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CHEATSHEET: Disruptive technology and digital technology in the classroom.

Even the most cursory online search shows how ‘disruptive technology’ is changing the way we do things. It may feel like a tsunami of change, but the reality is more akin to water dripping on a rock, albeit a drip that is speeding up all the time. But what exactly is a ‘disruptor’? This week, School Stream is taking a look at some commonly-used terms and investigating some of the ways disruptive technology is seeping into classrooms at every stage of learning. 

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Can disruptive technologies lead to a smart education?

Why is it important for schools to be across disruptive technologies? Because schools are the best-placed and most passionate about preparing students for the future. And right now, that future is fairly unknown, with a whopping 85 per-cent of the jobs that will exist in 2030 not even invented yet. From the still-relevant report “Realizing 2030: Dell Technologies Research Explores the Next Era of Human-Machine Partnerships”:

“The pace of change will be so rapid that people will learn “in-the-moment” using new technologies such as augmented reality and virtual reality. The ability to gain new knowledge will be more valuable than the knowledge itself.”

What do we mean when we say ‘disruptor’?

There are plenty of conversations at a policy and technical level around all things disruptive technology. With new technologies being developed with increasing frequency, it’s probably a good idea to unpack some of the key terms and ideas that will impact (or should that be disrupt?) education.

Disruptive innovation

The theory of disruptive innovation has been around since 1995 and was defined and analysed by American academic Clayton M Christensen. It is widely considered the most influential business idea of the early 21st Century. Disruptors are similar to innovators, in that they are both makers and builders, but as Christensen says:

“Disruption displaces an existing market, industry, or technology and produces something new and more efficient and worthwhile. It is at once destructive and creative.” Forbes 

Many of us regularly engage with disruptive technologies to perform fairly pedestrian, everyday tasks. Think of classified ads (Gumtree or eBay), long-distance calls (WhatsApp), buying CDs (Spotify), streaming television and films (Netflix), taxis (Uber), food delivery (Deliveroo, among many others), and even glasses (Warby Parker). At first, many of these ideas seemed wildly radical, but now it is just accepted that this is way things are done in 2019. 

The Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) is the concept of connecting any device with an on/off switch to the internet. This includes not only phones but washing machines, lamps, coffee machines, your smartwatch, the engine of your car… anything. It’s generally thought that if something can be connected, it will be connected. Exactly how many devices are predicted to be connected to the internet by 2020? Estimates range from 10 billion to 30 billion and beyond. That’s a mind-blowing number of connections. The IoT has already had an impact on education. If your school has classrooms equipped with Interactive White Boards, you are already utilising the Internet of Things. And while widespread change won’t happen overnight, it will happen. 

“The classrooms of the future will be truly tech-enabled. AR (Augmented Reality) will make dissection day much more humane by obviating the need for actual animals. VR (Virtual Reality)  will replace history class with up-front seats to Charlemagne planning for war, and science class with a true-to-size demonstration of the particles that make up life as we know it.” IoTforall.com

3D Printing

3D Printing builds a three-dimensional object from a computer-aided design model and, importantly for educators, has the potential to be the source of much fun in the classroom. It is the perfect partner to STEM/STEAM orientated classes and has some truly engaging applications. For a local example of this technology in an educational context, watch this inspirational clip of students from St Stephens Perth using 3D printing to solve a real-world medical problem from their community. Have a tissue handy. 

Artificial Intelligence 

Before we start, let’s get one thing straight: artificial intelligence will never take over from teachers. Now we can proceed. Artificial Intelligence, or AI, has been referred to as ‘King of the Disruptors’. It’s certainly one of the most controversial, with the late Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk both airing concerns regarding its progression. John McCarthy first used the term “Artificial Intelligencein 1956 to describe the science and engineering of enabling a computer system, software, program or robot to “think” intelligently like humans. Another key element of AI is that computers “learn” through their own experiences and observations without being programmed. If you have used voice commands on your phone or an online proof-reader, you have interacted with AI. While there are some positive stories of AI in schools, for example, chess clubs using AI to practice, there is (rightly) concern about the wholesale implementation about how these technologies will be used in schools. 

Technology is here to stay

Whether you love it or loathe it, technology is already playing a big part in all our lives. The classrooms of today are packed with students who are 100 per-cent digital natives. If we want to engage them and empower them for the future, it is important for us all to be educated and aware of every aspect of disruptive technologies in the classroom: the good, the bad and the awesome.