Current Trends in Educational Technology – Ready to Disrupt the Educational Field

1486312338219-ce68d2c6f44d.jpeg

Technology often disrupts established fields, but there’s a common misunderstanding as to how that happens. People often think that the technologies that are transforming our world today were created recently, but the nature of technological development makes that proposition unlikely.

In most cases, new technologies are clunky, expensive, and hard to implement — which is why they start with a small user base and remain in that state for a while until the required leaps are made. Only then does a new technology gain mass appeal and start being adopted on a large scale. In other words, it’s only at this stage that a technology becomes capable of truly disrupting a field.

Take your phone’s screen as an example. It may feel like touch screen technology was invented and made popular by the 2009 iPhone, or maybe you think it was created for and popularized by the PDAs that were around in the 90s and early 2000s. But in truth, touch screen technology was invented in the 1960s. The HP-150 computer had touch-screen support — it was launched in 1983.

The reasons why those early renditions of the touch screen failed to realize the technology’s potential were due in large part to technical problems. The HP-150, for example, relied on a grid of infrared beams to detect touches on its screen. But the infrared sensors would collect dust, and required constant cleaning as a result.

Why bring all of this up? Well, it’s simple. For the past few years, a lot of interesting applications of education technology have been in the “collecting dust in the sensors” stage. They were clunky, expensive, and hard to implement; they looked bad and frustrated users. However, many of those new educational tools and ideas are now ready to be mass implemented and disrupt the educational field.

The Jill Watson case

Let’s consider a simple example: chatbots. You have likely already dealt with one of those. A lot of companies have started implementing chatbots as part of their customer experience efforts, and chatbots can now do everything from helping customers browse catalogs to setting appointments and even holding conversations.

Colleges have also started making use of chatbots. Back in 2016, Georgia Tech professor Ashok Goel used IBM’s Watson AI to build Jill Watson — a chatbot teacher assistant. The bot was trained using data from the course’s forum, and for one semester, Jill helped students with their routine questions and requests on the course forum. The best part was that the students didn’t even realize Jill was a bot, and she was helping computer science majors.

Jill is still active today. According to the Georgia Tech website, “Soon Jill will be able to answer about 40 percent of the 10,000 questions students ask each semester. And she doesn’t even need coffee breaks.”

Georgia Tech calls Jill an “artificially intelligent teacher assistant.” Other sources call her a chatbot. The truth is the line between the two is blurry in cases like this, especially when you throw machine learning into the mix. Regardless of what you call it, the result is that we are ever closer to creating an automated general learning assistance solution—one that can be customized and adapts to individual students’ needs.

This will result in software like Jill being present in every student’s phone and forum, helping people learn faster, more effectively, and in a more self-sufficient manner. It will be a personal digital tutor serving students content, grading essays—yes, bots can already do that—and overall, making students’ and teachers’ lives easier.

The rise of massive education

Before the printing press, each book had to be copied by hand. The cost in time and materials, combined with the technical knowledge needed to copy books, meant that books were expensive luxury goods for most of human history. But then came the printing press, and we went from awkwardly copying books page by page to mass-producing books by the truckload in a matter of weeks. Technology made the written word more accessible than it had ever been before.

College lectures are already undergoing the same type of revolution. Earlier, the only way to see a lecture was to be physically present in the room and witness the lecture being executed in front of you.

As cameras became cheaper and video storage tools more reliable, the rise of long-distance and correspondence courses gave us an inkling of what a future with mass-produced education could look like. However, mail was clunky, slow, and often unreliable. Those were still the early days of massive long-distance education.

In the present, those initial problems have been solved thanks to cloud storage, cloud computing, and streaming technologies. This is what made EdX possible.

EdX is a massive open online course (MOOC) provider launched in 2012. The platform is the result of a partnership between Harvard and MIT. Their approach is simple: every single course is open and free, and the curriculums are organized around weekly video lessons that are followed up with activities to help students review and deepen their understanding of the lecture. If you complete a free course, you can pay a fee to get a certified EdX accreditation.

As of 2018, EdX has served 18 million students through two thousand university-level online courses. In the same year, an estimated 20 million students were attending university in the US.

Right now, this form of education is an alternative to traditional learning. But when will it become a partial replacement? With the rise of video technology, making professors deliver the same lectures every semester is no longer necessary. It makes a lot more sense to simply record the semester’s lectures, edit them together, and then let students watch those lectures on their own time, at their own pace — which is what EdX allows.

Professors will then be responsible for updating the videos when needed. They will be able to dedicate the rest of their time to answering questions and helping students.

The personal benefits

The rise of mass video tools and AI teacher assistants will mean a surge in students’ ability to learn independently. This freedom will benefit college students while at university and post-graduation. After all, careers today require almost constant learning of new technologies, and the independent study skills students learn at EdX will help them as they continue their real-world studying. In addition to career benefits, constant study has also been linked to longevity and increased mental health.

Right now, we have to search and find information. The next step is having information come to us when we need it and at a manageable pace. While we wait for such tools to gain mass appeal, you can get young students’ attention using more traditional methods, such as math worksheets.

The Growing Number of People Shifting to Healthier Alternatives to Smoking

e-cig.jpg

When it comes to taking care of one’s health and wellbeing, it is fair to say that individuals unfortunately do not always have their priorities in order. Of course, your health and wellbeing should always be at the top of your list of priorities, but many people unfortunately do not hold the same regard for their health and wellbeing, as others do. There are many different ways that individuals choose to treat their bodies, not all of them ideal. One of the worst things you can do for your health is smoke, and yet there are millions of people around the world to practice this habit everyday. For some people, smoking is a stress reliever, while for others it is simply a bad habit they find challenging to kick to the curb after so many years of carrying it out. Regardless of the reason, the fact is always that smoking is an unhealthy practice that is not only irresponsible but inherently dangerous for one’s health and even their very mortality. So, what can smokers do to shift themselves away from this bad habit?

One of the biggest unhealthy practices that millions of individuals around the globe do everyday is smoke. This much is certain. Millions of individuals smoke every day, and while the practice itself is inherently and undeniably unhealthy, this does not seem to be enough of a fact to stop people from choosing to pollute their bodies with the toxic smoke inhalation that is the direct response of the practice. Even as the years have gone on and the health issues and unfortunate fatalities have continued to climb in many individuals who smoke, there has been little to no shift in the way that smokers approach their unhealthy habit from the onset. Yes, the rise in awareness and research has resulted in some individuals taking the active and consistent steps to quit, but for the most part, there has been considerably less impact that one might reasonably expect.

The biggest scope of impact – and the one that continues to make more and more of a positive impact across the board and around the globe – is the healthier alternatives to smoking that are now globally available to the market. Thankfully, there are more and more of them all the time, nearly all of which are constantly evolving and being driven to their next iteration where they function and thrive in even more healthier and wholesome ways. From the controversial e cigarette to nicotine gum and patches, and even switching out cigarettes for joints, there are many healthy alternatives to smoking available these days. And more to the point, they are always evolving. Whether it be the new flavours of e liquid available on the market, or the advancements in the latest nicotine-focused hypnotherapies, the fact of the matter is that the healthier alternatives to smoking are not only well and truly here, but they are getting bolder, better, faster, and stronger all the time.

This is a new era in the fight to shift smokers away from the toxic habit of smoking and towards healthier alternatives. We are gaining more awareness and insight than ever before, and it is a growing pool of awareness and related information that is driving the point home more cleanly and more vividly than ever. While the odds of getting the entire global population to quit smoking in the near future is slim to none, there is a growing number of smokers around the globe that are beginning to put down the cigarettes, instead shifting towards the healthier alternatives that are now so widely distributed across the international market. The fight is not over yet, but the winning side is steadily shifting to become the side dedicated to a healthier future for all – including, of course, individuals who smoke. This is just the start, and the best innovations and revolutions are yet to come.

When it comes to discussing issues of health and wellbeing, it is fair to say that there are many points that are decidedly controversial, to say the least. While health and wellbeing is indeed one of the biggest priorities for so many of us, not everybody holds that same standard and prioritisation that most of us reserve for these crucial points. There are many unhealthy practices that millions of people practice everyday, the most dangerous and even life-threatening being the habit of smoking. There are many reasons why people smoke, but at the end of the day there is always the weight of knowing what you are choosing to do to your body and put your health and wellbeing through. There must be a better way to approach this. And thankfully, there is. In fact, today there are multiple healthier alternatives to smoking available on the market around the globe. We are finally providing the much-needed healthier alternatives to one of the biggest contributors to poor health ever.

College Financing Avenues Available for Students with Disabilities

college financing

College is usually one of the biggest expenses a person can face; however, it is an investment in their future and a way to achieve their goals. Importantly, college can even be more expensive for people with disabilities.

In many cases, accommodations to make their classrooms accessible have to be paid by the student. Furthermore, medical bills also take a toll on their finances, with higher costs than average, and their transportation needs can be more expensive than other students. Therefore, students with disabilities should be as well informed as possible about the options they have when it comes to funding.

Here, some of these options are presented, in the hope that students with disabilities can learn more about the resources available to them.

Scholarships

Students with disabilities should get information about the many scholarship options available to them.

Some of these are:

  • AAHD Frederick J. Krause Scholarship on Health and Disability.
  • Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (AG Bell) College Scholarship Program.
  • Google Lime Scholarship Program.
  • Baer Reintegration Scholarship.
  • Flora Marie Jenkins Memorial Disability Scholarship.
  • National Center for Learning Disabilities Anne Ford and Allegra Ford Thomas Scholarships.
  • Hemophilia Federation of America (HFA) Educational Scholarships.
  • Microsoft disAbility Scholarship.

Some of these scholarships are available to any student who has finished high school, while others have more specific criteria. The scholarships offered by Google and Microsoft are for students with disabilities who want to declare a major related to technology. Meanwhile, the Baer Reintegration Scholarship is directed to students with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

Federal Disability Benefits

The federal government has been instrumental in making more campuses accessible to students with disabilities. Furthermore, they consider this population as eligible for the Federal TRIO Programs. These are services that are offered to people from disadvantaged backgrounds, as well as students with disabilities. There are eight different programs, and people are eligible from middle school until they finish their graduate studies.

Also, the Pell grant is available to all students, including those with disabilities. The amount of the grant will depend on several aspects, including how expensive the school the person wishes to attend is, if their education will be full-time or part-time, the depth of financial need, and more. Therefore, an extensive process is done to apply for this grant.

The amount depends on your financial need, costs to attend school, status as a full-time or part-time student, and plans to attend school for a full academic year or less.

The government also offers the Vocational Rehabilitation Program, which is focused on helping people with disabilities to find a job. During the assessment, they offer insight on what the educational goal should be for this person based on their aptitudes and vocation. After this, the program offers assistance with higher education options, including vocational training.

Other Financial Options

Loans

The first option for loans should always be federal loans. The amount students can borrow varies, but the interest rates are much better than loans from a private institution. Like any other student, students with disabilities must fill out the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA), where their eligibility is assessed.

Students with disabilities must do a correct estimate of the cost of attendance. As these are very likely to be higher than for other students. Therefore, it is important to have the necessary documentation to provide proof of these estimates. This means, being able to provide the bills and services the student will have to pay due to their disability.

On the other hand, there are personal loans for fair credit and private loans, that will take into consideration credit scores as well as other criteria, which will depend on the institution in question.

Grants

Unlike loans, grants do not need to be paid back. However, this usually translates into stricter criteria. Like with loans, financial need and family situation are assessed before a grant is awarded. Similar to scholarships, there are numerous grants offered every year to students with disabilities.

Some of these are:

  • The Foundation for Science and Disability Grant.
  • Gabriel’s Foundation of Hope Scholarships and Grants.
  • Alice Chavez Pardini Education Advancement Grant.
  • Michigan Scholarships and Grants for Students who are Blind or Visually Impaired.

Just like with scholarships, grants can be general or highly specific. The Foundation for Science and Disability Grant is offered to students who will be focusing on STEM careers, while the Alice Chavez grant is specifically for people who are legally blind. Furthermore, other grants are awarded to cover for any technological or accessibility issues that need to be paid by the student due to their disability.

Work-Study Programs

These programs are available to all students and the vast majority of them are funded by the federal government. However, there are limits to how much a student can earn through these programs. The hourly pay starts at the minimum wage, and it can increase depending on the job.

Summary

The federal government has implemented different bills and acts to ensure students with disabilities are not discriminated against in college. However, this goes beyond improving accessibility. Increased financial expenses mean that college, which can already be very expensive, can become a prohibitive dream for many. Therefore, financial aid becomes instrumental for most students with disabilities, and getting informed about the options available can make all the difference. It is thanks to these financial aid opportunities that many students with disabilities can embark on a successful college career.

 

Secrets to Successful, Lasting Businesses in The Digital Era

businesslongevity

Business is an industry that is constantly evolving from one iteration into the next. This is the industry that is responsible for the ongoing advancement of companies and entire industries. The term ‘business’ itself is quite broad, but the fundamentals that help the industry to not only survive but positively thrive, are more or less set in stone. Now, as we move further into the digital era, those fundamentals are modernising more and more. Reshaping and realigning with the way the world is moving. A successful business has always been about driving company fundamentals ever-forward to bring consumers the next experience, products, and services. That has not changed, but the ways in which companies and entire industries go about gravitating towards that experience have. So, what is the key to successful and lasting business in the digital era? Longevity and success in any business is always fantastic, but it is maintaining that longevity and success, and consistently growing it, that many businesses find difficult to nail down.

Growth Is the New Ambition for Businesses

Thankfully, there is a solution to a point, and it centres all around forging, building, maintaining, and growing human relationships in a professional setting. The decision to become an entrepreneur is one that should never be taken lightly, and nowhere else is this truer than in the case of modern business. Thanks to ongoing advancements in digitalisation and technological innovation, modern businesses are more focused than ever on achieving longevity and success not just instantaneously, but on an ongoing basis. It is more easily said than done, as well, as no business is without its challenges and hurdles. But there is one primary focus that ultimately has proven to be the key to ongoing longevity and success in modern business, time and again, across varying industries. Quite often, this is a business strategy that is crucial but too often overlooked, but what exactly is it, and why is it so important in the first place?

Catering to Your Target Market

First and foremost, no business and hope to survive past its first fiscal year (if it survives that long at all) without the loyalty and support of its consumers. Here’s the reality: no matter which industry a business thrives in, that business quite literally lives to serve a purpose. And in every case, across every industry, that purpose always centres around the consumers and giving them the best possible experience, product, or service available on the market. Keeping those consumers happy and drawing and maintaining their business, while continuing to grow your company, is no easy feat. It takes a lot of hard work, grit, and ongoing consumer communications both with consumers and within the company itself, to give consumers the best that you possibly can. But alas, that is the goal (and it always will be, for that matter). Your consumers are like your business’ family, so keeping them happy and loyal to your company is the most important foundational aspect of all.

Focussing on Your Loyal Consumers

Your business will thrive and excel if you take note of this advice, going on to become stronger and stronger all the time, on an ongoing basis. Consumer focus helps to ensure that all parties are getting the most benefit out of transactions, always. Everything else of course has its place (think everything from business meetings on a Webinar Software platform to industry networking events, and everything in between and beyond), but at the end of the day, consumer focus is the primary key because, without it, even the strongest business concept cannot hope to live a very long and healthy life at all. At the end of the day, your focus as an entrepreneur and business owner should always be on the consumers and what you can do to ensure that they have the best perception of your company and the best experience using the experiences, products, or services that your company provides. If you cannot achieve that, your business cannot hope to last very long at all. Harsh as it may seem, that is the unwavering truth of the matter.

Conclusion

The professional landscape of business is one that is literally always in the midst of its own evolution. Companies and entire industries are always working towards becoming bolder and stronger iterations of their former and current selves. Reshaping and realigning to move in the same pivotal direction as the rest of the world, modern businesses are realising the power of digitalisation and technological advancement and using that power to their distinct advantage. In a professional landscape that is more capable and more competitive than ever, there is immense power in modern business. The secret to unlocking that power? Consumer focus. More than anything else, consumer focus must be the prominent focus because at the end of the day, no business amounts to anything without resonating with consumers and making them see its value. Everything else will come in due time.

Technology and Wellbeing: Are They Totally Incompatible?

wearable-t_m2217835.jpg

The Global Wellness Summit just released its annual Future of Wellness list, and among their predictions of the biggest health trends anticipated for 2020 sits the increased integration of health (especially mental health) and technology. You know, the rise of things like virtual therapy, mindfulness apps, and wearable devices to decipher your moods, feelings and blood pressure. That kind of thing.

I am deeply worried.

On one hand, technology has provided the healthcare community with valuable tools for improving patient care, from apps for booking appointments and delivering appointment reminders, to more specific medical technologies that have improved the quality of healthcare delivery, increased patient safety, decreased the frequency of medical errors and strengthened the interaction between patients and healthcare providers. Technology has led us to where we are today, with access to new and better-than-ever diagnostic tools, cutting-edge treatments, access to remote consultations with specialists, and intuitive mobile apps that lead to better healthcare results overall. 

Without advances in technology we wouldn’t be celebrating the success of the world’s first robotic surgery in China last year, where a patient suffering from numbness received robotic surgery from robot Tinavi, the world’s only orthopedic robotic system capable of carrying out surgery on the extremities. The 42-year-old patient recovered in record time as a result – he was able to get up from bed the next day and had recovered within one week.

But on the other hand, when it comes to individuals rather than healthcare providers, there are now virtual reality apps that claim to help ease symptoms of depression and anxiety, and devices that can help people with their postoperative recovery process. There are sports and fitness apps that help you hit weekly fitness targets, pregnancy apps that help you along the journey and menstrual period trackers that can help couples conceive.

I am most certainly not denying that technology has disrupted the healthcare industry in the way it desperately needed to be, nor that technology should be celebrated for its remarkable capacity to save lives and prevent suffering. What I am saying, however, is that technology is a double edged sword when it comes to our personal health, and the two are – in my opinion – wholly incompatible.

Take the influx of health and wellbeing apps like sleep cycle analysis, and meditation apps, for example. Do people honestly expect that by closing their eyes and clicking START on a meditation app they will experience that same powerful, spiritual, yogic state of relaxation meditation promises its devoted practisers? Meditation is premised on using one’s breath to reduce the adrenaline, cortisol and other stress-related chemicals constantly pulsing through our body – but mobile phones themselves emit a form of non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation capable of causing changes to brain activity. At the same time phones been proven to cause anxiety, frustration and impatience in mobile users.

To me, I am at a loss as to why anyone would think meditating via one’s mobile phone is a good idea. Not only are you being constantly tempted to flick open your phone when you see texts and emails coming in from friends, but you are also being tempted into distraction by pop up advertisements for white Label CBD products and PatPat outfit ensembles for you and your partner. It is surely impossible to get through a full meditation without sneaking a glance at the screen.

Studies have literally proven that the blue light on mobile devices and computers restrain the production of melatonin, the hormone that controls your sleep cycle or circadian rhythm. In other words, looking at a screen – even if dim – can physically have an effect on your body clock, in turn affecting our physiology and behavior.

Psychologically, overuse of mobile phones has been scientifically proven to increase anxiety, feelings of loneliness, and low self-esteem, as well as frustration, and impatience in instances where the technology fails. So, the polar opposite of the outcome desired from meditation and calming apps such as Buddhify and Headspace. Personally, I get a tight chest, feeling of shortness of breath, and the beginnings of a headache whenever I am even close to my phone. Having spent years trying to self-diagnose this ‘tech disorder’ I have finally concluded that while it mightn’t have yet been definitely proven, the mental anxiety that comes with cell phone addiction (which I clearly have) is manifesting physically within me.

Over to smartphones and exercise, and there are more studies proving that rather than helping people exercise in the gym, smartphones can have a negative effect on physical fitness levels. Recently researchers from Kent State University found that college students tended to be less fit when they spent as much as 14 hours a day on their phones, compared with those who spent just an hour and a half a day on their phones. The study, which was published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, followed more than 300 college students and studied the correlations between smartphone usage and fitness and body composition.

The evidence is there – technology (smartphones specifically) and mental health and wellbeing just aren’t meant to go hand in hand. Spending time in nature, on the other hand, has been proven to have measurable benefits on a person’s wellbeing, as well as provide symptom relief for health issues like heart disease, depression, cancer, anxiety and attention disorders. Spending 40 minutes walking in a cedar forest can lead to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is required for blood pressure and immune-system function. So rather than download that meditation app or fitness tracker, why not put down the phone and just for a walk outdoors instead? Let’s take a step back, in order to keep progressing as humans were intended.

Aviation Industry Vows To Reduce Net Carbon Emissions, While Upping Number Of Flights

original.jpg

Activists and nonprofit organisations are up in arms over the fact that the UK aviation industry has pledged to cut its net carbon emissions to zero by 2050, while still planning to roll out 70% more flights over the next three decades.

This ambitious aim is mostly to accommodate the expanding middle class in their desire to explore beyond the borders they know – especially within the developing bloc of Brazil, Russia, India, and China. With rising income and cheaper airfares comes increased access to international travel, and boy does the aviation industry know it. In recent years international travel has simply exploded: in 2016, there were a whopping 3.8 billion air travelers, but the International Air Transport Association expects this will double by 2035 to 7.2 billion passengers.

But at the same time, members of the Sustainable Aviation coalition are signing an international commitment to reach net zero by 2050, with more than a third of the reduction in C02 emissions to be achieved through carbon offsetting on flights. The decarbonisation plan replaces a previous commitment that saw signatories commit to reducing future emissions to just half of what is currently emitted, and aims to do so through more efficient engine technology, smarter flight operations and better fuels. But no matter how efficient engine fuels can be, and no matter what routes airlines take, it simply won’t make up for the expected 70% growth in daily flights that industry anticipates over the next 30 years.

Without putting a cap on growth, how do they expect this will happen?

The science is very clear.

In 2018, commercial airlines burned 94 billion gallons of fossil fuel globally. Jet fuel produces around 21 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per gallon burned. The carbon intensity of flying an aeroplane is something that can no longer be debated. One round-trip flight between New York and California, for example, generates around 20 percent of the greenhouse gases that a car emits over an entire year. There are around 90,000 flights taking off a day in the U.S. alone. Need I go on?

When we found out eating red meat was perhaps the most carbon intensive human activity we could participate in, people began advocating that we eat less red meat. Why then, upon learning how carbon intensive flying is, are airlines and industry not advocating for less flights, and more efficient flights at that?

Oh, that’s right. Because money.

Signing this ‘net zero’ commitment is yet another empty promise from businesses, another sign of the greenwashing we have come to expect from industry in the increasingly capitalist world we live in.  How do they anticipate doing this, beyond charging customers more per flight to offset their emissions (or perhaps by forcing them to do so), and as a result investing in the planting of more trees elsewhere?

We’re making progress environmentally-speaking in so many other ways. Green Monday is making an impact on how much meat we as a society eat, we are lucky enough to have private companies like Clearabee making private waste collection easier than ever, and the cost of solar panels and access to renewable energies is lessening each and every year. Bit by bit, reusable coffee mugs and water bottles are becoming more widely used, people are walking more than they used to, and schools worldwide are integrating sustainable development into their curriculum. Thanks to young heroes and activists like Time’s Person of The Year 2019 Greta Thunberg, we are slowly coming to understand as a global society that changes need to be made. Aviation is the next big focus – we need to do things differently, asap.

Signing this commitment is certainly a sign that at last the need for change has been recognised, but we need to ensure this recognition is accompanied by solid actionable goals to reduce the CO2 emissions that result from all this flying. The plan is to develop new tech, like biofuels and electric planes. And while these technologies are in the process of being developed, they are in no way at the stage of development where commercial airlines can begin rolling them out. I don’t anticipate that an electric plane will be capable of carrying a full flight of passengers overseas for another 10 years at least, and by then, we will be inching dangerously close to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change deadline for cutting net human carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions 45% by 2030, as well as cutting emissions further to net zero by 2050.

We need to take more drastic steps to reduce our carbon emissions, and by that I mean to say that we need to reduce the number of flights we take. Is the answer a global ‘one flight a week’ per person policy, akin to that of China’s one child policy? Or is the answer to tax airlines so heavily that they will once again become too expensive for the middle class to afford? Neither seems fair, but perhaps these are our best options.