by Vassilis Katsouros (Athena Research and Innovation Centre) and Martin Hachet (Inria)

This special theme addresses the state of the art in educational technologies, “EdTech”, illustrating the range of scientific fields and challenges faced by the research community when it comes to integrating tools and systems that apply to real-life learning situations.
Education, either formal or informal, is a key driver for the future of our societies; it fosters personal fulfilment and development, social inclusion and active citizenship, as well as generating innovation and economic activities. Right now, digital tools are opening up promising new opportunities to take education to the next level.

Digital tools in education go far beyond the introduction of computers to schools. The introduction of computers to children can even have counterproductive effects on their ability to acquire knowledge and skills. It is vital that we take a holistic approach to educational technologies, where the learner and the teacher stay at the centre of the loop.

As a consequence, modern educational technologies are emerging from multidisciplinary research, building notably on advances in pedagogical and learning theories, educational psychology, interaction technologies and artificial intelligence. This special issue illustrates the richness of the current research in EdTech, where human factors, software and hardware technologies, and even organisational and ethical considerations all contribute towards building tomorrow's education, either in formal, informal, or professional learning contexts.  
Intelligent tutoring systems that adapt learning content to the individual’s progress are becoming more sophisticated with the ability to consider the learner’s emotions and learning style, as illustrated by Dougalis and Plexousakis. Vesin, Mangaroska and Giannakos present a personalised and adaptive tutoring system covering a complex interplay of content, tasks, instructions, social dynamics and learning analytics to teach introductory programming to university students. A common learning middleware in the article by Krauss and Hauswirth facilitates content from different learning management systems and enriches it with innovative technologies such as gamification, social learning, virtual reality and learning recommenders. Leimbach and Tomala propose an integrated programming environment combined with a graphical programming language that allows learners to code a wide range of robotic systems, promoting STEM education to young children.

Choffin, Popineau and Bourda suggest modelling student learning and forgetting for optimally scheduling distributed practice of skills, and Jouanot , Palombi and Rousset propose an ontology-based method for making learning analytics transparent and explainable using a query language that allows users to express specific needs of data exploration and analysis. As certificates play an important role in education, and individual learning records become essential for people’s professional careers, the blockchain for education platform (Prinz, Kolvenbach and Ruland) introduces a secure and intuitive solution for issuing, sharing, and validating educational certificates.

Motivation is an essential lever for engaging students in learning processes. Hence, several authors have explored how motivation can be maintained and enhanced through gamification mechanisms. This is notably the case for EduBAI (Arampatzis et al.) whose goal is to help build reasoning by leaning on a basketball game rationale. In the BEACONING project presented by Cardoso, Morgado and Coelho, gamification is used to make lesson plans more fluid. The LudiMoodle project, described by Lavoué, similarly evaluates the impact of gamification on motivation.

Motivation and engagement can also be encouraged by physically involving the learner in the task. Tangible, hands-on activities can help build knowledge, and enhance collaborative work and social interaction. Hence, compared with purely digital approaches, hybrid approaches that mix physical and digital components have great potential. The CHILI Lab at EPFL explores approaches based on robots to support handwriting (Ozgur et al.) or to accompany a collaborative problem-solving task (Nasir et al.). Problem-solving is also the topic of the article by Anastasiou and Ras where tangible user interfaces are combined with 2D and 3D gestures. In Kniwwelino (Maquil and Moll), the hands-on activities are supported by a combination of a visual programming language and a physical microcontroller equipped with sensors and displays.

In the EPICSAVE project (Luiz, Lerner and Schnier), an immersive room-scaled multi-user 3D virtual simulation environment for medical training scenarios enabling realistic and sustainable training experiences is presented. The WEKIT project (Klamma, Koren and Jarke) has developed an industrial training platform combining sensor technologies with mixed and augmented reality for on-the-job training. Virtual, augmented and mixed reality is also used in the project described by Lalos et al. to provide an educational platform for virtual scientific laboratories for STEM education. Kaliakatsos-Papakostas, Kritsis and Katsouros introduce iMusciCA, a web-based workbench that integrates advanced core enabling technologies, including 3D design and printing of musical instruments, body tracking sensors for gesture recognition, interactive pens and tablets as well as sound generation and processing tools for STEA(rts)M education. The WhoLoDancE project (El Raheb and Ioannidis) has developed web-based tools for the analysis, segmentation, annotation and blending of dance movements as well as interactive experiences that integrate augmented and mixed reality, sonification of movement and visualisation of the human body and movement in different avatars and environments. Leonidis et al. present a student-oriented and educator-friendly intelligent classroom that integrates several features, such as synchronous or event-based communication, identification of learners’ behaviour, etc. and attractive, situational environments for learning.

In addition to these research activities and technological developments, various initiatives aim at organising and teaching EdTech. For example, the Edubase Online Platform (Szilágyi and Berezvai) is a learning-management system (LMS) that provides numerous teaching and testing interfaces. Romero, Lefèvre and Viéville present the SmartEdTech Master program. It is dedicated to the teaching of, and with, educational technology. Similarly, at a doctoral level, the DE-TEL program (Fominykh and Prasolova-Førland) is a European initiative dedicated to a new form of technology-enhanced learning. For all these research works and initiatives in EdTech, ethics should remain a central pillar of the upcoming generation of teaching tools and approaches. This is the focus of a manifesto presented by Laurent, Vaufreydaz and Dessus.

The articles in this special theme give a broad overview of the current state of research and applications and insight into ongoing projects in the educational technologies field.

Digital enhanced learning is also addressed by the recent DEL4ALL (Digital enhanced learning for All) project [L1], funded by the European Union. With a forward-looking perspective, it analyses best-practice, success stories as well as challenges and opportunities offered by the increasing adoption of technologies, such as blockchain, artificial intelligence and others. DEL4All is expected to provide a basis for future research directions and policy recommendations to enable the transition from Horizon 2020 to Horizon Europe funded research and innovation projects in the area of digital enhanced learning.

Link:
[L1] https://www.del4all.eu/

Please contact:
Vassilis Katsouros
Athena Research and Innovation Centre, Greece
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Martin Hachet
Inria, France
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Next issue: October 2020
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