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High tech schools OK by Aussies … to a degree

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Australian adults are largely positive about the overall benefits of technology in schools, with significant support for the future rollout of online exams, blended learning classes and even facial recognition systems in classrooms.

But there is a limit; the potential introduction of cognition-enhancing drugs – some of which have already been approved for use in the USA – received strong criticism, as did virtual schools. 

Nearly 40% of adults believe that ‘big tech’ companies such as Google and Microsoft cannot be trusted to play a leading role in supporting schools’ technology use.

There is strong public support for mobile phone restrictions – with nearly 80% supporting the idea of classroom bans, and just under one-third support a total schoolwide ban.

Prof Neil Selwyn from Monash University’s Faculty of Education conducted a national survey of 2052 Australian adults to gauge public opinions on digital technology use in schools releasing the findings in a report titled: ‘Digital Lessons? Public opinions on the use of digital technologies in Australian schools’ is one of the first accounts of national public opinion towards the digitisation of classrooms.

The key findings include:
66% of adults agree that digital technologies make a positive contribution to Australian schools
37% of adults believe ‘Big Tech’ companies cannot be trusted to play a role in school technology
79% of adults support schools banning the use of mobile phones while students are in class
44% of adults are happy to see online exams; 34% want blended learning opportunities
46% of adults would like facial recognition technology(computerised video tracking in schools to monitor attendance and ensure safety) incorporated into classrooms over the next 10 years
Just 21% of adults believe that parents should pay for their child’s ‘BYOD’ laptop or digital tablet if schools do not give them a choice of device.

The most strongly supported idea throughout the whole survey was the importance of schools to teach students information technology skills that are relevant for future jobs (86.3%).

“For many years, schools were considered to be an important place for young people to gain experience of using computer and internet technology. However, recently there has been growing criticism that many schools are falling well behind what most of today’s students are doing with technology outside of the classroom,” Selwyn said.

Selwyn said he was most surprised to find a high level of support for classroom phone bans from adults who otherwise endorsed the need for increased use of digital technology in schools.

“But despite the strong sentiment for a classroom phone ban, a large majority of adults in the survey (68%) said it was OK for students to bring a mobile phone to school – mainly for safety and security purposes.

“Despite overwhelming support for the idea of online exams (44.1%), respondents were relatively disapproving of other technologies that are already beginning to become established in school systems across the world,” Selwyn said.

“We’ve got hundreds of full-time virtual secondary schools in the US, with automated essay grading used for more than three million SAT national tests in the US each year.

“These are trends that are highly likely to become established in Australia throughout the 2020s, yet gain some of the lowest levels of approval in the survey.

“In contrast, we find the much more problematic technology of facial recognition to be getting higher levels of approval.”

The professor also says IT companies need to be aware of the 'public unease' towards ‘Big Tech’ companies and their key role in determining what goes on in classrooms.

“Although the majority of the Australian public see technology as a legitimate area for government support, EdTech is not a current priority issue at any level of government,” Selwyn said.

“Our survey suggests that this is an area of education where state governments might easily take a lead and play more prominent roles in supporting schools to make the best use of digital technology.”

A full copy of the report can be found at: monash.edu/edfutures.


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