The annual pilgrimage to the BETT Show took place last week for many Irish educators and it was great to meet so many people involved in digital learning at the event. This year saw a new layout and design and it certainly seemed more manageable and we had more space to move around. As always there was lots to see and hear at the event. While there was no major new piece of technology on view, there certainly were many interesting products and views on show. The stand out event for me this year was a talk I attended on the Future of Work, which was introduced by Graham Brown Martin. Graham is an excellent speaker and brought us back in time to look at some of the innovation that took place in the early part of the last century around solar energy and in particular the work of Frank Shulman.
He noted that the Z Generation are the most important generation of our time and that there is a need for our education systems to evolve to ensure they are prepared for the challenges of today and the future.
While there is a tremendous amount of speculation on the jobs of the future and the role that AI might play, he suggested that the jobs of the future are the ones machines can’t do.
He sees 3 areas in which humans can beat machines and this in relation to creative endeavours; social interactions and mobility and dexterity. So we need to change what we teach in our schools, so that young people are ready for these new challenges.
He urged us to consider moving away from models of learning that are dominated by the knowledge transmission to models that favour the construction of knowledge and skills, namely constructionism.
And he suggested we have a choice in our education systems to either go with an Instructionism model or a Constructionism model.
And he cited the words of the late Seymour Papert who described the role of the teacher as one whose role is to create the conditions for invention rather than ready made knowledge.
He finished his talk by sharing a newspaper article from the New York Times that claimed that AI could an 8th Grade Science Test and he observed maybe the issue is with the test and we need to find new ways to ‘test’ our students, rather than simply rely on older forms of assessment. Today our young people have powerful tools in their pockets, i.e. mobile phones, but often they are not allowed use these to help them learn or to take an assessment. Yet in the world outside of school they have ready access to these tools and therefore we need to find new ways to assess their knowledge and understanding, so that it is meaningful and of valuable of the world of work they will eventually enter into.
There was certainly an increase in AI products on display this year and one that caught my attention was EvidenceB from France. The French Government is overseeing a very innovative programme of investment in AI technologies for education and EvidenceB is one example. This is a research based innovation programme that is developing digital modules, that incorporates tests, activity courses and dashboards based on school programs, in areas such as mathematics. While the programme is still in development we witnessed some really interesting modules in mathematics that will be tested in French schools later this Spring. Another really interesting project was Mathia Education, which uses AI and adaptive learning technology to support children aged 4-11 to develop a deeper understanding of mathematics.
What is interesting is that these products were commissioned by the French Ministry to address issues they identified in their system and while they are still at the prototype level, they will be piloted in French schools in the coming months. When this phase is completed, further additions will be made and they will be available to schools in France. It is an interesting investment model and one that could be extended to other parts of Europe. While there is great hype around the use of AI in Education, it is still early days in terms of what these products and services will really look like for teachers and learners. However, there is no doubt that this is an area that has growing potential for education and learning and one that will continue to grow.