The Edtech Podcast monthly roundup: September 2019

Sophie Bailey, founder and host of The Edtech Podcast gives ET readers an exclusive round-up of September’s hot topics, including organic learning, reformed assessment, and the impact of AI

Why all life is trial and error

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It was refreshing to hear from our guests about their own “organic” learning pathways in this month’s recordings. Rather than seamless forward-looking transitions from school, to university, to relevant employment, we heard about how Richard Price, now learning technologies advisor, NHS Health Education England, had to park a career in marine life, researching the sexual development of snails. “I realised at that point, staring down a microscope in a lab, that that wasn’t going to be the career choice for me.” Instead, we find out how Price is busy assessing the implications of new technologies for training one of the world’s most large and diverse workforces. Similarly, Steve Wheeler, author of Digital Learning in Organisations, talks about how developing family circumstances and supportive colleagues spurred him into a career in digital technologies for learning, which, subsequently, took him around the world. Life lesson: You may start out packing marmalade, or staring at snails, but keep listening and learning and the world’s your oyster.


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One of our favourite questions on the podcast is “what job have you had that other people might not know you did?” Michael Huang, founder of Kitcat, a STEAM educational resources provider in China, has been busy. Beyond helping people to learn English more effectively, Michael has expanded his efforts into STEAM learning. Teaching himself to code, design clothes, and how to apply mathematics, he and his team have made 3D printers for less than 100 USD, as well as create home-made perfume, and in-home vertical cultivation systems to grow food, channeling their creativity to tackle some of Shanghai’s foremost urban issues. We dig into his polymathetical ways, and uncover some reminders to go broad and then go deep and not to admonish your self in the process.

Moving away from formal assessment

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Given “real-life” isn’t a nice straight trajectory, it’s unsuprising that assessment is developing in more varied ways than just the traditional written exam, which naturally benefits some of us more than others. In episode 163 with Steve Wheeler we talk about his “seek forgiveness, not permission” approach to assessment which saw him broaden out assessment methods at his former post of associate professor of learning technologies at the Plymouth Institute of Education. New forms of assessment included multi-modal projects: podcasts, videos, visual-essays. Steve took it upon himself to liaise with the assessment boards, the students and the university to get these forms of work accredited. (Interestingly, assessment was identified by a CCO of a university in last month’s episode 159 as the cornerstone for greater change and modernisation across universities generally).


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Five thousand miles away in China, Edtech Podcast listener Sonnie Tan interviewed Michael Huang. Sonnie is busy helping to populate our Chinese podcast channel on Ximalaya, but when she is not doing that she’s hosting parent and child feedback groups on competency-based learning across China, as part of her University of York studies. In episode 162 she discusses with Huang how assessment in China is slowly, slowly moving away from the heavy focus on The National College Entrance Examination (NCEE), commonly known as Gaokao, to take in alternative approaches to learning.

Consumer models of learning

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One of these alternate approaches to learning is the so-called “Chinese Real-Estate Education Complex model.” This month, I spoke to Yiwei Zhang, director of international edtech projects at Rayee, about how parents are engaging with consumer-focused educational suppliers to broaden their children’s learning experiences. In this particular example, shopping malls lease space to language companies, STEAM companies, dance companies, and music companies, so that the parents can experience some recreation time whist the children are learning a new skill (largely at the weekend). I’m not sure this leaves too much time for the children to decompress and splash in puddles, but you know, horses for courses, and think of all that shopping!

Communicating the impact of AI

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One thing that came up a lot this month was digital transformation and the need to communicate the impact of artificial intelligence and other technologies coming onstream to all learners – in school, and outside. Back in China, Huang actually believes that a future, reformed NCEE will include modules on artificial intelligence. For example, knowledge of artificial intelligence will become necessary to successfully enter higher education.

Back in the UK, in episode 161 we talked about The Topol Review with Price, and the role of AI in relation to preparing the healthcare workforce to deliver the digital future. Again, knowledge of AI will form part of an expected digital competency skill-set, in this case within the workplace.


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For more info on The Edtech Podcast and to listen to full episodes for free, head to https://theedtechpodcast.com.

Keep an eye out at the end of every month for more of Sophie’s round-ups… always EXCLUSIVE right here.

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