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How Technology Is Reinventing The Classroom


RKCR/Y&R CEO Jon Sharpe considers education's tech-driven future

How Technology Is Reinventing The Classroom
One thing most futurists seem to agree on is that technology is changing at an exponential rather than a linear rate. In other words, the rate of change is itself speeding up. As a result, the world of work our children will enter when they leave school is likely to be very different from the one we know today. One recent study suggests that 35 per cent of all children currently at school will go on to work in jobs that do not yet exist.

Education is finally embracing the future. Teachers used to be armed with a piece of chalk and, if you were very unlucky, a ruler that doubled as a weapon. Now, students are engaged and educated by their teachers with the help of interactive smart boards, laptops, tablets and apps.

Tech in the classroom even extends to classroom behaviour, thanks to a new app called the Class Dojo, which allows teachers to give instant online feedback on a child's behaviour for everyone, including parents, to see. Some might argue that this piece of tech treads in Orwellian territory, others (possibly parents who struggle to get more than a few syllables out of their children at the end of a school day) might counter that its uses outweigh concerns.

When I was at school, a field trip meant a visit to the local fish pond. Today, kids can go globetrotting every day of the year using Microsoft's Skype in the Classroom. Studying mammals in biology? Equals teachers holding a Skype tour of a real-life sloth sanctuary in Costa Rica. Or learning about World War 2? Classes are hearing it straight from the horse's mouth, and speaking online with a veteran fighter pilot who can bring history to life.

In some schools, technology has turned the whole model of teaching on its head with 'flipped classrooms', where students watch video lectures at home on platforms such as YouTube EDU, the Khan Academy or Ted-Ed, and then do 'homework' in the classroom with their teachers on hand to offer guidance. Social networks and the sharing economy have also come home to roost in teaching, with platforms like Edmodo, the so-called 'Facebook for schools', and Share My Lesson, allowing teachers from around the world to share experiences and lesson plans.

Coding is on the curriculum, and yet there is still some residual fear around education's new tech-driven future. Following the news that BBC is giving away one million micro:bits (a pocket-sized codeable computer with motion detection, a built in compass and Bluetooth technology) to children in Year 7, a Daily Mirror headline screamed "Will the BBC's free micro:bit create a generation of teenage hackers?", and warned that "some experts" fear "a hacker lurks in every classroom". It seems to have escaped the Mirror's attention that the verb 'to hack' is mostly used by the tech community in a positive sense, meaning 'to modify a computer programme or electronic device in a skilful or clever way'. A hacker lurking in every classroom? I certainly hope so.

Given the exponential rate of change in technology, by the time children who start school this year have left full time education, computers are likely to have learned to programme themselves. The coding languages children learn today by 'hacking' micro-computers, such as the micro:bit, may turn out to be more like Latin than Mandarin, an essential intellectual building block, which provides the foundations for learning new languages and skills we can as yet barely imagine.

It's natural to fear change, especially when it comes to the education of our children. But, taking into account Moore's Law which holds that the processing power of computers will double every two years, the most important lesson to be learned both inside and outside of the classroom is that change is something we'll have to get used to very fast.

Jon Sharpe is CEO at RKCR/Y&R
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VMLY&R London, Mon, 02 May 2016 12:34:32 GMT