A huge, intricately detailed 3D human heart was slowly rotating in front of me. I stare, mesmerised, at the flat-screen display. I’m at EmTech, a regional trade show, watching a demonstration of a virtual reality tool for educators.

“Professors can use this platform to teach medical students about the human anatomy,” the representative explains. With a touch of a button, the display zooms in on the ventricles, which pulsate rhythmically.

Forget whiteboards and markers. This is the future, ladies and gentlemen. The classroom is where virtual reality, augmented reality, data analytics and Internet of Things (IoT) are propelling education into the 21st century (which makes this reporter wish she was born in the year 2000).

Below, GovInsider presents a roundup of fiveways that tech is transforming the way we learn.

1. Your friendly university e-concierge

Singapore Polytechnic wants to be a smart campus, and it is doing this by personalising student services using data. Every time students log on to the campus wireless network, their e-concierge system will automatically identify and respond to their needs. It can notify students about upcoming events they may be interested in, or tell them about books recommended by their lecturers, Loh Gin Chye, SP’s Director of Information and Digital Technology and Chief Data Officer, tells GovInsider.

Analyses of student data will also be able to identify students at risk of falling behind in their coursework, so that lecturers may act accordingly. The analytics models behind this system, built by the lecturers themselves, uses data on semester test results, attendance rates, and participation in class.

Through analytics, staff can also improve on their teaching: from the start of the term, they will be able to familiarise themselves with their students’ profiles. “Information is pushed down to your mobile, and you don’t need to go and do your research to know that this student is likely to need help in this way,” Loh says.

2. An IoT-enabled campus

Curtin University in Australia is introducing IoT software and devices campuswide, which will provide insights into campus operations. From these insights, the university can learn more about the day-to-day activities of students and staff, and the usage and operation of lecture theatres and libraries.

The university will use data visualisations, video analytics, and live face matching to glean real-time information. From there, university leaders may make better decisions on classes or operations.

“With the IoT solution, we can collect data using a variety of sensors to gather information on building trends, study patterns, and course attendance that can ultimately be used to improve student experience and enhance learning,” Ian Callahan, Chief Operating Officer of the university, said.

3. The student population as a dataset

Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, a leading research university in Malaysia, is using data to ensure that students graduate on time. Being a public institution, it subsidises undergraduate degrees—which means that it costs both the university and the government money when students extend their courses. After trying this out with PhD students, in 2016, the school started to track the graduation time for all students.

The university is also investing in a system that will gather information on the entire degree lifecycle, starting from students’ recruitment to their graduation. This allows for tracking of student performance—which is helpful, as government funding is linked to performance.

“We have a lot of data with us, only that we haven’t been exploiting them. We haven’t been using the data to guide us in our decision-making. That should be a priority,” Professor Rose Alinda Alias, Deputy Vice Chancellor for Academic and International Affairs, tells GovInsider.

4. The (virtual) high school of the future

Armed with virtual reality (VR) headsets, students in Japan can attend a virtual high school. In April last year, 1,482 students from its first cohort virtually attended their commencement ceremony, while their headmaster spoke hundreds of kilometers away. They later attended a 360-degree augmented reality tour of the campus.

Through a smartphone app, students can ‘attend’ lessons and take tests. And through a separate online platform, they may interact with other students. Students are assigned teachers who advise them on studies and career options, who they can consult via phone or email. If needed, students can also have face-to-face sessions with teachers at the main campus in Okinawa or the satellite campuses in Tokyo and Osaka.

Each student is assigned a teacher, who advises on studying and career, and is available for consultations via phone and email. They can also have face-to-face sessions with teachers at the main campus in Okinawa, or satellite campuses in Tokyo and Osaka. Annual tuition fees for this virtual high school start from 100,000 yen ($972), according to the Nikkei Asian Review.

Interestingly, the school has no age limit, and accepts anyone who has not completed high school. “It’s a new proposal to [challenge] the conventional high school education system,” the Japan Times quoted N High School’s founding principal Hirokazu Okuhira as saying.

5. Creating a love for reading with digital libraries

Technology is also being used to increase literacy in Cambodia, where there is a lack of infrastructure to distribute books, and the children’s book industry is “almost nonexistent”.

In 2015, the Books for Asia Library for All pilot programme ran digital libraries in five Cambodian primary schools. About 4,700 children enjoyed access to high-quality children’s literature, in the form of 100 digitised books in Khmer and English. To make this possible, each school was equipped with tablets.

However, the schools still faced challenges that were part and parcel of living in an emerging country. “Some of the biggest issues we’ve faced is the lack of technology infrastructure in the schools. In four of the five schools we’re currently working in, internet is not available,” Wendy Rockett, senior communications officer for The Asia Foundation’s Books for Asia programme, was quoted as saying by Southeast Asia Globe.

The education technology sector is booming, and one day, children may not even have to step into a physical school.

Image from Stephen Chin