Lost in education?

In 2020, most universities had to resort to virtual classes because of the Covid-19 pandemic. — Anton Shuvalov unsplash/AFP

In 2020, several new educational practices saw the light of day, outlining a possible blueprint for tomorrow's education. Multimedia content and gamification became teaching tools and could well become the norm in 2021.

"I wrote my probability exam online, but then I had a scanner problem. I was two minutes late to hand in my paper and it wasn't accepted," said Oussama, a student in mathematics at the University of Rennes 2, France. In 2020, many exams had to be taken online because of the pandemic, and most classes during the year meant days spent in front of a computer. While these virtual teaching methods were implemented in high schools and universities at the last minute to make up for closed institutions during lockdowns, they may well become the norm in the coming months.

Multimedia is gaining ground

Teaching methods are set to evolve in 2021, with increased use of online platforms and audio, image and video technologies. In France, a recent survey conducted by the Observatoire de la vie étudiante, published in September, showed that 69% of student respondents had taken part in classes or meetings in video conferences, but only 39% of them were satisfied by the educational resources put in place.

In the United States, students in general felt well supported in terms of the logistics of virtual learning, according to a YouthTruth survey of 20,000 middle school and high school students between 11-18 years old. They acknowledged, however, that studying remotely didn't always result in thorough learning.

So what does the future of teaching hold in 2021?

Well-known online platforms such as YouTube, Netflix or SchoolTube will play an even more important role in children's and young adults' education. Educational shows have been around for ages, but the major change in 2021 may come from the addition of these educational programmes to classes given by teachers.

The YouTube generation

A Pearson study has shown that Generation Z prefers to learn at a quicker pace and doesn't hesitate to binge-watch educational content online. Close to 60% of respondents prefer to use YouTube as an educational tool, while 55% note that YouTube has contributed to their education.

During lockdown, video tech was very useful to teachers who didn't necessarily have the means to organise online classes during the first few weeks. Ms Maldent, a biotechnology teacher in a high school in south-west France said, "It wasn't possible at first to organise virtual classes, so I sent my lessons to my classes along with videos to watch on YouTube or Dailymotion to make them more dynamic, more alive. The idea is for them to develop their analytical skills with didactic exercises: to make them think while looking for the different answers to the exercises I sent them in the videos."

As virtual learning becomes more widespread, it should encourage teachers to give more autonomy to their pupils. They will need to explain the objectives beforehand and to provide feedback on the results obtained afterwards, but it is through more playful and interactive content, based on a trial-and-error learning model, that teaching should develop in 2021.

Learning with fun and games

And what better way to introduce fun and effective learning than through games? Since the 2010s, researchers have praised this type of learning, and in this period where we are rethinking the ways in which we do things, it can provide interesting ways to enhance and develop our educational systems.

Since 2013, some schools in the United States and Sweden have integrated the video game Minecraft into their programs. "(Minecraft) is being used around the world to teach science, urban planning and foreign languages, said Montreal University professor Thierry Karsenti to The Conversation website.

The absence of video games in school curricula probably stems from studies describing these games as addictive, too violent and overexposing children to screens, already omnipresent in their lives. While games can be risky if used excessively, they also allow for cognitive, emotional and social development, as revealed in the "Gamification in Education: What, How, Why Bother" study, conducted by two professors at Columbia University in New York.

Another survey, conducted among 400,000 gamers in 40 languages, demonstrated the usefulness of gaming in learning about complex topics. The University of Udine study, published in IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computers Graphics, focused on teaching safety procedures to be followed in an aviation emergency using a mobile application.

"Analysis of improvement in participants who took the knowledge test highlighted a statistically large effect size. Moreover, analysis of gameplay data from all participants showed significant improvement over time in their capability of assessing the threats posed by the different accidents and taking the right decisions for survival," notes an article published by the University of Udine in Phys.

Professor Luca Chittaro, head of The University of Udine's Human-Computer Interaction Lab, explains the usefulness of trial-and-error learning as a way for learners to explore hypothetical scenarios that make them curious about "what is going to happen when they make mistakes."

Theory and practice

Learning through gamification could bring a new perspective to the educational system. A more widespread use of gaming in education would change the way in which educators grade certain skills acquired while playing games, which traditional systems barely take into account at the moment.

"There is a growing realisation that students want to know how they are going to put into practice the skills they have acquired, which is not possible with multiple-choice assessments lasting ten to fifteen minutes," said Paul Mayaux, president of the French student group Fédération des associations générales étudiantes (FAGE). The French system always stresses theory more than practice, but practice is "much more interesting than lectures" and corresponds more to students' expectations, he adds.

Data protection is at stake

One of the major issues that will emerge in 2021 with the use of these innovations is the protection of personal data. Anti-virus software publisher Kaspersky outlines this aspect in its education predictions for 2021.

"Managing it in any service requires the user's involvement, but many users, especially younger children, do not know how to appropriately control their privacy settings," notes Andrey Sidenko, author of the report. When using multiple platforms, teachers will have to be extra careful: "for each tool and in each case, they will need to pay special attention to protecting not only their personal information, but also their students' data," adds Sidenko. – AFP Relaxnews

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