The Future of Technology in Education: 3 Areas to Monitor

Technology has become deeply embedded in education. Looking ahead, a handful of emerging tech trends show particular promise or pitfalls for schools. Monitoring their development and implementation will be key in ensuring technologies boost, rather than hinder, educational outcomes.

Phone lockers

Mobile phones have become seemingly ubiquitous among students of all ages. While phones provide quick and easy access to an endless amount of information, they can also prove an irresistible distraction during class time. 

In New South Wales, Australia , a mobile phone ban for public high schools is now in place. This has led many schools to look to phone lockers for students to meet the conditions of this ban.

It could be argued that phone locker policies fail to prepare students to exercise self-control and discretion over their own technology use. In addition, implementing across-the-board bans on phones makes it difficult for teachers to integrate mobile devices creatively into lessons in ways that enrich learning. More nuanced policies that set particular times for phones to be used can be a superior approach. Instead, the NSW government has opted for a rather heavy-handed ban.

More research is needed to investigate the effects of various phone policies and classroom integration techniques on overall student engagement, digital literacy, and real-world educational outcomes. Australia has an opportunity to lead the way in gathering longitudinal data on how to maximise the learning benefits of mobile access, while minimising any harms from overuse or misuse.

Teachers worried about phones disrupting their classrooms do have valid concerns. But banning smartphones outright goes against the grain of how Gen Z students engage with the world. The challenge is developing updated etiquette, ethics and pedagogical strategies tuned for an always-on, digitally augmented society. 

Educational leaders will need an evidence-based roadmap if they hope to find the right balance between prudence and flexibility in setting phone policies. By taking a reasoned approach backed by data, schools can forge policies that meet their duty of care while empowering students to use mobile technology wisely.

virtual classroom students using virtual reality gear and laptop

Artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) is spreading rapidly into educational software, tutoring systems and digital learning tools in schools. Machine learning algorithms can allow these programs to adapt to individual students’ knowledge levels, skill gaps and specific learning difficulties. AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants can provide instant feedback, instruction and practice during the independent learning process outside of class time.

Proponents argue these AI technologies have the potential to deliver personalised instruction efficiently to large numbers of students, freeing up teachers’ time to focus on deeper interpersonal interactions during in-person lessons. However, critics caution that students still need plenty of face-to-face human interaction to develop communication skills and social-emotional intelligence. Other experts warn that biases hidden in AI algorithms, like racial or gender discrimination, could subtly disadvantage some groups of learners over others through no fault of their own. 

Ongoing scrutiny, transparency and testing is required at multiple stages of AI development and implementation to ensure these technologies unambiguously enhance, rather than replace, expert teaching practices.

The other side of the equation is the use of AI by students. It is widely contended that the use of artificial intelligence tools such as large language models by students is plagiarism. Seemingly overnight, it became possible for students to write a 1-sentence prompt and have chatbots like ChatGPT produce a 2,000-word essay on their behalf. 

Educational institutions across the country have taken steps to catch and punish the use of AI. Schools and universities have been using software that catches traditional plagiarism for years. Now, many of these tools have AI-detection capabilities.

On the other hand, it appears that AI systems have a permanent place in our society. Critics have argued that schools should be teaching students how to use these systems productively and ethically, rather than banning them outright. Some universities – such as the University of Technology, Sydney – have taken this approach.

Targeted investments in comprehensive digital literacy training for both students and teachers will help maximise the benefits of AI in education while minimising risks. Students can learn to be informed, thoughtful consumers of AI technologies, aware of their limitations. And teachers can develop the skills needed to evaluate and integrate AI responsibly into lessons.

By taking a cautious, meticulous approach grounded in the latest research, we can harness the power of AI to amplify human teaching skills, not supplant them. The measured integration of AI in education, focused squarely on improving real student outcomes, will help ensure all students get the personalised, digitally-enhanced education they will need to thrive in the 21st century.

Virtual Reality

Immersive virtual reality (VR) technology simulates real-world environments and allows students to interact with virtual objects and settings. VR apps can be used to provide vivid virtual field trips, augment science experiments with 3D molecular models, and provide access to rare historical artefacts or locations. These highly interactive and visually stimulating VR experiences have great potential to boost student engagement, motivation and visuospatial learning across many subject areas.

The versatility of virtual reality creates exciting opportunities to enhance curriculum from primary school to secondary and even tertiary education. VR field trips can allow students to explore Mars, the depths of the ocean, or even walk the streets of ancient Rome. Medical students can practise diagnosis and treatment techniques through VR simulations. Chemistry students can manipulate virtual elements and compounds. Culture and history could be vividly brought to life in interactive VR learning experiences.

However, the costs of VR headsets and software remain prohibitive for many schools, particularly in rural or lower socioeconomic regions. Motion sickness and eye strain are also potential drawbacks that will require careful management. More research is needed to develop best practice recommendations on the length, frequency, and appropriate use cases for immersive VR technology in educational settings.

With careful implementation guided by emerging evidence, virtual reality has the potential to become a transformative educational tool – or at least a useful supplemental teaching aid. But schools will need support in adopting VR responsibly and effectively. By taking a considered approach backed by research, educators can maximise the benefits of immersive technologies while minimising any downsides or distraction from core learning priorities. Used judiciously and thoughtfully, VR could make lessons more engaging and memorable.

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