Blue-sky thinking in education technology

When it comes to readying pupils for jobs that don’t yet exist, staying ahead of the tech game is a must, says Ian Kay at Edge Grove School

The rapid pace of technological development and its impact on our culture presents challenges for everyone. Schools are charged with preparing children for the journey ahead, despite the fact that, in many cases, they are being readied for careers that don’t yet exist; clearly, staying ahead of the tech game is a must.

A key difficulty lies in the fact that many schools are using technology and systems from the recent – or even not-so-recent – past. Keeping up to speed with developments can be constrained by red tape, budgetary considerations, teachers’ skills base of today, or the reliance of non-specialists on proprietary products.

We need to focus more on becoming technology leaders in the classroom, to continually think of new ways to use the technology we have and to develop what we’ll we need in the future.

Schools have to choose their technology purchases wisely. For most, the wisest decision is to move towards a web-based solution, encouraging students to use tablets and Chromebooks to access web content, rather than using apps or software downloaded onto machines; the perennial problem of downloaded software is that it goes out of date as soon as it is purchased, which is not a good use of precious budget. Although various support packages exist with upgrades included, it still becomes a limiting factor when the hardware can no longer support a newer version of the software.

Researching an array of web-based solutions for traditional desktop applications is worth doing. Do that, and you can create documents, spreadsheets, presentations, 3D drawings, edited photos, videos and music compositions, without need for a specific platform to run them.

Ian Kay, head of technology, Edge Grove School

Having studied computer science at school, using the venerable BBC Micro, before going on to higher education and studying the chips and wires of modern electronic systems, I was somewhat dismayed to move into teaching and find that information and communications technology had taken over. Children were taught how to use the programs pre-installed on a computer, and little more. The education establishment recently decided to introduce coding as a concept in the classroom. This is useful for pupils today, given the complexity of modern systems, as it gives the learner a sense of the operational steps involved in solving a problem.

What seems to be missing however, is ‘blue-sky thinking’. As teachers and educators, we need more time to dream up new solutions for modern problems, and to think about what we would like to achieve in the future. We recently asked our Year 4 students to do just this. Many of them have games consoles and voice-activated technology in their homes, and their interactions rely solely on something already invented.

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Encouraging children to think about everyday problems, and how they might be able to solve them, is vital for developing future skills. For example, it was most impressive to be presented with a well-considered concept for a wearable electronic personal assistant which learned routines and projected information (possibly holographically). Pupils explained that this could be very useful for a person with limited mobility, speech or hearing problems, as the device would be able to predict the user’s needs. It is great to see this kind of high-level thinking coming through, and so important for schools to nurture such problem solving.

Many other ideas were suggested, including roving personal assistants (think Alexa meets Roomba). Children are aware that some of the technology for such a device doesn’t exist yet, but where there are ideas, innovation follows.

The same holds true for using technology in education. We need to focus more on becoming technology leaders in the classroom, to continually think of new ways to use the technology we have and to develop what we’ll we need in the future.

Ian Kay is head of technology at Edge Grove School