The Future of Education: Roundtable With EdTech Experts

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How will advancing hardware and software technology impact education?

We're bringing together experts in gamification, IoT, coding and human-computer interaction, for RE•WORK The Future of Education, taking place on 20 June during London Tech Week, to explore the advantages and challenges of integrating emerging technologies into education.

How can problems in learning be addressed with new technologies? Who or what is essential to progess? Where will the EdTech industry be in 5 years time? We asked speakers from the event to learn more.

Joanna Bersin is Head of Education at Kano, who are focused on bringing a creative approach to computer and coding education. They want to create a world where anyone, anywhere, can learn make and play with technology, not just consume it.

Colum Elliott-Kelly is Head of Education at Blippar, whose vision is to turn the world into an interactive learning environment, and the scope of the strategy covers all age levels and all geographies. 

Eugenie Teasley is Founder and CEO of Spark + Mettle, a tech-centred youth charity founded in 2011. She went on to develop a platform called Discoverables that enabled young people to identify, develop and demonstrate key character strengths and skills needed to succeed in work and in life.

Joachim Horn is Founder of SAM Labs, who have created a kit for those with little technical background or knowledge to learn about electronics, the basics of coding and programming, while exploring the Internet of Things.

William Owen is Founding Partner & Strategy Director at Made by Many, a consulting company that helps companies bring digital into the centre of their offering and to conceive, design and deliver innovative products. 

Mark Blundell is  Project Lead  at Innovation Unit, an independent social enterprise that works across education, health and local government to develop radically different, better and lower cost public services.

What problem are you trying to address in your work?
Colum: Publishers and educators have recognised the benefits of “edtech” but the physical world ­be it a book or a classroom ­ is still the most credible, impactful educational environment for students. We want to marry the benefits of digital education with the benefits of the physical educational materials and environments, by allowing users to point Blippar at the world around them and delivering to them personalised, contextual, content­rich experiences.

Joachim: There is a shortage of engineers coming out of the UK. Weighed up against high-growth developing countries like China and India, our numbers pale in comparison. By encouraging students from a young age to build a better world with SAM, we are shaping technological advancement and encouraging prospective engineers to stick to their goals. 

Joanna: To prepare the new generation for the future, we need to get them engaged with technology early on and empower them to build with it. Kano is a way for beginners around the world to create and remix the world in which they live.

A computer is now cheaper than a curling iron. 2.5 billion of us have one in our pocket: a sealed sapphire screen, a million times more powerful than the mainframe that took Apollo to the moon. But for all that power, a tiny 1% of 1% of us can do more than swipe – only 50 million of us can program, according to IDC. But the new creative generation is rising, from Sierra Leone to Shenzhen, combining music and code, silicon and open-source. They need tools, not just toys.

William: Learning while playing. Hackaball is a toy, not an educational product. We’re quite clear about that. Children don’t want to be educated, but they do want to learn new things. We wanted to make Hackaball something they can do by themselves, without the interference of adults. They’re in charge.

Mark: We know that public services can be fantastic, and they could be dramatically better. The skills, tools and insights that we bring to our work sustainably transform services and whole systems that help people lead better lives. 

How did you come across that problem?
Joanna: It was inspired by a challenge from Micah, the (then) six-year-old cousin of our our co-founder and CEO, Alex Klein. Micah wanted to build his own computer, and it had to be as "simple and as fun as Lego," so that nobody had to teach him.

William: There’s really two problems. One’s a problem for parents, the other’s a problem for kids. Parents hate seeing their kids sitting in front of screens, alone, indoors. Kids hate being taught, being told what to do, not being in control, not being able to play, not being able to make stuff up, not being allowed to be crazy and stupid and weird and silly. We’ve designed Hackaball with children and they do really strange things with it that no adult would ever have thought of.

Joachim: After he'd come from a traditional engineering degree at Imperial College in London, Founder and CEO, Joachim Horn created SAM to bring the powers of engineering to everyone. Coding and computer languages, along with the fundamentals of engineering are complicated concepts. Upon graduation, Joachim believed these skills and ideas needed to be passed on. He saw an opportunity to promote STEM learning by better using technology in the Education Industry.

Mark: Innovation Unit was formerly a team within the Department of Education, tasked with finding and supporting innovative practice across the system. We have built on this heritage, and now as an independent organisation we work nationally and internationally to shift thinking and practice around what's possible in education. Personally, having taught in a mainstream secondary school in London, and having visited many schools over the past few years I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to schooling.

Colum: Through our pilots and early strategic planning we realised that an app which can recognise anything in the world, an AI­-driven digital content delivery system and a creative product suite that can tailor that content delivery can connect physical with digital in a revolutionary way. We believe that the pedagogical impact of that vision can be enormous.

What partners have been essential to your progress?
Mark: Our closest partners continue to be those schools who are doing the hard work day-in-day-out. Over the past few years, we have worked particularly closely with around 12 schools who were part of our national trial of Project Based Learning, and with a group of schools based in California called High Tech High where the practice originated. We also continue to work closely with School 21 in Stratford.

Colum: We are working together with major global publishers and content providers in the education sector and partnered with various schools and districts around the world to bring Blippar technology into the classroom. But the most important partners in our progress are educators themselves. Their feedback makes up a great part in our product development process. Educators themselves help us to build and continually improve products that are most useful and adaptable in various classroom settings by allowing us to get insights into their work.

Joanna: On the education side, we're really focused on developing a package that works in the classroom or club environment, and our classroom and club co-development partners have been incredible in creating content & projects and in giving us product feedback, that will enable us to scale. In the UK for example, we work with Firetech camps and Coderdojo closely to roll out new features, get feedback, and deeply understand how they use Kano in their clubs and camps. Our school partnerships include our first Kano Academy, Amana Academy in the US; they have done a full-blown integration with Kano for their 5th grade students.

We aim to grow our partnerships in 2016-17, especially on the education side, in a few areas. One of these areas is adding great 3rd party applications to the Kano Kit, with partners who have objectives aligned with ours. We're working right now with a few select partners here to design awesome user experiences, alongside school and club partners, before adding to the kit. A great example here is Kahoot! - like millions of teachers and students, we absolutely love Kahoot!. We're working with them now on how we together can empower people to create games, apps, and more––the full end-to-end experience.

William: First of all children and their parents, who have designed the ball with us. Then Map Project Office who partnered with us on our second working prototype, a really sophisticated and beautifully resolved design that we went to Kickstarter with. Map also helped us link up with other specialists including sound and electronics design and a manufacturing partner in China.

Joachim: Think Big, Kickstarter, Microsoft Ventures and Imperial Innovations have been essential to our growth. Secondly, a special thanks to all of you who support us at events, purchase our kits and are hungry to learn more about the IoT, electronics and coding; you are shaping SAM Labs today, tomorrow and in future.

What advancements will we see in the edtech space in the next 5 years?
Eugenie: I think that depends on how quickly leadership teams and teachers are willing to adopt the tech that exists already and are keen to explore what's next, and how comfortable they are with students taking the lead on some aspects of tech in schools. If that happens, things will speed along. I don't think tech is the panacea to problems in education, but I do think that used right, developed collaboratively, and implemented reflectively, it can speed up change and help to personalise learning in a way that is currently very time and labour-intensive for teachers to do.

Mark: Technology is already a powerful tool that allows students to be creators of beautiful work, rather than just consumers of information - and over the next 5 years, I expect this to go to the next level. With advances in software and hardware that allow students to make films, music, animations, games, and artwork quicker, more easily and to a higher quality we should expect to see our notions of what is possible at any given age marched forwards.

Assessment is still the big challenge that neither school leaders nor edtech has fully cracked. There has been an explosion of online tools, but little consensus achieved on the best and most powerful ways to use technology to aid varied and high-quality assessment. I hope that we will still some movement on this tricky issue in the next 5 years.

Joachim: The IoT will have a transforming effect on edtech. An increasing number of students will be learning outside of the classroom while remaining connected. Internationally, students and teachers will be able to share what they have learned through cooperative learning. Learning by playing on tangible devices with become more important as "death by PowerPoint" will no longer appeal to Generation Tech.

Colum: I believe we’ll see greater integration between physical and digital, and we’re excited to be at the heart of that process. More broadly, certification and accreditation of educational achievements via digital channels is a huge business opportunity but also a vital stage in the adoption of “edtech” into education systems globally. Even more generally, we feel that the word “edtech” will being to fade away as the community begins to think of tech and digital not as a separate “sub­vertical” with education, but as a vital foundation underpinning every aspect of education. For example, tech will integrate into teacher tools, content, assessment, revision, cultural learning, creative work, and so on. That’s vital for technology to work hand­ in­ hand with the physical learning environment, as we’re delighted to be pushing in that direction here at Blippar Education.

William: My feelings about edtech are mixed. On the one hand, I can’t believe how slow the big publishers have been to adopt a digital first mindset. On the other, I hate the feeding frenzy stirred up by the big West Coast hardware and software companies who see education as the Next Big Market. I’m worried we’ll see lots of emphasis on continuous assessment. The edtech space is driven by companies who sell to national ministries and local education authorities with a testing testing testing mindset. In the UK, in particular, there’s a huge emphasis on passing exams over learning to learn (and learning through play beyond infant school). I’m also optimistic, though, that aspects of edtech - products like Sam, for example - will promote creative learning at home and in schools.

Joanna: We'll see technology that helps educators focus on engagement and personalization. We're increasingly able now to capture data across platforms––what learners are engaging with on mobile with a VR app, or answering as part of an online homework assignment, or writing as part of a blog. We'll increasingly see technology that helps to capture and unlock meaningful data as we're increasingly providing diverse learning experiences. We can track the parts of a game where students typically spend the most time to create more engaging content, or see where an individual student gets stuck and target intervention with the activity best suited for that student.

Check out our EdTech Q&A series for more interviews with gamechangers in educational technology. If you'd like to contribute to the blog, please get in contact with Sophie via our form here.

These experts will be speaking at RE•WORK The Future of Education, taking place in London on 20 June, as a part of London Technology Week. For more information and to register, please visit the event page here.

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