Expect more high-tech tools in UAE schools from this year on

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Schoolchildren are introduced to new technologies that prepare them for the future and help them become responsible users.
Schoolchildren are introduced to new technologies that prepare them for the future and help them become responsible users.

Another focus for this year is teaching students how to be more digitally responsible, especially when it comes to social media.

By Sarwat Nasir

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Published: Sun 13 Jan 2019, 7:00 PM

Last updated: Tue 15 Jan 2019, 8:47 AM

As virtual reality, artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain take over the world, the education sector is seeing major changes when it comes to technology.
Khaleej Times has previously reported about how teachers are using virtual reality to take students to historical events and famous landmarks. Some schools have also introduced AI-powered teacher assistants.
If many classrooms have already become so advanced, what's in store for 2019? Digital transformations are happening around the world and classrooms are no exception.
The director of teaching, learning and innovation at Gems Wellington Academy Silicon Oasis (WSO), Helen Loxston-Baker, said students at her school are using digital notebooks to store all of their work.
"At WSO, we are continuing to focus on how to develop our approach to blended learning, and we have launched the use of Microsoft Teams and OneNote. In conjunction, we want to create a classroom space for students to collaborate digitally as well as record all of their learning in one place in their digital notebook," she said.
"Teachers can also mark students' work live, giving instant feedback. Accessibility tools for students with different learning needs now come as integrated features, such as the immersive reader in Microsoft products. These products help personalise the learning experience for all students. Let's hope we see more features to support personalisation in the future."
However, caution should be exercised, she said. It's not about what technology is being used, but how teachers are ensuring that new digital products are being used to transform learning.
Virtual, augmented reality
Lena Bell, head of innovation at Gems International School in Al Khail, believes more virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) will continue to influence classrooms this year.
"Younger students' VR/AR creation apps will become increasingly available and more diverse. The Internet of Things (IoT) has become such an important part of our daily lives. I believe IoT will continue to transform classrooms digitally as it plays a major role in personalising learning experiences," Bell said. "It allows digital classrooms to become flipped classrooms and increases the potential for immediate feedback with real-time applications and online collaboration between students and teachers.
"Schools will continue to develop their understanding of technology as a tool and not as a toy, which will empower students to succeed in an unknown future."
Responsible digital citizenship
Another focus for this year is teaching students how to be more digitally responsible, especially when it comes to social media.
Bell added: "With social media playing an ever-increasing role in society, students of all ages are quite familiar with its various platforms. In primary school, it has become increasingly important to spend time developing students' digital citizenship and critical thinking skills. This is not a new topic by any means, but as its importance and prevalence increase, teachers need to set an example on how to be responsible with social media and provide safe platforms for students to collaborate and share ideas."
Digital natives belong to digital classrooms, say experts
Teachers may be implementing the newest technologies in classrooms, however, in what ways can educating students through the use of tech prove beneficial for their learning?
Educators have said that digital technology could have a "great impact" on student engagement and progress. It's no secret that traditional-styled classrooms and learning wasn't working anymore - carrying heavy book bags, chalkboards, notebooks, taking exams on paper, and being confined to a four-wall classroom all day long.
"Students enjoy owning their learning journey, and digital technology allows teachers to build opportunities for developing independence and creativity. Students who are digital natives are used to using digital products in their everyday lives. Game-based lessons using apps like Seppo can help build memorable and fun learning experiences for students, which can instil a love of learning and spark curiosity," said Helen Loxston-Baker, director of teaching, learning and innovation at Gems Wellington Academy Silicon Oasis (WSO).
"However, we find that our students still need support in learning how to use new products to fully utilise the features of applications.  This year, we now offer courses on Microsoft applications as we acknowledge the importance of preparing our students for the real world."
Lena Bell, head of innovation at Gems International School in Al Khail, said digital technologies reflect the interest, familiarities and abilities of the students, which ultimately help them become more engaged in the classroom.
"Digital transformations in the classroom keep the technologies relevant and applicable to students.  Since children today are digital natives, a technology-rich classroom is natural for these learnings, thus empowering them to succeed in a familiar environment.  As technology continues to evolve, so will the world of education, so that we can continue to meet the needs of our students," she said.
A Grade 4 student at Our Own English High School, Zahra Juzer Gandhi, said subscribing to digital technologies can often be more affordable than purchasing new books each year.
"With digital transformation, students can access more resources easily. Digital content is less expensive and they can be shared among students and teachers in a click. Teachers can join online professional learning communities to ask questions and share tips with their colleagues. Digital transformations can significantly enhance educational standards," she said.
Smart technologies students use today
(Mishal Faraz, Year 7, The Winchester School, Jebel Ali)
The purpose of the education system is not just to educate but also to prepare students for the world. With technological advancements and digital technology gaining momentum exponentially, it is obvious that the traditional classroom is now undergoing a paradigm shift. Digital tools are steadily becoming an indispensable component of the modern-day classroom. Here are a few digital tools that are already in use in a number of classrooms in the UAE. Hopefully in 2019, these will become the norm in all classrooms without exception.
Clever touch board
One of the most noticeable transformation is the shift from whiteboards to 'clever touch boards'. These are basically interactive flat panel displays that work like touchscreens. They have crystal-clear displays on which teachers can show slides, videos, etc. This has rendered the projector obsolete. Teachers no longer have to worry about standing in front of the projector and casting a shadow on the screen or misplacing the remote to operate the projector.
These screens also double as writing boards - you can write on them with a swipe of your finger. Not only do schools save costs on whiteboard markers, this initiative is environment-friendly, too.
Augmented - virtual reality
AR-VR is the future of classroom learning. Simulation in the classroom makes concepts more tangible and easier to grasp. This will help a great number of audio-visual learners and open new arenas for each and every subject. This is a technology that can be used extensively in all lessons. Imagine a virtual tour of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory or experiencing the structure of an atom so closely that you could almost touch it.
Artificial intelligence
AI can greatly enhance the classroom experience by recognising learning patterns of each student.
Aside from looking at AI as a technology that has to be applied in schools, it also needs to be incorporated in the curriculum as a course or a subject.
We hear it so often that jobs in the next 15 to 20 years do not exist at the moment. But one thing is for sure, a great number of the jobs of the future would be related to AI. It is imperative that it is blended into the education realm.
We are looking at the tip of the ice berg when it comes to digital technology. We can't really say what to expect in the coming years but one thing is for sure - classrooms will get more exciting with every passing day.
Class to the future
Integrating technology into the classroom provides access to an incredible number of opportunities. A technologically driven class gains more importance as it helps develop digital citizenship skills where students learn how to use technology responsibly, and prepares them for the future.

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