What Does the Future of EdTech Look Like in 2021?

The end of the year is ideal for reflecting on the year passed and looking towards the future. Accordingly, during December, I have dedicated some time to focus on the key trends I expect to be the future of EdTech in 2021.

It is so easy to underestimate the depth and breadth of the EdTech industry and nigh on impossible to visualize the over $5 trillion ecosystems that it forms a part of.

I exist in the realm of K12 digital and 21st-century skills education with an increasing amount of time spent tackling challenges around career-focused learning for students aged 16-24. Sitting on the boards and advisory groups of schools, education foundations, and nonprofits, I am fortunate to experience a broad spectrum of education from several different perspectives throughout each year.

EdTech Investment

EdTech took a front-row seat in the global business landscape in 2020, with investors making significant bets on established and larger companies in growth investment rounds. However, I feel that venture capital investors can struggle to balance early-stage educational investment with the return demands of their investment models. Driven by a lack of specialization in specific domains of education, this investment, even with an overall sector-based generalization, is highly complex. They also lack confidence in the strength of their networks to influence growth within a huge institutional addressable market and a consumer segment that can suffer from poor unit economics. 

That said, several education investors with precise specializations are now establishing early-stage funds, presenting a solid opportunity for high-quality investment in early revenue stage companies. Well-tested and validated through the pandemic, these companies will be more robust than usual for their stage and likely undervalued. 

In 2021, while it will still be a journey back towards average, schools will begin to operate with more established processes and protocols, providing more stability for smaller but growing EdTech companies to gain a foothold and deliver initial results. With this in mind, I believe investors will deploy a continued investment growth to a broader range of companies across the future of the EdTech industry in the coming year. 

Online Learning

Educators already anticipated online learning to be an area of significant growth in 2020. Accelerated by COVID-19, online learning has permeated traditional schools to a greater extent than previously foreseen. As a result, a good standard of online delivery of formal education was achieved, and its status and perception in the eyes of both educators and parents have improved. In 2021, schools will determine which aspects of learning were enhanced by online learning and which remain best delivered in person. This will drive growth in the future of EdTech through the definition and practice of hybrid educational models and the technology and training that supports them.

Growth in Pedagogical Technology

Many approaches to online learning have focused on implementing video conferencing tools and achieving full adoption of learning management systems (LMS) by faculties. While an initial step in the right direction, this combination of administrative and communication technology does not provide a seamless transition between offline and online learning or the ability for the same understanding to be delivered in the same amount of time. 

Elementary school educators have struggled to deliver the full spectrum of learning online – a challenge that remains unresolved and not likely to be solved any time soon – however, middle and high school learning has continued online with less disruption. Overall, time-constrained learning has focused on tested topics and exam preparation, resulting in a significant rollback in enrichment and elective education, arguably more relevant to students’ futures in the real world than much of traditionally tested learning. 

I believe educators will begin to adopt and seek pedagogical technology tools in 2021 that focus on content creation and engagement, real-time student learning data, and feedback to empower best practices and bridge the gap for effective teaching between LMS and communication tools.

LMS Consolidation and Interoperability

With technology tools remaining at the heart of quality teaching and learning experiences, streamlining their usage and allowing educators to move quickly between systems will become critical. It will also mean a growing demand for and a definition of the requirements for interoperability. Currently, the fragmentation of the LMS market and unpredictability of application programming interfaces (APIs) is a barrier to broader and more consistent standards for interoperability. I believe this will begin to be resolved as the LMS market starts to consolidate towards the latter part of 2021.

Data and Privacy

Against a backdrop of increasing regulation and legal scrutiny, growth in pedagogical technologies and interoperability will lead to more real-time educational data being produced about student learning in 2021 than ever before. EdTech companies will need to be acutely aware of data privacy, protection, and storage requirements at both the consumer and institutional customer levels. In addition, global companies will need to consider effective data regions within their technology infrastructures and understand the security and architectural implications of scaling their technology, particularly where accurate time data is involved. 

Career-focused Learning and Assessment

As many developed nations continue with employment stimulus packages, the economic repercussions of COVID-19 have yet to be fully felt around the world. Going into 2021, however, these effects will become more significant, and unemployment levels will likely increase to levels similar to the post-war era of the mid-20th century. This will accelerate career-focused learning, re-skilling, and reduce university application and enrollment. As a result, people focus on faster and cheaper means of validating skills and experience that give them employment in developing, likely technology-driven industries. For the future of EdTech, this will lead to growth in opportunities for curriculum creators, new assessment providers, and credentialing organizations that have strong partnerships with the industry. 

At this point, you might be wondering why I have not mentioned artificial intelligence in the trends that I am predicting. I do believe that meaningful AI implementations in education will take place, just not in 2021. We are still witnessing the early phase of developing validated solutions for real-time data and analytics in machine learning. The longitudinal validation of AI in education and complexities of algorithmic bias will make progress slow, while other EdTech developments will have more impactful and verifiable immediate results.

Although it has been said that 2020 was when the impact of EdTech on education was felt, I would say that the door has only been cracked open. Instead, it has been a year of learning and discovery in preparation for a truly significant level of adoption at a later date. 

2021 will be a year when the disruption of 2020 becomes the new normal, and it is against this backdrop that the future of EdTech will indeed be defined.

Why JavaScript Is a Better Programming Language for Children

Back in 2015, the “kids coding in school” movement started picking up traction. Today, programming languages are being taught in thousands of schools globally. With the availability of many programming languages, educators face a dilemma on which programming language they can introduce to students. We found that schools usually opt to get their students started on platforms like Scratch or MIT’s App Inventor which are structured with drag and drop interfaces. The visual interface and the engaging sounds and animations help captivate young learners and get them started. But once they’ve overcome the ‘getting started hurdle,’ with respect to progression, the questions that naturally come to educators’ minds are “What’s next?” or “What about real coding/programming?”

Today, kids are exposed and use a plethora of high-tech products that affect the level of standards they set on what they can build with programming. Although the drag and drop interfaces are effective in introducing the concepts of programming, they usually fall short on meeting the expectations of young learners on what to learn next. 

To be able to deliver a technology curriculum that meets their expectations, we at BSD Education choose to begin student journeys by first listening to what they have to say and understand what they are looking for. This leads to feedback from 8 – 10 year-olds asking for real-world application:

I love coding on scratch, but i haven’t built anything like the apps i download on my phone

Can I use Scratch to build instagram?

How do I build an E-Commerce website to make money?

Nowadays, most interactions students experience occur on the web. Understanding the web starts by learning HTML and CSS, the fundamental coding languages that run on the front of every website in the world. This is compulsory for every student to learn to be able to express themselves through the web. After understanding the fundamental code, creating further complexity requires the learning of a programming language to allow for interactivity and functionalities into projects. 

At this stage, we discovered there are two popular approaches to programming that educators usually take –  Python and JavaScript. While our online platform BSD Online supports both JavaScript and Python, we opted to introduce students to JavaScript first. Here’s why:

Accessibility with any computer

Our mission as a organization is to make technology accessible to all. With JavaScript, all students need is a computer with an internet connection and a browser, no installations, no setup time.

Interactive, real-world projects which help with student retention

When teaching young learners programming, the traditional approach is to have them learn the fundamentals in a text-based environment known as the console.

Image by Codeacademy.com

But here the usual issue we discovered is the drop in engagement. Students lose interest and are not motivated to go beyond what the curriculum offers. If this continues, it would be considered as a failure in our duty as educators to inspire them to deepen their learning. JavaScript allows a natural progression after learning HTML and CSS.

We introduced it in one of our technology projects such as building an online coffee shop. In this project, they got to build an e-commerce site as well as decide on what to sell and how to price it. To further enhance the experience, students were able to share their shop to anyone, anywhere, with a click of a button. This project offers the real-world aspect to the students and what ignites their curiosity and brings the lightbulb spark that we educators always want to see among them.

Click on the images below to try these projects out yourself:

Online Coffee Shop - BSD Education
An online coffee shop built by Eugene, aged 12

Snake Game - BSD Education
A snake game built by Chloe, aged 9 (Use W,A,S,D to move)

Ease of accessing technology depth

While both languages provide an almost infinite amount of depth, we found students building more complex projects for their personal projects using JavaScript vs when they built with Python. Adding sound to create engagement for the end-user, creating more complex levels in their games, thinking about visual animations on their websites to help visitors find content, are some examples we started seeing students build into their projects.

With technology like Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence requiring steep learning curves, JavaScript allows us to scaffold the experience so children as young as 10 years old can create amazing projects using Machine Learning.

AI Personal Stylist - BSD Education
AI Personal Stylist – Built with BSDs AI curriculum – Grade 6

To conclude, we recommend JavaScript as the programming language to start with for children due to its strength in accessibility, ease of use to create visually-appealing projects, and the convenience of being able to dive into more complex concepts.

Programming plays a key role as one of the many digital skills kids will need in the future. At BSD Education, we aim to continue developing curriculum and technology to help schools educate young learners. We believe the future is exciting and holds infinite opportunities for our young minds today and if we can nurture them to continue creating and learning, the possibilities are endless.

Will Artificial Intelligence Substitute Teachers?

As a part-time lecturer at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) and my consulting work at Blu Artificial Intelligence, I’m often asked how artificial intelligence (AI) will impact education in the future. We tend to see popular media pushing the narrative that AI will take over teaching. I take the opposing view. AI will not replace teachers. If anything, artificial intelligence will become a new tool in a teacher’s toolbox. AI will free teachers from administrative burdens, give them insights on student development, and let them focus on what they do best – helping students grow.

The truth is that today we are still quite far away from having robots and artificial intelligence surpassing human beings. However, artificial intelligence does tend to perform very well at repetitive, structured, and well-defined tasks. Hence the belief that AI will take away our jobs tomorrow, in my view, is quite far-fetched. If anything, we should think about task automation rather than job automation. Most jobs are made up of specific tasks, which may or may not be easily automatable. Therefore, we can each look at our job, consider the tasks & skillsets that are hard to automate, and then focus on those areas for professional development.

Let us take teaching as an example. With the recent restrictions from COVID-19, a lot of the classes I teach have moved entirely online. I started teaching in 2018, so I did the class in person the year before. When I compare online and in-person, I find that student interaction is much easier to facilitate in-person. There’s very little “please unmute your mic,” or “can you repeat, you’re cutting out,” and my personal favorite, “can you HEAR me?” with the entire class responding, “yes, we can.” It is also easier to get feedback, both verbal and non-verbal, from students. Are they laughing with you or at you? Given my jokes, perhaps I should leave this question unanswered for myself.

This confirmed to me that human interaction is an integral part of education. Furthermore, when I asked students for feedback on the class, almost all preferred an in-person class. This also jives with my views on tasks that are hard to automate. Generally, anything requiring human interaction is a challenge for artificial intelligence because people react differently to the same stimulus. For example, the fact that A+B does not always equal C is a problem for AI. Artificial intelligence has started to address this with larger data sets and training, but it is not easy.

The big question then is what does this mean for teachers? First, I believe artificial intelligence will augment our ability to be productive. This means that teachers will work with AI tools to create better student experiences. For example, artificial intelligence can take over structured and repetitive administrative tasks. Grading is a prime example, and it brings back some memories for me. When I was little, my mom, who has been a teacher most of her career, used to get me to help her mark her students’ multiple-choice tests. Then, after bribing me with my favorite candy, I would happily read off “A, C, D, E, B…” into the wee hours of the night.

Today, we have Scantron sheets for multiple-choice grading. Soon, with an area of artificial intelligence called Natural Language Processing (NLP), AI tools will be able to ‘read’ free form text responses and do the grading. For example, I can testify that student handwriting standards have dropped, but you can address this if we give the AI enough data (handwriting samples). Students could also type their responses, which negates the handwriting problem. On top of this, machine learning tools can construct ‘student profiles’ from grades to track their progression and identify development areas.

I know that many teachers, whether they admit it or not, are reluctant to work with artificial intelligence, which is understandable. The AI isn’t perfect and will make mistakes. To expect otherwise is setting ourselves, and AI, up for failure. However, the potential to free up teachers to do what they do best is something that I feel needs to be explored.

If you’re scared about being substituted by artificial intelligence, please take solace from students today who say they can’t wait to get back to the classroom. They need you. With that in mind, all I ask is that you stay open to AI augmentation and its potential to help you and your students.

If you found this interesting and would like to discuss it further, please reach out to me at kevin@blu.ltd.

Technology Exposure and Delivering a Foundation for Sustained Success

I write this in April 2020, a period of tremendous change and instability for any generation. During this time of disruption and uncertainty, we can see the demand for strong technical skills in future learners. We’ve all had to quickly adapt to a new working and learning environment. I will discuss three considerations below for thinking about exposure to technology through education and its benefits.

Learners need to understand what their learning journey is going to look like

Technology is extensive, complicated, and incredibly varied. There is a place for everyone in technology, from the artist to the engineer and all in between. The breadth and depth of technology expertise and experience demand a level of focus. The scale and speed of evolution may not permit a “jack of all trades” to stay relevant. Instead, we must explore our interests and passions early on, and learn to collaborate with those who have comparable skills.

Everyone is embarking on a journey of learning that will last a lifetime. In the same field, knowledge gained today will be outdated in 5 years, much alone 25 years. To make the best decisions and define a sustainable course, learners require comprehensive exposure to technology at the start of their learning journey. It is still possible to change later in life, but it will be much more difficult. Teaching computer science is easy with the US K-12 CS Framework (or technology)

Current market conditions show growing demand across industries resulting from continuing implementations of technologies and evolution towards automation. The World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report states a net gain of 58 million jobs created versus jobs lost arising out of automation. 

Organizations like Cisco cite shortages of networking skills in places like South America, where technology demand is outstripping supply significantly, and connectivity is strongly connected to prospects for economic growth.

People need to see technology in a pleasant way to be ready to profit from the increasing wave. Otherwise, the result may seem undesirable or even unattainable. 

The learners that will take up these new jobs are in the early years of education now. They may have extensive experience in legacy businesses and need to return to a new path to learn. Furthermore, the evolution of the learning system in Montessori has proved throughout the age and experience that real learning and application lead to higher commitment.

Young and special needs learners engaged in learning by copying real-world activities rather than attempting to connect learning through fiction. The technology challenge is great, but rather than focusing on the content for learning itself, which in many cases is available in one form or another, the focus must be on the experience of learning for the different demographics of learners that feed the pipeline of talent required.

Jobs and automation will rise while demand exists, but we must be ready to shift.

We can see from history that industrial automation in the past has led to job growth, however also that the job growth fuelled through this automation is led by the surge in accompanying demand that drives the commercial rationale for investing in automation, meaning what makes the investment financially viable. When demand flattens rather than grows, the inevitable automation will cause rapid attrition in the roles created.

Traditional educational models have failed to prepare students to adapt and value their knowledge in a business setting. This supports the importance of a) the critical importance of introducing learning to people of all ages through a range of real-world contexts in which a consistent set of abilities apply; b) nurturing curiosity in learners to be as adaptable as possible by continuing cross-industry understanding through their ongoing self-learning.

Exposure to technology education and the learning of digital skills is undoubtedly critical. Still, people need a strong foundation to be successful in their careers.

If you’re interested in discussing more technology education or even want to explore ways to do that with us, feel free to email me at chris.geary@bsd.education.

EdTech Tools Educators Should Try This School Year

Undoubtedly, the learning and development of digital skills is a big focus in Education this next decade. At BSD Education, we’re working to prepare students for a technology-driven future as an EdTech tool.

We aim to help them be consumers of technology and media and have the tools and skills to become innovators or creators. 

One of the best ways to slowly start bringing Technology into your classrooms is using fun EdTech tools that will help you or your students boost learning or teaching experiences. Check out the top 10 we thought you should try this year!

1. Formative

Formative is a great web-based app that allows you to give assignments to students and provide personalized and real-time feedback. You can use ready-made “formatives” or create your own to share with your students. You can then view student progress and answers in real-time and assess their learning and progress as they go.

To sum it up: an easy-to-use tool that simplifies assessment in your classroom.

2. Equity Maps

Equity Maps is a great iPad EdTech tool that enhances collaboration, helps you keep track of which of your students participate in class discussion and how much they are experiencing.

All you have to do is tap your students’ icons as they engage in the discussion. In the end, you’ll get summary analytics of how often each class member participated and how many were active participants. The instant feedback helps participants reflect and enables you to ensure that your classroom discussions are equitable and inclusive.

To sum it up: a tool to encourage honest dialogue and broader collaboration in your classroom.

3. Geoguessr

Geoguessr is a fun game that develops students’ global awareness, problem-solving, and research skills. The game starts by dropping the player into a random location on Google Street view. The player then has to figure out where they have been lowered to the closest possible point. Finally, students have to think about different types of information within the map that they can use to solve a problem, use initiative, and demonstrate perseverance.

To sum it up: an excellent EdTech tool that can be used as a class filler to develop a range of skills.

4. ProWritingAid

ProWritingAid does what it says on the tin – it’s a tool that helps your students improve their writing assignments, but not just with spelling and grammar. This tool looks at everything from sentence variety to the use of cliché!

All you need to do is write directly on ProWritingAid or upload a document, and you’ll get a summary report giving the strengths and weaknesses of the piece. You can then discuss this with your students.

To sum it up: a handy tool to help you give in-depth and personalized feedback on your students’ writing.

5. Creaza

Creaza is a tool that can be used to create presentations, mind maps, cartoons, and videos. Students can collaborate on their projects in real-time.

6. Thunkable

Mobile Apps have been a rage for over a decade now,
and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Thunkable is a free and easy-to-use online tool for building mobile apps using a simple drag and drop code builder. As you create, you can test the app in real-time on an iOS or Android device and tweak it as you go. In addition, less experienced students can choose to “remix” an existing app instead of starting from scratch.

6. Roblox

Creating games is a great way to learn a wide range of real-world
digital skills, like storytelling, art, design, programming, maths, etc. Roblox is an online platform for creating and playing multiplayer online games. As a teacher, you can take your students on a journey of creating their favorite online games. They can learn to develop games using Roblox Studio, test them with their peers, and publish them online for users to play on a computer, mobile device, or even Xbox. They can also choose to publish the game for free on the Roblox platform or charge them “Robux ”, the digital currency of Roblox. To support teachers, Roblox publishes resources like how to start guides and lessons.

7. Thinglink

Boost your classroom engagement by creating visual and interactive resources for your students. Thinglink makes it very easy for you to augment
images, videos, and online tours with extra information using simple-to-use hyperlinks. Create an educational treasure hunt for students or mix it up and let them create visual learning journeys for their peers.

8. MindMeister

Mind maps are a tried and tested method for people to take notes or brainstorm ideas effectively. MindMeister is an excellent
EdTech tool that takes this further by making mind mapping a collaborative exercise. Students can collaborate with peers in real-time in the classroom while a teacher explains concepts or works virtually from home when creating a group project.

9. Smiling Mind

Students (and all of us) can face a series of social and emotional challenges. To help them cope with these,
they must be aware of their mental well-being and learn practical ways to be mindful. Smiling Mind is a free, not-for-profit app that encourages mindfulness and better mental being in schools. It is specifically built for students and teachers and breaks down activities for 7-9, 10-12, 13-15, 16-18, and adults. In addition, it comes with Professional Development training for teachers, classroom resources, and student workshops. 

10. Bonus – BSD Online

Of course, we would love it if you tried our online learning platform,
BSD Online. Through scaffolded guided exercises, BSD Online makes the teaching and learning of digital skills and coding easy, fun, and engaging. We suggest our Hour of Code Project – Life Under Water if you’re wondering where to start.

We’d love to learn what other apps or EdTech tools you’d like to try this year!! Feel free to share by tweeting us at @Educationbsd or tagging us on Instagram at @BSDEducation. We look forward to hearing from you!

The Biggest Trend in Tech Education This Past Decade Isn’t Even About Tech

Looking back over the last 10 years of trends and movements in K-12 education, we have seen a rise in new technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality, Coding, Robotics, and Makerspaces; with a heavy emphasis on building student agency with tech skills. 

However, the trend that has evolved over the last 10 years which may be the most important of all doesn’t even involve tech. It is Social-Emotional learning, empathy, and what many call “soft skills development”. You may have even seen a shift to social-emotional thinking in your own schools with mindfulness programs, empathy-building projects, or school-wide behavior management programs that focus on restorative practices. 

This past December, we attended the Transforming Education Conference for Humanity at the Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development in India and heard from experts all over the world who were implementing and practicing ways to develop social-emotional learning for students and teachers. One of the main takeaways from the conference was that by introducing social-emotional learning to students, many institutions have reported overall positive results, including better academic performance, improved attitudes, behaviors, and relationships with peers, as well as a deeper connection to the school, fewer delinquent acts and reduced emotional distress (student depression, anxiety, stress, and social withdrawal).  

While at the conference, we spoke to Dr. Tara Lynn Fraiser who researches and develops K-12 social-emotional learning programs at Emory University in collaboration with the Dalai Lama. She described the importance of providing opportunities for social-emotional learning to be as vital as the development and acquisition of academic knowledge and skills. She also spoke about how social-emotional learning programs can help to deter anxiety and stress in the classroom for both the teacher and the students. A common theme that we heard at the conference was that teachers also need to develop these skills for themselves to help facilitate deeper connections. Many social-emotional programs like those developed at Emory focus on developing capacity for the teacher. Teachers, take note! Don’t feel bad about taking that extra time for yourself at the spa, gym, or lounge.  

While at the conference, we were able to see evidence of social-emotional learning at work by hearing students speak at various panel discussions, workshops, and poster sessions. We met 3 young engineering students from a school in Visakhapatnam (India) who had been working on a semester-long project to use empathy as a way to solve problems in their local community. They met with local farmers to learn about issues with irrigation and planting and then made prototypes of technologies like remote digital soil moisture monitors and robots that could help the farmers with seed propagation. By focusing on understanding the farmers’ problems through empathy, the students were able to design solutions that effectively solved the problems in a compassionate way. Developing empathy like this has been made popular in tech education through using the Design Thinking Method which starts with empathy as a foundation for understanding the need of people along with a social or technical problem.

We at BSD believe in developing social-emotional capacity as well and feel that social-emotional learning should fit together with any skill development. This is why we have designed all of our curriculum around our philosophy of CARE. We want to grow students to be:

Curious – always seeking to learn new things.

Adaptable  – never afraid to try something new.

Resilient – willing to start again and learn from challenges.

Empathetic – thoughtful about how their technology impacts the world.

The CARE philosophy that is baked into our curriculum helps students develop the right mindset to use technology to solve difficult problems. We help students develop self-esteem, empathy, and skills they need to shape their futures by carefully designing lessons that require students to ask difficult questions, reflect on their learning and think about solving big problems. Our CARE philosophy extends to teacher’s needs too, by providing comprehensive lesson notes, guided practice, and even professional development. Though, you will have to get your own spa package for that extra level of self-care.

If you are new to social-emotional learning or just want to learn more, we recommend this getting started guide. Feel free to start a chat with me at @BarkMarnett on Twitter or email me at mb@bsd.education to talk about Social Emotional learning or anything on Education!

The Evolution of Technology and Education – Full

Technology has become ubiquitous and intrinsic to every aspect of life. However, rather than the demands of what we need to create, it is the impact of what has been created that is driving change. Automation is the singularly most defining influence of technology in the workforce moving forward over the next 50 years. In this article I am not going to further define the potential stages of automation and its relationship with the evolution of machine intelligence and beyond. Simply put, automation is the means through which roles traditionally undertaken by humans have the potential to be replaced by technology. In theory, we will have the technological capability to replace all roles, but this is diminished in terms of both time and realization when you simultaneously consider implementation and validation, economics, and socio-political considerations.

What we are seeing now and will continue to witness in the coming decade is that automation is replacing the most sequenceable and repetitive tasks and is therefore changing the relationship of the person doing that job with their industry. This means that if the person does not evolve their skill set, then their value to the economy is diminished.

At the same time, we are seeing that roles requiring significant managerial, judgement and interpretation capacities are furthest from the sphere of automation so in essence are becoming increasingly valued. The breadth of data interpretation and implementation of technology that has to be  overseen and led at a managerial level is, however, dramatically increasing the necessary digital skill set requirements of this group.

Existing roles in the workplace, having been pushed up and down have left behind a need for workers to take on enhanced roles with different skill sets. My illustrative situation here is a manual laborer, previously working on a production line whose manual role has been replaced by a robot. The laborer, however, has a wealth of experience as to how the production line works and how different issues that occur on the production line will have an interdependent effect on other areas of the production process. The laborer now oversees a group of machines that do his / her former role monitoring data and information, making adjustments to production and communicating with the humans in other parts of the process to be aware that all the machines are operating in the optimal fashion to facilitate production. 

Whilst the laborer’s work is still based upon the knowledge of production, the skills through which the laborer now works involve data analysis and interpretation, critical thinking, and communication and collaboration with coworkers. This example is deliberately simple in this situation in reference to a single laborer. As we progress up the scale of seniority in companies, we will find that the range of technical capabilities held by an individual or understood by and individual as being present within their broader team will become increasingly demanding.

Aligning to this, McKinsey’s study from May 2018 illustrated the effect that skill shifts will have in the way that people use skills during their working time.

So what does all of this mean for schools and broader educational institutions in their capacity as organisations that contribute pivotally in preparing people to join the world of work? It means that the development of social and emotional skills and technology skills is a critical part of learning for students. It is simply not possible to continue to consider that educational needs of people are being met where traditional systems of education are failing to prepare students with technology and social emotional readiness as a forefront consideration in the ongoing development of educational programs. 

Considering the real world implementation of these skill sets as illustrated above, where educational institutions focus on implementing educational technology and technology education programs across schools they should be doing it with the development of “digital skills” in mind. So what does this mean?

I see digital skills as a more broadly defined skill set than hard technology skills alone encompassing technical skills, soft skills and values in a combined model as below. The world of technology is colossal and evolving quickly and is therefore becoming exponentially more complex than an individual can grasp on an ongoing basis by themselves. The technical skills a student learns at schools won’t be the same required 20 years into their careers which is why it is important to focus on transferable skills and values. 

It is really important that educators allow a range of experiences for learners to find the area of technology that is their strength and their passion, something that they will have a willingness to follow, be curious about and learn resiliently for the rest of their lives as it continually evolves. At the same time, developing the empathy to recognise the strengths in others that students can collaborate with, and valuing where they cover the gaps in what students themselves lack will be critical to be adaptable to challenges that arise.

It is important to note here that there really isn’t a right answer when it comes to selecting particular technologies like programming languages or software a learner will be exposed to. There are always a number of technologies available, the merits of which can be argued for or against. What I have recognized in observing what students achieve and how they apply what they have learned around the world is that the ability to create content, understand design and user experience, and analyze and interpret data really become the key abilities that are most critical to nurture.

My final comment on the evolving role of technology education revolves around the planning of the learning journey. So much of digital skills education is implemented on a piecemeal basis – short activities off the shelf without progression or interdisciplinary relationships properly considered. This would not be the case in the teaching and learning of mathematics or science and so should not be the case for digital skills. It does pose a greater challenge to educators as an area of learning that is not as well understood as the learning of more traditional subjects and enquiries. However, given that the world of work will not wait, technology is evolving ever faster and not to become any simpler, the longer that such effort is delayed and addressed, the higher the mountain to climb will become.

Whether introducing a young child to learning with and about technology for the first time, or re-skilling an adult learner, you must initially build confidence and self-awareness. I refer to this as the “primary” phase, although it is age agnostic, as all learners are generally coming to the learning of digital skills for the first time. This is the phase to experiment and discover interests, as broad a range of applications of technology as possible and a tool kit of projects that the learner is confident and able to re-use regularly.

The second, “middle” phase is the time to deepen understanding of both the learner’s own skills and abilities that have become most refined and interesting, as well as those of the peer group around them. It is notable that for community based learners, the library commons movement is promoting the capability of library spaces as enablers of circulation of individuals within them. The practice of networking amongst people is an excellent key to communication.

The final phase, that I call the “higher” phase, is really the point in learning at which the portfolio of work begins to turn towards demonstrating capability in relation to real or fictitious scenarios of the world of work. 

As digital skills are largely uncertified and untested, they are most effectively demonstrated by sharing what you can create within a portfolio of work. This gives everyone an incredible opportunity to show their skills as value is placed on what you can do rather than where the skills were learned or how the person performed on one test. 

Technology is driving the changing state of the workforce and the skill shifts across industries that are accompanying this. The change is already here which should compel educational systems to robustly and immediately implement digital skills learning that will prepare people at all career stages to be successful because of change not incase of it. 

Whilst job automation might appear daunting, and will certainly require adaptation at all levels, it by no means tolls a deathly bell for humans in the workforce. Economically and socially, countries need the humans and the machines producing side by side.

The learning process for digital skills requires reflection on, understanding of, and empathy for others. The judgements, considerations and interactions that define us most strongly and clearly as humans are what will most enduringly be of greatest value to us in an automated world. So perhaps in light of all of this, the greatest impact of technology in both the world of work and of education will eventually simply be to make us focus on and value what it is that makes us most human after all.

Introducing Artificial Intelligence in the Classroom

Growing up when sci-fi ruled the world with fictional narratives of intergalactic space travel, robots, and Artificial Intelligence; my 12 year old self would be disappointed that we can’t be served breakfast by AI robots in a biodome on Mars by now. While science hasn’t quite delivered those sci-fi dreams, the emergence of AI has definitely arrived and left us wondering, “what now?”  Artificial Intelligence is a booming field of study with lots of controversy and confusion; especially for educators and schools. Questions that we have heard from schools and educators are:

  • Should we even teach AI?
  • How do we get started with AI?
  • How can we install JavaScript libraries for neural networks (like ML5)?
  • How can we ensure security and privacy with AI deployments?

As you can tell from the questions, there are varying groups from users that know quite a bit about AI, to those that are just interested in learning more. Let’s break it down in an easy-to-understand way and answer these questions so you can make informed choices about implementing AI for your students and schools.

AI is here, whether we like it or not. Our philosophy at BSD Education is to empower learners with the skills and knowledge to make AI technology solutions that also respect users by reflecting on empathy and ethical concerns of AI development. We do this by providing students with real AI software to work with in guided projects that teach students how to, for example: install JavaScript libraries (like ML5) for Natural Language Processing or how to set up an AI system that can make predictive sounds with a drum machine. Lessons that we teach are coupled with classroom activities on topics about the critical issues of bias in AI algorithms, security, privacy, current research in the field of AI and more. 

We strongly feel that adding the ethical implications and empathy of understanding how AI is being used is vital to prepare students for the not-so-distant future of advanced AI robots and intergalactic space travel. This is a message that we purposefully weave into our curriculum because we value the teaching of empathy as a critical skill needed to prepare conscious global citizens who will be charged with building the future while using technologies like AI.

Don’t know where to start with AI at your school? That’s okay, it’s a complex subject that requires careful consideration and understanding. To answer the first question “should we even teach AI?”, I think that students should be taught about AI, and then, when ready, how to use AI and how to program using AI tools.

If you are looking for a great intro to AI and the ethics of AI, try this free and open-source resource from MIT that teaches middle school students about algorithms and how sites like YouTube, Spotify and Netflix use those algorithms to suggest new content to users. This could be a great starting point for a discussion about AI in your classrooms that can be easily implemented and taught.

If you want to dig deeper into the ethics of AI and current research on bias in algorithms, check out the work of the Algorithmic Justice League and start by watching this video about racial bias in AI facial recognition. It is important for students to understand the harmful side effects of some AI software that are currently in use.

Starting conversations with students about the social implications of AI leads to a better understanding of the subject and allows room for critical conversations about the future of technologies like AI.  By inviting students to explore ethical concerns and dilemmas, we are opening the door for conversations to be about humanity just as much as it is about the technology.

So whether you are just dipping your toes in the water with AI or you’re ready to start a project with AI libraries and pre-trained neural networks, it is best to approach the issue by painting the full picture of the technology and the social implications of AI by exploring these topics with fellow educators and students. Want to learn more and join the conversation? Join the #AIEthics chat on Twitter and catch up with what you have missed so far, here. 

If you are interested in learning more about our AI curriculum offerings from BSD Education, please reach out to us here or reach out to me at mb@bsd.education.

The True Meaning of Digital Citizenship

The world is now a genuinely digital place. Billions of people worldwide communicate digitally, work digitally, learn digitally, and even play digitally every day. Your students were probably exposed to a tablet or smartphone very early and have grown up using technology. However, for the majority of your students, the digital space is their modern-day playground. Of course, all of our students are already digital citizens. But the critical question to ask is: do they understand digital citizenship?

Without any guidance, we can’t expect students to navigate the far-reaching digital space with so much potential. So it is vital that we, as educators, prepare them for a future where technology is everywhere and help them navigate the digital space positively. This is where digital citizenship comes in.

Digital citizenship is a broad and varied topic that students can interpret in numerous ways. For us at BSD Education, we agree with Richard Culatta from ISTE, who believes that schools need to shift the way they think about and teach students to be good digital citizens.

All too often, digital citizenship is focused just on online safety or what not to do in the digital space. Of course, these are important lessons, but we need to focus on the potential of being a digital citizen. As Culatta says, digital citizenship should use technology to make the world a better place for ourselves and others. 

A ‘good’ digital citizen should see the world as an interconnected community of a range of different people and understand that technology can be used to benefit ourselves, but more importantly, for others.

Digital citizens will have the skills and knowledge to communicate and consume in the digital space. But, still, vitally, they will have the skills and expertise to solve problems and create solutions. 

Educators cannot teach this level of understanding in just one-off classes. Instead, it needs to be explored and explained as a way of thinking and integrated across classes and content areas. 

What are your thoughts on Digital Citizenship? Has your school integrated Digital Citizenship into the curriculum yet? Feel free to discuss with me at cb@bsd.education, and we could feature you in our upcoming articles!

Advantages of Real World Technology Camps: App Development

Technology camps are a creative and inspiring way to expose children to a variety of real-world skills that will benefit them in the future. Not only will they be learning something new, but technology camps also allow children to explore areas of interest that they may not have experienced at home or at school.

In our current digital era, people of all ages use apps every day intrinsic to their ways of life in their daily lives. However, what is an app exactly? Why do people choose to build apps instead of websites? What does it take to build an app? What makes an app “great”? These are all questions that kids will have the opportunity to explore by attending App Development Camps.

Beyond simply learning how to code, creating a mobile app also encourages children to foster skills in a variety of areas. This includes tech-related skills such as programming, UX (user experience) design, UI (user interface) design, and soft skills such as creativity, resilience, computational thinking, and communication.

Let’s take a look at some of the real-world skills your child will learn if he/she/they enroll for an App Development Camp:


To build an app, students will learn to code using languages such as HTML, CSS, JavaScript, as well as using coding “libraries” and “frameworks” (these are large bodies of code create by teams of professionals to make complicated but frequently used things we want to create easier and faster to build). Learning how to code teaches kids computational thinking, adaptability, organization, and also how to be focused and thorough when completing tasks – that’s because one small error in your coding syntax might cause a bug in your app!


Throughout the process of building their app, children will encounter challenges such as their code not working, not knowing how to make their code perform a specific action, or not understanding specific parts of their code. This means that they will have to devise different solutions, whether that’s collaborating with their peers, researching online, or figuring out how to synthesize the coding syntax that they’ve learned to test a different approach.

Fosters empathy

Deciding to create an app means that developers must place themselves in the shoes of their users, and adopt a variety of perspectives. Developers must consider a number of questions, such as: “Will my app be easy to use?”, “Why will people want to use my app?”, “Who will want to use my app?” and “What problem(s) will my app help solve?”. The success of an app depends on the experience of its users, and kids will learn that app development is not about creating an app for themselves, but rather, apps can be solution and community-driven, and are built to solve problems and help others.


At the end of a BSD App Development Camp, all the kids are required to present their app – what they built, why they built it, and how they built it. Not only does this allow them to reflect on their entire camp experience as a whole, but presentations help build confidence by showcasing their hard work, improve their public speaking skills, and demonstrate to them that their work is valued and recognized.

Technology is ingrained in nearly every aspect of our lives today. Learning to build apps is a fun, engaging, and unique activity that exposes children to a variety of disciplines empowers them with digital skills required to succeed in the future and deepens their understanding of the world around them. They are able to socialize and make new friends in a fun and collaborative environment and create an app that they can take home to show their friends and family that might even solve a problem for their community, or be a unique portfolio piece for a school, college, internship or job application in the future.

If you are interested in bringing our App Development Camps into your schools, let us know by contacting us here.