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Brave New Reality: The Future of Education

Whether it’s an inkwell or an iPad, new technologies continue to emerge. With changing times (especially those in 2020), the ever-developing role technology takes to impart and foster knowledge has never been more needed or more beneficial. Just imagine self-isolation without mobile phones, MS Teams, Zoom, FaceTime, WhatsApp, social media, the Internet, television, radio, etc.

Long gone are the days of the 3 Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle). They have morphed into STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) as our world continues to change.

Then came COVID-19, and we had to react and adapt again. Schools, colleges, universities, daycare centers all closed. Many students were required to learn from home, as their parents juggled the challenges of being out of a job or working from home while also donning the educator’s hat. Teachers and students were eventually able to reunite but in a vastly different form. Yet, regardless of the situations thrust upon us, we still yearned to learn. However, the way of doing so forced a change. And change, though occasionally unnerving, is often for the good.

Technologically Tackling the New Dawn

Like COVID-19, the changes to education seemed to occur minute-by-minute. Online learning quickly became the new norm. Ontario’s Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce, announced in April 2020 that his government would make 21,000 iPads with free data available to students who did not have access to the province’s online learning tools. In an interview with CTV on Morning Live, Lecce announced that Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government would ensure that Internet is available at all high schools and elementary schools by September 2021. Broadband modernization was available in over 2,000 schools, and school boards had distributed over 200,000 computers.

As Lecce said in his announcement, “We know that our province’s and our country’s future prosperity depends on our ability to embrace the digital economy and digital learning fully.”

The New Educational Norm

Years from now, historians may make an educational delineation between pre- and post-COVID-19. Though offline (brick-and-mortar) universities and colleges will continue to exist, students learning online (“edtech”) will far outnumber the on-campus learning experience.

Similar to the way we now consume entertainment (rather than the “old” way of going to movie theatres), the future of EdTech follows the same evolutionary pattern whereby the “fittest” (i.e., the most technologically savvy) stand the best chance of adapting or surviving. The resulting educational impact will likely see a future of blended learning—a mixture of online and face-to-face instructions. In effect, the pandemic will have provided us with combined technological and educational opportunities.

COVID-19 has illustrated how globally interconnected we are—both physically and technologically. It will be critical that we understand this inter-relatedness in order to work successfully with each other in a globally collaborative manner. Although technological tools designed to facilitate the transfer of teachers’ wisdom to their students is nothing new, COVID-19 has created the need for doing this remotely. Hardware (including laptops, iPads and iPods) and software (such as D2L and G-Suite for Education) have supplanted notebooks and chalkboards.

Intelligent Education

Global changes necessitated that SMART learning, or intelligent education, be elevated to a new level. A series of articles by ETBrand Equity explores “the changes that the education sector can expect in light of the COVID-19 pandemic”—listing many emerging educational trends, perspectives and learnings. Among them, from a technological standpoint:

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cloud computing will enable MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) and personalize learning

MOOC allows students and teachers to access the latest knowledge in remote areas. They typically modify all applications for tutoring to the user profile of each student. Such examples are Udemy—the largest learning institution in the world, without a single classroom—Masterclass, and Duolingo.

  • Chatbots will provide personalized guidance and help

An AI-enabled chatbot was tested at Spain’s University of Murcia to provide immediate answers to nearly 39,000 questions from potential students regarding the campus and its areas of study. They also obtained data regarding students’ concerns and fields of interest to improve their educational experience.

  • Augmented Reality (AR) will make visualization, annotation and storytelling more realistic

Since AR allows a person to bring an object or concept from imagination to reality, AR benefits are boundless.

  • The AR app HoloAnatomy—which offers minute 3D detailing of human anatomy—enabled first-year medical students at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland to learn from their homes during Ohio’s lockdown.
    • Smart Caption Glasses allow patrons of London’s National Theatre to see descriptions of a performance’s sound and a transcript of its dialogue on the lenses.
    • The National Gallery of Prague uses “haptics” (virtual touch feedback) to help the blind and visually-impaired to experience iconic art sculptures brought to life through specially made gloves at NeuroDigital’s event, Touching Masterpieces.

“A Necessity a Day” Just May Keep the Virus at Bay

Education technology has been around for close to two decades. However, pandemic necessity has caused it to evolve—or to stay within the COVID theme, to mutate—dramatically over the past several months.

To paraphrase Nelson Mandela: “You never lose; you either win or learn.”

The primary role of education is, of course, to educate. At its core lies the hope that students will emerge to take us to places we never imagined. Although phrases like “our children are our future” may seem to be merely warm and fuzzy clichés or song lyrics, they are arguably more accurate and of a more profound necessity than ever before.

Constantly evolving technology and human resourcefulness are vital to answering questions we haven’t even thought to ask as of yet, but education is also the “Mother of Invention.” //

Peter Campbell | Contributing Writer

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