Sunday, 25 June 2017

How “Virtual Reality Teaching” could help educate the world.

The Challenge 

One of the greatest challenges for Education in the Twenty-first Century is that there is an ever-increasing divide between the demand for learning and the supply of schooling. This is seen most obviously in the global shortage of teachers, but it extends to the dearth of school leaders, and to the unavailability of schools themselves.
 According to UNESCO (Institute of Statistics, 2013), there are currently 263 million children not in education and the world will need 3.3 million more primary teachers and 5.1 million more lower Secondary teachers by 2030. These statistics demonstrate that we are failing millions of young people. Our current model of teaching with a specialist standing in front of a class of 20-30 pupils is inefficient and unsustainable. We need to find a way to bring education to all. There is no easy answer to this problem, but I believe that “Virtual Reality Teaching” will be part of the solution.

Virtual Reality in the Classroom 

Most are familiar with Virtual Reality (VR) – it is transforming the Gaming industry and it is now finding its way into classrooms around the world. The technology is simple: it works very much in the same way that enabled a previous generation of children to enjoy 3D images through a Viewmaster. The headset projects a slightly different image to each eye, which gives a 3D effect. As the viewer moves his head to the left and right, the image moves giving a strong feeling of being in situ. By turning around, the viewer can see what is behind him; by looking up he can see what’s above him-it’s ‘real’!

What makes Virtual Reality different? 

The greatest difference between VR and, say, watching a DVD is that VR is an active rather than a passive process. It feels like the real experience. Because the viewer is controlling where he looks and what he focuses on, this inevitably leads to greater engagement. Indeed, Virtual Reality allows the user to experience what is going on in a way that feels authentic.

Personalised Learning 

At JESS, Dubai, we use VR extensively in our Primary schools to take children on virtual school trips traveling around the world, back in time and even into space. In the past few weeks at Year 5 have met some ancient Egyptians, Year 4 have been to London, Foundation 2 travelled to Mars and Year 6 went to Ancient Greece. The children ‘felt’ what it was like to be there and the experience helped them to develop mature responses at a significantly deeper level than would ever be possible from watching a video. Possibly the greatest strength of VR is that the experience is personalised – the child is in control of the experience, he can go at his own pace, choosing to look at what he wants, taking time to look for detail, moving on only when ready.

From Virtual Reality to Virtual Reality Teaching 

I believe that Virtual Reality technology is more than just the latest in the long line of technologies which can be harnessed by teachers to help them make their classrooms come alive. It has the potential to be the “disruptor” of education providing access to some of the best teaching in the world to millions of children who are currently not in education.

Proof of Concept: “Virtual Reality Teaching” 

“Virtual Reality Teaching” (VRT) has the potential to allow children in Calcutta to feel as if they are in a classroom at JESS, Dubai. Earlier this year, Steve Bambury, the Director of Innovation and Digital Learning at JESS, conducted a “proof-of-concept” test of VRT. We aimed to give students an immersive experience of being in a classroom, rather than passively watching a Video Conferencing screen. This involved putting a 360-degree camera in the second row of a classroom and running a live stream to a classroom next door where a student wearing a VR headset “participated virtually” in the lesson. The experience of the remote student was not perfect, there was a time delay and some buffering, but he felt like he was in the classroom. This has the potential to be revolutionary. The technical processor speed and network bandwidth issues will be resolved sooner rather than later in accordance with the inexorable progress of Moore’s Law. We are confident that it is only a matter of time that students will be able to attend class at JESS remotely.

“Virtual Reality English Language Teaching” 

The English Language teaching sector is a significant part of the global education industry. According to the British Council figures there were 1.5bn people learning and speaking English in 2014 and it is estimated that this will increase to 2bn people (25% of the global population) by 2020. The Export revenue for the UK’s English Language Teaching (ELT) sector was estimated at £1.2 billion (US$1.74 billion) for 2014 (Source: ICEF Monitor, Feb 2016). The demand for English Language Teaching is only set to increase as English extends its influence as the lingua franca. Virtual Reality Teaching is likely to become an important way in which learners will be able to gain access to the best teachers and interact with native speakers. Potential investors would be well advised to target the Far East in the first instance as this region is quick to embrace new technologies and already is an established market for English Language teaching.

Making “Virtual Reality Teaching” a Reality

"Virtual Reality Teaching" has enormous potential, but it will take more than a couple forward-thinking professionals in the UAE to make it happen. Technological development will have to combine with a robust educational pedagogy. We have a long way to go. 
I suspect that the technological development will come from Oculus, the leading VR company owned by Facebook. Understandably, having recently become a father, Mark Zuckerberg is becoming interested in education and he has the resources to make this vision happen. It is perhaps fitting that he then has the last word: 
“After Games, we’re going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences. Imagine enjoying a courtside seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world, or consulting a doctor face-to-face – just by putting on your goggles at home.” 
This article was written for the English Language Gazette.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Mission, Strategy and Development Planning

One of the most important roles of any leadership team is to plan for the future and set a direction of travel for the organisation so that it can thrive and not just survive. Most School Leadership Teams and Governing Bodies have little problem generating a whole range of ideas about how they would like the school to develop in the future. However, in my experience there are three important factors which differentiate those schools who are successful at future planning from those who are disastrous:
  1. Successful schools know what they are about; 
  2. Successful schools plan for the future strategically; 
  3. Successful schools get the most out of the limited resources available. 
These three concepts are at the heart of future planning.

Mission – The Why?

Mission is really about explaining why the organisation exists (See Simon Sinek’s The Importance of Why). Often this is embedded deep in the past, in the very foundation of the organisation. For most independent schools this will be found in the ‘charitable object’. Mission Statements are perhaps less fashionable than they were a decade ago, but the starting point for all future planning has to be some sort of overarching aim or purpose which reflects the core values of the organisation. 
The key mission questions are: 
  • What are our core values? 
  • What do we stand for? 
  • What are we trying to achieve? 
JESS Dubai’s Mission Statement is founded on its core value of ‘making a difference’: 
JESS Dubai aims to be a school that has a global reputation for delivering an education that challenges young people to make a difference. 
Berkhamsted School developed its mission by having 10 aims (6 Educational Aims and 4 Operational Aims) and all future planning was expected to contribute to at least one of these aims. 

Strategic Planning – The How? 

Strategy is concerned with defining how the organisation fulfils its mission. It does this by deciding how the organisation fits into the wider marketplace and by determining its shape and extent. The most important strategic questions is: 

  • What is our market niche? 

The role of the strategist is to plot the course for the organisation within the terms of the its mission adapting to changing external conditions. Strategic plans should never be fixed – they are provisional. The strategist therefore needs high quality information to be able to analyse market changes. There are a whole number of tools to facilitate this: 

  • PESTEL Analysis (Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Environmental and Legal) is a tool for determining external business environmental factors. 
  • SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) is a self-evaluative tool for determining the organisations priorities for development and investment. 
  • Porter’s Five Forces Model is a tool that sets out to identify the attractiveness of an industry in terms of five competitive forces: the threat of entry, the threat of substitutes, the power of buyers, the power of suppliers and the extent of the rivalry between the companies. 
  • Resourced Based Analysis is a tool that identifies those resources within an organisation which can bring it a sustained competitive advantage. Rare, Valuable, Inimitable and Organizational Process. 
  • Key Success Factor Competitor Analysis is a tool that examines four key areas (price, product quality, service and reassurance) which differentiate market leaders from their competitors. 

These and other similar tools enable School leaders to determine where the school sits in the marketplace and to answer the following fundamental strategic questions: 

  • What is the optimum size of the school? 
  • What is the optimum structure of the school? 
  • Co-ed v Single Sex? 
  • Curriculum type? 
  • Boarding v Day? 
  • What is the Pastoral Care Structure? 

These are questions of policy and should be determined by Governors.
The answers to these fundamental questions will change over time as the marketplace in which it is operating changes. The past twenty years has seen most independent schools in the UK shift on at least one of these fundamental strategic questions: boarding schools have taken day pupils, single sex schools have embraced coeducation, prep schools have opened pre-preps and nurseries; senior schools have opened tied junior schools; schools have merged and have grown size, schools now provide year-round wrap-around care for working parents. The Berkhamsted Schools Group today is a product of all of these changes – it is structurally a different school in nearly every respect to the school that it was in 1997. 

Development Planning – The What? 

Development Planning is concerned with what the organisation is going to do to enable it to adapt and improve – within the strategic parameters. Development planning plots how we are going to get from where we are (A) to where we want to be (B). Development Planning is really about the allocation of scarce resources: 

  • Time – in school terms this means the shape of the school day and the curriculum allocation; 
  • People – teaching and support staff; 
  • Space – classrooms and meeting rooms ; 
  • Skills – training, CPD and INSET days; 
  • Money – capital expenditure, fit-outs, staffing and other running costs. 

Planning is where vision meets reality. It is about how a school is going to spend time and money and how it is going to use its people, space and skills. These are questions of process and should be determined at an executive level within a budget determined by Governors.
Poor development planning happens when it is not tied to the school strategy and when schools mindless follow what other schools are doing on the principle of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’. Too many schools invested in Interactive Whiteboards and iPads to impress prospective parents without having any training or idea of where they fitted into a teaching and learning pedagogy for the school. The result is a lost opportunity and a waste of money. 

Final Thoughts 

Future planning requires an enormous amount of work. It is not simply the generation of a list of ‘nice-to-have’ projects. It is about striking a balance between the internal (self-knowledge of what the school in essence is about and its priorities) and the external (understanding of the wider operational environment). Above all, it requires striking a balance between strong traditional core values and an open-mindedness as to how these can be applied for the benefit of the next generation of pupils.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

The Future of Schooling - Interview with Relocate Magazine

Interview with Relocate Magazine about the Future of Schooling, filmed at the COBIS Conference in Greenwich, London on 07/05/2017

Sunday, 7 May 2017

The COBIS Future of Schooling Debate

This presenatation was given the 36th Annual COBIS Conference in Greenwich on Sunday 7th May, 2017

The Future of Schooling - Lessons from Dubai

This presentation was given at the 36th Annual COBIS Conference in Greenwich, London, on Sunday 7th May, 2017.

 

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Caveat Emptor - the perils ahead for those investing in Dubai's for-profit private schools

The National 23/04/2017
It has been a tough few days for the UAE schools' market. Last week GEMS announced that their flagship ultra-premium school, GEMS Nations Academy will be 'merging' with GEMS Dubai American Academy (Education Journal Middle East 13/04/2017) and today The National has run two stories indicating that parents are shopping around because the 'High Cost of Education is the biggest challenge faced by parents.'
These stories indicate that the oversupply of schools is having an impact at every level of the UAE private schools market.
The failure of GEMS Nations is indicative that there is not a market for an ultra-Premium school in Dubai.
The effective closure of GEMS Nations Academy after only one year indicates that there is not a market for an ultra-Premium school in what is an already competitive Premium marketplace. This flagship school boasted the best teaching, small class sizes and Rolls Royce school facilities - all at an eye-watering price point that was 30% higher than most of its competitors. GEMS is a big enough organisation to absorb this loss and its merger with DAA is a useful Plan B. Its failure must serve as a warning sign not only to North London Collegiate School, Dubai who are also pitching into the market in September 2017 with ultra-premium priced product, but also to Brighton and Dwight who are coming to Dubai in 2018, and to other UK schools thinking of establishing franchise schools in the UAE.
Market forces are driving a readjustment in Dubai's private schools' market.
The National story on parents shopping around and moving children between schools represents a readjustment in the wider private schools market. It was only in the academic year 2014-15 that the number of places exceeded the number of pupils. Any under-supplied market has the potential for rich pickings for investors, this is all the more so when it is an 'essential' product that is being sold - ex-pat parents are required by law to put their child into a private school. The consequence was that schools were able to open and thrive that do not represent good value to parents. 
A market-driven schools sector is generally a good thing. Now that there is over-supply we are seeing market forces at work: parents moving children between schools, greater competition is driving up school quality, and prices are falling. However, we can also expect more school closures as 'the dark hand of the market' culls those who don't make the mark.
The challenge for school owners, governors and school leaders is to raise standards without raising prices.
The challenge for school owners, governors and school leaders is to raise standards without raising prices. This will be particularly difficult in a context of a global shortage of teachers and of rising costs due to the introduction of VAT in January 2018, and the inevitable subsequent wage-price inflation that will follow. It is likely that schools will be forced to absorb costs in order to retain market share, with the obvious consequence that returns for shareholders will fall.
These are exciting but difficult times for the private school sector. The streets of Dubai are not paved with gold - let anyone thinking of investing in the private schools sector beware - Caveat Emptor. 

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Has the time come to start replacing Secondary Teachers with Para-Teachers and the Application of Technology?

Ideal World v Reality

In an ideal world we would want every secondary school child to be taught by a suitably qualified specialist teacher, however we are far from that reality. 
  • On a global level according to UNESCO, there are an estimated 263 million children who are not in education and the world will need 5.1 million more lower Secondary teachers by 2030 to meet future demand. 
  • On a more parochial level, the UK National Audit Office report Training New Teachers (10 Feb 2016) showed that the proportion of physics classes taught by a teacher without a post A-level physics qualification rose from 21% in 2010 to 28% in 2014; Indeed the Institute of Physics in 2010 estimated that some 500 secondary schools in the UK didn't have a qualified Physics teacher.
Given that the teacher recruitment crisis is only set to get worse, has the time come to review the role of teachers and to look for new models for our schools?

In The Future of the Professions Richard and Daniel Susskind argue there needs to be new business models for education:
‘It is widely recognised that there is insufficient funding available to run high quality schools and universities if teachers and professors operate in the traditional way.’ (p.208)

Revisiting the Role of the Teacher

Susskind and Susskind  argue that professional work should be 'decomposed', that is broken down into constituent ‘tasks’ and that a 'Process Analyst' should determine if these tasks could be carried out by a less qualified Para-Professional or indeed  by the application of technology (See previous blogpost for a summary of some of their key arguments). 
So what of teaching? Can teaching can be decomposed and the tasks either delegated to a 'Para-Teacher' or performed by the application of technology?

Teaching Decomposed

It is undoubtedly possible to break down 'Teaching' into a whole range of tasks. Indeed Governments and Trade Unions around the world have a range of views of what should be (and what should not be) the tasks that teachers do. It is difficult to find either a consensus or a list that comes without a political agenda. However, the US Department of Labor Bureau of Statistics (2015) Occupational Outlook Handbook, which is fundamentally an official careers advice site, lists ten 'duties' of a high school teacher which appear in most other lists:
Screenshot of US Department of Labor Bureau of Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook entry for High School Teachers (captured 17/03/2017)

Process Analysis of the 10 teacher tasks:

We then need to determine which (if any) of these tasks could be carried out by a less qualified Para-Professional or indeed  by the application of technology.
Is doing this task not getting the most out of a qualified Physics teacher?
One way to facilitate tackling this question is to imagine a school that only has one suitably qualified Physics teacher when it really needs three. The school leader might want to maximise the impact that the one Physics teacher has on the teaching of Physics across the whole school. Which of the following tasks would the school leader be able to delegate to a lesser qualified Para-professional (or non-Physics graduate qualified teacher)? Can any of the tasks be carried out by the application of technology?
  1. Planning Physics lessons;
  2. Assessing students to evaluate their abilities, strengths, and weaknesses in Physics;
  3. Teaching students Physics in full class settings or in small groups;
  4. Adapting Physics lessons to any changes in class size;
  5. Grading students’ assignments and exams to monitor progress in Physics;
  6. Communicating with parents about students’ progress in Physics;
  7. Working with individual students to challenge them, to improve their abilities in Physics, and to work on their weaknesses;
  8. Preparing students for standardized Physics tests required by the state; 
  9. Developing and enforcing classroom rules and administrative policies; 
  10. Supervising students outside of the classroom—for example, at lunchtime or during detention;
A Process Analysis might decide that 
  1. Planning Physics lessons needs to be done by a Physics professional, However, the planning of lessons could be centralised and done by one person who ideally (but not necessarily) would be in the school.
  2. Assessing students might be done in a number of ways including by professional judgment of a Physics teacher; by tests marked by the Physics teacher or by a Para-Teacher with a mark scheme; and by online adaptive testing.
  3. Teaching students might be done in a number of ways including by a Physics teacher physically in front of a class or by video-conferencing; by online lectures; and through online courses.
  4. Adapting Physics lessons might be done most easily by a Physics professional, but can also be done by adaptive online courses.
  5. Grading students’ assignments and exams by professional judgment of a Physics teacher or by a Para-Teacher based on assessment and objective criteria; and electronically as the result of online adaptive testing.
  6. Communicating with parents about students’ progress might be done through traditional means such as written subject reports or parent-teacher meetings, but might also be done through teachers have 'live' online markbooks which are available to parents.
  7. Working with individual students is best done by a Physics professional.
  8. Preparing students for exams might be done by revision lessons run by a Physics professional, but increasingly there are online revision resources (e.g. BBC GCSE Bitesize) and online self-testing programs.
  9. Developing and enforcing classroom rules is not directly Physics related and could theoretically be carried out by a less qualified Para-Professional.
  10. Supervising students outside of the classroom  could be carried out by a less qualified Para-Professional.

Decomposition and the Question of Quality of Outcomes for Student Learning

The next step is for the Process Analyst to determine the relative quality of outcomes for student learning of these teacher tasks being performed by a qualified classroom teacher following the traditional model and the alternatives: the 'Para-Teacher' or 'Application of Technology' models. 
If we accept that Assessing Students might be done by a Para-Teacher with a mark scheme or by online adaptive testing. are these alternative models better/similar/ worse for student learning  than assessments conducted by a qualified Teacher?
Whilst the qualified professional is likely to be qualitatively better at conducting many of the teacher tasks, it is quite possible that there are circumstances where the alternative models may be better, particularly when we take the matter of scale into consideration. For example, a teacher may be able to produce personalised learning plans which address individual concerns and go at an appropriate pace for each student for a small number of students, but this level of differentiation may not be possible when teaching a large number of sets and with large class sizes. Conversely, an online adaptive course with built-in assessments might be able to provide personalised learning plans and assessments for thousands of pupils at a time.

And so . . . .?

As the statistics given at the start of this post suggest, we are already facing a challenge of recruitment of specialist teachers. Many schools are already having to explore alternative models to staff lessons in 'shortage subjects'. 
We have to recognise that the traditional model of a suitably qualified specialist teacher standing in front of a class of 30 pupils is a luxury form of education that that  most societies can no longer afford.
Although many in the profession recoil at the thought of revisiting our traditional classroom model, it is time to abandon our idealism and find a way of delivering the best possible form of schooling that is practically possible. The 'Para-Teacher' and the 'Application of Technology' are likely to have a significant part to play in the future of secondary education.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

The Future of the Professions by Richard and Daniel Susskind - Summary of some key ideas

Richard and Daniel Susskind's The Future of the Professions challenges the view that white collar jobs will be immune from the impact of technological advances into the workplace. Indeed, the authors go so far as to detail the road map 'how technology will transform the work of human experts':
'In the long run, increasingly capable machines will transform the work of professionals giving rise to new ways of sharing practical expertise in society' (p.303) 
with a consequence that
'Decades from now, today's professions will play a much less prominent role in society.' (p.271) 
They argue that reform of the professions is not only inevitable, but that it is long overdue.

The role of the professions - the Grand Bargain

At the heart of Susskind and Susskind's argument is a particular understanding of the relationship between society and the professions. 'The professions are responsible for many of the most important functions and services in society' and their fundamental role ‘is to provide access to knowledge and experience that non specialists lack’ (p.268).  Society affords the professions protection and status in return for providing these services fairly in an arrangement which they call 'the grand bargain':
'In acknowledgement of and in return for their expertise, experience, and judgement, which they are expected to apply in delivering affordable, accessible, up-to-date, reassuring, and reliable services  . . . we (society) place our trust in the professions in granting them exclusivity over a wide range of socially significant services and activities, by paying them a fair wage, by conferring upon them independence, autonomy, rights of self-determination, and by according them respect and status.' (p.23)
Thus the purpose of the professions is to provide solutions to issues which individuals within society commonly face: ill-health, disputes, lack of education, the need for news and navigating the tax system.

The authors believe that the professions are ripe for reform and should lose their privileged status because they have broken this bargain, in that they do not provide these services that are either 'affordable' or 'accessible':
'levels of access and affordability to the practical expertise that the professions provide fall short of acceptable. The combination of these two reasons - the importance of what they provide, and the current inadequacy of the provision - overwhelms the case to protect the craft.' (p.247 - also p.269)

Automation and Transformation of the Professions

The authors outline how automation is likely to come to the professions by examining some of the practices that have been adopted by those in the vanguard of change:

Education

  • Online learning - Khan Academy etc.
  • Flipped Blended Learning
  • Learning Analytics
Law
  • Document Assembly Systems (e.g. ContractExpress) which can generate high quality documents after interactive consultations with users.
  • Online Dispute Resolution (e.g. Modria which is behind eBay and PayPal's resolution service)

Tax and Audit

  • Online computerised tax preparation software (e.g. TurboTax in the US)
  • Online Accounting software (e.g. Quickbooks)
  • Computer-Assisted Audit Techniques (e.g. PwC's system, Aura)

Medicine

  • 'Telemedicine' using video links to make diagnoses or to aid with operations from a distance;
  • Robots assisting surgeons to conduct delicate operations with greater dexterity than is possible by a human;
  • the rise of online medical platforms and 'GP intelligent monitoring', 'remote monitoring' by smart devices and apps;
  • Robotic Pharmacy (e.g. the University of California at San Francisco which has a pharmacy staffed by a single robot);

Eight Patterns and Trends

Decomposition, Process Analysts, Para-professionals and Delegation

One of the most important observations that Susskind and Susskind make is that when we are talking about the future of the professions, we need to move on from seeing the machine v human debate in binary terms. They are not talking about a robot replacing a lawyer/teacher/doctor in the way that a robot might replace a human worker on the production line of a car manufacturing plant. However when we 'decompose' or break down what lawyers/teachers/doctors do into tasks, we can see there there is scope for some of these to replaced with automated systems - or indeed by lesser qualified human beings.
We argue that professional work should be decomposed, that is broken down into constituent ‘tasks’ – identifiable, distinct, and separate modules of work that make it up. Once decomposed, the challenge then is to identify the most efficient way of executing each type of task, constituent with the quality of work needed, the level of human interaction required, and the ease with which the decomposed tasks can be managed alongside one another and pulled together into a coherent offering. (p.212)

Leading on from this, the authors argue that one of the key roles for professional organisations in the future is that of the 'process analyst' whose role is 'to identify the level of person best suited for the range of decomposed tasks (p.124).

On analysis, it is frequently becoming apparent in various disciplines that para-professional who are sufficiently trained, knowledgeable, and equipped can undertake tasks that were previously taken on by senior professionals. (p.124-5)
The delegation to para-professionals may lead to replacement by automated systems:
The features of tasks in the workplace that make them amenable to delegation and para-professionalization - that they are well bounded and can, in part, be captured in standard processes - are precisely those features that render them strong candidates in due course for the application of technology (both automation and innovation). (p.125) 

Decomposition and Para-professionalism in Schools?

This all begs the question of whether or not teaching can be decomposed and the tasks either delegated to a 'Para-Teacher' or performed by the application of technology. This is the subject of my Master's Dissertation with the Ashridge-Hult Business School and I will be discussing some of the ideas here in a subsequent blogpost.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Private School Fee Increases and the KHDA's Education Cost Index

This week the KHDA published its annual Education Cost Index (ECI) which determines the maximum amount by which private schools in Dubai can increase their fees. The ECI is set at 2.4% which means that 
  • 'Outstanding' Schools can increase their fees by 4.8%  (2.0 x the ECI)
  • 'Very Good' Schools can increase their fees by 4.2% (1.75 x the ECI)
  • 'Good' Schools can increase their fees by 3.6% (1.5 x the ECI)
  • All other schools can increase their fees by 2.4% (the ECI).
The issue of increasing school fees and making money out of educating children is an emotive one. The ECI is an important mechanism to protect parents from organisations profiteering from education. Ultimately, parents are reticent about moving children from the schools in which they are settled because of fee increases. 

ECI Theory and Practice

In theory, the ECI incentivises for-profit organisations by allowing those schools who have invested in achieving high standards to increase fees by a higher rate. However, it may argued the unintended consequence of this is that good schools have the income to get even better, whereas weaker schools are caught in a poverty trap by not having the capital to make necessary improvements. 

Where does the money go?

Much depends on where the additional income from the fee increase goes: whether it is reinvested in the school (as it is in full in the not-for-profit schools) or whether it goes to line investors' pockets. All schools should be transparent about the percentage of school fees that goes on profit to the investors so that prospective parents can make informed choice of school. 
At JESS, Dubai, we publish these data on our website and 100% of any annual surplus is reinvested in the school.



Sunday, 29 January 2017

How Virtual Reality is changing how children learn in the classroom

Virtual Reality is the latest in a long line of new technologies which can be harnessed by teachers to help them make their classrooms come alive; to improve further the learning experience of their pupils. Over the past twenty years’, teachers have used videos, DVDs, classroom projectors, interactive whiteboards, and 3D projectors and now they can call upon Virtual Reality. So, what is Virtual Reality (VR) and how it so different? 

What is Virtual Reality? 

In order to experience Virtual Reality, the user needs to put on a headset in which a 360° panoramic image is projected. The technology is simple, it works very much in the same way that enabled a previous generation of children to enjoy 3D images through a Viewmaster. The headset projects a slightly different image to each eye, which gives a 3D effect. As the viewer moves his head to the left and right, the image moves giving a strong feeling of being in situ. By turning around, the viewer can see what is behind him; by looking up he can see what’s above him-it’s ‘real’! 
Surprisingly, it is possible to create a VR experience for less than US$5 by purchasing a simple cardboard kit into which a smartphone can be inserted. The 360° panoramic images used for the ‘virtual experiences’ are produced in two ways. They can be filmed by a 360° camera, in just the same way that Google Street View is mapping cities of the world. Or, they can be computer-generated as in console action games, such as Call of Duty. There are thousands of 360° videos available free on YouTube (just search for ‘360° videos’) and this number will increase exponentially as 360° cameras become commonplace. 

What makes Virtual Reality different? 

The greatest difference between VR and, say, watching a DVD is that VR is an active rather than a passive process. It feels like the real experience. Because the viewer is controlling where he looks and what he focuses on, this inevitably leads to greater engagement. Indeed, Virtual Reality allows the user to experience what is going on in a way that feels authentic. The first time that I put on a VR headset, I went on a roller coaster ride – the experience was so immersive that I had motion sickness! This was not a passive activity it felt real – I experienced every dip and turn. It is this characteristic of creating an experience that makes VR such a versatile and powerful tool for the classroom. 

Virtual Tours 

I am sure we can all recall the experience of trips out of the classroom during our own school days. To be able to see what had been discussed in the classroom gave a clarity and strong memory association that no text book can ever hope to achieve. A huge strength of Virtual Reality in schools is that it gives almost limitless scope for teachers to take pupils on trips anywhere in the world without leaving the grounds. A class can visit China and experience what it is like to walk up and down the crumbling steps of the Great Wall, they can take a stroll along Wall Street gasp at the view from the top of the Burj Khalifa, or even to dive the Great Barrier Reef. All these ‘visits’ are available in the classroom within a matter of minutes – a further bonus for the teacher is that there’s no risk assessment, no budget and no buses! 
But Virtual Reality allows teachers to go further, for VR makes it possible for a pupils to experience the impossible. 

Time Travel 

Virtual Reality allows pupils to go back in time to experience key events in history. It is possible to be there as Martin Luther King makes a great speech; they can wade through World War I trenches, they can be in a dog-fight in the Battle of Britain, build a pyramid in Cairo witness the Execution of Mary Queen of Scots. 

Space Travel 

VR has also made Space Travel available for all. The publication by NASA on YouTube of 360° panoramas of Mars and Pluto makes it possible for teachers to take their classes to outer space. Pupils can explore the Martian landscape from atop the Mars Rover - no space suit required. 

Personalised Learning 

In the past few weeks at JESS, Dubai, Year 5 have met some ancient Egyptians, Year 4 have been to London, Foundation 2 travelled into Space and Year 6 went to Ancient Greece. The children ‘felt’ what it was like to be there and the experience helped them to develop mature responses at a significantly deeper level than would ever be possible from watching a video. Possibly the greatest strength of VR is that the experience is personalised – the child is in control of the experience, he can go at his own pace, choosing to look at what he wants, taking time to look for detail, moving on only when ready. 
Teachers should always be on the look-out for new ways to enable young people to learn, to help them understand more about the world around us and Virtual Reality can now be the latest addition to their toolbox of ways to inspire – and what an exciting addition it is!

This article was published in Emirates Airlines' Absolutely Education Issue One (Feb 2017)