Technology can even free teachers from admin, leaving more time to devlote to pupils. Photo: Getty
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The latest learning technology can raise standards of education for everyone

To get the best out of it, investment in learning technology needs to be results driven.

Technology makes life better. It allows people from across the globe to collaborate as if seated around the same table, has allowed 3D printing to become a reality and makes it possible to master Guitar Hero from the comfort, and privacy, of our living rooms. As technology changes the world around us, it is also transforming education. Technology at its best can empower teachers and students, raise standards and improve outcomes for those who learn.

While we have seen youth unemployment dropping to its lowest level for five years, it is still too high. Yet employers with jobs to fill are saying that they are unable to fill entry-level vacancies as they cannot find candidates with the necessary skills. This is damaging to individuals and businesses alike. By harnessing the latest technology, we can develop innovative learning techniques and platforms to ensure those entering work for the first time are equipped with the skills employers need, and that those already in jobs are able to progress through their career.

Better still, evidence shows that the biggest impact of technology in education is on those who need it most. Technology has the power to break open the doors of learning, making education more inclusive and enabling it to embrace those learners that have for too long been marginalised. It is these individuals who can benefit the most from innovation. Traditionally, learning was constrained to classrooms and required students to physically attend set lessons. This immediately excludes those who are unable to make this type of commitment, whether because of disability or due to childcare or other caring commitments. If we take learning out of the classroom and put it online, or indeed make it accessible on a mobile phone, then suddenly those people that were previously excluded are able to make learning a part of their lives.

Encouragingly, innovation in digital education continues at pace. Just recently, online learning company Qualt launched a new platform that allows learners looking to develop their careers to study professional skills Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) via a free downloadable app on their smart phone. This is a prime example of how technology can offer people a flexible, low-risk opportunity to develop in a way that works around them and their lifestyle. This week also saw adult learning charity NIACE awarded ‘App of the Year’ in the Prolific North Awards for their Maths Everywhere app that helps adults build vital numeracy skills. 

It’s not just outside of the classroom that technology can make a difference. Technology can be effectively used by teachers to bring subjects to life within schools, colleges and universities. It can also assist teachers with their administrative and planning tasks, allowing more time to focus on inspiring and nurturing pupils.

Through embracing technology, students - whether sat in a classroom or on the sofa - can benefit from a bespoke education tailored to their personal strengths and weaknesses. Digital learning programs can be paced to suit the individual, meaning those who benefit from extra time on key subjects, or indeed those who are capable of racing ahead, are kept on-track and engaged. The digitally enhanced classroom has no disengaged back row, no struggling students too embarrassed to raise questions in front of their peers and no bright stars wasting their potential re-visiting topics they have already mastered.  Technology can help keep the de-motivated engaged just as it helps the best to soar.

While technology is a subject to get enthused and excited by, we must not lose our heads. Teachers should not fear technology. But to get the best out of it, investment in learning technology needs to be results driven. Success must not be measured on technical terms or spending commitments, but instead by its ability to drive up standards and outcomes for learners. Embracing technology does not simply mean writing cheques.  We have learnt the hard way that brand-new kit is only able to prove its worth if used effectively. This means making smart purchasing decisions and ensuring that staff and users are trained to take full advantage of their new devices.

By harnessing the latest learning technology, we can raise standards of education for everyone. Schools can offer students a more dynamic learning experience catered to their individual needs, employees keen to further their career can learn new skills online, and critically those previously left on the sidelines of education, can benefit from more opportunities to learn than ever before.

Matthew Hancock is Minister of State for Skills and Enterprise

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How “cli-fi” novels humanise the science of climate change

The paradox is that the harder climate-fiction novels try, the less effective they are.

When the Paris UN Climate Change Conference begins at the end of November, the world’s leaders will review the climate framework agreed in Rio in 1992. For well over 20 years, the world has not just been thinking and talking about climate change, it has also been writing and reading about it, in blogs, newspapers, magazines – and in novels.

Climate change fiction is now a recognisable literary phenomenon replete with its own nickname: “cli-fi”. The term was coined in 2007 by Taiwan-based blogger Dan Bloom. Since then, its use has spread: it was even tweeted by Margaret Atwood in 2013:

It is not a genre in the accepted scholarly sense, since it lacks the plot formulas or stylistic conventions that tend to define genres (such as science fiction or the western). However, it does name a remarkable recent literary and publishing trend.

A 21st-century phenomenon?

Putting a number to this phenomenon depends, partly, on how one defines cli-fi. How much of a novel has to be devoted to climate change before it is considered cli-fi? Should we restrict the term to novels about man-made global warming? (If we don’t, we should remember that narratives about global climatic change are as old as The Epic of Gilgamesh and the Biblical story of the flood.) If we define cli-fi as fictional treatments of climate change caused by human activity in terms of setting, theme or plot – and accept there will be grey areas in the extent of this treatment – a conservative estimate would put the all-time number of cli-fi novels at 150 and growing. This is the figure put forward by Adam Trexler, who has worked with me to survey the development of cli-fi.

This definition also gives us a start date for cli-fi’s history. While planetary climatic change occurs in much 20th-century science fiction, it is only after growing scientific awareness of specifically man-made, carbon-induced climate change in the 1960s and 1970s that novels on this subject emerged. The first is Arthur Herzog’s Heat in 1976, followed by George Turner’s The Sun and the Summer (published in the US as Drowning Towers) in 1987.

At the turn of this century, Maggie Gee and TC Boyle were among the first mainstream authors to publish climate change novels. In this century, we can count Atwood, Michael Crichton, Barbara Kingsolver, Ian McEwan, Kim Stanley Robinson, Ilija Trojanow and Jeanette Winterson as major authors who have written about climate change. The past five years have given us notable examples of cli-fi by emerging authors, such as Steven Amsterdam, Edan Lepucki, Jane Rawson, Nathaniel Rich and Antti Tuomainen.

Creative challenges

Cli-fi is all the more noteworthy considering the creative challenge posed by climate change. First, there is the problem of scale – spatial and temporal. Climate change affects the entire planet and all its species – and concerns the end of this planet as we know it. Novels, by contrast, conventionally concern the actions of individual protagonists and/or, sometimes, small communities.

Added to this is the networked nature of climate change: in physical terms, the climate is a large, complex system whose effects are difficult to model. In socio-cultural terms, solutions require intergovernmental agreement – just what COP21 intends – and various top-down and bottom-up transformations. Finally, there exists the difficulty of translating scientific information, with all its predictive uncertainty, into something both accurate and interesting to the average reader.

Still, cli-fi writers have adopted a range of strategies to engage their readers. Many cli-fi novels could be classified as dystopian, post-apocalyptic or, indeed, both – depicting nightmarish societies triggered by sometimes catastrophic climate events. A future world is one effective way of narrating the planetary condition of climate change.

Some novelists are also careful to underpin their scenarios with rigorous climatic predictions and, in this way, translate science fact into a fictional setting. Kingsolver, who trained as an ecologist, is the best example of this – and Atwood and Robinson are also known for their attempts at making their speculations scientifically plausible. Also, cli-fi novels, particularly those set in the present day or very near future rather than in a dystopian future, tend to show the political or psychological dimensions of living with climate change. Readers can identify with protagonists. To some extent, the global community is represented in fictional everymen or everywomen. Or, often, it is through such characters that science is humanised and its role in combating climate change better understood.

Can cli-fi lead to change?

Could cli-fi affect how we think and act on climate change? The paradox is that the harder cli-fi tries, the less effective it is. Many writers want to inspire change, not insist on it: the line between literature and propaganda is one that most novelists respect. Literature invites us to inhabit other worlds and live other lives. Cli-fi at its best lets us travel to climate-changed worlds, to strive there alongside others and then to return armed with that experience.

In Paris, the UN will seek a global agreement on climate action for the first time in more than 20 years. There is plenty of climate change fiction out there to help provide the mental and psychological space to consider that action.

The Conversation

Adeline Johns-Putra, Reader in English Literature, University of Surrey

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.