Dr. John Senior, Associate Professor, Skyline University College, discusses the possibilities facing teachers in a digital age, and questions what future classrooms could look like.
Science fiction writer, Isaac Asimov, once famously predicted that teachers will soon be redundant and students will learn sitting at home in front of their computer. By 2035, there are expected to be 2.7 billion students worldwide, with 90% of the world’s under-30 population (GenZ) in emerging markets. GenZ are immersed in a mobile digital world to the point where Pearson, one of the world’s largest textbook publishers, is phasing out print publications for higher education in favor of a digital-first policy. According to FinanceDigest.com, this growth will drive the Education Technology (EdTech) industry, which is set to reach $252 billion by 2020, growing at a 17% annual rate. To accommodate this growth, education will have to be led by smartphone-based digital-learning strategies.
Soon digital technologies will link up with AI over 5G networks delivering content up to 40 or more times faster than today. Eventually, big data learning analytics will target individual student needs while AI responds with individualized learning solutions delivering bespoke content and boosting engagement. Translation technology will make everything instantly translatable, with the latest advances incorporating the speaker’s own voice and intonation. Some of the greatest advances will be in the areas of inclusiveness for people with learning disabilities. Already the recently developed “lexilight”—an alternative light source that allows dyslexic people to read normally—is coming into use and innovations for autistic learners are on the horizon. Much of this technology takes place behind the scenes and therefore will not contribute to the disruption of the existing educational infrastructure.
However, Professor Tony Bates in his recent book Teaching in a Digital Age suggests that mass media approaches to education, first seen as a panacea for world-wide education, have failed. His view is supported by “The State of Technology in Education 2019/20 Report,” which tells us that just 16.5% of teachers feel they got adequate EdTech training, down from 55% in 2016/17 and “86% of teachers are struggling with failed tech” while GenZ’s digital natives flood into classrooms.
Compounding the problem, in 2018 marketers coined the term “phygital” by which they mean an environment where real-world experiences become more engaging through interactive mobile technology. It is made possible by the “Internet of Things” (IoT), which powers connected objects that trigger physical reactions from digital actors or vice versa. This concept is currently used in advertising where adverts related to the shops you walk past appear on your phone. In classrooms it means walls become whiteboards and up-and-coming technology like Augmented Reality (AR) holograms appear as you view your surrounding environment onscreen through your smartphone camera or AR headset.
Will teachers again have to learn a new generation of phygital technology or will they disappear as Asimov predicted? Education is facing the same predicament as other industries; we are in a transition characterized by a massive skills gap created as rapidly developing digital technology disrupts the teaching profession. Part of the solution lies in adapting digital technology to teaching. As recently as 2016 cloud-based apps, typified by “articulate rise,” allow teachers to create interactive mobile multimedia without high levels of technical skill. Other video streaming apps like Manycam facilitate simple-to-operate onscreen spaces where teachers and students can write or draw together in shared online classrooms. Existing digital technology is adapting, but it takes time. Happily, new technology tends to reform and enhance rather than replace human interaction and Isaac Asimov’s concept of a bleak future with young learners alone in front of a computer is unlikely to happen anytime soon.