This is a guest post submitted by Megan Nichols.
Education is changing and adapting to meet the needs of the modern, technology-driven world economy. In turn, how we go about educating students at the K-12 and university levels on using and building technology will likely influence how those technologies develop. Here’s a look at the ways in which education and technology are becoming increasingly inseparable and interdependent in the “Tech Age.”
What Qualities Must Education Foster in the Tech Age?
What kind of “pressures” does the technology age place on today’s schools? To put it another way, what kinds of adults and members of the workforce must today’s students become?
Let’s consider some of the challenges and opportunities presented by a world economy that increasingly relies on digital platforms to engage in consciousness-raising, commerce, and collaboration:
- Comfort with Telecommunication: A global economy requires top-notch collaborative skills, as well as familiarity with digital tools that can link multiple states and continents. As much as 70 percent of the global workforce works remotely at least once a week already. This number is likely to increase as technology continues to decentralize workspaces. Higher education, therefore, should equip students to work with telepresence tools and other relevant technologies.
- Knowledge of Digital Functions: Students must become “digital citizens,” which includes becoming better-versed in the ways information and disinformation are disseminated, how search engines work, and how automation might upend what we think we know about economic theory.
- Ability to Adapt: Tomorrow’s workforce will be more mobile and more multi-disciplinary than ever, according to experts. It’s not enough that students learn—they must also “learn how to learn” in order to remain prepared and adaptable. If the technology age heralds one thing, it’s the threat and opportunity of nearly constant change.
Making sure education adapts to the requirements of the technology age requires, perhaps above all, that we impart our K-12 and college students with a true love of learning. To this end, we must make sure we’re building effective—and cost-effective—tools for the classroom that inspire curiosity and open minds; help improve retention of critical lesson materials; and prepare students for a lifetime of self-directed learning, solving problems thoughtfully, and navigating change and complexity with confidence.
Technology Reinvents Education
Education today isn’t just about preparing students for a future in technology-heavy careers. It’s also about leveraging emerging technologies to improve learning experience—that is, to improve information retention and facilitate easier digital access to class material and productivity-boosting classroom assets, among other things.
College and K-12 classrooms of the near future will most likely host the following technologies as a matter of course:
- Online class dashboards for accessing and submitting assignments, and for enabling personalized, self-paced learning
- Tablets and smart whiteboards to provide engaging “learning surfaces”
Professional studies indicate digital whiteboards help improve lesson clarity, as well as student motivation and engagement with the material.
- A full-scale pivot in the near future to (i) automatic attendance software, using face recognition or biometrics, and (ii) tardy software—which particularly address students who find it difficult to report to class on time
Technology should enhance teachers’ experience, too. Attendance and tardy software are likely to lessen the workload of our already-busy teachers.
- Attention-tracking software for teachers who want to know who’s engaging with their lessons in good faith, who’s excelling and may require specialized placement, and who’s possibly struggling
Right now, major technology companies—such as Microsoft, Apple, and Google—are throwing their hats into the education “ring.” They’re developing collaborative presentation and word processing programs; building smarter and more capable portable tablets and other implements, such as smart whiteboards; and making relevant lesson materials even more accessible through digital platforms, such as podcasts, iTunes U, and Amazon’s digital textbook rentals.
Teachers can now find several resources online for learning more about these developments and how to effectively incorporate technology into the classroom. In the contexts of K-12 and higher education, technology doesn’t just raise the bar for students—it also raises the bar for educators.
Education Needs to Prepare Makers (Not Just Consumers)
Recent technological developments, especially digitization, have wrought significant changes in the economy and the job market. Therefore, we need an education system that creates “makers,” not just “consumers.”
Consider automation. The autonomous nature of contemporary manufacturing and material-handling equipment means the modern shop floor or distribution center employee won’t merely be interacting with a machine someone else has built. Assembly line workers and HVAC technicians are just two relevant examples in this context. Specialists in these fields are expected to possess in-depth educational background and practical knowledge in programming, digital troubleshooting, machine code, APIs, open-source platforms, and the manifold ways in which physical and digital systems interact.
The writing has been on the wall for some time now: programming courses are essential not just at the higher education level but also at the K-12 level, especially if we are to foster what has been called the “maker culture.” Steve Jobs was ahead of the curve when he pointed out, years ago, that programming should be a requirement in modern schools. Today’s makers write apps that keep our personal lives and our enterprises organized and mobile—they are good at solving problems and know how to think critically and logically.
In a world where technology plays a central role in everyday life, we’ll be hurting ourselves in the long run if we don’t urge our K-12 schools to begin teaching at least the basics of coding at an early age, when the human brain is at its most elastic. Some experts recommend children start learning the fundamentals of programming as early as age five.
Here’s another way to look at this: because STEM courses—Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics—are so deeply entwined with values such as self-directed learning, confident troubleshooting, and reasoning, they provide a blueprint that may in turn allow schools to create a “whole-student” approach. In other words, when schools expose students to the sciences—including mathematics, computer science, and programming—from a young age, they grow up better equipped to apply the required skills and think critically even beyond the classroom.
It’s a happy accident that these STEM skills are also highly valued in the job market. Moreover, machine learning specialists, data scientists, and developers not only draw high salaries but also enjoy quick career growth.
Technology Creates Opportunities in Education and Beyond
According to some estimates, 65 percent of today’s students will find themselves in careers that don’t currently exist. That’s proof enough that we need an education system that does two things: (i) immerses students in useful and productivity-enhancing technologies and (ii) creates new generations of students with the practical and critical thinking skills necessary to interact with especially complex digital systems.
The world is full of opportunities for people who leave school not just with a genuine love of the material they studied there but also with an appetite to continue learning beyond the classroom.
As we’ve seen here, technology does more than help us modernize the classroom and make teachers’ lives easier. It also prepares students and educators to engage with and improve technologies to drive social, civic, and economic change using digital platforms; better understand automation, robotics, and the ways in which physical and digital systems interact; and indeed much, much more.
Megan Nichols is a technical writer and science blogger. She is the editor of Schooled By Science, a blog dedicated to making scientific topics easy to understand. Keep up with her latest article by subscribing to her blog or following her on Twitter @nicholsrmegan.