EduTECH Asia 2020, unlike previous years, was held as an online festival this year, in an interactive virtual format. It had a lineup of events such as live presentations, panel debates and virtual town hall meetings from leading educators and Edtech innovators from across Asia. It also included Masterclasses, interaction, Q & A, and live virtual town hall sessions. We had the opportunity to join in live from wherever we are, and even watch the sessions on demand.

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The virtual festival was definitely a different experience that allowed us to enjoy the sessions and network from the comfort of our couch. 

The conference began with a very interesting and inspiring presentation by Linda Liukas who is a children's book author and illustrator. She explained the complex concept of computer science in a simplified way which was very intriguing. She emphasized how technology can be taught to children through storybooks, especially when these children are growing up in a world that is increasingly enveloped by technology and computer science. 

Another keynote entitled Building an education community, powered by Smarter Technology was presented by Ronnie Lee, General Manager for Lenovo Singapore. As the old saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child”, however, Mr. Lee feels that in this day and age, it takes a connected village to raise a child. He defined a ‘connected’ village as consisting of parents, teachers and technology partners. 

Technology is moving forward at a fast pace. Take Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) as examples, these technologies were used in gaming but now are used in training as well as teaching.  Hence, there is a need for us to guide students to make sure they can adopt the use of technology. 

Citing the results from a survey conducted by Lenovo with 500 parents & 30 educators. They found that teachers generally felt that Home-Based Learning (HBL) was a suitable solution to teaching during Singapore’s Circuit Breaker. However, it was found that most educators associated online teaching with assignments and quizzes. They also felt that schools need to invest in training so teachers can conduct lessons more effectively during HBL.  It was also found that parents agreed that teachers' training is important in using these technologies while 54% of them would have liked that their child receives training regarding the use of these technologies as well. 

Another crucial finding from the survey was that teachers would have liked to receive support in these forms i.e: user-friendly apps, interactive training sessions, and time to redesign lessons to support HBL. Mr. Lee tied these findings to an initiative that Lenovo launched called EdVision in Singapore. The aim of this programme is to build an education community to train students and teachers alike to go beyond assignments and quizzes in order to deliver programmes. 

Mr. Lee emphasized that service providers need to keep schools abreast of the latest IT developments through training and workshops so that they can continue to stay agile in learning. With the rise of 5G, technology would continue to evolve rapidly hence schools should move forward and subscribe to hybrid learning. In addition, all service providers would also have to transform to be able to provide these techs for learning. Everyone plays a part to help the community evolve to the next level.

 

Apart from keynotes, a session that we found interesting was “The psychology of technology - using mindfulness-based techniques to enhance digital wellbeing” presented by Matthew Scott, the Vice-principal at Middleton International School, Singapore. Mr. Scott shared his observation in his line of work that students have been increasingly using their mobile phones in school especially in 2020. It made him rethink the appropriate use of technology in a school setting. 

Mr. Scott feels that a digital wellbeing programme should not be taken lightly and treated as a separate programme. Instead, the psychology and positive feelings of a normal well-being programme should be brought into the digital space without segregation. This is to achieve the ultimate goal of educating the skills of discernment and wise choices to students. 

Digital literacy amongst students is increasing and teachers have had to upgrade their skills very quickly. This ties into Mr. Ronnie Lee’s emphasis on teacher training. Mr. Scott posed this question, “As an educator, which current tech scares you right now?”. Technology is no longer neutral and educators have to be aware and kept abreast of the technological advancements to be able to guide students. He is of the opinion that it is essential to explicitly teach students and staff how to emotionally and psychologically flourish in the current situation where cognitive requirements to successfully use technology are rapidly increasing.

Similar to Mr. Lee’s ‘connected’ village, Mr. Scott proposes a tripartite approach to applying mindfulness in using technology where the parents, the school and students work together. An example he gave was that habitual responses we develop in response to the tech that we use such as picking up our phones whenever we hear a notification sound. This causes our neuropathways to change overtime. Our students should become aware of these habits and as educators, we should guide them to make sustainable choices that enable them to use technology in a mindful manner. Therefore digital well being, according to Google, is about creating and maintaining a healthy relationship with technology. Technology should serve us and leave us in the driver's seat. 

The application of mindfulness in using technology can help our students pause after stimuli before giving a reaction. He breaks down mindfulness into the components of 

  • Attention - developing students ability to focus on key ideas, thoughts, and actions.

  • Awareness - developing a greater sense of emotional and physical awareness.

  • Acceptance before response - students, teachers, and parents can move away from a reactive stance and respond differently to stimuli.

 

He concludes by saying that it is vital to make time to practice this in school and at home. Food for thought from Mr. Scott, “What do you need to start doing?” and “What do you need to stop doing?”

One of the central themes of this year’s conference is on Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality(VR). A session of particular interest was AR and VR in the Virtual Classroom by Jason Milner, ICT Integrator in Knox Grammar School Sydney Australia. Mr. Milner introduced various AR/VR apps that could be integrated into the online and physical classroom. 

Two VR apps that he mentioned are Google Expeditions and Youtube 360. VR allows students to immerse themselves in new ‘environments’ such as the Great Wall of China, the Great Barrier Reef, and many more. This facilitates self-directed learning where students independently explore the environments after which they complete the activities assigned to them. Some examples of activities are descriptive writing, research on the area explored, and coming up with a solution to a problem posed as well as presentation. Added benefits of these activities are developing empathy and confidence.

Mr. Milner introduced an array of AR apps. The first of which is Figment. The interesting attribute about this application is that it has a VR aspect where users could place a portal in the AR environment and step through it to access a VR environment. This could be used for similar activities mentioned above. Mr. Milner feels that this app triggers students' curiosity and boosts creativity by creating a sense of adventure. 

AR Makr is an app with existing pictures that can be placed and allows students to create their own stories in an AR environment. They could narrate the stories they have created to their friends. 

The remainder of AR apps introduced were linked to the use of Merge Cube. Merge cube is a black and silver physical cube that has inlaid designs that interact with various Merge cube apps to transform the cube into a digital canvas. The first app is Merge Explorer which has various scenes that allow STEM learning. The second app that works with Merge cube is 57 degrees north which is an interactive story that allows students to choose the fate of the characters in the story. The story is read to the students or students could enable the subtitle function. This app is a good story writing prompt as teachers could stop at a particular juncture then ask students to write or discuss what would happen next. 

An important part that Mr. Milner emphasised was student-created projects. He showed how students used CoSpaces to create an AR/VR environment to show their understanding of a certain topic taught. Students added quizzes and tidbits of information to engage their audience. Students worked on these projects from home and Mr. Milner’s school helped them by providing tutorials (both in video and live via Zoom) to train students in utilising CoSpaces together with Merge Cube. The training was crucial to develop coding skills, problem-solving skills, and critical thinking. This is an example of how interactive training may benefit students as found by Lenovo’s survey(Ronnie Lee’s presentation). 

All in all, more advanced technologies will continue to be integrated into our classrooms. Therefore, educators and students need to be open to the rapidly evolving technologies whilst mindful of their use, so as to adopt it purposefully.