Some future tech thoughts

Recently have been trying to put some time aside to think about long term strategy rather than the more mundane day to day.   I have been trying to look out into the future and maybe the next 10 to 15 years of technology in schools.   In doing so I have identified 4 themes or areas which I believe we should be focussing on.

Sustainable, safe and secure

This is likely the easiest theme to identify.  If we assume that tech use is only going to grow as we progress into the future then we need to ensure that “it just works”.   This is key and is part of the sustainability challenge.   If technology has issues or problems, users, both students and teachers alike, will quickly turn away from it.   As a result we need to make sure the technologies used including the infrastructure such as Wi-Fi, internet bandwidth and our IT networks, are future proof and include plans for replacement and renewal as we move forward into the future.   Purchases of infrastructure such as wireless access points, network switches and also the client end points all need to be viewed as continual investments, with planned replacement built in rather than one-off costs.  Our plans need to ensure our technology and infrastructure is sustainable into the future

Also, in relation to sustainability we need to start considering environmental impact.   We need to consider who we source our equipment from, how it is produced, how it is delivered and where it goes once it is end of life.   We also need to consider the environmental impact of its use including energy usage for example.   As we move forward into the future, I can see the importance of environmental sustainability continuing to grow and become a greater factor in decision making.

And as we work in schools, the safety and security of the technologies we use, the data we process and the end users, both staff and students, continues to be a critical issue.    We will need to do a better job of assessing the security of products and solutions we use to ensure we keep our data and our users safe and secure.

Digital citizens

Related to the above, how we seek to keep our students safe in this digital world, online and on social media will be a key focus balanced out against the challenges presented by the need for individual privacy and freedom of speech.    There will also be challenges in relation to increasing use of automation and AI including the ethics of categorising and targeting individuals and groups through data and the implications of black box AI solutions making decisions about aspects of our lives, where although we may be able to create a narrative for the decision in hindsight we may never actually know exactly how the AI arrived at it.  And these are just of couple of the many challenges.

All of this highlights the need to develop digital citizens in our staff and students, plus also our wider communities including parents.   Lots of the benefits and risks created through technology and technology use are new, and have never existed in history, therefore we will need to work through them together.    We will need to create the culture and climate to support the open discussion and dialogue in relation to technology and its implications, and we will need to continually update and review our awareness and our understanding.   This will be critically important but sadly, far from easy and far from quick.

Emerging technologies

The pace of technology continues to be quick with new solutions appearing regularly.   It is therefore important to keep one eye on the future.    Looking forward now I see a number of areas which school should be thinking about including the potential for Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality use within schools.  Some schools are already dipping into this but I see bigger untapped potential which is yet to be realised.    Haptics and wearable technologies are another area where there may be potential within schools.   Some potential applications are clear, such as the use of fitness solutions like Fitbit, etc, in relation to physical education or even biology in schools; other future solutions or applications are as yet not as clear.    Artificial intelligence is another emerging area, although I note many EdTech vendors already shouting from the hills about how they use AI, something I am largely sceptical about;  I suspect many are mistaking a complex series of If..Then..Else for AI.   That said, as we move forward I suspect more applications for AI will become apparent, particularly applications for narrow focus AI solutions designed for a specific purpose rather than the more aspirational general purpose AI of Hal from Space 2001 or Data from Star Trek.  And online examinations using adaptive testing solutions replacing our paper based examinations is another emerging area I see in our future.   How will we ensure school infrastructure supports these tests and how can we prepare students for this new age of assessment?

The power of data

Schools already gather huge amounts of data and this is only growing.   I am not just talking about the data teachers may enter in school management solutions as part of parental reporting processes.   We now have data generated in terms of student interactions with online platforms, such as Google Classroom or MS Teams, we have online quizzes where we might be able to see not only student scores, but the time taken, the device used, the time per question, if answers were changed, etc.   Every time we interact with technology more data is being created.    The question looking forward therefore is how can we use this data?   How can we create value from this data and inform teaching and learning?    This for me is a key opportunity as we look forward to the future.  Again though, not an easy one, as the data is often siloed in different solutions or is unstructured or poorly structured.   There is a lot of work to be done here but for me the potential is clear.


The above four areas are what I see as the key areas of focus for the future.   There are many other areas which could be considered however these four, in my opinion, represent the greatest importance and/or potential in relation to schools and colleges.  

Some of the above will see progress in the short term, however I suspect some wont see much progress for a number of years.   The importance here though is in setting a direction of travel.


What’s next?

The last year has seen schools and other educational establishments jump forward in their use of technology.  Note, I say Technology rather than EdTech as I think EdTech represents a narrower, and often slightly biased view on the technology actually in use in education.   The question I now find myself with, when thinking about technology strategy, is where next?

The last year saw 1:1 devices, whether school issued or bring your own, grow massively as schools sought to continue learning despite students being at home.    It also saw a massive jump towards cloud platforms including Office 365, Google Workspace for education (I think that’s what its now called!), Showbie and many more.  Additionally, video, either pre-recorded or live, became a key part of lessons.  Some of these things are now very much hear to stay or at the very least will be significantly more common than they were prior to the pandemic.

But what comes next?   What are the next jumps forward?

I decided to give this some thought and try to do a little future gazing.   I will acknowledge one thing the last year has taught me, and that is that we cant accurately predict very far into the future;  Who predicted 2020 would start with a pandemic?    But that said, I think it is important to look forward and at least try and imagine where we might be going.

Learning anywhere, anytime

The pandemic saw creation of massive amounts of learning content largely in the format of videos.   There is an increasing amount of learning content which students can access independently both available on the internet, but also within their own schools learning platforms.   The pandemic has shown us that learning can take place outside the classroom.     As a result I think we will start to see more of this learning anywhere and anytime although possibly it will start of with a growing number of students being directed to, or self-engaging in, such content rather than a momentous shift of learning in general.   Maybe we will see the revenge of the MOOC, but maybe not in the same format/shape as in 2012 when the fanfare of MOOCs never quite came to all that they promised.   Or maybe we will just see the continued creation of free to access learning content, by educators across the world followed by the curation of such content ready for teachers and students to access as needed.  Another possibility might be an increasing in the number of virtual schools.   There are certainly a number of options as to how learning anywhere, anytime might progress.

Micro Credentials

Linked to the above, we will likely see students potentially engaging in learning broader than the taught curriculum, but maybe only dipping in and out of subjects or topics of interest at a given moment in time.    I think there is the potential for this to reignite the need for micro digital credentials or badges;   A way for smaller units of study, much smaller than a traditional GCSE or A-Level, to be recognised with some sort of digital badge.   Now, I note that digital badges have been around for some time, however I think the current situation may see them become a subject of discussion, development and greater use.  I myself am already looking to make use of digital badges with at least one programmes run in my school.

AI (Artificial intelligence) and ML (Machine Learning)

AI and ML are already in use in schools, in the automatic transcripts created from Teams meetings, in our grammar and spellchecker and in a number of other almost transparent ways.   We have also seen the growth in educational products which allegedly use AI or ML, however often in my view this is just these terms being used as buzzwords as opposed to products actually using AI or ML.   This is something we need to challenge by asking vendors to explain how their product uses AI or ML.   Going forward though, I think we will see increasing applications of AI and ML to teaching and learning, to assessment and to drawing conclusions from the massive wealth of data which schools routinely produce.   I see the use of AI and ML in identifying patterns and correlations in school data which will allow teachers to be more responsive to our learners and their learning.   The potential is significant however I believe it needs to be led by schools/colleges rather than the tech vendors seeking to sell the next big thing.   I therefore think we need more projects like that at Bolton College and all the work the have done on Ada, their student assistant.


The three items above, learning anytime anywhere, micro credentials and AI/ML are the three areas I can see growing in the next five years.   There are other areas such as virtual or augmented reality which I also see scope for growth, however the three areas mentioned are the ones I see to be more likely to see significant progress.     It is always very difficult to predict the future, and even more so when it comes to technology, however I wonder if in five years’ time I will look back on this post and prove to be correct?   Or maybe I will be miles off the mark.

Future Gazing: Artificial Intelligence (AI)

The phrase “future gazing” has came up recently so I thought it worth sharing some thoughts on the future of EdTech as I see them.     As such I intend to share a series of separate posts on different technologies which might have an impact on education in the years ahead.

hand-3685829_640Artificial Intelligence

This is a big topic in the wider IT world but also increasingly in education.   The challenge is that AI covers a multitude of sins plus the application of the different AIs are substantial.

The holy grail of AI, as I see it, is the general-purpose AI.   Am not going to spend any real time in this area as this is, in my opinion, some way off.    When it does become a realisation, there is great potent

ial for it to be used in education to supplement teaching staff both as a virtual teacher, a virtual classroom assistant or a virtual coach or mentor.     As I said however, this is some years off.

More specific purpose AIs are much more likely to make an appearance in the short term.   An example of this might be a Mathematics AI which students can pose questions to in natural language, and that will then either provide answers or direct students to appropriate learning materials.   This isn’t that far off and is being used already on organisations help pages.    It just hasn’t thus far been focused on education.

Another application of AI might be in its ability to recognise emotions and activities of students.   This is already in trial in China.   Basically, this involves a classroom camera and an AI which analyses the facial expressions of students along with what they are doing.   This information is then fed back to the teacher to inform learning.    The teacher will get information on the students which appear confused or upset, indicating possibly they are struggling with the materials, along with data on which pupils have been busy with the work, which have been raising their hands to ask questions or provide answers and those which have been more disengaged or not participating.    From this the teacher can then decide how to change the learning activities, target questions or revisit concepts.   I suspect this AI could also be expanded to look at teacher questioning and provide feedback and advice on the types of questions being asked, the frequency and who the questions are directed to.  It might also look at the engagement of students throughout the school day to try and identify trends and develop a structure for the school day which is more in line with the physiological and psychological needs of students.

School data analysis is one area where I think AI is very close to being usable widely in schools.    Schools already are sat on a wealth of data in terms of the student academic data, student demographic data and pastoral data among others.    AI or machine learning can easily analyse the data and identify patterns which humans may not be able to identify.     At a school level this can easily be applied to summative academic results, identifying how different student groups perform, allowing comparisons across subjects, etc, however as we gather more and more formative data these AIs will then be able to feedback to teachers in relation to areas which students do or do not understand.   It will also be able to identify whether there is a pattern across different teachers therefore suggesting a change to how a particular topic is taught, or whether it relates to a group of students or to specific related topics.

In the wider school there will also be opportunities for use of AI.   In the dining hall for example AI might be able to examine data to identify possible lunch timings to improve efficiency.    Analysis of book titles taken from the Library might help in providing a window into pupil preferences and interests.    AI may have the ability to examine parents evenings and parents meetings to try and streamline these events and ensure everyone gets to see who they need to see with a minimal period of waiting.    Machine learning may be able to examine teacher performance management data and identify opportunities for peer support and peer learning to occur, or to identify cross school professional development needs.   Facilities use might be analysed to identify when they are under-utilised and then seek to make them available to the local community.    Teacher work days might be optimised through AI recommendations resulting from an analysis of our working habits looking at when we tend to send emails, our timetable, who we commonly meet with, etc.   These are just some of the ways in which AI may makes its way into our school.

Artificial Intelligence is going to make an increasing appearance in schools.  I think this is inevitable.   In actual fact I would say to some extent AI or Machine Learning is already in schools possibly in the schools firewall or mail filtering solutions or in the network infrastructure.    Going forward however it will become much more visible as it enters more areas of school life.       Or maybe like all good technology use, may become more common yet will be transparent in its use, with users unaware of where AI is providing help, support and guidance.

I think the general-purpose AI, the Data from Star Trek TNG, or HAL for 2001: A Space Odyssey is some way off.   In the first instance AI will provide hints and tips as well as other low-level recommendations or suggestions.     It is to this, and the possible productivity and efficiency gains that may result, that we should therefore first look.

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