Edtech: Looking back, planning forwards

Charley Rogers speaks to Sophie Bailey, creator and host of The Edtech Podcast, about her most striking discoveries of 2018, and what’s in store for the next year across the sector

So, you run The Edtech Podcast, which is just going from strength to strength – congratulations! What are some of the best innovations you’ve heard of this year?

Thank you! My recent turn as judge for the HundrED project, Reimagine Education Awards and Bett Awards (re)plugged me into some great innovations like past podcast guests Sqore from Sweden (trying to better match universities, students and employers), plus great early years tools like Reading Eggs from 3P Learning, and Edukasyon.ph from the Philippines. We are seeing a real move towards more considered and screen-free creative learning, and three companies I note in this space are Strawbees, who I came across in Oslo, Yoto Play, whose Kickstarter I backed earlier in the year and My StoryBall who came and pitched at The Edtech Podcast Festival. Also on my travels, I’ve enjoyed following the work of Learning Machine in their attempt to put all learner records on the Blockchain (spotted at GESF), plus closer to home, it’s fun to see UK edtech like Pobble continue to sweep the board at all of the industry awards. I should also give a shout out to Mathigon and Carters Yard Phonics who came first and second in our festival pitch competition.

This year I’ve also really enjoyed finding out about regional innovations. We sometimes get a bit capital-city-centric and whilst I enjoyed inputting on Navitas Ventures’ Global Edtech Ecosystem project, I’m excited by the idea that remote working and learning is really coming of age. As such, I think we will see more entrepreneurs and learners start to be more choosy about where they live and learn in a challenge to the mega-cities narrative. Why not live by the sea and access cheap and skilled developers if you can? (Of course, this question is tied up with deep social mobility issues.) But, to this end, The RSA’s Cities of Learning project – clustering education providers, enablers and accreditors around regional skills demands – is really interesting.

Finally, it’s gratifying to see podcasting being used as an educational tool in various fields including by doctors, social media professionals and psychologists. Whatever teachers and students are into, they can learn more weekly by listening to podcasts in their spare time.

There have been many movements rising to prominence this year – STEAM, women in tech, mental health and wellbeing… which do you think have the most staying power, or traction, in the edtech world?

We will see continued announcements on efficacy and discoverability in edtech. The Education Endowment Foundation Global 2018 event is hosting a global collaboration of evidence-based education organisations, including the likes of past podcast guest Bart Epstein. BESA, in collaboration with the Department for Education, are also launching LendED, an evidence-based pilot scheme, and there is Edtech Impact from Innovate My School.

Another area that won’t go away is artificial intelligence. We are now seeing the discussion move away from a Terminator-style “Will the robots come and take our jobs?” to how can we inform everyone who is implicated on how it might affect them, and how they might be able to help co-create the AI they want to see? To this end, we have seen the launch of the Institute of Ethics in Artificial Intelligence in Education.

The changing work and wellbeing landscape, driven largely by discussions around artificial intelligence, continual upskilling and our general sense of self-worth in uncertain times provides the backdrop to Ofsted’s announcement that attainment in inspections won’t solely be around exams, and the OECD’s latest announcement that creative thinking could form part of the PISA table ranking testing by 2021.

In this environment, I predict a swing from the narrow obsession with maths and science to services and tools which will support the broader curriculum. Most edtech companies I know are well ahead of this; Joel Hellermark, Sana Labs’ CEO, was a very switched on young entrepreneur extolling the virtues of polymathematical thinking, as per Dr Jess Wade in another of our episodes. And we have talked about assessment without tests and collaborative assessment previously on the podcast also.

This, I realise, is a hard question, but who is the most stand-out guest you’ve had this year, and why?

I really enjoyed working with three sixth formers – Edil, Sungna and Malika – from School21 and watching them slowly develop their confidence being on the podcast. That was personally fulfilling, if challenging at times. I also enjoyed interviewing Anant Agarwal, the CEO of EdX just after he had interviewed Betsy DeVos (US Education Secretary) and just before he won The Yidan Prize. He creates a compelling argument for online learning. I’ve just come off the phone doing a recording with Stefan Cecchini, Head of Projects at National College for Nuclear, on the use of artificial intelligence combined with virtual reality training for nuclear power plants! That’s a particularly leftfield and interesting conversation which throws up the usual ethical AI questions in the extreme; we wouldn’t mind AI to paint us a picture or make us a cake, but how would we feel about it managing a nuclear power plant (even if humans running it is already fraught with error)? My favourite experience is when people are bristling with enthusiasm about their subject, whether this comes out as passion, frustration, humour or outrage!

2018 was also a big one for you, hosting your first event, The Edtech Podcast Festival. What plans do you have for 2019?

I wish I could do nothing, but I just don’t seem to be able to do this (even if I daydream about it sometimes). It doesn’t seem to be in my DNA! As such, I am looking forward to more series commissions. I’d like to do a series interviewing directors of learning for large employers to see what their challenges and innovations are. I’m also working on spinning out part of The Edtech Podcast Festival to be a standalone feature at other events, so I’m working with various exciting people on that. I’d like to continue travelling to explore edtech in India and across the African continent, and I’d like to see the second edition of The Edtech Podcast Festival come to life. Maybe it’s time I got a team!

Sophie Bailey is creator and host of The Edtech Podcast. Follow @podcastedtech and @soph_bailey on Twitter.