The changing face of technology in schools

Looking at what the next 20 years may bring in the world of technology is a difficult task, with the possibility of redundant software which showed promise but never worked effectively. Faced with this prospect we need to explore how people will learn in the future.
    
Looking at what the world is like now can shed some light on what the future for technology and schools could hold. The growth of the Internet has been exponential and is now seen by many as a must have tool rather than an optional extra. This has been noticed by the government in the UK, which has introduced a number of initiatives that focus on harnessing technology to develop a 21st century infrastructure and enable children, young people, and their families to get the most out of new technologies.  
    
Tackling the digital divide
The national rollout of high speed broadband to all homes is part of this commitment to tackle the digital divide, which sees some people with greater access to computers and the Internet, while others do not have the facilities to benefit from such use.   
    
Technology is also at the core of the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme and can help to improve school performance and create new ways of teaching and learning.  Both the technology of BSF and the rollout of broadband aim to get these IT systems talking to each other and working together to show they can develop the way people learn.
    
These approaches show digital learning, through processes like ICT managed services and virtual learning platforms. It can also liberate knowledge and provide access to information for everyone.  
    
Now young people have access to online tutors from across the world and a range of curriculum content that presents information in new and innovative ways.  Universities have their content published via i-Tunes, giving potential access to higher education for everyone. The growth of social networking tools like Facebook, Bebo and Twitter and the development of web 2.0, which allows anyone to set up their website, blog or podcast anywhere, also represents a significant shift in our approach to communication and knowledge.
    
So what will this mean for schools over the next 20 years? There are some who argue that technology now provides the possibility for the end of schools as young people learn in online communities, teaching themselves what they want, when they want.
     
But for some young people there will be a need to guide their learning through support such as mentoring and coaching, most of which will need to take place in school by teachers.  For other students, the technology will be part of their skills based learning, where they are focusing on vocational courses, learning through the activities they do. Having a classroom structure will also mean they can learn from each other.  So the infrastructure will need to be flexible to support each of these forms of learning, as well as others.
    
For example, new forms of secondary school structures are already coming into place through local 14-19 collaborations, trusts and federations of academies, while at the same time, local authorities are moving towards more flexible models of strategic commissioning.  
    
Together these two strands could see the development of mini local education authorities as groups of schools come together to procure services such as ICT, human resources and finance.  
    
There are already groups of academies which are responsible for enough schools to be a small local authority. Overseen by an executive headteacher or chief executive, these groups of schools have the potential to become corporate brands which are marketed across the Internet. With the ease of technology and the almost independent status of these collaborations, we could see branded content and curriculum material available online.  
    
How can we futureproof our current approaches to ensure society benefits from these technological advances?
    
Ensuring society has access to broadband is crucial as without it, we are limiting accessibility to some groups and not others. We must also ensure the systems which are put into schools, from virtual learning environments to wireless cables and servers, are agile enough to meet the demands of the future without needing more and more investment and without increasing our energy consumption.
    
We need to maximise the flexibility of the ICT infrastructure to build systems that are ready today for tomorrow’s changing technologies and ensure schools are at the heart of these developments to give students a place to learn the skills they will need to move ahead in tomorrow’s society.
    
New technologies
Dan Sutch, Senior Researcher for Futurelab, talks about how learners can access lessons through their computers:
    
Considering a scenario of how young people would learn if there were no schools, provides an opportunity to look at a range of educational practices that already exist, as well as to consider how new technologies may support learning.
    
There are currently a number of ways in which learners can access resources to support their learning. School resources can be accessed at home through networked Learning Platforms; a range of high quality materials can be used freely from well respected organisations such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Open University, and there are many educational materials made specifically for young people to use when they are out of school, such as Channel 4’s Battlefront.
    
Beyond these there is a wealth of resources for non-formal and informal learning which give students the opportunity to learn in a variety of ways, such as Youtube, Myspace and Wikipedia. But more than just accessing information, social software, online networks and new ways of organising interest groups such as on facebook provides young people with the opportunity to connect to other learners, peers and teachers.
    
Linking this to developments in mobile computing, it becomes apparent that accessing information, resources and people from anywhere and at anytime becomes more possible. The Beyond Current Horizons programme led by Futurelab to investigate long term education futures, suggests that this ability to be at the centre of a network of information and resources will develop further over the next decade and as such we can imagine an array of opportunities for learners – from accessing resources just in time, to interacting with experts in another country.
    
But what becomes clear is that there is a fundamental shift from schools delivering educational experiences, to learners being able to access learning opportunities, creating demand led education.
    
Bigger role
In 2009 there are already a number of education providers and a future without schools offers an opportunity for these organisations to take a much bigger role in education. Historically, the school was one of the only places where a trained professional was available to teach and support learning; but now mentors and teachers can be found in supermarkets, accessed from home and found online.
    
Exploring some of the developments in digital technologies provides insight into other opportunities for learning. There are likely to be cheaper and smaller computers with greater power confirming the image of mobile computing, while developments in Cloud computing, which allows computers to use the processing power of remote servers, adds to the range of applications that learners can access when they need them.

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