Beyond the classroom | How technology is changing schools

As technology evolves, society and every sector within it evolves. Education, for instance, has transformed enormously since the beginning of the 21st century as more online resources have become available to aid the learning of pupils. Additionally, the teaching of IT and the use of computers for school work means that the way in which people learn has changed far beyond the traditional concept of a teacher in front of a class, writing on a blackboard. Children learn skills that did not exist before as STEM subjects develop further and garner interest from pupils as well as encouragement from teaching staff.

As well as new subjects to learn about being introduced through technological advancement, the possibilities for interaction and collaboration have grown. Classrooms were once fairly limited spaces with only classmates in the same room to work and generate idea with. With access to the internet, the opportunity for discovery is vast, and rather than only having books, teachers and other students as resources, the online realm provides endless articles, images, perspectives and information. With technology like video conferencing, students have a platform to communicate with people beyond the classroom walls. For example, if a class had a history project to work on, with the consent and guidance of a teacher, they could find a historian to live chat with and learn from. The education of children and young people if no longer restricted to one school or town, students can talk about what they have been learning with other students across the world with messaging services available to them.

Technology has also impacted the roles with schools. For example, teachers were once responsible for the entirety of student learning, but now they guide students through information with the help of technology and the internet, giving students the agency to discover information for themselves. With artificial intelligence increasing in quality and deployment, the way in which papers are marked has also changed in some schools. Although many teachers are still responsible -if not entirely, partially for the marking of work, as AI (artificial intelligence) technology is further tested and modified and becomes smarter, for such technology to be used as an independent grading tool is fast becoming a reality.

There are already some cases where AI is being tested specifically to grade work in schools. For example, Several schools in China are using artificial intelligence for grading, according to the South China Morning Post.  One in every four schools in the country is testing machine learning systems with the intention of students’ work being automatically graded. The AI uses an evolving pool of knowledge to understand the “meaning” of pupils’ essays. It can identify issues with style, structure, and tone. It can read both English and Chinese and is supposedly so perceptive that it can detect when a student is straying from the subject. The decade of grading software uses deep learning algorithms to compare their own grading with human teachers’ grading. In a test involving 120 million people, the South China Morning Post alleges, the AI matched human graders around 92% of the time. Researchers hope software like it will help reduce grading inconsistencies and reduce the time teachers spend grading essays.

Such technology would by no means leave teachers without jobs, as grading is one part of a diverse role. A teacher is essential in order to provide students with guidance and monitoring their behaviour. It will be a long time from now if teachers are ever replaced altogether. Robots cannot offer the same encouragement or emotional support as teachers, and therefore a positive learning environment would be difficult to achieve without human teachers. Technology has enormous potential and has already achieved so much in education, but this does not make it an adequate replacement for teachers, it is simply an effective learning tool and assistant to the teaching and marking process.

Although attending a physical school remains the norm, for children who are home schooled and adults in higher education, online platforms have revolutionised the learning process and achievement of qualifications. It is now a simple task for teachers/lecturers and learners to contact each other via email and instant messaging services. Work can be submitted online via sites like Blackboard (a platform used by higher education institutions) where reading lists can be accessed and booking library slots and more can be achieved. With technology like this, education is more accessible to people learning from home or with restricted mobility.  

The evolution of technology and its application in schools, and outside of school for remote learning, has made the learning experience much more vast, flexible, and easier to monitor. With more advanced technology developed at an extraordinary rate, there are more subjects to learn about (e.g., AI, IoT and medical technology) and more ways to learn. As new technologies are tested for academic use, new possibilities and ways to optimise the way in which people learn will arise. It is an exciting time to learn, with limitless access to subjects and new ways to consume information. It is difficult to know whether automated grading will reach widespread use, but the results of the testing in China give us some insight into an objective and scientific approach to grading that is showing real potential to meet the standards of teachers.

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