The future of technology in education (FOTE11)

What is the the future of technology in education? This is the premise for the FOTE conference which was held on 7 October at UCL.  And the answer is . . . . 42, a piece of string? Well of course there isn’t a single one, and I don’t think there should be one definitive answer either, but parts of the complex jigsaw puzzle were highlighted over the day.

A few suggestions which were aired during the morning morning sessions included: it’s the standards and EA approaches on the latest Gartner education hype cycle; it’s “cool stuff” combining the physical and digital world to create engaging, memorable experiences (as exemplified by Bristol Uni); it’s predictive analytics; it’s flipped and naked; it’s games; it’s data objects; it’s the user – v – we don’t know as we haven’t figured out the purpose of education yet; it’s about better communication between IT departments and students. It’s about providing ubiquitous, reliable wifi access on campus and plenty of power sockets.

It’s probably a combination of all of these and more. But if we in education are to truly reap the benefits of the affordances of technology then we also need to be ensuring our culture is developing in parallel. As James Clay pointed out, people inherently don’t like change and this can be exacerbated in educational contexts. Why change when we’ve “always done it this way” or “it works, why change it?”. Students are powerful change agents – but only if our institutional processes allow them to be. Although there was knowing laughter around the room when he pointed out that “students are dangerous”, there was a serious underlying message. We need to be working more effectively with students to really uncover their needs for technology, and have meaningful interactions so that those in charge can make the most effective decisions about the services/hardware and software institutions provide. James rightly pointed out that we need to be asking students “what do you want to do” not “what do you want”.

There was also a lot of discussion over the day about students and “BYOD” (bring your own device). I think there is a general assumption now that students going to University will have a laptop and least one other mobile internet enable device (probably a phone). Which raises the question of institutional provision. During the day, I have to say I did feel that this panel session didn’t work that well, however it is actually the session/topic that I have spent most time thinking about since Friday.

On several occasions the student reps (and others) brought up the fact that often students don’t actually know if/where and when they can use their own devices in H/FE. Given the fact that in school all hardware is provided and personal devices are openly discouraged, this uncertainty isn’t that surprising, but I was glad to be reminded of it. Again this relates to the importance of recognising and allowing for cultural change and the importance of communication. Is it made clear to students when, where and how they can use their own devices (mobile, laptop and/or tablet)? How easy is it for students to find out about logging in to institutional services such as email, printers etc? How safe is it to carry your laptop/ipad to Uni? Do staff encourage or discourage use of personal devices in their classes? I’m sure that even amongst the technology savvy audience on Friday there were a few people wishing others weren’t constantly staring at their phones, laptops and predictably ipads and were listening to what the speakers were saying :-) After spending Tuesday at the Developing Digital Literacies Programme start up meeting, the issue of digital literacies is also key to the future technology in education.

All in all I found the day very engaging and thought provoking and the organisers should be congratulated for bringing together such a diverse range of speakers. I wonder what the future will look like this time next year?

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