How technology is transforming education

Teacher surrounded by school pupils

From remote learning tools to advances in artificial intelligence – technology is revolutionising how we teach and learn

The class quietens as their geography lesson starts. Their teacher approaches the screen at the front of the room. No smudgy marker pen is needed for this board; it’s a high-resolution interactive display, to which the device of every student in this lesson is connected. 

On the screen right now is a map, which the students can zoom into and interact with. Each of them starts to work through an individually personalised lesson using their own device. Their actions will provide the teacher with data that can be used to adjust all those lessons on the fly. Students outside the classroom who could not travel in for the lesson are connected and learning in the same way at the same time. 

The kind of school lesson imagined here comes from a future that’s not very far away. In fact, some of these technologies are already in classrooms. And it’s this increasing role of technology in education that guides the University of Lincoln’s BSc (Hons) Education and Digital Learning degree. 

Dr Elizabeth Bailey, who leads the course, sees technology as an intrinsic part of education. “The role of technology in education is significant,” she says. “Even when we don’t realise it, technology is there. 

“There is no educator who does not have to think about technology in some way, even if they are not aware of it.”

With technology moving to the forefront of education delivery, The Student Room spoke to Elizabeth to find out more, and to discover the skills and knowledge those working in education will need if they’re to keep up.

Information-sharing tools allow for more effective course planning

A variety of tech-enabled tools are already available to educators. Most UK schools use technology to share information and boost communication between students and teachers on a daily basis. 

“Teachers use interactive whiteboards,” says Elizabeth. “They probably communicate with parents using an app and the students are likely to go home and do some or all of their homework using a computer or device or some kind.”

It’s a similar picture in universities, where you can expect to find “virtual learning environments, where students can access their lecture slides, ask their lecturers questions and follow links to books, articles and further information,” says Elizabeth. 

“Their teachers, in turn, can see whether they’re accessing these materials okay, they can send a message with a follow-up point or clarification and they can set quizzes to check if their class has understood the content.” 

This kind of online student feedback can also be sent anonymously, allowing students to share thoughts or raise questions they might otherwise feel too anxious or shy to ask – lending staff a whole new level of insight into how their students are experiencing the course. 

“The learning experience is totally transformed by technology and both student and teacher have access to more information than ever before,” says Elizabeth.

Distance learning makes education more inclusive

Education has increasingly fewer ties to the traditional classroom. As more students opt in to virtual learning, those working in education will need to make the most of the advantages this brings. 

In particular, with ever-improving access to online learning materials, educational opportunities become available to more students than ever before.

“Think about the number of people who would find traditional on-campus learning difficult at university-level, for example,” says Elizabeth. 

“Think about all the people who may have felt as though they missed their chance to learn a subject or a skill. 

“Thanks to online learning, these people now have access to knowledge and skills they would not have otherwise. The benefits of this for individuals and society are so profound.”

Accessibility tech helps to reach more students

Distance learning is just one way in which technology can broaden access to education. 

“There are so many examples as to how technology makes learning more inclusive, from closed captions to read-aloud functions, spelling and grammar tools and accessibility checkers,” says Elizabeth.

On the University of Lincoln’s BSc (Hons) Education and Digital Learning degree, a principle of the course’s design is called Universal Design for Learning (UDL). 

“Using UDL, we think about making our teaching and learning inclusive from the off, for all learners, and not making changes reactively when a student faces a problem,” says Elizabeth. 

“Technology supports this in that it allows us to make materials available in a number of formats, for example.”

AI could transform the teacher’s role

Artificial intelligence - or AI - is a hot topic across most sectors right now. Education is no different. 

“AI will and is changing the nature of education, both in terms of teaching and learning,” says Elizabeth. “It might significantly change the role of the teacher, with automated grading, chatbot support and creating individualised learning tasks for students based on their ability.

“It might also significantly change the life of a student, with assessment checkers, live translations - even assessment writing abilities!

“The things I mention here just scratch the surface of the potential changes we are seeing and might go on to see. 

“Understanding AI and its impact on society is fundamental for any student in the modern world and will be something we think about for years to come.”

Keeping up with new technology

The fast-moving nature of technology means there’s always something new to learn. On the University of Lincoln’s BSc (Hons) Education and Digital Learning degree, the programme is constantly evolving.

“We refresh the content every time we teach it and aim to respond to any changes as soon as they happen. You’ll always see brand new research on our reading lists,” says Elizabeth.

“Some of the things we currently look at are video creation and editing, blogs, VR, assistive technology, adaptive technology, MOOCs and online libraries and repositories, to name a few. 

“We also look at more fundamental concepts within digital learning such as curriculum design and modes of delivery, as well as topics focused on the role of technology in society such as ethics, equality and disadvantage and decolonisation.”

Staying one step ahead of what’s coming next

With so many ways in which technology could affect education, the course led by Elizabeth guides students towards not only understanding existing tools, but also developing the skills to look beyond them.

“Rather than focusing on training students in a select number of tools, we aim to prepare students to be able to adapt their knowledge and skills to any context and any digital tool,” she says.

“The world of technology is rapidly changing and we want to ensure our students have the critical thinking skills as well as technical know-how to assess any future development in the context they work in.

“From the start, our students are trained to be research literate and therefore understand how to read, apply and critique studies about digital education that show us what works well and what works not so well. 

“They learn to be wary of the assumption that technology is the answer to everything and, instead, know how to really analyse when, where and how to introduce a technological solution and have confidence with any assessment they make. 

“They learn to assess the suitability of a digital tool in terms of things like its scalability, its safety, the impact it has on the teacher’s role and the impact it has on a student’s learning, as well many other factors.

“The specific tools and technological foci change and adapt, but the fundamental concepts we look at remain more constant as these are what shape a knowledgeable, critical practitioner in digital learning.” 

It’s this knowledge and these skills that will underpin the decisions being made for the classrooms of tomorrow - helping to ensure that we make the most of how technology can transform education.

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