Keeping up with edtech: Professor Kerensa Jennings

In the fourth and final installment of our panel discussion on how educators can make tech work for them, we hear from Professor Kerensa Jennings, CEO of iDEA

Professor Kerensa Jennings, CEO, The Duke of York Inspiring Digital Enterprise Award (iDEA) joins the discussion

Q. Is there a new genre of technology (e.g. the recent focus on VR and AI) that is currently taking over, or is likely to soon?

Kerensa Jennings: There are many wonderful examples of edtech these days. I have to say that as part of that mix, I think what we are doing is quite exciting – taking the concept of digital badges and helping people discover skills and knowledge whatever their age or stage – all completely for free. 

I run The Duke of York Inspiring Digital Enterprise Award, known as iDEA, which offers completely free digital and enterprise mini modules on iDEA.org.uk. We have a Badge Store which is a bit like the app store – with a large range of different topics on offer. Anyone can click and collect the ‘badges’. These are interactive bite-size online challenges and puzzles designed to help people develop skills and knowledge on subjects as diverse as staying safe on the internet and being cyber aware, growth hacking, social media, making websites, graphic design, GDPR, web design psychology, money management, projects, coding, VR, making games and teamwork. We offer a curated curriculum, but a pick ’n’ mix approach, so learners can dip in and use the badges on any device, anytime they can get online. One of our innovations is the Record of Achievement which can be downloaded, printed and shared, allowing participants to showcase their accomplishments on iDEA and with a wide range of partners. 

iDEA badges can be used to support the curriculum and schemes of work in formal learning environments, but can just as easily be incorporated into outreach programmes, workforce development and used as a solo learning activity as part of lifelong learning and enrichment. 

Q. How is edtech affecting pedagogy, and vice-versa?

Kerensa Jennings: I think because edtech comes in many shapes and sizes, it is impossible to offer a generalised response to this. What I would say as a general point is that the rapid pace of advancement in technology in the digital age is opening up exciting opportunities that educators can take advantage of, ranging from collaboration tools, interactive and immersive learning experiences, remote learning and curated, learner-centric design, sometimes aided by AI. 

I believe there are numerous examples where edtech can help offer flexibility, serious pedagogy and continuous professional development. iDEA is agile and responsive with a clear goal of supporting and enriching the digital skills talent pipeline. Teachers and facilitators can use our modules for free, knowing they are carefully mapped into the curriculum AND also offer industry-endorsed Awards. Each of our iDEA badges (mini modules) has serious learning science behind it, with techniques including reinforcement loops, problem-solving, gamification, abstraction, synthesis and experiential scenarios helping to create effective learning mechanics which sustain meaningfully. 

Q. Is there anything happening behind the scenes in edtech now, that will change how we view education in the next five years?

Kerensa Jennings: You can be sure there are thousands of innovators experimenting with new technologies and developing smart ways to improve learning experiences and enhance the suite of options on offer to educators. 

I have been hearing about some exciting plans in development which are taking the concepts of building digitally (like in Minecraft) and in the real world (like with Lego) and creating new strands of learning design which create interactive learning experiences blending real- and virtual-world learning informed by machine learning.

Q. How can teachers keep up with the fast pace of tech? It’s notoriously lightning speed, whereas education lags in adopting change.
Can we consolidate these two approaches? How?

Kerensa Jennings: I think trying to keep up with the fast pace of tech is a challenge for all of us. One of the reasons iDEA is successful is because it helps people keep up to speed with innovations and tech that might have been around for a while (like the Internet of Things and cloud computing) but also keeps adding to its agile curriculum as required – for example the recent GDPR and Fake News badges responded to needs in the market. Many teachers around the world are using iDEA for their own CPD, to top-up and hone knowledge and skills they already have, and discover new tech trends and digital skills. 

I think anyone making edtech has a duty to support and help educators by making their products easy to use and highly relevant. In the case of iDEA, we have the added advantage of offering everything we do for free. It’s plug-and-play on any device and it works anywhere you can get online. 

I think the most effective way to consolidate the fast pace of tech and the challenges of formal curricula which take time to evolve, is to help educators take advantage of products and services which complement what they are already doing and thereby enhance the performance and potential of their learners. 

Q. Technology can be a fantastic tool for schools and universities, but can also cause a lot of resistance in decision-makers if they don’t see the benefit. How can advocates get higher management and those that control the purse strings on board?

Kerensa Jennings: Investment in technology should never just be for the sake of getting new tech. When looking for new technologies, advocates must have an agenda which identifies what they are looking to gain from the investment. Edtech must fulfil a purpose in areas such as improving engagement, raising standards or saving valuable time. By showing how edtech will support teachers and improve teaching and learning, you are far more likely to gain the support of senior leaders and fellow teachers.

Q. Edtech suppliers often raise the issue that they don’t know how to break into the education market, and that the disparate nature of the sector means they don’t know where to start. What advice do you have for both providers and educators who would like to make connections?

Kerensa Jennings: The prime focus should always be on knowing what challenge you have a solution for. Edtech suppliers need to make procurement and support as easy as possible in the education market where time to explore solutions can be limited.

Q. Is there a time in history when technology has had such a huge impact on education? Do you think it will continue to do so, or can we expect a plateau at some point?

Kerensa Jennings: I am not sure I feel qualified to answer this question, partly because I am not sure how to define technology. From man-made fire to carved hieroglyphics, from Babbage’s difference engine and the Gutenburg press to the Penny Black and the inventions of the telephone, the wireless or the television; from satellite to fibre…. The glorious, evolving world around us continues to innovate, inspire and enthral us. I am excited to see how the digital revolution continues to turn, and how we can do our bit to support learners and educators all over the world. 

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