Observe the last 20 years. Hasn’t everything we have done changed drastically—from the way we work, to the way we care for our loved ones? Yet, education, which is supposed to prepare us for life has been following the same old method of teaching, largely unchanged since the last 200 years. There has been an effort to digitize courses and administrative functions; there have been forays in online learning. But these are merely the tip of the iceberg. Educational Institutions need to replace digitization with Digital Transformation, i.e., they need to change their operational strategy to suit a digital landscape. Putting it another way, educational institutions need to do their homework, if they want to succeed in the next 10 to 20 years.
Crafting a New Curriculum: Learning Management Systems and Personalized Learning
With the proliferation of online learning and e-learning tools, it is becoming easier for teachers to introduce blended learning into every course curriculum. Blended learning allows students to have more control over what they choose to learn, at their own speed and time. Class time is spent for advanced problem-solving and group discussion. These concepts have been made possible by Learning Management Systems that give teachers the tools to assign, monitor and evaluate course work remotely. Google Classroom and Moodle are free options; with Moodle being an open-source platform. Schoology is another popular version that operates on a freemium model and has been adopted by School Districts across USA. The benefits have been numerous, with one school district in Nashville having reported cost savings of $1.3 million in the form online teacher training and $300,000 annual cost savings by introducing virtual classrooms.
With more learning being taken online, it becomes easier for schools to collect data about their students, such as monitoring the time it takes for children to complete a section and crunching test scores. With this additional data, instructors can harness the power of Big Data Analytics and Artificial Intelligence to personalize learning modules, which can adapt to the competence level of each student. Again, different students learn in different ways: some prefer text, others audio or video formats, while others may opt for game-based learning. Personalized learning makes all this possible and more. Mika, powered by Carnegie Learning, is a powerful example how AI can help craft better experience for students, especially those with learning deficiencies. Research suggests that the cost of giving remedial education to incoming college students costs roughly $6.7billion with only a 33% success rate. Mika however, with its one-on-one tutoring, real-time assessment, nudge and help functionality aid students in completing their courses. As all the data is captured, it provides unique reporting capabilities for instructors and highlights areas that need improvement. Research has shown that using Mika has doubled the growth in performance when compared to ordinary students in standardized tests.
Changing Classrooms: From Smart Devices to Virtual Reality
Statistics show that one out of three students uses school-sponsored devices, be it an iPad or a laptop. Schools are being structured to mimic the workplace and we are seeing SmartBoards and SmartDesks, which allow more connectivity and interaction between students, teacher and lesson plans. The presence of these devices adds a challenge to the teachers as their roles change from being a ‘sage-on-the-stage’ to a ‘guide-on-the-side.’ Medical professors in Georgetown University have begun using iPads to teach their students suturing techniques allowing students to learn at their own pace and interact with the videos. This leaves the professors free to interact with students, provide feedback and clear doubts. Teachers will have to adjust to this paradigm and alter their teaching strategy accordingly.
Virtual Reality devices are also making a mark on the learning process. Students can experience the beauty of the Pyramids of Giza, study the ecology of the Yellowstone National Park and observe the political ramifications of the Second World War, all from the seat of their desk using VR devices. With Google introducing its $15 Cardboard VR goggles, VR has become more accessible than ever. Expeditions, the latest app by Google, allows teachers to curate real-world field trips in the virtual world using the company’s Cardboard VR viewer. The company has partnered with content providers such as PBS, The Smithsonian, and American Museum of Natural History to create virtual reality experiences. Google has taken its program across the globe, reaching out to over 2 million students. While it is still in the nascent phase, it remains to be seen, how effective Virtual Reality is in influencing academic performance.
Connected Campuses: Automated Chatbots, Online Communities and more
Schools and colleges need to revisit their in-campus experience and how they address students’ needs. Most administrative staff in educational institutions are usually overworked and technology can play an effective role in easing their pain. Georgetown University’s Connected Campus initiative has been well-recognized for their holistic and comprehensive digital strategy. Besides providing 24/7 WIFI connectivity, they strengthened their IT infrastructure, including establishing data towers and strong cybersecurity controls. They had also launched a mobile app, which takes care of student needs such as orientation of new students through gamification, laundry alerts, ride sharing options, student news and events. Schools and colleges will have to undertake similar initiatives as they seek to improve their student, teacher and parent experiences.
Another area which can see tremendous scope for growth is the use of automated chatbots to address routine questions. Advances in Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence has resulted in these chatbots being used to help students with their homework, answer questions on admission process and other routine tasks. In 2016, a Georgia tech professor, Ashok Goel, hired Jill Watson as a teaching assistant. Only that Jill was not a person; she was AI chatbot. Operating under various pseudonyms, these AI-driven chatbots were able to help over 400 students without being discovered. There is plenty of scope for such technology to blossom in the coming years.
The Digital Native: How Educational Institutions Can Prepare in 2018
2018 will be the year when Edtech takes off. Currently valued at over $7 billion, edtech industry is on trajectory to embrace digital transformation. While all the trends may not manifest in this year, we see the groundwork being laid for the future in 2018 itself. What educational institutions must do on a war footing is to upgrade their IT infrastructure and classroom technology. They will have to start partnering with technology companies to have a re-look at their curriculum and teaching methods. Security and privacy will be critical issues in the future as more data is accumulated and institutions might as well build these features in to the system. Now is the time for educational institutions to do their homework well, else they might be the ones ending up last in class.
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