SCHOOL AND INNOVATION
The school has often moved at a pace of innovation far below that of society, which has instead been propelled into the future by ever more pervasive technological progress. The school world has been the protagonist of a kind of perpetual experimentation, where every attempt at technological innovation and the dissemination of digital culture has generated controversy, opposition and protracted discussions that have had a negative impact on the timing and manner of its introduction into schools. Each attempt to celebrate the potential benefits of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) for teaching practice was followed by a period of disillusionment when the first critical issues emerged: difficulties in use, technical problems and incompatibilities, lack of time, lack of teacher preparation, etc.
The experience since March 2020 has revealed the backwardness and sense of inadequacy of the school world with regard to digital transformation. The discomfort of teachers, often used to a slow and time-delayed digital transition process, who overnight had to deal with videoconferencing environments such as Meet, Zoom, Skype, and who had to learn on their own and in a hurry to use Google Drive or G-suite for Education, Google Classroom and Jamboard, did not only concern the technological and digital tools to be used, but also the need to adapt the educational model to the characteristics and opportunities offered by digital. In fact, digital technologies presuppose new cognitive processes and thus a rethinking of pedagogical and organisational models in schools; they should focus on socio-constructive, situated and collaborative learning, where the role of digital innovation in teaching and its management must be relevant. This process could not be implemented overnight, having been imposed by a state of emergency. As a result, 'emergency' digital teaching has been limited to digitally transforming teaching activities that were originally designed to be face-to-face, remaining too transmissive and not very interactive. Think, for example, of frontal streaming video lessons, with which teachers have continued to lecture at a distance, with all the health and safety issues that have arisen from the prolonged use of video terminals. The truth is that the traditional model of schooling was out of date even before the pandemic, and today the choice is certainly not between face-to-face and distance learning, or even, to paraphrase Umberto Eco, between the catastrophically 'apocalyptic' and the naively 'integrated'. Rather, what can make the difference is the willingness of teachers to rethink traditional didactic and unidirectional teaching methods, their readiness to focus on collaborative learning processes, their willingness to finally choose a didactic model that can use digital technology not to replace face-to-face teaching, but to complement it, i.e. to extend its possibilities.
The possibility of accessing web technology, with the dematerialisation of content, its easy accessibility and its flexibility (it can be created, shared, reused and continuously modified), has potentially significantly increased the educational possibilities of social media, challenging the traditional educational paradigm. The nature of knowledge has changed, as knowledge is not only acquired in the physical place of 'school', but also in online virtual spaces. No longer only in the paper book with its constituted order, but also in blogs (of teachers or schools), learning platforms, Open Educational Resources (OER) and all those online tools that enable open and shared educational activities.
The situation in today's schools is that a group of teachers who speak an outdated language (i.e. that of the pre-digital era) are trying to teach a group of students who express themselves in a radically different language and who have a way of learning that is characterised by the tools they have at their disposal: they click on links and acquire information in a few seconds by following their own mental processes and simultaneously carrying out multisensory operations involving several cognitive activities (multitasking). This is why they do not like to read. Books are probably not fast enough and do not hold their interest (Howe and Strauss, 2000; Pedró, 2006).
The school environment still does not take into account the psychological and anthropological aspects that the impact of these technologies has dictated; the school environment still struggles to fully understand their relevance in extending the physical and mental boundaries of both students and teachers.
Cognitive and neuroscience teach us that the mind, body and environment are intimately connected. Therefore, when the environment around us is characterised by web and mobile connectivity, it becomes clear how the dynamics of knowledge transfer are no longer based on vertical memorisation and transmission, but on horizontal interaction and sharing. Learning processes are now configured as shared social activities, and technologies are not just tools for teaching, but the fulcrum around which the educational practices of a community are built.
TEACHING IN THE DIGITAL AGE
Teaching in the digital age means first and foremost acquiring the appropriate skills to apply the right teaching practices in the new learning ecosystem. The DigCompEdu (European Framework for the Digital Competence of Educators), by listing the competences that an educator must have to teach in the digital age, clarifies how digital technologies can improve and innovate teaching and learning, and how the drivers of change are the teachers and educators themselves. It is not enough to have technical computer or digital skills to use in everyday life, but specific professional skills are essential. Teaching in the digital age now means working in new educational environments where technologies merge and harmonise in a classroom ecosystem composed of old and new media, in a process of synergy and complementarity. In this new environment, the book is no longer the sole source of knowledge, along with the teacher, the protagonist of the didactic work, but a co-protagonist of the new multimodal (pre-multimedia) didactic practices that engage the intellect as well as the body and the emotions.
Teaching in the digital age means making the Web the new learning environment and promoting the autonomous learning process. In this sense, it is also crucial to guide students not so much to use technologies, a competence they already have, but to use them sustainably, effectively and fruitfully, with familiarity and a critical spirit. Digital competence presupposes an interest in digital technologies and their use with familiarity and a critical and responsible spirit for learning, working and participating in society. It includes computer and digital literacy, communication and collaboration, media literacy, digital content creation (including programming), security (including being comfortable in the digital world and having cybersecurity skills), intellectual property issues, problem solving and critical thinking. In the world of education today, we no longer talk about the digital divide, but the digital use divide. Teaching how to navigate means teaching how to navigate by knowing what to look for, how to look for it, how to evaluate it and how to use it. In this sense, appropriate educational interventions become fundamental so that the digital literacy that guides them in the moments when they bring their identity into play, produce content, practise multitasking or task-switching (Palfrey and Gasser, 2011), often unconsciously dealing with issues related to privacy, security, intellectual property, but also the quality and veracity of information, becomes widespread among digital youth.
Teaching in the digital age means not ignoring the languages that students use in their daily lives and the virtual and playful contexts in which they spend their time, which is why gamification represents an effective methodology, as it superimposes the rules and strategies typical of games and applies them to the world of education. It is therefore a matter of thinking, designing and relocating game mechanics, dynamics and elements in everyday systems or processes with the aim of orienting them towards solving concrete problems or, in parallel, motivating specific groups of users (Zichermann and Cunningham, 2011).
VIRTUAL REALITY AND ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE
In a world where the virtual and the real are converging, the traditional educational model can be transformed or even overturned by using active methodologies of enhanced VR (Virtual Reality), AR (Augmented Reality) learning and AI, which activate experiential learning capable of stimulating a dynamic and proactive cognitive process. The concept of experience has made a notable contribution to the development of Inquiry Based Learning (Dewey, 1992; Kolbe and Fry, 1975), a dynamic and flexible methodology based on experience and problem solving that aims to provide students with tools that allow them to learn through cognitive, emotional and sensory experience all those concepts that are experienced first hand and processed through reasoning. Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence applied to education are expressed in the methodology of Inquiry Based Learning, which is based on constructivist pedagogical theories that promote the use of the problematic situation and enquiry as a fundamental learning tool.
Augmented Reality refers to a method that uses technological devices to enhance certain perceptions of reality. Our field of vision is enriched with new elements through the use of the camera of the device we are using, according to the principle of overlay, i.e. the superimposition of additional digital images on top of existing real ones. In a context such as augmented reality, students can not only observe, but also touch the objects they encounter, and at the same time have interactive support elements that make this activity an active experience. With visual or georeferenced augmented reality, impossible educational activities become possible: one can explore the infinitely large (the universe) and the infinitely small (the cell), travel the world, experience natural phenomena such as earthquakes or the explosion of a volcano, etc. Think of video games, QR codes, images that come to life in 3D, SnapChat and all the Google applications such as Google Earth, Google Arts & Culture. To give just a few examples, QR codes, now widely used in digital versions of textbooks, are one of the first forms of extending the real into the virtual, allowing users to obtain additional information simply by scanning the QR code; Google Arts & Culture allows users to visit art collections around the world, explore Mars, swim with sharks and more, without ever leaving the classroom.
Virtual reality goes even further than augmented reality because it is an immersive technology, i.e. it perfectly simulates a reality in which you are immersed, involving sight, hearing and proprioception. Today, there is no longer any theoretical difference between virtual reality and augmented reality, as the devices we use every day (smartphones, PCs, game consoles, VR goggles) allow us to access virtual reality by experiencing augmented reality. Given the ubiquity of technology in everyday life, it is clear how the immersive dimension of these two methods can lead to highly motivating forms of active participation by students, as they primarily involve their emotional sphere. Teaching in the digital age therefore means using mixed reality to harness students' motivation in order to stimulate their reflection; it means using their bodily intelligence to guide them to critically rethink the experience itself. On the other hand, the value of edutainment in promoting learning is being recognised, a method that has never been viewed with suspicion, even by traditionalists, as it still harkens back to the classic ludendo docere. Today, edutainment has received new impetus thanks to the development and dissemination of new technologies, augmented reality and virtual reality, which make it possible to combine exploration, simulation and sensory-motor proactivity (the prerogatives of play) with learning. Think of free platforms with simulations for teaching and learning STEM (chemistry, physics, mathematics, biology, geosciences), such as PhET, which is able to faithfully reproduce what happens in the real world, make it possible to gain experience in virtual laboratories, exchange good practices and activities, etc. Finally, consider the potential of technologies and the playful aspect they can offer in the teaching of foreign languages.
Artificial intelligence is now coming to schools. The application of AI in the classroom is becoming an amazing resource when you consider that the algorithms that are being developed are able to understand the strengths and weaknesses of students, and can therefore develop accurate learning curves and allow the use of personalised learning techniques. To give just a few examples, think of Elsa Speak English Learning, which uses artificial intelligence to improve pronunciation and comprehension of the English language by listening to and repeating the most difficult sounds, giving immediate feedback with customised exercises to improve weaknesses; or Socratic Homework Help, which uses a photo of an exercise (in maths, chemistry, physics, etc.) to provide the information needed to solve it; or Thinkster Math, with a personalised tutor who guides the student based on the level of ability he or she detects.
Touch monitors, the natural evolution of Interactive Multimedia Whiteboards (IWBs), integrate perfectly into digital environments that are constantly connected to the Internet, making them an innovative learning environment that combines different media, the Internet, the world of social networks and podcasting, all in the same place. This feature also enables it to foster the innovative attitudes and mindsets through which learning becomes inquiry and knowledge is built through creativity and critical thinking.
Smartboards or touch monitors are perfectly integrated into digital environments that are constantly connected to the Internet, making them an innovative learning environment that brings together in the same place different media, the Internet, the world of social networks and podcasting. This feature also allows it to foster the innovative attitudes and mental dispositions through which learning becomes research and knowledge is built through creativity and critical spirit.
The touch screen is like a large tablet on which several students can simultaneously write their own text or share their contribution. This content can be edited or commented on by the whole class, just like on a tablet, creating a single narrated, constructed and shared element. This is undoubtedly the feature that makes this tool the most innovative and facilitates the learning process.
The basic use of the monitor, which is simple and intuitive, speaks the language of the target group, i.e. the iGen generation, who have never seen a landline phone or a telephone box in use. For the new generation of students, it is essential to be able to use apps, more than the web itself, for which they need more guidance. It is applications that solve problems on a daily basis and have certainly improved several aspects of our daily reality. In this sense, the monitor, with its Android or Windows system and dedicated applications, becomes an essential teaching tool for approaching today's communicative language. This integrated system, in the educational field, could improve the learning process by taking advantage of the techniques and modes used in each student's daily life. It is worth taking advantage of the simplicity and ease with which they use such applications for the benefit of learning, stimulating creativity and sharing knowledge. The screen-sharing or e-sharing functions that allow content to be shared with students' digital devices, as well as the possibility for multiple users to interact on the interface, are other resources that favour the activation of collaborative and interactive teaching, in which students interact directly with the tool and put into practice the skills they have learnt. Consider how the presence of such a tool in the classroom and an appropriate classroom environment makes it possible to implement innovative and participatory methodologies such as gamification, inquiry, digital storytelling, tinkering (Martinez and Stager, 2019)[ and hackathon, bridging the strong technological, perceptual, linguistic, cultural and even cognitive gap between the language of the school and the outside world, now permeated by screens, computers, interactive surfaces and multimedia.
Although the transition from traditional ex-cathedra didactics to 4.0 didactics is by no means easy, the digital age requires us to outline a new school model, characterised by enabling methodologies and technologies, and an innovative form of educational marketing that transforms the school community into an intelligent educational community. In addition to training, experimentation, capable of transferring content for the integration of new technologies into everyday teaching, plays an important role. It is not a question of "modernising" the educational institution with new technologies, but of making it capable of offering constructive work opportunities to today's children, who have been born and brought up in a different world from that of their parents and teachers. Technologies and new media encourage the construction of an individual learning path through experimentation, collaborative content construction and the development of critical analysis and knowledge selection skills. The personalisation of didactic tools also allows for a kind of inclusive teaching where each student is empowered to work and produce results on the basis of his or her own abilities. This enriches the learning experience and provides an effective response to the real needs of today's students. Fossilisation and technophobia are now detrimental to the education of future "digital citizens", citizens who will inevitably have to deal with a complex and constantly changing world.
Teaching in the digital age means guaranteeing a new model of schooling, characterised by enabling methodologies and technologies; it means transforming the school community into an intelligent educational community, able to prepare for the jobs of the future by updating, rethinking, retraining and adapting most of the skills currently in use, while inventing new ones out of the blue to respond to unforeseen changes. Predictions of the jobs of the future abound on the Internet, often with titles we had never heard of a few years ago, such as e-commerce manager, SEO, life coach, time broker, data analyst and scientist, big data specialist, cloud architect, etc. The task of education and the school world is to learn to imagine tomorrow's jobs, jobs that may not yet exist and that require skills and abilities that students have not been specifically prepared for, but that they can quickly acquire. This is the challenge for schools: to prepare tomorrow's terrain with new training methods that prepare students to develop strategies, that push them to solve problems, that open their minds.
Howe, N. e Strauss, W. (2007), The next 20 years, “Harvard business review”, 85(7-8), 41-52.
Palfrey, J. e Gasser, U. (2011), Reclaiming an Awkward Term: What we Might Learn from ‘Digital Natives’, “Journal of Law and Policy for the Information Society”, 7(1), 33-55.
Pedró, F. (2006), The New Millennium Learners: Challenging our views on ICT and learning, “IDB Publications (Working Papers)”, 2432, OECD-CERI, 1-17.
Zichermann, G. e Cunningham, C. (2011), Gamification by Design: Implementing Game Mechanics in Web and Mobile Apps, Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media.
World Economic Forum, The future of jobs report 2018, Ginevra 2018, on line https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-future-of-jobs-report-2018/