Bett 2018: What are the ed tech trends awaiting us in 2018?

Written by: Terry Freedman | Published:
Back to reality: A fast-developing ed tech trend is that of virtual and augmented reality, which has clear uses in education (Image: Jack Terry Photography)

Bett is the place to see the current trends in education, often years before they become commonplace in schools. We asked Terry Freedman to identify what the future holds

This is a very exciting time to be in education. It’s probably still too early to declare that education technology is part of schools’ DNA, as Matt Harris puts it in a recent article (November 2017), but we’re probably not far off.

There are several reasons for this. First, the majority of schools are almost certainly using software to collect and analyse data such as absence and lateness.

Second, there are so many things going on in education technology that schools would have to make a concerted effort to avoid adopting at least some of them.

And finally, it is more than likely that as particular kinds of technology become ubiquitous in the “real world”, it will begin to seep into schools as well.

But let’s look at what’s going on in more detail, starting with a couple of areas that, ostensibly, have little to do with technology as such.

Perhaps the first thing to note is that there is a growing interest in evidence-based practice. There’s a plethora of organisations dedicated to the practical application of research in education, including ResearchEd and the recently established the EDUCAtional Technology Exchange (EDUCATE) project, which is a collaboration between industry, academics and teachers.

The collaboration aims to encourage the development of evidence-based education technology products and services, and will be managed by the University College London in partnership with F6S, an organisation that helps start-ups, Nesta, the well-known education and social research organisation, and the British Educational Suppliers Association, which represents more than 300 companies.

Perhaps one of the wider consequences of the current emphasis on evidence is that schools will become even more savvy and critical when it comes to buying from ed tech companies.

Suppliers are going to have to prove their claims rather than rely solely on glossy brochures and reference sites.
Another trend is the growing adoption of problem-solving approaches focused on real-world issues. This has been noted by the International Society of Technology in Education (February 2017) and also by Fergal Kilroy, head of content at Bett (September 2017).

On the face of it, this has nothing to do with ed tech, until we consider that many real-world problems may not be solvable without technology. In any case, using ed tech is a no-brainer for project work, whether for keeping track of who is doing what or keeping notes or planning and so on.

The leaning towards problem-solving also ties in with the adoption into the national curriculum of the computing programme of study, with its emphasis on computational thinking, and learning and applying “coding” to real-life situations.

This has been a core aspect of the schools work of charity Apps for Good for many years, of course, but is now becoming more widespread.

Witness, for example, the Raspberry Pi competition, in which both primary and secondary school students come up with ways of programming a Raspberry Pi to do something useful.

Last year students at the College of Richard Collyer created the Lawn Enforcer, a walking stick that can direct the user to their destination by recognising the commands (such as “Home” and “Work”), and includes a portable power supply. A future development is to include GPS location and ultrasonic sensors in the bottom of the walking stick. The stick will “know” when the user has fallen down, and get help.

This brings us on to the continuing interest in maker spaces, robotics and even drones (at least one school in England uses drones as part of its computing curriculum). Interestingly, these ideas are also being embraced by the wider community. In Essex, for instance, a retired engineer has set up a maker space which anyone can join, and in East London a library service has set up a space where local kids can learn coding and borrow a Raspberry Pi.

The Horizon Report published in 2017 by the American research and advocacy group NMC suggests that maker spaces and robotics would take one year or less to be adopted, and this prediction seems to have been fairly accurate.

Another area to watch is the use of what might be called “other realities” – virtual reality, augmented reality, and a combination of the two.

There are plenty of apps and materials designed to bring subject matter to life, such as the working of the heart or what an erupting volcano looks like.

However, this kind of thing pales into insignificance compared with technology like Microsoft’s Hololens. This provides a 3D experience that enables you to, for example, walk around a body to see how the skeleton is constructed or how the vascular system works.

It’s not cheap, and there are not yet enough resources to justify the cost for secondary schools. However, there is a cheap and cheerful alternative. Take a photo, and then use Thing Link to tag it, embed documents and other artefacts, and links, and you (and your students) can create your own version of augmented reality.

There are fascinating developments in the world of artificial intelligence (AI). While these have not yet entered the world of school, it is worth watching this space for signs of things to come.

For example, one of the online assistants at Georgia Tech university is very helpful. She answers students’ questions unfailingly accurately. What students don’t know until they are told is that “she” is actually a bot.

Meanwhile, an article in the Guardian in May suggests that chatbots that appear emotionally intelligent are not far off. Could these one day take the place of school counsellors?

According to the Horizon Report, the adoption of AI is four or five years away. Perhaps so, but when it comes, expect to see some interesting developments in assessment. There is AI software now that can “look at” all the clues in a crime scene, plus other evidence such as time lines, and make sense of it all.

It is not too outlandish to believe that such software could be adapted for working out how well a student is doing based on a variety of evidence.

Returning to the present, it was mentioned near the start of this article that schools make use of programs that enable them to collect pupil data. There are information management systems that will show you who was absent or late at the same time, patterns of absence, and any correlation between absence or lateness and falling grades.

Taking this further, with the growing interest in and adoption of ebooks in schools, it is now possible to know not only what each student is reading, but what page they are on, when they accessed it, and how long they spent on it.

However, whether or not many schools will wish to make use of this technology in the light of the forthcoming General Data Protection Regulation, with the new duties this brings, is anyone’s guess.

One final interesting trend at the moment seems to be a move away from all-singing, all-dancing “solutions” towards applications that do one thing, and do it well.

Of course, the likes of Google and Microsoft don’t have to start panicking, but the key issue is that when it comes to education technology, schools don’t have to put all their eggs in one basket.

  • Terry Freedman is a freelance writer, trainer and speaker on education technology. He publishes the ICT & Computing in Education website at www.ictineducation.org

Further information

Download SecEd’s free guide to Best 2018

This article has been published as part of SecEd’s free 32-page, secondary-specific guide to Best 2018. The guide features show preview advice, highlights and general education technology-related articles. You can download the guide at www.sec-ed.co.uk/supplements/the-bett-show-2018


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