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21/12/2016

6 predictions for digital learning in 2017

It’s always difficult making predictions for the future – none more so than in technology and education.  Just take a look at this article, every generation has its shiny new technology that will change education forever: 15 Technologies that were supposed to change education.  Our particular favourite is number 13 – the Homework Machine from 1981!

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Undaunted, we are going to make some predictions about what will have an impact on digital learning next year … or maybe the year after … or the year after that (you get the picture).

  • Artifical Intelligence (AI) – such a broad area, AI has been around for a while and basically refers to anything where intelligence is exhibited by a machine. In real terms, AI can mean anything whereby a computer is displaying cognitive functions that we would normally associate with the human mind – driverless cars are a great example. In learning, the applications of AI are enormous, potentially covering everything from the grading of homework through to virtual tutors (a few of the examples that follow also incorporate some form of AI or machine learning);
  • General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – many of the new innovations in digital learning require access to student data – and lots of it. This raises all sorts of issues around data privacy and data protection. The GDPR is a new EU Regulation that will enter into force in Ireland in May 2018 and provides a whole new set of rights for data subjects (e.g. learners), much more than our existing data protection legislation. Expect lots of activity in 2017!
  • Personalisation – whilst personalisation technology is commonplace in retail and consumer markets, the holy grail of “personalised learning” has proven to be very difficult to achieve in practice. However, with access to more data points, larger and richer data sets and embracing the potential of machine learning, could 2017 finally be the year that personalized learning delivers on its promise?
  • Speech Technology – think about it: our voices are our most natural user interface, yet personal voice computing is only just starting to go mainstream in consumer markets (for example, Amazon Echo and Alexa, Google Home). The applications in education are enormous – enabling us to incorporate the expressive voice as a form of interaction with mobile devices. From assessment of phonological awareness, through to command-control voice interaction with educational games.
  • Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR/VR) – whilst very different technologies, what both AR and VR bring to the learning sphere are much more experiential and engaging educational opportunities. Now at more affordable levels, both AR and VR could be set to go mainstream in education in 2017;
  • More agile, evidence-based research – after so many false dawns, 2017 might just be the year that we see more evidence-based research on the efficacy of using technology to support learning. This time last year, the OECD found that “school systems need to find more effective ways to integrate technology into teaching and learning”. To do so, we need more agile and responsive research with actionable insights.

Let’s see if we are right …

06/12/2016

5 things we learned from the PISA rankings for Ireland

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a triennial international survey by the OECD. The results from the 2015 round of testing were released today. PISA tests 15 year olds from 72 countries on Science, Literacy and Mathematics.

The PISA testing takes a holistic approach to these subjects, grading students not on rote-learned facts but testing their problem-solving ability acquired through a broad spectrum of learning so as to determine how prepared they are for their future studies or working environment. The test is on skills not knowledge. Solving “real world problems” and creative thinking are major components and many of the questions focus on how students feel about school and studying. This time around, PISA has placed a greater emphasis on Science. It poses questions relevant to today’s world. Can our young people be scientific in the application of their knowledge? Do they weigh up all arguments and use critical and logical thinking to solve problems?

We now live in globalised societies, with a mobile workforce moving wherever particular skills are required. We can see this in our own country where in the last generation huge emphasis was placed on attracting some of the tech giants to establish headquarters here. We can use the PISA testing as an important yardstick with which to objectively measure our standard of education against international standards and, in turn, help to establish our future graduates in higher education and the jobs market.

Looking at the last two sets of results from 2012 and 2015, what are 5 things that we can learn from today’s release?

  • In 2012, Ireland scored 523 points in reading while the international average is 496, putting our ranking in that area at 13th;
  • In the results released today and based on the 2015 test, Ireland has jumped dramatically to 5th place in reading;
  • With only Finland (ranked fourth) ahead of us for reading in Europe, our teaching and learning of literacy is an area where we excel;
  • This year Ireland stayed above the OECD and European averages in all subjects;
  • In Science we’ve dropped slightly since 2012 and now hold a ranking of 19th out of the 72 countries tested.

And, so, while it is heartening to see Ireland’s scores in all three areas above the OECD average, it is also important to remember that there are many variables to PISA testing and the granularity of the results are intricate. PISA maps each result not just by score in each area but breaks down these results in terms of gender disparity, attendance record, happiness in school, etc. To look at all of this in detail and map Ireland’s results check out the PISA website.