How smart are our “smart schools”​? and the Evolution of Education Technology

Edutech is having a moment. It has moved from the “nice to have a category” and a sort of marketing edge for schools to partner with the Educomp or any “smart class” provider.

Many surveys had indicated that most such facilities were in disuse. Very few teachers would use it, else mostly such “smart” boards were used to play content when a teacher was absent. It was fashionable for school owners to claim that they were running a smart school. Many times it was also fashionable for parents that their children were going to a “smart school”.

After a few years of selling the hardware of an interactive whiteboard, projector, and a PC with “canned” content, into classrooms. The teachers stopped using it. Obviously, the teaching-learning process and the underpinning pedagogy are different for different teachers and different subjects. A good teacher is always versatile and agile enough to change gears as they are planning close attention to the student’s body language, eye content, and quality of interaction. A regimented lesson, with a fixed “set” of digital content objects delivered in a fixed sequence, does not provide the “freedom” of instruction, interaction, the ability to be spontaneous, to the teacher. The beauty and effectiveness of a teaching-learning session are always the “unexpected” connections that the teacher can make to real world issues, or a question asked by a student that could spark a healthy debate.

The teacher in a classroom is like the Conductor of an Orchestra, who weaves a wonderful session using all resources at her command, including all digital and non-digital resources, interactions with students, etc. Technology and digital content should support and empower the teacher to deliver effective sessions in his or her own inimitable style. Each teacher is different, and they evolve different teaching styles, many times also factoring in the ability of the class of students. Teachers calibrate and recalibrate the pace, the extent of elaboration needed for particular concepts, revisiting prior learning requirements, short quizzes, the extent of concept abstraction, the extent of inter-disciplinary learning, etc.

If smart classes in smart schools, do not provide this freedom, the fundamental objective of empowering the teacher and making the “teaching-learning” process more effective, the use of Technology in Education becomes questionable. This was a grey period during the early phase of technology adoption with a genuine aspiration to improve the quality of education delivery in schools.

Manufacturers of Smart interactive boards, Projectors, and producers of curriculum-driven “canned” digital content, benefited. It was more a hardware selling/leasing business, rather than an education business. Most schools did not renew the lease as they found it ineffective. Students and parents developed the impression that the use of technology in education was all about the use of smart boards in classes. Hence the extra Fee component that such schools were collecting and for covering the costs plus margin for the “Smart” boards stopped.

In a way, the learning management systems, driven by the types of BlackBoard, started to gain market share in the US, and it was only a matter of time for other countries to pick it up, particularly in higher education. the power of an LMS combined with the Internet made the fundamental value system of e-learning or Education Technology happen – anywhere, anytime learning, live lectures online, Assignments and quizzes online, etc. As the market opportunity grew, more LMS players started emerging in the marketplace. BlackBoard had competition and they started to add newer modules, plug-ins, lots of features.

Lack of simplicity, because of too many features, not easy to configure, the “one size fits all” approach. The same platform for school education to university education, with minor tweaks, was not going to work.

Obviously how we learn, and how we teach is different for different age groups. Technology tools and digital content had to be more tightly glued. The education market started to witness clear segmentation for Education technology providers.

The pedagogical approach that the technology platform had to incorporate, and obviously content design and production aligning with it became a necessity. This meant there was a renewed focus, and products or solutions that were age group-specific, and also subject-specific. Example of tools like Geogebra (for learning Geometry and Algebra), Geometry Sketchpad (for learning geometry and Trigonometry), Stellarium and Celestia (for learning astronomy), programming for Ordino Boards, etc. These technology tools, software tools were complemented by “manipulatives” and models, to deliver a complete learning experience.

Online learning platforms also evolved to deliver a personalized and adaptive learning experience, simply because each individual has his or her own learning styles or learning vectors. All of these coming with support for smart devices like iPads and iPhones made Education Technology more ubiquitous. Assessments and high stakes tests have also gone online, and the paper & pen exams are fast disappearing. The Psychometry, security, proctoring tools have made online testing possible.

The sudden onset of the nCOVID19 pandemic was a litmus test for Education technology paradigms. Going to school Stopped. However, humanity cannot afford to discontinue education, learning, and assessments. While, the immediate response was to deliver live lectures online, which had some challenges of “Digital Divide”, lack of, or poor access to the internet. Students not having access to laptops or smart devices because of the “financial divide”, made it less inclusive in certain parts of the world.

With no end in sight yet, for the nCOVID19 Pandemic, returning to school is possibly still a few months away. All key stakeholders in the Education sector, and in the Testing sector, have evolved and adapted to and contributed significantly to the maturity of using technology in Education. It is becoming more inclusive and universal, in the new world that is fighting hard to endure the pandemic.

Even in the best case of everyone getting vaccinated, which may be the latter half of next year, there will be a period of uncertainty, and fear, that will only make resuming “Education as usual”, slower. And when it happens Education will never be the same again. The new normal, whenever it comes, will have a new blended form of education.

It is reshaping education, business, work, travel, and how we live.

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About the author

D Sudhanva is the founder and CEO at Excelsoft Technologies, a globally renowned eLearning Solutions Company. With a focus on transforming education across the world, Sudhanva has steered Excelsoft to be a thought leader in Education Technology with robust products delivering innovative solutions.

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