11 September 2012

The bling approach to the school of the future

Be the first to share

Recently I have been exploring developments on the impact of new technologies on the future of education, particularly in high schools. The latest trend in education is all about tablets, of course.

My provisional assessment is that there is a lot of bling: shiny objects promoted all around us make us focus on the tools rather than on the didactic objectives.

With this post I want to open my reflections and initial analysis – in twelve hypotheses – to a wider audience. Comments are highly welcome (no registration needed). Italian readers might also be interested in the Scuolalvento blog for more discussion.

  1. A technology-first approach thrives. The dominant Silicon Valley driven ideology is one of technology fixing all problems – institutional, social, cultural, educational. By bringing in tablets and iPads in particular, we will be “more successful at engaging our students,” we will “better prepare them for the future,” learning will be “more collaborative, co-creative, hands-on, and ‘fun’,” and we can “open up the classroom to the outside world.” These assumptions are largely unquestioned, even though the discourse is not strong on educational and didactic objectives.
     
  2. There are dominant but untested preconceptions about schools, learning, teachers and students. The ideology above gets reinforced through the messages we get about schools (out-of-date, closed-off from the real world, stressed), learning (hierarchical, old-fashioned, boring), teachers (tied to an antiquated paradigm of learning, really looking forward to new tools), and students (digital natives, experts, but unfortunately without the right tools). Little is said about the value of existing and often quite interactive educational methods, or about the lack of technical skills of students (who are experts in Facebook, but often not on text editing a history paper or doing an advanced search in Google.).
     
  3. There is a boom of iPad and tablet deployments in schools in rich and less rich countries alike. From Italy to the USA, from Thailand to Belgium, from India to Russia. Little information about these deployments is available beyond short announcement texts on school websites and local newspapers.
     
  4. Little research has been done on educational impact. Although deployments have occurred for at least two years, there is a nearly total lack of serious research that evaluates them, particularly on their educational and didactic impact. This stands in strong contrast to the sizeable size of research done on e-learning.
     
  5. Governments are pushing hard. Government ministers and heads of institutions want to be seen as modern and ahead of the times. Funding a tablet deployment also creates better media coverage than increasing the budget for teacher training. Digitization finally allows for more quantitative data on the qualitative activity of learning, which is something governments, managers, and bureaucrats tend to like.
     
  6. There is a lot of money to be made. The spending on education is huge: not only by governments and institutions, but also by parents. No wonder that companies like Apple and Pearson (the publishers) are so active in the field. Even Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation recently unveiled Amplify, its new educational division “dedicated to reimagining K-12 education by creating digital products and services that empower students, teachers and parents in new ways”. (Listen to this WNYC broadcast).
     
  7. Apps, e-books and software are often of dubious quality. While these tools definitely enable interactive visual gimmicks (zooming, 3D panning, videos, clickable contents), these are often inserted for their seductive value rather than for their educational impact.
     
  8. Other digital tools are not part of the debate. Tablet deployments are often argued for as isolated interventions, with limited discussion on how this all relates to interactive whiteboards or simply the web. In fact, with all the smartphones and computers in the homes and hands of high school students, it is now entirely possible for the teacher to create a totally free, open source WordPress site that students can update on the fly. Moreover, they can be made highly interactive due to the large quantity of (free) online plugins available. It is an attractive zero-cost intervention, yet very few bring this into the digital education debate.
     
  9. Teacher training and resources are lacking. Teachers are literally left to their own devices. The tools to support them and their schools in deploying and effectively running these implementations are few and far between.
     
  10. Initiatives to support schools and teachers are rare and often quite local. Few governments have set up structures to support their schools and teachers with this new challenge (this Australian one is an exception), and initiatives are often driven by teachers (like this Belgian one), or independent associations that are anchored in civil society or local companies (e.g. this Italian example). These initiatives are local or regional at best, and little exchange takes place between them.
     
  11. We are facing a bubble. There is such a huge discrepancy between the hype and the reality that we could face a backlash. Schools and teachers are increasingly complaining. Results will be less impressive than expected. In view of all this, it is not impossible that many initiatives will soon be shelved.
     
  12. Valuable opportunities definitely exist for players big and small. The opportunity is both on:
    • people-centred training – What is it that schools and teachers really need? And how to present and convey it in a way that really helps them and creates lasting, positive behavioral change?
    • the creation of tools where educational and didactic qualities and impact are the central drivers in their development.

    There is not that much happening in these two areas, and I think this is where governments and consultants, tech companies and non-profit associations can really aspire to claim leadership, if they so desire.

Be the first to share
10 April 2015
We are citizens, not mere physical masses of data for harvesting
The deal we have struck with the information society over the extent to which our lives are shaped and our privacy invaded requires urgent renegotiation, argues law professor Julie E Cohen at the annual Law …
7 April 2015
Bosch uses UX approach to spark enthusiasm for electric driving
Bosch, the German multinational engineering and electronics company, is applying a UX approach to help spark enthusiasm for electric driving, and to develop a "fascinating" user interface for electric vehicles. The project website consists of three …
3 April 2015
Opportunities for UX innovation in wearables
Until developers of wearable devices get the user experience down pat, the technology will struggle to gain adoption, writes Steve McPhilliamy on Medical Device and Diagnostic Industry (MDDI). "Understanding user behaviors, attitudes, and lifestyles is the …
3 April 2015
Automotive sales could grow 24% if retail experience improved
New ethnographic and quantitative research from DrivingSales identifies how the growing gap between consumer expectations and the current automotive buying process is suppressing car sales volume. Automotive sales could grow up to 24% if the retail …
30 March 2015
MIT Technology Review special report on persuasive technology
The MIT Technology Review has just published a special business report on persuasive technology, i.e. how technologies from smartphones to social media are used to influence our tastes, behavior, and even habits. Free registration is …
26 March 2015
Gov.uk’s open policy making toolkit – practical guidance on ethnography and more
The Gov.uk open policy making toolkit is a practical guide to techniques that can help you make better policy. The toolkit, which brings together the latest techniques to improve making and delivering policy, is based on …
23 March 2015
Design fiction personas illustrate possible impact of educational tech
People talk about the future of technology in education as though it’s right around the corner, but most of us get to that corner and see it disappearing around the next. This innovation-obsessed cycle continues …
7 March 2015
Why most customer experience efforts fail
It is no secret among Customer Experience (CX) professionals that most CX efforts fall flat. Forrester found that only 25% of CX professionals say their companies’ CX programs actually improve customer experience, and Avaya recently …

We are an international experience design consultancy helping companies and organisations to innovate their products, services and processes by putting people and their experiences first.

16 March 2015
Better Health and Wellbeing: Giving the elderly in Singapore sparkling golden years

Invitation: sharing session, Singapore, 30 March 2015   What are the hopes and fears of the elderly in Singapore? How can designers offer solutions that support the elderly in managing their health and wellness? What can healthcare professionals do to help them keep active? What role can technology play in the elderly’s daily lives? Design consultants […]

1 January 2015
Happy Playful New Year
21 December 2014
Experientia’s Twitter feed live

Experientia has now its own Twitter feed. Four months of Putting People First posts and other links have already been uploaded. If you followed Experientia on Twitter through the feed of its CEO, Mark Vanderbeeken, make sure to now also follow the company (but don’t unfollow Mark, who will keep on tweeting away). And while […]

19 December 2014
Putting People First blog redesigned

Experientia’s Putting People First blog has been redesigned. It is now entirely responsive, allows for easier browsing, searching, and filtering, and features larger images on the posts. The entire history of posts remains accessible as before. We are still tweaking things and welcome any feedback.

27 November 2014
Why the world needs anthropologists – an update

Why the world needs anthropologists – Coming out of the ivory tower Location: Padua, Italy, Centro Culturale Altinate/San Gaetano Date and time: Friday, 5 December 2014, 13:00 – 18:00 Padua, Italy, 5 December 2014 – The second edition of the international symposium of applied anthropologists attempts to erase the boundary between ‘pure’ and ‘applied’ anthropology, […]

30 October 2014
The BancoSmart ATM by Experientia for UniCredit selected for ADI Design Index

Last year Experientia designed the interface of an ATM of UniCredit, a major Italian bank. The interface is now rolled out across the bank’s ATMs in Italy, to great satisfaction of the bank and the customers alike, since interaction speed is much faster and error rates went down dramatically. Last year UniCredit and Experientia also […]

See all articles