What do you think the year ahead has in store in terms of educational technology?
2019 is going to be another great year for edtech. One of the things we are continuing to see is IT costs continuing to fall.
Access to technology is getting better. 15 years ago Nicholas Negroponte, from MIT in the US, was talking about a one laptop per child initiative and he was trying to get the cost of computing down to about $100 per child. Many thought that it was a completely unachievable goal. If you go onto Amazon today, there are laptops available at that price and they’re going to continue to drop. Laptops are going to continue to get more powerful and that means that it’s going to be more reasonable for every child to have a laptop in school.
It’s not like two years ago when Chromebooks were inexpensive and Windows computers were typically more expensive. Now Microsoft are releasing Windows Core next year which is going to be a superlight and inexpensive version of Windows to run on cheaper laptops.
Will big data / learning analytics have a major impact on education this incoming year? What are you doing to incorporate them into your software?
Learning analytics have been a slow burner for a few years now but this is going to be the year that they take to the main stage. When we talk about learning analytics we’re talking about measuring how students learn, not just how they use a piece of technology. Being able to look at things like how quickly students write, what is the error rate of the writing, what’s the maturity of their writing, how many spelling, punctuation and grammar errors there are, how long did they spend writing per day will be invaluable.
Over the last year at Texthelp, we’ve been able to create a set of national norms for writing for the USA and we’re planning to expand that next year to include Canada, Australia and hopefully the UK too. This means that teachers are going to be able to see how their students are writing compared to the national norm.
Another technical trend we’re seeing, particularly in regard to assessment, is using technology and AI to make ongoing regular assessment faster and easier for teachers and also to try to take out some of the subjectivity from assessment. For example, if you give a student a writing task and you have 10 teachers assess that writing task you’ll probably get 10 different scores. The technology we’ve been working on will not only create the national norms but will try to remove some of the subjectivity from writing assessment using AI and statistical approaches. This will allow teachers to quickly and consistently assess writing.
There is a big buzz around machine learning – how big a role will this have to play in education in the year ahead?
Machine learning is incredible. It’s a hot topic everywhere at the moment and it’s going to be as relevant in education as it is anywhere else. Children learning how to develop machine learning technologies in class and then implement them is something that would have been inconceivable ten years ago, now it’s just the norm! What they can do in one day or even in an hour of code project is truly fantastic. For example, they can build their own machine learning based technologies on raspberry PIs and Plays at home. Google have also introduced a new thing called AIY – the Artificial Intelligence Yourself version of DIY – which allows the user to use kits and devices to build intelligent systems that see, speak, and understand. Then start tinkering. Take things apart, make things better. See what problems they can solve. It’s very cool stuff.