When we show new parents around our school, they often focus on our facilities and what curriculum we offer. The question they never ask but perhaps should is: what is your IT infrastructure and does it support the escalating Edtech changes taking place?
Edtech is now the norm, as students use online books, software and multimedia. Sometimes parents want us to limit their child’s access to using the internet and not set homework that relies on laptops. The scenario is a parental dilemma; students working on their laptops with 10 other tabs open, ranging from Discord, Minecraft to Fortnite. Parents question whether much work is going on.
These young people are digital citizens who make notes on iPads using i-pens and tap their way through educational programmes; nevertheless, there is no doubt that learning is happening. Meanwhile, most parents are digital refugees who did not grow up with smart boards and laptops, and some struggle with this. They want to see evidence of learning in a format they believe in.
There is a tension between the world at home, which includes gadgets and free access to the plethora of the internet, and parents looking for school practices that are set in the past. These children are growing up in a digital world; working out the solution is part of the game and it is their way of life.
The latest phenomena, ChatGPT, is the next pedagogical challenge – an AI bot that gives users the opportunity to create just about any text. This is AI that makes stuff up; it can be fun, a helpful tool, but it can also be dangerous.
Educational practices will need to adapt as this pandora’s box opens the possibility for students to create an illusion of knowledge; how will we recognise what is their work or that of the AI? As educators we will need to change how we assess and move the goalposts of our expectations, another huge milestone for the teacher who wants to simply “teach and assess the end product”, although not too far a leap for the teacher who values investigation and reflection as a means of assessing.
Notably, the assessment landscape is evolving post-pandemic; examinations are shifting to digital-only platforms. Harvard and other global universities are offering independent modules so students can learn pretty much anything online via a course that builds on each skill learnt week by week, and young people are getting used to this kind of approach.
Will traditional participation for university degrees be required in the same way?
Schools have strategic plans, yet their operations may be entrenched in past decision-making that is driven by the school’s context and history. The IT infrastructure of a 21st century school needs a large investment (approximately 4.5 per cent of the budget) and a change of mindset.
Imagine: instead of learning a PE skill on the tennis court, could we enter a simulated environment? Could we employ teachers virtually from around the globe? Do we allow students to pick and choose how they access their education? Could smart buildings allow student choice of where to work?
None of these are happening yet at our school but they are bubbling up in other school set-ups, and its success rides on accompanying funding, and schools are notoriously one of the hardest organisations to implement radical change. I often remind my school board – we are building a future school for the three-year-old children that are already at our school – how different will the world be when those children graduate in 12 years’ time?
Schools are notoriously one of the hardest organisations to implement radical change
We cannot turn the clock back; students today are already hooked and online. All schools need is to engage in this unavoidable aspect of life as we know it. Only then can we guide our young people through the wondrous variety at their disposal and prepare them for the future.
Along the way, just as we were brought up to be mindful of strangers, cars and dishonesty, we can highlight the dangers, help them identify fake news, misleading information and inappropriate behaviour, so they consciously and actively make it a positive and useful part of their lives.
Totty Aris is head of Verdala International School, Pembroke.