Category Archives: emerging technologies

Staying ahead of the game

I’ve just had the pleasure of being a part of an intensive two-day Deep Learning Lab in Christchurch with educators from the NZ schools involved in the global NPDL project. Final day keynote speaker was Kaila Colbin, a TEDx licensee, and NZ Ambassador for Singularity University. Kaila shared a compelling message about the impact of exponential change, explaining how our traditional, linear approaches to coping with change simply won’t cut it as we step forward into the future.

Much of this change is can be seen in the area of technology, across all walks of life, from education, to transport, to health and so on. New Zealand current stands pretty well in this area according to the recently released Digital Evolution Index (DEI) from the Fletcher business school at Tufts University in Boston. This report is basically a digital pulse of 60 developed countries.

The report is a data-driven holistic evaluation of the progress of the digital economy across 60 countries, combining more than 100 different indicators across four key drivers: Supply Conditions, Demand Conditions, Institutional Environment, and Innovation and Change. It segments the 60 countries into Stand Outs, Stall Outs, Break Outs and Watch Outs. New Zealand is one of three countries are notable as standouts even within the Stand Out segment, the others being Singapore and the UAE. The report identifies these three as having a unique policy-led digital strategy and a narrative that may be considered by other nations as worthy of emulation or adoption.

This is great news for New Zealand, and credit to the many innovators and risk takers in our midst who have stepped out and created opportunities to develop new products and services that utilise these technologies. It’s also a testament to the many businesses, tertiary providers and schools that provide opportunities for staff/students to pursue their interest in digital technologies – and gives weight to the argument for a digital technologies curriculum I can hear some say.

While we have good cause to celebrate the result, Kaila’s words regarding exponential change keep ringing in my ears – and reminding me that in this world we cannot afford to sit on our laurels. As the DEI report highlights in the section about countries in the Stand Out category:

“…sustaining consistently high momentum over time is challenging, as innovation-led expansions are often lumpy phenomena. To stay ahead, these countries need to keep their innovation engines in top gear and generate new demand, failing which they risk stalling out.”

Herein lies the crunch. The biggest challenge, according to this report, will inevitably come from the group of countries in the Break Out category – those that are low-scoring in their current states of becoming digital but are evolving rapidly. According to the report key Break Out countries that have the potential to become the Stand Out countries of the future are China, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, and Russia.

Which brings me to the point of my reflection. Our continued success in this area will require a substantial amount of effort and focus if we aren’t to be overtaken. In our schools this means a significant change in emphasis in the way we think about the ways we teach about, with and through digital technologies, for while the evidence at the ‘output’ end is currently encouraging, the evidence of what is happening for the next generation of digital expertise in NZ isn’t as hopeful.

Rachel Bolsted’s recent research published by NZCER paints a picture of increasingly focused use of digital technologies to support both student and teacher learning, but falls well short of being convincing that the sector really has a grasp of the significance of the exponential nature of the change afoot.

The latest OECD report on Students, computers and learning paints a similarly concerning picture, highlighting across all countries involved that while teachers say they value 21st century pedagogies their practice doesn’t reflect that. In several of the cross-country comparisons in this report, New Zealand appears close to or below the OECD average.

The issue here is about the pace of change, and the fact that we cannot afford to maintain an approach based on our traditional ‘linear’ models of change management and approaches to PLD. While NZ may be able to celebrate having a high level digital strategy approach as identified by the DEI, we have to ensure this is being exploited fully at the everyday level in our schools and kura, and taken advantage of to ensure that our young people are given the opportunity to grow fully as innovators, design thinkers and digitally fluent young people. This is not about simply focusing then on developing a greater number of coders or computer engineers (as necessary as those skills may be) – but must focus on building the capabilities and contribution of a wide range of people, that includes the coders and engineers, but also the writers, communicators, designers, artists… building and creating multi-disciplinary teams for whom collaborative activity comes naturally, and where the principles of design thinking strategies guide their involvement.

The Future of Jobs

Future of JobsFor my first blog post of 2016 I thought it appropriate to feature a 'future focused' piece. As the parent of an 18 year old who is currently assessing his career options I was interested to read this morning a report from the World Economic Forum titled The Future of Jobs that has just been released. 

The report is premised on the idea that the world is currently in the midst of a Fourth Industrial Revolution, characterised by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres. The authors argue that this revolution is not simply an extension of the digital revolution that began in the middle of the last century. While it builds on the developments of this revolution, it is significantly different in three ways: 1. the speed of the development, 2. the scope of what is affected, and 3. the impact on systems change. 

Key drivers of change in this revolution are the emerging technology breakthroughs in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage, and quantum computing.

This interests me as an educator as I consider how these things are (or aren't) reflected in our curriculum – not as an argument for introducing these as defined areas of study necessarily, rather, how seriously we need to consider the development of understandings, skills and competentices that will enable our young people to participate fully in a world where these things are shaping the way we live and the jobs we do. This is not simply an argument for increasing the focus on technical skills – a far wider set of skills and competencies will be required to thrive in this 'fourth revolution'.

On average, by 2020, more than a third of the desired core skill sets of most occupations will be comprised of skills that are not yet considered crucial to the job today, according to our respondents. Overall, social skills— such as persuasion, emotional intelligence and teaching others—will be in higher demand across industries than narrow technical skills, such as programming or equipment operation and control. In essence, technical skills will need to be supplemented with strong social and collaboration skills.

This is not a new message – this thinking is exactly what informed and underpins the emphasis on key competency development in the New Zealand Curriculum! The perspective added by this report, nearly 15 years later, is the reinforcement of how important and urgent it is that we take our curriclum seriously, given the data revealed here about the shifts in job types and opportunities that are occurring. 

While I hear a lot of talk among some of my colleagues about 'slowing down' and 'getting the basics right', we owe it to our mokopuna and tamariki to ensure that the things we prioritise in the precious time they are in our care at school take into account the sorts of trends outlined in this World Economic Forum report. 

A key factor for educators and our education system is to consider how we might re-think our approaches in schools and tertiary insitutions, given that the exponential pace of change. During previous industrial revolutions, it often took decades to build the training systems and labour market institutions needed to develop major new skill sets on a large scale. Given the upcoming pace and scale of disruption brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, however, this is simply not be an option. 


Pocketlab video

A colleague, Dr Paul Lowe, sent me a link this evening to this intriguing project called "Pocketlab"

Before he left NZ to take a job in Abu Dhabi, Paul was a leading science teacher here in NZ, and I remember well his experiments with using geo-location technology to monitor the downward movement of a parachutist, measring acceleration, velocity, and the size of the arcs through which the parachutist moved as he descended. All of this intrigued me – physics in the real world instead of the traditional trolley on rails in a lab – and measured through the imaginative use of computer-linked sensors etc. Paul was very imaginative in this way and through his work I came to appreciate the incredile potential of sensors in the real world to bring science alive. 

So it came as no surprise tonight to receive this link – with the promise of a very simple sensing device that can be used in conjunction with a mobile phone to carry out a range of scientific experiments "in the field". Here's how it's descibed on the website:

PocketLab is a wireless sensor for exploring the world and building science experiments. We built PocketLab for the curious explorers, educators, students, and makers to bring science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) to life like never before. PocketLab connects with a single button to a smartphone or tablet and instantly streams measurement data that you can see and record. PocketLab measures acceleration, force, angular velocity, magnetic field, pressure, altitude, and temperature. Using our cloud software, you can easily analyze your data, create graphs, and integrate your data with other software. PocketLab has the same features as lab equipment that costs thousands of dollars but is low cost and intuitive to use.


The convergence continues

A couple of years ago I began using the promo video for Google Glass in some of my presentations to illustrate the way technology is beginning to become a 'part of us', rather than something that is entirely external (i.e. on our desk or in our pocket). My prediction was (and is) that this sort of convergence will continue, and with the recent announcement from Google about it's development of wearable technology, we see more evidence of this occurring. 

From a technical point of view this is all very interesting, and provides yet more gadgets for the technophiles to eagerly wait in line to purchase. For educators, however, it provides an interesting set of challenges and conundrums. Even now I visit schools that have a 'no mobile phone' policy, posting warnings to students of 'invisible, inaudible or in the office' etc. because we perceive student use of such devices as being a disturbance to the task in hand – learning.

And disruptive they can be – the perpetual texting that can occur, mindless trolling through YouTube or watching sales on Trademe – we've seen it all. But what about when students are actually engaged in their learning, and have no time for such trivia – what use could be made of these devices to support their learning? 

In the past two or three years I've seen an increasing number of schools and teachers begin to promote this sort of responsible use with their students – with encouraging results. I've interviewed students who have articulated very capably how the ability to use these devices for 'just in time' learning has been a real assett to their learning for instance. 

So as we move towards greater convergance, when it will be increasingly difficult to identify exactly when a student is 'connected' via their technology, what sorts of learning experiences will we need to design for them – and what sort of assessment practices will be required? 

Granted, at the moment it would still be possible to demand the removal of glasses and watches as students enter an examination room – but what about when the 'device' becomes a part of the jewellery they are adorned with or the clothing they wear?

In thinking about the way forward on this we should not be focused on the technology and ways in which we can harness or control it in our learning environments. Instead, we should be focused on what we are doing to promote forms of modern learning practice, that foster creativity, collaboration and connectivity – and where learners will be encouraged to make use of these emerging forms of technology to enable, empower and embrace their learning. 

Augmented reality apps


I remember back in 2007 when I got by first Android phone and installing an early verison of Layar. We used it for all sorts of things then, from creating orienteering trails to historical walks through the city. 

Things have moved on a lot since those days, and now there are all sorts of applications and devices that draw on augmented reality technologies to provide you with an 'augmented' view of the world around you. 

This list of Top 20 Augmented Reality Apps for Android and iPhone/iPad Users from DeepKnowHow provides an insight into what is now possible – from basic navigation to star maps! 

As time passes, I'm even more convinced that augmented reality will become one of the key technologies used in our classrooms to support student learning, providing rich contextual customized learning environment and contents for each individual.

Something we need to bear in mind here is that the technologies conventionally used for augmented learning incorporate touchscreens, voice recognition, and interaction, through which the learning contents can be geared toward learner's needs by displaying plain texts, images, audio and video output. These are all characteristics of the devices many of our students carry around with them in their pockets – they're not reliant on the previously expensive equipment owned by schools! 

The other thing is that in addition to being users of AR, many of the apps appearing now provide student with the opportunity to simply and easily create their own AR experiences. Definitely something to keep on our radar!

Innovating Pedagogy 2013

innovatingPeadagogy2013This second report written by a small group of academics in the Institute of Educational Technology and the Faculty of Mathematics, Computing and Technology at The Open University proposes ten innovations that are already in currency but have not yet had a profound influence on education. The list includes many of the same technologies identified in similar lists and trends elsewhere (inlcuding CORE's ten trends), which of itself is indicative of the fact that we ought to be at least mindful of what these things are and the potential impact they may have on what we do as educators. 

Like their 2012 list, the emphasis is on the tertiary space, but with lots to inform what is happening and likely to happen in the school sector. 

Interesting to me is the fact that this list contains some of the same elements as the previous list, but doesn't really illustrate the connection between the two – to illustrate the 'trending' that is occurring, and how the ecology of education is being impacted by the technologies identified. The question this raises for me is…

"Does the fact that some of the things appear to have 'dropped off' the list in subsequent years mean that that:

  1. the prediction was wrong and didn't eventuate? 
  2. that the prediction did come to fruition and is now a part of the mainstream? or
  3. that the prediction has perhaps 'morphed' into one of the emerging themes identified?"

Compare the two lists here….

2012 2013
  1. Personal inquiry learning 
  2. Seamless learning 
  3. MOOCs
  4. Assessment for learning 
  5. New pedagogy for e-books 
  6. Publisher-led short courses 
  7. Badges to accredit learning
  8. Rebirth of academic publishing 
  9. Learning analytics
  10. Rhizomatic learning
  1. Badges to accredit learning
  2. Citizen inquiry
  3. Crowd Learning
  4. Digital scholarship
  5. Geo-learning
  6. Learning analytics
  7. Learning from gaming
  8. Maker culture
  9. MOOCs
  10. Seamless learning

It's easy enough to come up with lists, but understanding how these sorts of predictions eventuate is the real issue here, and where the real focus of attention needs to be (IMHO). Technological innovation (e.g. in NZ) has a history of failed attempts, false starts, and unforeseen consequences, alongside the 'disruptive' technologies that get to feature in the headlines.

In education it's easy enough to get caught up in the latest fad or fashion, but to understand deeply where these things may be taking us, and the potential impact on our work in the classroom and the pedagogies associated with that requires lots of ongoing communication, sharing and exploration of ideas. I'm grateful to the people at the OU for this contribution to the conversation, and challenge educators now to participate in the ongoing conversations that demonstrate the accuracy of these predictions…

  • where/how are you using or seeing these things used effectively?
  • in what ways are they actually shaping your pedagogical practice?
  • what are the actual drivers involved? The institution? The technology? The learners?
  • what are the barriers and emerging frustrations you see?
  • what are the opportunities and unexpected outcomes you observe?

Lots of food for thought… let's get the conversations going!

The PDF version of the report can be downloaded here


Thinking strategically about technology in schools


I had the privilege of attending the NZ Christian Schools Educ8NOW conference held at Elim Christian College today, where I presented a couple of workshops and hosted two 'connect' sessions for general discussion. My workshops focused on strategic issues – the first around how we can strategically plan our school's professional learning and development programme so that it caters for both personal needs and helps us achieve school wide goals. The second workshop was on using a pedagogical decision making model to support our thinking about technology investment, to ensure anything we do actually supports the teaching and learning in our schools and classrooms, as opposed to being introduced independent of that sort of thinking. 

My two presentations are available on Slideshare, and are linked from the presentations tab on this blog, and also from the links below:

Using a Concerns-based adoption model to plan effective PLD in your school

Using a pedagogically driven decision making process to make informed technology investment decisions


Disruptive Technologies that will transform us

McKinsey_disruptiveHaving recently spoken in Hamilton about the Ten Trends at a CORE Breakfast my mind is already thinking forward to what lies on the horizon for 2013, so it was with interest I read this morning the latest McKinsey report on Disruptive Technologies: advances that will transorm life, business, and the global economy

What I like about the McKinsey report is that it attempts to look beyond the usual hype and speculation that comes with an emerging technology, and dig a little deeper to examine the potential impact of that technology, why they consider it disruptive, and what both the benefits and challenges may be.

The report identifies twelve disruptive technologies, and provides a very useful analysis of each – supported by clear and easy to interpret graphics that make the task of digesting all of the information that much easier. 

The image below is captured from the pop-up gallery of disruptive technologies that can be accessed from the web site. It lists the twelve technologies that are examined in the report, showing the estimated potential economic impact of each.

Mckinsey_disruptive gallery

Of interest to me is the criteria used to determine what the McKinsey group actually mean by a disruptive technology. They identify three key things – speed, range of impact, and potential scale of economic value, which are represented in the report as follows…

  • The technology is rapidly advancing or experiencing breakthroughs. Disruptive technologies typically demonstrate a rapid rate of change in capabilities in terms of price/performance relative to substitutes and alternative approaches, or they experience breakthroughs that drive accelerated rates of change or discontinuous capability improvements.
  • The potential scope of impact is broad. To be economically disruptive, a technology must have broad reach.
  • Significant economic value could be affected. An economically disruptive technology must have the potential to create massive economic impact.
  • Economic impact is potentially disruptive. Technologies that matter have the potential to dramatically change the status quo.

Then there's the 'so what' part of thinking about all of this. Towards the end of the report, the authors summarise what they see as the implications for governments and policy makers. Among their advice is the following which I see as having huge implications for those of us involved in preparing young people for their future;

The biggest challenges for policy makers could involve the effects of technologies that have potentially large effects on employment. By 2025, technologies that raise productivity by automating jobs that are not practical to automate today could be on their way to widespread adoption. Historically, when labor-saving technologies were introduced, new and higher value-adding jobs were created. This usually happens over the long term. However, productivity without the innovation that leads to the creation of higher value-added jobs results in unemployment and economic problems, and some new technologies such as the automation of knowledge work could significantly raise the bar on the skills that workers will need to bring to bear in order to be competitive.

With the world of work predicted to change so markedly, it's simply no longer acceptable to sit back and us the nature of our assessment and other excuses as reasons for no pushing forward with a more future-focused view of our curriculum and how we present it. As educators we  need to be thinking more critically about the offerings we provide in our curriculum, and just how seriously we take the 'front half' of our (NZ) curriculum framework that deals with key competencies, for example.

In our schools, and in society more generally, we have some serious questions to address…

  • Do we truly understand and have grappled with the implications of what it means to 'raise thebar' on the skills that workers will need to bring to bear in order to be competitive? What does this mean for our students? what does this mean for the current and next generation of teachers in their own professional lives?
  • In our vision for the students in our schools currently, what is the emphasis we give to creating 'knowledge workers' for the future? Do we have an accepted understandin of what that means? How do we assess this?
  • As we move towards a more knowledge-based economy, with greater levels of automation of how do we avoid the consequent potential for unemployment and negative economic impact? 

Touch technology – but no touching

Interesting view of where the world of 'touch' technology could be heading – what implications could there be for this being used in education? Made me think of a conversation with my son about five years ago (aged 10) when he asked me when we might have the sorts of TV that show up as objects on the table that we could interact with. (via BBC News Click)

Thinking about BYOD

The topic of BYOD continues to be a hot topic in schools, with many schools I visit looking at investing in wireless technologies to support students (and staff) bringing their own device to school. While there appears to be agreement that the notion of BYOD is something to be pursued, there isn't a shared understanding of what that might mean in a school context. 

For instance, in one school I visited there was a tension between the view of students who wanted to be able to use whatever device they had in their pocket, and the view of teachers who wanted them all to have the same device in order to be able to use them for 'formal' learning activities in class (based on the perception that this will minimise the amount of technical assistance required, or a requirement for a certain level of performance to run installed software etc.)

In trying to resolve this in my own mind, and to make it possible to allow others to see how different philosophical positions may influence the implementation, I've drawn up the simple matrix above (click on it for a larger version).

On the 'y' axis is a continuum based on whether the device is specified or not specified. The 'x' axis is about purpose, ranging from using the device simply as a personal note-taking/research tool linking to cloud applications, to specialised devices capable of handling higher-end, specialised and installed applications. 

In each of the four quadrants are descriptions that illustrates the possible scenarios that emerge based on where on each continuum staff and school leadership decide their priorities lie.

For me, it is important that sufficient time and thought is devoted to getting agreement among staff, students and parents about the purpose and intent of any BYOD programme. I'd hope that this matrix may be handy to use in this process. 


In addition to the thinking represented in the matrix, the process of decision-making should involve the following:

  1. Prioritising the provision of a robust, enterprise level wireless network across the school.
  2. Include in the school network plan appropriate traffic management approaches to cater for the numbers of devices anticipated, policy decisions around filtering, and provision of storage and backup of student data.
  3. In-depth community engagement to ensure informed decisions are made about the extent of ownership, readiness to participate etc. and to ensure general buy-in.
  4. A thorough consultation with staff to ensure the devices will be used in conjunction with learning activity, and that this is supported by goals in the school’s Strategic plan, the school’s Curriculum plan and the ICT action plan.
  5. Professional development opportunities provided for staff.
  6. Development of a communications plan that outlines the purpose, intent and strategy for all stakeholders.
  7. Supporting policy and procedures, including updating of the acceptable use policy to reflect individual ownership of devices.
  8. Consideration of what software will be required for use, or whether the devices will be used primarily for web-based applications (i.e. Google docs) rather than installed applications.
  9. Consideration be given to the provision of power outlets and places for re-charging if required. (NOTE: as the battery life of most of the portable devices nowadays will last for the duration of a school day, many schools are going with a policy of not making provision for large scale charging of devices, instead making it the student’s responsibility to have their device fully charged before they come to school.)

I'd be interested in feedback from others on how they've addressed this challenge?