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Smart Education @ Schools

Juliet Desmet , Junior Research & Business Developer & Kamakshi Rajagopal, Senior Researcher in Instructional Design and Technology at Catholic University of Leuven
  • Case Study

Our society is changing rapidly and these changes have a direct impact on education all over the world. Implementation of technological innovations in education is one of the biggest challenges that education is facing at all levels and is still in a preliminary stage. At the same time, these new technologies are creating opportunities... The Smart Education @ Schools call is using these opportunities and turns innovative ideas into reality.

Unique educational System in Flanders

What makes the educational system in Flanders so unique? The majority of the schools are private institutions, recognised by the government, which means that the educational field is organised in various networks. Public education under the Flemish government is called “official education” and education organised in the private sector is known as free education.

There are three educational networks:

  • GO! state schools, organised by the public body and, despite being financed by the government, they function independently of the Flemish Ministry of Education.
  • Subsidized public schools, a government aided network of public schools, run by municipal or provincial authorities
  • Subsidized free schools, a government aided private educational network, organised by private organisations; they state around 70% of all the school system and the majority of them are organised by Catholic Education

Why Flanders needs Smart Education @ Schools

Due to its fragmented organisation, implementing educational innovations, especially with technology, on a large scale in Flemish schools, is not an easy task. A service-consumer approach does not often work well with schools, as teachers often do not see the added value of existing technological solutions. Sometimes they are even resistant to change preferring to work the way they have always done. The way educational institutions are split up over networks makes it even harder for implementing innovations, as these networks have their own educational visions, cultures and priorities. These challenges are the reason why the Smart Education @ Schools programme was designed to stimulate short-term application-oriented, cooperative, innovative projects with impact using smart technology. The next section introduces the programme in more detail.

Smart Education @ Schools

Imec, a strategic research-company is hosting the Smart Education @ Schools program funded by the Flemish government. The project releases three calls over a period of three years. In each call, there is an amount of 225 000€ to invest with a maximum of 75 000€ per project. It is an open call for digital innovation in education steered by teachers from primary, secondary and adult education in cooperation with partners such as knowledge institutions, companies or non-profit organisations. Within this program teachers face shortcomings in their daily practice, with their own innovative ideas, using smart educational technology. This in an application-oriented way in order to have impact on a short-term period on their daily practice. The ambition of the project is to, not only to make a change on school level, but to influence the educational system in Flanders. The first call was held in 2018, and six projects were selected. They all started on the 1st of September 2018. Meanwhile, a second call was released in 2019 in order to start in September 2019. The projects of 2018 are coming to an end and the first findings and results are starting to appear. The next step is to focus on the dissemination of the projects.

It’s all about the teacher!

Within this project, the importance of the bottom-up approach needs to be emphasized. The driving force behind this project are the teachers themselves, facing challenges in their practice.

They are aware of the opportunities that technology can bring into their practice. The Smart Education @ Schools call supports these ideas and brings them to reality. To be eligible for support, projects need to combine multiple focus areas of the call, which are introduced in the next section.

I think that in all schools there are many people with major annoyances and very often there are technological solutions to those issues.

Teacher

What does “smart educational technology” mean?

Smart educational technology means that it has to be either hardware or software, or both supporting the teacher’s job and using data analysis.

It has to have an impact on at least one of the three levels: customized learning, interaction and cooperation, monitoring and evaluation.


During the project the impact is visible at student, group or school level, but it should also be sustainable. This means that the project must be applicable at system level in order to have social impact on the Flemish education. One example of achieving this is by making the materials developed in a funded project available as open educational resources.

Customized learning

At this level, the technology provides better learning, adjusted to the pace and the needs of the individual student. This with the support of the teacher.

Interaction and cooperation

Thanks to technology, we are no longer dependent on space and time.  Technological changes create opportunities for better interaction and cooperation, facilitated and adjusted by the teacher. Video conferencing, online learning... Digital revolutions allow students living abroad, with mobility problems or fewer opportunities, to actively participate in education.

Monitoring and evaluation

Use of data in order to get insight in the learning process and results, makes better evaluation and monitoring possible. Student information can be gathered in the classroom, at the school level or to evaluate the entire system. It does not only give insight on the achievements at group level, but also gives information about an individual student, compared to the bigger group.

Innovation

A second characteristic of the call, is that the projects need to be innovative. The concept has to be something that is new and not tried out yet. This innovation is situated on two levels.

Technological innovation. The comparison point here is situated worldwide. It’s about technologies that  are not yet widespread. The educational technology may not be implemented yet in Flanders educational field, international comparison here is necessary. The goal is to be equal or better on international level. If the technological innovation has already been implemented in Flanders, for example in health care, but not yet in the educational field, this is a possibility as well. Especially when the added value of the technology has been proven. Out of the box thinking, is crucial.

Another way in being innovative is in a didactic way. In most cases, smart educational applications usually mean using a different pedagogical approach as well. The way of teaching has to go beyond, what is happening in Flanders at this point in the daily practice. The way of teaching must be learner-centered, more flexible and focused on 21st century skills.

Cooperation

As mentioned, the teachers and the school are the starting point of the Smart Education @ Schools concept, but cooperation is a crucial and central concept in making everything happen. Flanders has a powerful ecosystem for educational technology. Innovative teachers, excellent academic research and like never before driven entrepreneurs who really believe in the advantage of technology in education and training. Smart education @ schools wants to facilitate the interaction between these parties.

The projects have to be submitted by at least two Flemish schools from primary, secondary or adult education (centre for adult education and centre for base education). The Smart Education @ Schools program not only wants to transcend levels but also networks. A cooperation between schools from a different level/network strengthens the project because it increases the chance of impact.

Furthermore a cooperation between schools and other partners such as knowledge institutions, companies and non-profit organisations are strongly recommended. This as long as the intention of the project remains in the interest of the schools. We encourage projects in finding partners with specific knowledge that makes a perfect fit within the project. This kind of partnership strengthens projects without a doubt.

I’ve already noticed that at Smart Education @ Schools you end up in a network where a great deal of expertise is available and that expertise comes to you and brings new ideas to life

Teacher

Application-oriented

The projects are application-oriented, this means that there is no space for basic research within this project. The technology needs to be ready for use. This aspect brings us directly to the next characteristic of the call.

Short term

All of the projects need to be carried out on a short-term period. They are running from 6 to 12 months. This is the reason why there is no space or time for basic research.

Smart Education in practice

In 2018, six projects were selected by the Smart Education @ Schools programme.  A variety of projects can be presented. A short description is described below in order to give a first impression.

Smart symbols | Smart observing in early childhood education

In early childhood education, the use of ICT is mostly limited to exercises with apps or playing games. In particular, teachers do not have ICT- tools to support them with the administrative load that they have to cope with. Inserting the right technology in the right context saves the teacher a lot of administrative work, giving teachers more time for pedagogical tasks. On top of this, digital resources often fit within the world of young children and have a motivational effect on them. The smart symbol project answers these challenges.

The solution exists out of hard- and software, this combination provides a platform that not only registers the presence but also the activity of the children. All this is made possible by the children wearing a bracelet with their symbol. The bracelet tracks the place and time of the children during their activities. On top of this, the children can indicate whether they liked the activity or not.  This information not only gives teachers insight in the evolution of every child but also reduces the administrative load and supports in observing the children. 

Facts

Project consortium: VBS Bunderboog Moorslede, VBS Dadizele, VBS Peereboom Ledegem, VBS Sint-Jan Rollegem-Kapelle, VBS Sint-Eloois-Winkel

Partner: Fourcast, Van IN, Intercare

Dare to dream from your ambitions and from the challenges you see in the classroom

Program coordinator

VRhoogte -VRheight | Working safely on virtual height

Motivating students within secondary education remains an enormous challenge, especially in technical and vocational education where the lack of motivation is strengthened by the typical waterfall system - in which learners fall back to less challenging programmes following less achievement.  In the meantime the construction sector is coping with a structural deficit of educated employees. Besides these didactical challenges, this sector also faces practical barriers. The workplace is the most ideal setting for training skills, for example working safely  on heights. The safety of students who do not yet master the skills, can be in danger. This project gives an answer to these challenges.

VRheight develops a high quality VR-training for students of secondary education. The VR- training creates a safe learning environment where students can practice their basic skills on an interactive way. The training is the perfect preparation before entering the workplace. Furthermore a manual about the training with instructions, the needed material, didactic and pedagogical principles, technical specifications, results etc. is developed during the project. This is done in order to scale-up or make the project applicable in other contexts or schools.

Facts

Project consortium :Centrum voor Leren en Werken Deeltijds Onderwijs VTI Brugge, Syntra West, Constructiv, Howest, Rising You

Partner: Rhinox

VRkeer | VR traffic

The learning outcomes in primary education when it comes to the knowledge and ability to function in traffic is below expectations, despite the effort and the minimal standards included in the curriculum. Most of the times traffic education is limited to a few theoretical lessons combined with an short excursion in traffic. The physical part mostly takes place on the playground, in order to test their driving ability. Even despite this explicit attention, more than half of the students score substandard.

Teachers concerned with traffic education are being confronted with different problems: there are too few opportunities to practice because of complex organisational aspects, differentiating on individual needs is  hard to accomplish, some situations cannot be reconstructed,... etc. This project wants to serve these needs.

The VRkeer project works on a virtual reality experience that promotes traffic insight by students. VRkeer consists of an evidence-based instructional design with attention towards individual learning and constructive feedback. Furthermore the teacher gets an overview on the learning process by the use of learning analytics.

Facts

Project consortium: VBS Broederschool Driegaaien, Technisch Instituut Sint-Carolus, Berkenboom Humaniora, Forum Da Vinci, Basisschool Sint-Carolus, Universiteit Gent, Odisee-hogeschool, Vlaamse Stichting, Verkeerskunde, Moev, Mobiel 21 vzw

Partner: Aeroplane

SCI- I |The eye of science

Science, a course more known as difficult rather than seen as fun. A lot of students struggle with abstraction of concepts and have difficulties with the transfer of concept towards reality. Scientific fields in education are experiencing drop-out. The field is coping with the challenge in making student curious towards science.

At this point scientific courses are using as many visual tools as possible, going from schedules to interactive simulations etc. But a lot of concepts are, despite those efforts, still not connected with the ‘real world’.

SCI-I has developed five augmented reality (AR) applications applied on chemistry and physics. The 3D visualisations of abstract concepts supports the comprehensibility for students of secondary education. Additionally lesson plans with challenging tasks are created in order to get started with the concepts. The app is free for use, what makes it accessible for all schools.

The focus groups within this project are the 2nd and 3rd grades of secondary schools in a metropolitan context. The app creates an added value where language creates a barrier.

Facts

Project consortium: GO! Atheneum Anderlecht, Maria-Boodschap Lyceum

Partner: Nils Faber, Frank Verheyen

SENSEI

Learning content and resources are changing rapidly within this digitalising world. This has consequences for the learning process itself, but it still remains the same. The approach towards learning needs more attention but is suffering because of a lack of resources. SENSEI responds to the need of support in learning to learn with a digital solution.

Sensei is a web app connected with an Bot Management system. The smart chatbot strengthens the learning support by data-riven, personalised,  and automatic feedback while students are making their study schedule. The application evaluates the schedule and reports this to the learner and teacher. The project focuses on learners, teachers and parents of the first grade of secondary education.

Facts

Project consortium: Sint-Lievenscollege, Vrije Handelschool Sint-Joris

Partner: Brothers

KIKS

Artificial intelligence and climate change are two main concepts that have become indispensable within our society. Since the children of today are our future, all the more reason to emphasize these concepts in education. Today, these topics are incorporated in our curricula and there are already many efforts in explaining artificial intelligence in an accessible format. Unfortunately there’s still a lack of educational material concerning these topics.

The KIKS project is an answer to this need. KIKS worked out a lesson module combining these two concepts and using artificial intelligence techniques in bringing insights about climate change. The first stage of the module pays attention to the interaction of climate change and stomata in plants. After this, learners gain insight in the concept of artificial intelligence by hands-on experience. The lesson module is integrated in a learning path, accessible through a cloud. This makes it possible for the teacher to get insight in the learning process as well. Furthermore the compilation of different disciplines shows students that exchange of knowledge leads to a better result.

The lesson module of KIKS focuses on the 3rd grade of secondary education but is also applicable in higher education. The content is online open source which means there are no additional costs in scaling-up for other schools.

Facts

Project consortium: Sint-Bavohumaniora Gent, KA Etterbeek, Universiteit Gent, Hogeschool Gent, Dwengo, STEM-steunpunt Brussel, 2LinK2, Agentschap Plantentuin Meise

Partner: Accenture

I am very grateful that I had this opportunity to work out this project for our students. If you have an idea, do not hesitate, it’s a unique opportunity

Teacher