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Today's trends shaping the future of education

The acceleration of technology adoption and development during the pandemic has made all of us think differently about how knowledge is acquired, demonstrated, and shared.

James Thorley
James Thorley
Regional Vice President, Asia Pacific

The pandemic continues to disrupt the way we operate at home, the workplace, and especially in our learning institutions. Over the last two years, schools and universities across the Asia Pacific region have adopted online and hybrid teaching models and dramatically increased technology use to maintain learning continuity. Looking ahead to the future of the education sector, it is natural for us in the education community to study this time of accelerated transformation and innovation, to make some predictions about how teaching and learning methods and environments will change.

This moment is a tremendous opportunity for education professionals everywhere to rethink traditional education delivery to secure meaningful learning outcomes and prepare this generation for a changing world. In my conversations with education leaders throughout the region, it’s clear that there are some key factors driving change and innovation at institutions.

AI's influence on education

Among the most dynamic areas of development in the education sector is artificial intelligence, in terms of what it means for education delivery and its disruption of the way we think about writing assignments. AI has the potential to influence teaching and learning in three key ways:

1) Increasing efficiencies

AI is all about increasing efficiencies in low impact tasks, and when harnessed with human decision-making at the helm, it offers value across a range of education practices. For educators conducting assessments - arguably the most time-consuming and labour-intensive aspect of teaching - it can help boost speed, accuracy and consistency in grading assignments and assessments and give them more time to spend on the aspects that give highest impact. Traditionally, institutions have addressed the assessment challenge by using faster, but pedagogically less robust methods, such as multiple-choice quizzes that minimise grading time and the need for qualitative feedback. The power of AI lies in reducing the burden for educators in the logistics of assessment delivery and feedback, and expanding choice for authentic assessment types that best align to learning objectives.

2) Driving more insight from data

Data accessibility is crucial for institutions moving forward, and AI will enable administrators, educators, and students to obtain much more detailed, actionable insights into their courses and learning. While learning analytics to measure success is nothing new, the endeavour has previously been hampered by complex and dispersed data systems. AI-assisted technologies don’ t just offer greater data output, but precision at the assignment and course levels, and achieves this in real-time.

For educators, it means easier evaluation of student performance on an individual and cohort level, provision of just-in-time feedback to scaffold learning, and self-assessment of their own instruction methods. For administrators, it means harnessing trends and patterns of learning to inform future iterations of courses and curriculum. All of this will ideally produce ongoing improvements to learning outcomes.

3) Upending writing practices

The essay has been a staple of higher education for decades - centuries even - and not much has changed over that time. With the rise of the internet and the now ubiquitous ‘copy and paste’ of information and ideas, we’ve seen an increase in academic misconduct through plagiarism and student collusion. If AI gains the ability to write an essay as well as a human on a given topic, what does that mean for the integrity or value of writing as a display of understanding? This would signal a huge disruption to writing as we know it, and it is already happening in some parts of the business world.

We may start to see AI incorporated as a form of augmented writing in classes as well as a shift to other ways of proving knowledge and understanding from a student perspective.

Changes on the horizon for assessment delivery

It is difficult to make firm predictions for education post COVID-19, considering we are still in the throes of the pandemic. That being said, the enforced shift to remote teaching and learning has been a catalyst for change, and I am confident to make a few predictions around its lasting impact on education practices. To that effect, what might go, what might stay, and what might emerge?

In terms of what may fall out of favour, I believe we will see a permanent decline in on-site, mass lectures and a faster transition away from in-person exams, as we take a more critical look at traditional practices and respond to emerging needs. While global health needs were the impetus for this shift, they amplified existing calls from learners and industries, for higher education to offer more authentic learning experiences and transfer of real-world skills.

Thinking about what might remain, and indeed what the legacy of wide-scale remote learning will be, I believe the answer lies in faster and smarter integration of technology in education. Granted, technology access and equity remains an issue in the developing world and even in pockets of the developed world, however the goal is to leverage the level of technology you do have access to, in order to make progress on efficiencies and learning. Awareness of what technology can and can’t do has now reached everyone across the education ecosystem, so there is no reason for institutions not to gain at least a foothold in their digital transformation.

Especially for institutions with minimal pre-existing technology infrastructure, the transition over the past 2 years has not been without its hurdles. For instance, educators have realised that taking offline assessments directly online, doesn’t work. Assessment must be adapted to suit the digital delivery mode and factor in a range of issues such as student accessibility, equity and inclusivity. Indeed, school and university administrators are actively looking at ways to improve how technology is integrated into classes and the rate of uptake by educators. I hope that we see a much more consistent, standardised use of education technology to shrink the divide between the technology pioneers and technology laggards, to enhance the quality of learning and teaching experiences.

In STEM courses for example previously considered to be a challenge to offer online, the pandemic has shown that online delivery is not only possible, but can also be engaging. Adapting to online delivery modes in this way has also triggered a broader rethink around what assessment methods best align to learning outcomes. It coincides with academic misconduct issues arising from online exams, prompting calls for more frequent, low-stakes assessment. This is a very positive development for the future of education and I am optimistic that higher education institutions will be empowered to move away from the default of exams to more authentic assessment experiences. Acting on the pandemic-led momentum, this transition will now happen with greater speed and urgency.

Of course, we may see institutions in some parts of the region revert back to teaching and administering assessment and exams the way they did previously However, the reality is that institutions need to be prepared for future COVID outbreaks, and efforts to maintain a remote learning framework will reduce further disruption of education for students. It will also help them to remain relevant and adopt new pedagogy enhanced by the speed and accuracy that technology tools clearly offer.

Designing assessments with integrity

For educators conducting student assessment, decision-making has always centred on assessment design and type. That holds true today in remote or hybrid environments, where academic integrity measures are made more complicated. Educators must consider the two factors at play here - the integrity of student behaviours in their assessment output, and the integrity of the assessment itself. While it is true that you can't "design out" misconduct, it is possible to "design in" through careless and repetitive assessment methods, meaning educators must ensure a robustness in terms of assessment pedagogy and security. We need to move away from the fallacy that detection is too hard, and also recognise that security measures alone, for example, proctoring, will not resolve all issues related to academic integrity.

The design of the assessment is just as important as the technology used to ensure integrity and addressing these key questions is an important step to achieving assessment with integrity:

  • What are you designing?
  • What are your goals with the assessment?
  • What are the learning outcomes?
  • Are you doing one, high-stakes assessment for a module, or are you going to set it up in a different way to cover the learning that you want students to achieve?

Ultimately, you should trust students to do the right thing, but also take the time - and have the methods - to validate that your students are actually acting with integrity and not resorting to misconduct. Overlooking such detection measures risks undermining the entire premise of assessment. I’m reminded of Professor Phillip Dawson’s work on assessment security in a digital world, in which he contends that addressing misconduct involves a balance between the proactive, educative approach and the reactive, punitive measures set by institutional policy (Dawson, 2020).

Administrators also have an important role to play here in supporting frontline teaching staff, from a structural and operational standpoint. It’s their job to ensure educators are equipped with the training and resources to handle misconduct and champion integrity. It covers allocation of enough resources, getting the most out of the resources you have available, and maintaining consistency to build an institution-wide culture of integrity.

Reinforcing research integrity for the benefit of the global community

Research integrity has always been vitally important for research impact and reputation in higher education, but has gained greater relevance as global attention turns to research output since the pandemic. Against the backdrop of an increasing use of preprints, there is significant debate around the legitimacy of some medical research being published about treating COVID-19. As Associate Professor Michael Mullins explains in The Scientist, "Preprints aim to bridge the time gap between submission and publication in a peer-reviewed journal, something that becomes even more crucial as humans navigate a global public health crisis; but they also run the risk of spreading shoddy research."

Combine this with the open-access research debate and the growing competition in research publication globally, and we can see that research expectations are evolving. Research that lacks integrity is not just a reputational risk to the individual researcher or academic institution, it poses a wider risk to society. Research integrity practices are especially important in the internationalisation of research output and collaboration between nations. Failure to uphold guidelines and the resulting fallout, can be likened to a contagion spreading within the sector. That’s why every institution needs to focus on educating their postgraduate students and researchers on the core tenets of research, so that we can strengthen the worldwide community around it.

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