Rania Lampou, Multi Award-Winning STEM instructor, ICT Teacher Trainer, Neuroeducation Researcher, Greek Ministry of Education & Religious Affairs, Directorate of Educational Technology and Innovation

Innovation is an integral component of human progress. One of the best expressions of innovation in society is technology. The Fourth Industrial revolution led human history to an exponential growth of technology driven by information technologies. Part of the great technological advancement of our times is educational technology. 

During the covid-19 pandemic distance education and teleconferencing are being widely used because they are absolutely necessary for homeschooling which is the only answer to the problem of school closure. Online learning is undergoing massive experimentation to provide unprecedented solutions. Machine learning and computers that can act and react without being explicitly programmed to do so open endless new possibilities and challenges. 

Grounds for concerns

Despite the giant leaps of contemporary technology that have transformed human life and society there are grounds for concerns that technology does not always bring progress. If ethical issues arising from technological developments are ignored, there is a great probability that society may regress to a state of imbalance, a state that is not conducive to progress. 

Technology without the predominant role of the human factor can become a nightmare. Therefore, humans should defend their position in their own creation. Subsequently, teachers should protect their important role in the educational process. What happens if self-learning machines replace humans like the self-driving cars can replace drivers? Will teachers be replaced by self-learning educational digital tools? 

Computers may be much better than humans at tasks that can be organized into a set of rules but there are many things that computers are not very good at and should be left to humans (at least for now). The tasks that can be better addressed by humans fall into three categories: a. problems that require creativity, b. situations where communication and social interaction are needed, c. non routine manual tasks.

Despite the drawbacks, technology has the advantage to give us freedom from hard work and elevate the quality of our lives as we can have more time to interact with each other and be creative. As longevity is steadily increasing the free time that we will be available to every one of us will be steadily increasing too.

However, people should set limits and these limits should be imposed by international councils. It’s imperative to set a groundwork of principles that we should all agree upon because digital ethics is an uncharted territory and a subject that humanity didn’t have to deal with throughout history. Digital ethics is our new compass that becomes more and more necessary as time goes on and as technology advances. 

Digital ethics is even more important than technology itself because examining the unintentional results of advanced technology can prevent serious problems in the future. Technological industry bases its decisions on profitability and efficiency. The moral boundaries should be set from the outside because it’s naive to believe that a profitable industry will limit its options by itself on the grounds of ethics. 

There are five core human rights that technological advancement should respect: 1. The right to remain natural. We shouldn’t have to have technological devices in or on our bodies in order to function as normal citizens in our everyday lives. 2. The right to be less efficient than machines. We should not give priority to efficiency versus humanity. We can’t sacrifice human authenticity as we are striving for efficiency. 3. The right to disconnect from the network. We should be able to become invisible when we choose so. 4. The right to be anonymous when we connect to networks. We can’t be tracked down all the time especially when we don’t do harm to anybody. 5. The right to employ or involve people instead of machines. Companies should be protected when they choose to employ people instead of machines. 

In the very near future, it will no longer be about whether technology can do something (the answer will almost always be yes) but whether it should do something—and why. We should always ask questions starting with when, why and who as far as technology is concerned. Especially the questions that start with who are very important since technology is a great source of power. 

We should also ask a lot of questions in order to evaluate our progress and the boundaries between humanity and machines. Most of the times the answer won’t be a straight no or yes but it is still important to ask questions. The most important question to ask is: Will technology increase inequality, or serve to lessen it? The digital divide that is increasingly becoming obvious during the lockdown has already given us a hidden answer.

In addition, social distancing that is inevitable during the pandemic has been facilitated by technology. However, it seems that humans may not be as productive when they are away from each other even if they can use state-of-the art technology. There is scientific evidence that the best solutions develop when people interact in close proximity which is the opposite of physical distance. Further research has shown that communication declines when there is distancing. The closer we are, the more we communicate, and the more we communicate, the more and the better we create. The ability to innovate in collaboration will become more important as technology advances.

Face-to-face is still a more effective way to interact but if the online meeting is the only choice, groups with high RME (Reading the Mind in the Eyes) scores will produce the best results. Face-to-face interaction is more effective, but, if the meeting has to be carried online, people with high RME scores are more effective than others. Another conclusion from research is that women can make the group smarter. Thus, interaction in a group becomes more efficient when women take part in it. On the other hand, competing for status poisons a group’s effectiveness regardless of gender composition. It destroys the performance advantages that women bring to a group. Values like empathy and collaboration seem that they are even more important in the exponential age.

On the other hand, there are always exceptions to the rules as far as humans are concerned. Putting people together can often prompt groupthink which is a phenomenon that reinforces each other’s already acquired long-held beliefs. That means that groupthink is against creativity. Moreover, in groups in which people don’t trust each other there is no creativity. That’s why the most creative groups of all are groups of few people. 

Exponential technology in education and training

Exponential technologies are impacting: a. what we need to learn, b. how we view schooling and society and c. how we will teach and learn in the future. 

Computer skills are increasingly becoming as important as writing and reading and are taught to children as young as five. Moreover, helping young people to develop complex task skills is the best way to prepare them for future jobs. Another interesting topic in education is the set of 21st century skills that the World Economic Forum released in the New Vision for Education Report. 

In the coming years people should have a full understanding of technology and science because they will live in a world where technology will make things more simple and more complicated at the same time.

Educational technologies that can promote STEM education

STEM education is about technology and can be promoted by technology. Technologies that can be very helpful to STEM practice are: 

Virtual reality. VR is important in education because it engages students as it is an immersive technology that it has also been used in game industry. The three-dimensional nature of VR aids with learning and the virtual reality experience is more motivating for students. Studies show that a virtual environment can stimulate learning and comprehension. 

“Clickers” or “key-pads”. “Clickers” or “key-pads” is classroom technology that allows students to respond and interact through small hand-held transmitters. Clickers usually have a 10-digit numeric keypad and not only send a signal but also indicate whether it was received. 

Each clicker has a unique signal and as a result the student who answers can be identified and recorded. Answers can be displayed on the projection screen. Clickers are an effective tool especially in large classes because they engage students by enhancing their active participation and enjoyment of the class. They increase attendance and retention. They are most effective when they are combined with peer and cooperative learning. The anonymity of clickers offers many advantages to students who say that they like keeping their answers private because it’s easy to block their neighbors’ view when they use a keypad. 

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). A MOOC is an open online course that is open to a large audience. Research proves that the student population who attends the courses are mostly young and well-educated males. They are also employed and a majority of them comes from developed countries. Many platforms supported by universities and colleges offer MOOCS on a great variety of subjects. 

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a network of connected physical real objects with embedded computational and networking capabilities. In this way, the physical world is linked through the web and smart buildings, homes and cities can be created. This improves the way we live and learn and it changes the way we work and play.

In addition, there is “Internet of Me” that includes smart watches, smart clothes (smart glass), head mounted cameras, etc. Wearable technologies have many possible applications in education and training. With wearable technologies learning can happen anywhere and anytime.

Cloud computing provides access to resources that can be requested and configured by the user. In education, cloud computing can provide e-learning services, (e.g., virtual worlds, simulations, video streaming). It gives teachers the necessary tools for lectures and labs according to the learners’ needs. New scenarios and innovations are possible through cloud-computing. 

Conclusion

Making the most of current opportunities rather than setting long-term plans is a winning strategy since the world is changing rapidly. Furthermore, the current situation includes opportunities but also alarming signs. Technology is a great tool as long as it serves humanity. The same applies even more to education because education is a process that celebrates the innermost nature of humanity. Technology should never take over and replace the interaction between teachers and students. If this ever happens the very essence of education will be lost. 

 

About Rania Lampou

Rania Lampou is a Global Educator, a multi award-winning STEM instructor, an ICT teacher trainer and a neuroeducation researcher in Greece. Currently, she is a STEM instructor at the Greek Astronomy and Space Company (Annex Salamis) and she is also working at the Greek Ministry of Education, at the Directorate of Educational Technology and Innovation where she writes STE(A)M projects for Greek schools.

She has been awarded many national and international prizes (so far 73) and she is a “Global Teacher Award 2020” (AKS Awards) winner and a “Global Teacher Prize finalist 2019” (Varkey Foundation). Recently she has been selected as “Global Icon 2020” featured in “Passion Vista” Magazine, among the top 20 women entrepreneurs featured in “Fortune India” and among the 100 most successful women in business featured in an Amazon book. She promotes STEM vision by introducing STEM in astronomy and physics projects and combines STEM with Language Teaching. She is the founder of eight innovative international projects that focus on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

 Furthermore, she is an author of scientific books for kids, a social activist, a Global Peace Ambassador and she has received many humanitarian awards from International Humanitarian Organizations. She is an Editorial Board Member of many journals. She has presented her research in numerous international conferences and e-conferences, she collaborates with many organizations and she has published work in various journals.

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