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Education leveraging on 5G

Electronics has won children’s hearts. More and more schools are reshaping their education processes to leverage both on the capabilities of smartphones, tablets, internet and on the familiarity that the young generation has in using these devices. Cartoon by Gary Varvel

Very recently the Ministry of Education in Italy has “promoted” the use of the smartphone in classrooms, recognising a positive role they can play in education. This is a strong signal of change in Italy, and it is mirrored in several other Countries, recognising that technologies can make education more effective, if leveraged in an appropriate way. Obviously, the statement from the Ministry generated also some opposition, reminiscent of those voiced 2,500 years ago following the introduction of writing and those who lamented, 150 years ago, the Education Ministry order to discontinue teaching the process to make ink! Each technology shift generates resistance that anyhow produces value since there is no “best solution” but each can be made better by facing its weak points.

In the education sector the possibility of personalising and contextualising the education connecting it to everyday experience reinforces learning and often increases students’ motivation since it shows its practical application side. Besides, it is a normal education approach to use different “channels” to convey and reinforce the message. As an example, studying on a book and also watching some clips on the subject presenting the same concepts in a different way, possibly being engaged in a game where playing requires understanding some rules that are being studied reinforces the learning process.

Virtual and augmented reality can be useful toos in the education field, complementing current syllabus and the smartphone is an idea device to use them.

In a more future looking attitude,  one should consider the possibility to create “digital twins”, as it is being done in industry, digital twins that mirror once knowledge and expertise in the cyberspace.  What is being studied, and learnt, enriches our digital twin, an avatar, that differently from us does not forget (although it can be programmed to forget as we do…). At the same time it does not exist in autonomy, that is it learns and knows only what we learn and know so that it is bound to make the same mistakes we do.  This might be an interesting characteristic.

One might imagine an alter ego that gets it wrong much more frequently than we do (becuse it can live at a faster pace in the cyberspace) and let us know that something of what it knows/we know is wrong or incomplete. At this point it would be up to us, as the real twin, to think how to avoid the mistake, that is how to expand/correct our set of knowledge, thus learning better and more efficiently. These approaches are at the edge of research in education, as education processes are being discussed in view of novel technological possibilities, also being pushed by the need to help children and grown up with a variety of cognitive deficits.

In the next decade these human digital twins may become commonplace, provided seamless connection with them can be in place. Notice that the existence of such a digital twin would foster the development of applications in the cyberspace by many players generating an innovation spiral whose limits are difficult to see today.

A crucial aspect in this approach is the capability to finely tune stimuli and learning to avoid a sensorial overload that would fireback, actually worsening the learning effectiveness and spoiling the interest in learning.

The smartphone, at least today, would be an ideal tool to ensure the alignment with our digital twin in a seamless way.

5G, with its capacity to connect local networks and the big Internet, can provide a strong support to the future of education. The student, but in perspective anyone of us since the world is demanding a continuous upgrade of our knowledge – continuous professional education, can be in contact with a variety of data and information derived from the ambient, every day, connecting them to what she is learning in a variety of domains, including physics, mathematics, history, architecture,… The world around us is rich in explicit and implicit information and knowledge that can be used to complement and reinforce learning.

The smartphone, in perspective, besides being a data presentation/visualization system is a connection gateway and can become a hub for aggregating personal knowledge and for customising external knowledge, integrating them and letting the education process leveraging on them.

This connectivity space, involving both local and global networks, is what can make a difference in education between 5G and current systems. Notice that at least in the first phases, till 2025, the territorial coverage of 5G global networks (the ones deployed by telecom Operators) will not be as pervasive as the coverage of the present ones, however the transition of our smartphones to 5G will be much quicker and this will enable their use in a “5G way” to access services on local networks in parallel to the access to the global network based on 3G and 4G.  This smooth scaling up, transitioning, from present communications systems to 5G can be exploited in the education domain. The use of WiFi networks in classrooms, as an example, in parallel with connection to the global networks is a differentiator and a strong point of the 5G.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. He's currently Head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital, co-chair of the Symbiotic Autonomous Systems Initiative of IEEE-FDC. Until Aprile 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books. He writes a daily blog,  http://sites.ieee.org/futuredirections/category/blog/, with commentary on innovation in various technology and market areas.

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