How technology is energising the future of education

Jane Ross reflects on how education technologies such as video learning are being embraced by primary and secondary schools, even after lockdown, and why such technologies will be central to education going forward

From global online education institutions to local secondaries, schools around the world are embracing distance learning and cutting-edge education technology, even as lockdowns recede into memory. Pupils in hundreds of countries were introduced to online learning during the pandemic, with teachers taking the register virtually and delivering lessons via video and cloud-sharing tools. Such technology was key to helping children weather the early months of the pandemic in Britain, as in dozens of countries around the world. Whilst education technology has been growing and developed even before the pandemic, hybrid learning modes are now taking the lead in future education.
Teachers in particular believe that education technology has more to offer. More than half of teachers think education tools such as video learning that support virtual classrooms will have great potential for their school over the next ten years, according to the Government’s Future Opportunities for Education Technology in England report, based on interviews with experts and more than 5,000 teachers.
Teachers speaking to the researchers said that remote teaching could offer flexibility in staffing terms, for instance by reducing the need for agency staff, and noted the benefits of a blended teaching model where teaching is delivered in-person and online at the same time. The teachers interviewed for the research noted that pupils suffering from health problems actually perform better while studying from home.

An inclusive classroom
Hybrid teaching and video technology can also make classrooms more inclusive. One British grandfather passed a GCSE at the age of 92 this year, thanks to distance learning technology. Derek Skipper achieved a grade five, the highest possible on the foundation paper he took, with all his lessons taking place via video conferencing, on a course run by the Cam Academy Trust in Cambridge. Although an extreme example, it shows how technology is breaking down barriers.
At Zoom, we worked closely with schools worldwide throughout the pandemic, and learned a great deal about what works and doesn’t work in terms of delivering remote learning via technology. Our experts took into consideration parents’ feedback to ensure that lessons could be delivered even over slow connections and to older devices. In the latter parts of the pandemic, we also helped teachers to work out how to deliver education in a hybrid environment, with some pupils in the classroom and some at home.
For schools, the benefits of remote learning and technologies such as video conferencing don’t stop with remote and hybrid lessons. Video technology also enables remote staff meetings across the whole school, or several schools, virtual field trips and virtual mentoring, creating learning experiences that would not have been possible without the technology.

Video technology and remote learning also offers parents a chance to be more involved in their children’s learning.

Video learning is not second-best
Video learning isn’t always a ‘second best’. In fact, the higher education sector is already working to rank institutions based on the quality of their video learning courses. Researchers at the Open University partnered with researchers from Italy’s Institute for Educational Technology to create a ranking system for universities based on the quality of their digital courses. The new criteria could be used to analyse both face-to-face and online learning at universities, the researchers say.
Other global institutions have pivoted towards delivering learning via video. One success story for online learning both in Britain and around the world is OneSchool Global, which has 23 campuses across England, covering students from Year 3 through to Year 12, and which embraced online learning delivered via video with enthusiasm during the pandemic.
With 130 campuses in 20 countries, online learning helps to bridge the gap between different institutions in different countries. OneSchool Global had enthusiastically embraced both online and hybrid classrooms even before the pandemic. When lockdowns hit, the organisation shifted to full video learning for all primary and secondary students, with millions of minutes clocked up in video conferencing, and custom-designed security features to ensure pupils’ online safety.

Rating schools on their video lessons
In the university sector, organisations as prestigious as Oxford University’s Saïd Business School switched entirely to using video conferencing to deliver lectures in the early parts of the pandemic, without losing a single minute of teaching time. Executives at the school credited their ability to switch to having been early adopters, and to be forward-thinking about the potential of the technology.
Increasingly, teachers and academics are seeing that video technology has an essential part to play in the twenty-first century mix of education. Dr. Charles Hodges, Georgia Southern University has called on institutions to stop thinking of technology as a ‘nice-to-have’ or an ‘add-on’ and instead to ensure that technology is infused into their organisations to work out what’s important when it comes to delivering online and hybrid learning.

Tools to bring out the best in education technology
Video education technology has also evolved to fit the education sector, and video learning now offers far more than a teacher talking in front of a blackboard, with synchronous and asynchronous learning tools to allow students to interact with the course at their own pace.  Session recording and automatic transcription mean that digital-native young people who have grown up with video streaming can re-watch lessons as required, and absorb information as quickly or slowly as they want. The technology also offers teachers the chance to deliver ‘micro learning’, breaking courses down into bite-sized bursts of three to five minutes, which can be appealing to children at primary and secondary schools.
Offering the capacity for students to ‘talk back’ via chat functionality and adding classroom-style digital whiteboards where children can interact directly with information, greatly increases the power of video learning.
Whiteboards in particular are perfect for the hybrid classroom, allowing students in a classroom to draw on the board, and remote students to annotate live. Teachers can also offer children new and compelling ways to interact with video lessons, such as live polls and multiple choice quizzes. Video conferencing is not just for replicating the classroom experience: teachers can use video conference rooms to allow students to ‘drop in’ for private chats.
At Zoom, we believe that with the right technology, remote learning can replicate everything from the personal meeting with teachers which make school meaningful, to the joyous and collaborative classroom interactions which inspire pupils. The pandemic may be receding, but the usefulness of education technology is not diminishing. In Britain, schools are continuing to use technology for areas such as online staff training, meetings and parents evenings - with many institutions permitting students to self-serve with video lessons in secondary courses or offering courses delivered via video online. As this technology evolves – adding functionality for asynchronous learning, and tools such as polls and quizzes – it should be an integral part of the education mix for children, offering a new forward-looking way to work together, for teachers and pupils alike.

Jane Ross is EMEA education lead at Zoom.

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