Happy hacking

Martin Hamilton, Futurist at Jisc, looks at Code Clubs, MDM and MOOCs, as he recounts the 12 months in edtech

What do you think have been the key technological developments in the education sector this year? 

This was the year of Code Club’s volunteer led after school clubs in coding, but also the year that schools prepared to teach the UK government’s new Computing curriculum. It was the year that Microsoft legitimised the iPad as a serious professional tool by releasing a version of Office for it, and the year that the Chromebook, Google’s Chrome browser based “appliance”, started to make serious inroads into schools and colleges.

These changes are symptomatic of a faster societal pace of change driven by digital technology and the Internet, and of the need for us to continuously update our technical skills to ensure that they remain relevant.

Will security issues threaten the development of BYOD in schools?

The key question here is whether we truly mean BYOD, or whether we are talking about a school mandated or supplied technology. Even with compulsory enrolment in Mobile Device Management (MDM) systems and other security precautions such as separate wireless networks for teachers and pupils, a degree of control is surrendered when pupils bring their own devices into school. And once that school supplied Android tablet goes home, it may well have had its boot loader unlocked, been rooted, and a custom ROM image installed. For many pupils this will be a badge of honour – equivalent to hacking the school’s Econet network in the BBC Micro era. And whether the device is provided by school or brought in from home (should that home be able to afford it), we have seen from numerous BYOD pilots that physical security of the device and the safety of the child carrying it can be jeopardised, from bullies in the playground to organised crime. 

MOOC adoption has grown massively during 2014, do you think this type of learning is now more widely accepted as an educational tool? 

MOOC is an over-used term that, sadly, has come to mean everything and nothing. MOOCs began as an experiment in opening education up to its fullest – e.g. through the creation, reuse and remixing of Open Educational Resources (OER). What we have seen in the last couple of years is a co-option of the MOOC through closed platforms and content, signalling an end to the initial defining ethos of openness. Somewhat cynically, MOOCs have also been repositioned in a large part as shop windows onto conventional courses, and even early leaders have struggled to monetise their products. Udacity notably pivoted recently to focus on Continuing Professional Development for corporate clients rather than university level education. Perhaps we will see a campaign for real MOOCs emerge? 

Has the UK kept up with the rest of the world on 2014’s developments? Are there any key nations out in front?

It goes against the grain (and popular perception) to say this, but the UK is actually a world leader in many aspects of edtech and online/blended learning. As an assessor for the Technology Strategy Board’s recent Learning Technologies R&D funding call, I have seen some brilliant ideas originating from UK firms, tapping into the vast body of expertise that exists in our universities and colleges. The UK government’s Education Technology Action Group has been receiving evidence from educators across the country about effective use of technology in education, and is busy creating a roadmap for sympathetic and constructive use of edtech to enhance teaching and learning. A particular challenge for us is how to best help young people who are not in employment, education or training (the so-called NEETs) to pick up the digital skills that are increasingly crucial in the modern workplace. 

What have we learned about edtech in 2014 that will help us develop next year and beyond? 

We have two real choices for edtech in schools – locked down products that essentially function as black boxes, or hackable devices that will bring out the best in our enthusiastic and capable pupils. The latter takes us back to the spirit of the computer revolution of the 1980s, giving pupils the opportunity to get ‘under the hood’ and be hackers in the truest sense of the word rather than simply users of office automation products. This approach can apply to many classes of device, from Android to Arduino, and Raspberry Pi to Chromebooks – once the blue pill is taken and the developer mode switch is flipped. Happy hacking!