; 30 percent of what they see; 50 percent of what they see and hear; 70 percent of what they say; and 90 percent of what they do and say.
    For the child, teaching builds confidence and knowledge – subconsciously, it’s an affirmation that they have something to offer. This approach also ensures that the child has gone to research and study a topic in depth, so as to not show themselves up.
  3. New generations cannot afford to be e-unaware. Using technology rather than studying it, for studying’s sake, will ensure no-one is ‘left behind’ skillswise. How many jobs these days don’t require a basic working knowledge of word processing? Even in study, today’s children will need to be able to use such applications. I’d love to see an entire generation grow up completely ‘comfortable’ with technology – unlike mine, who hate technology due to the ICT lessons we were forced to endure at school. Let’s work on the ubiquity of technology. More than 80% of teachers agree that students are more engaged and produce higher quality work when we get technology involved.

Peace, aimafidon

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