Edtech: What’s what and what’s coming?

Sanjesh Sharma

Sanjesh Sharma is a Naace board member and the founder of New Ways to Learn. With an MSc in Technology Management, a PGCE in Design Technology and ICT, and certification across Google, Microsoft and more, he has dedicated his career to providing teachers with the tools and ideas they need to enhance learning and improve outcomes.
Website: http://www.newwaystolearn.com/.

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Image credit: Flickr // Tom Image credit: Flickr // Tom

We’re surrounded by incredible innovations in technology for education, but the terminology surrounding this and the types of learning made possible can often be confusing. We throw around terms like “flipped learning” and “gamification”, but what do these actually mean in practice?

Flipped learning

In a traditional lesson setting, the teacher will try and cram in as much information into an hour as possible, so the main idea behind flipped learning is that teachers can create resources for their students which can be accessed outside of the classroom environment.

A great example of this is the use of video. As part of the YouTube generation, young people often watch a great deal of video content on a regular basis; it’s a medium that they are comfortable with, so tapping into this interest can be really beneficial. Teachers can use a variety of tools to create video content, which can then be hosted on the school website or virtual learning environment (VLE) for students to access ahead of the lesson. By the time the lesson starts, the class has already established an understanding of the topic, meaning more time can be spent in the classroom actually discussing the topic, asking questions and doing activities.

This “Teachers can use a variety of tools to create video content.”can also have an impact on attitudes towards homework. By changing the spectrum to include a number of other activities as well as the traditional set textbook questions, for example, watching a video or completing a quiz, young people are more likely to remain engaged and inspired by their learning. There are a number of great free resources to use in developing these materials, such as Office Mix, which is a tool for teachers to create enriched Powerpoints; and EDpuzzle, which allows them to take a YouTube video and add their own voiceover. This gives teachers more creative ways of pushing content to their students. Tools like Google Classroom and Microsoft Classroom are also equally as good at getting media-rich content in front of students outside of schools hours.

Blended learning

The idea of blended learning is that it combines online and digital resources with traditional learning practices in the classroom. For example, some of what you teach in a lesson might be working from books, whereas another part of the session may be based on online activities.

There are a number of organisations out there that follow this model of learning. One of the most prominent examples of this is the Open University. They offer a wide range of courses where students are expected to complete the programme online, with some element of presentation from the teacher or instructor. This promotes an increase in independent learning, and a lot of schools use their VLE, portals like Moodle or tools like Microsoft Classroom, to achieve this. Sites like BlendSpace by the TES are good examples of how to combine online content with traditional instructional materials.

Augmented reality

There is a wide variety of potential implications for augmented reality (AR) in schools, especially in creating interactive resources for both students and parents. For example, one of the most exciting developments is in using codes on paper that can be scanned to unlock content. This might be a learning resource that allows “Students can unlock ‘badges’ for their achievements, or even be rewarded with bitcoins.”pupils to hold their device over a code and see various bits of exciting content. For example, in a lesson on prehistoric creatures, the paper might bring to life a 3D image of a dinosaur that can move around on the paper. We’ve seen how popular this kind of AR can be among children in the release of Pokémon GO, so bringing elements of this into the classroom may engage learners with real, visual representations that weren’t necessarily possible before.

The benefits of AR don’t stop there; it can even be used to enhance the home-school relationship by improving parental communications and engagement. In this case, a piece of paper sent home to families might have a code that allows them to see a video of the morning’s assembly, whereas another area of the paper might link to details of school trips or a list of equipment needed for the week ahead.


The idea behind gamification is essentially that pupils work through a game that is constructed around learning experiences. The best example of this right now is Minecraft, where students work in a collaborative space, and have to find resources to build structures, make tools and explore the landscape. This environment can be applied to a variety of subjects, and students can unlock ‘badges’ for their achievements, or even be rewarded with bitcoins for completing an objective, which can be used to make purchases online. It’s very much built around the fact that children enjoy playing games and this can actually be capitalised upon to help them learn better. Mozilla Open Badges is a good example of gamification in education.

What’s to come?

There are a number of things that we’re starting to see emerge in education technology that could have a real impact in the way we teach and learn. Possibly most notable among these is the use of virtual reality (VR), which like augmented reality, can enhance the learning experience with visual representations, but VR provides a fully-immersive environment through a headset. One school that I’ve worked with is currently experimenting with a VR lab, where each child has access to a HTC Vive VR headset, looking at how they can create content for this space. With VR, whole classes can go on round-the-world field trips without ever leaving the school. If you haven’t tried this already, check out Google Expeditions and a relatively cheap Google Cardboard DIY VR headset. With the right content, you can see exactly how this would fall into place.

Another thing is artificial intelligence and robotics. A lot of schools are already experimenting with these as part of their work with the computing curriculum, and it’s interesting to see how they’re using it to contribute to computational thinking. For example, some schools have used iPads that use apps like Tickle to interact with robotic arms or flying drones. One thing’s for sure though, we’re sure to see more of these things, along with others, breaking onto the scene very soon!

What edtech is currently catching your eye? Let us know below!

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