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Technology and education: Opportunities and side-effects

Written by Nera Kuljanic and Sara Cagol

Technology arouses great expectations as far as its impact on learning and teaching is concerned; yet to date these are only partially satisfied. Although there has been huge public investment and progress has been made, the pace of integration of technology in education is slower than expected. This may be due to the fact that evidence of its benefits remains elusive. The Scientific Foresight Unit (STOA) study on Teaching and learning technology options, spotlights technology options for education in Europe, presenting both the opportunities and the risks involved. Lead Panel Member for the study is Paul RÜBIG, Chair of the STOA Panel.

Maksim Kabakou / Shutterstock

Education technology encompasses a wide range of tools, services and methodologies that, when used correctly and in combination, help develop the potential of the education environment. The study identifies four underlying trends affecting this environment. Firstly, enabling technologies improve broadband internet access for European households and schools, thus promoting full and fair access to online educational resources. Secondly, cloud technologies, allow delivery of on-demand services through the network by third parties, encouraging information and content sharing, and collaborative working environments. Thirdly, mobile devices facilitate a more dynamic and user-friendly use of technology by shifting the focus from fixed connectivity, based on shared personal computers, towards mobile and multimedia personal connectivity. Lastly, technical support is a core issue for the long-term availability of technological improvements, which require constant maintenance.

When coupled with content quality and equal access to tools, these trends generate great opportunities for developing better, innovative educational systems that generate new ways of teaching and learning. On the other hand, whilst government investment in technology for education is unquestionably necessary, emerging learning and teaching technologies engender complex and intertwined factors which might hinder process outcomes. To put this more plainly, varying levels of government investment could foster inequalities among and within European countries, thus contributing to broadening the gap between the ‘consumers’ and ‘producers’ of online content (known as the ‘second digital divide’). Personalised education based on learner data analytics might also spark legal and security concerns in terms of privacy and data protection. Successful massive collaborative development and use of online content also needs to be based on standards that allow interoperability on different devices and platforms. Additionally, the study raises awareness of the potential effects of new technologies on the publishing industry, as increased demand for digital content threatens to reduce revenue for traditional publishers.

Technology for education could revolutionise the teaching and learning process; yet technology by itself does not lead to better education. It rather depends on whether the various stakeholders are able to effectively integrate the technology in the educational process. How can policy makers draw upon the potential benefits of using emerging technologies in education whilst simultaneously avoiding their less-desirable effects? To tackle this complex question, the STOA study identifies several policy options on four themes: technology deployment, fostering stakeholder engagement, improving competitiveness and evaluating the effects of different policy actions on educational outcomes.

To discuss these issues, STOA is organising a workshop on 6 May 2015.

 

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