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Moving forwards, looking back – with Phil Richards

Third in a series of education technology experts from across the world of education looking back on a year of innovation, and anticipating what the coming one might bring for schools, colleges and universities

What three words sum up 2018’s education technology scene for you? 

Underpinning Education 4.0.

What have been the particular challenges of 2018 for education providers?

While 2018 has again been an exciting year for edtech, it has been a challenging one for Jisc’s members in terms of the ongoing gap between higher and further education quantum of funding, the Government’s Augar Review of post-18 funding, and negative media headlines, most of which are unjustified.

Alongside the financial and political threats, cyber threats are now far more prominent – caused by a genuine underlying increase plus greater reporting in the mainstream media. The need for effective cyber security is clearer than ever, as is the imperative to equip learners with the capabilities and resilience to negotiate a sometimes hostile cyber world, and a changing careers landscape as the Fourth Industrial Revolution begins.

Our annual insights survey of 37,000 students for 2018 found that, this year, half of college learners and almost 70% of university students think digital skills will be important for their chosen career. Yet only 41% believe their courses prepare them for a digital workplace. The results came as the Government’s industrial strategy stated: “Within two decades, 90% of jobs will require some digital proficiency, yet 23% of adults lack basic digital skills.”

As the fourth industrial revolution progresses further, its potentially huge effect on our space – or ‘Education 4.0’ as Jisc and others refer to it, provides a challenge we are ready to help our members rise to.

What technology have you seen making an impact in education this year? 

This year we launched the world’s first national learning analytics service for the UK’s further and higher education sectors. It has the very real potential to transform students’ learning experience, support their wellbeing and boost achievement, and does this by harnessing the power of data that organisations already have. The Study Goal app comes as part of the service, and allows students to track how they use their time, from revision to relaxation, supporting them to take full ownership of their learning.

Dozens of institutions and individuals have given their time and expertise over the past three years to develop a service that is already making a difference to students, staff and their institutions, and we are grateful for their contribution. We’re looking forward to seeing the impact the service will have in improving student success and wellbeing in 2019.

A comprehensive UK digital strategy would help further sector collaboration to transform the student experience and create solutions for flexible teaching and learning as well as student wellbeing

What has surprised you this year?

2018 has surprised me in many ways, generally positive ones. Thanks to published ethical guidelines and clear information, the sector is appreciating the crucial importance of data. The Office for Students is about to announce its own data strategy, and our learning analytics service is already providing stories of student success and improved wellbeing.

What would you like to see education providers put on their agendas for 2019?

We are now starting to look beyond learning analytics, focusing on: the intelligent campus (smart sensors and other Internet of Things technologies to ensure physical and digital learning environments exist in harmony); curriculum analytics – using data to promote blended curriculum instructional design and measurement; employability and wellbeing analytics, developing further themes introduced above; and what might be next in the evolution of the virtual learning environment (VLE).

Building on that, we at Jisc would welcome a comprehensive UK digital strategy for higher and further education. Such a strategy would help further sector collaboration to transform the student experience and create solutions for flexible teaching and learning as well as student wellbeing.

What do you hope that teachers and lecturers will start to do more of next year to really make the most of all these digital opportunities?

Proportionate, responsible digital innovation and experimentation in their teaching. I would encourage every teacher and lecturer to try out one new digital thing integrated as part of their course delivery; maybe a small thing addressing just one learning objective, perhaps using a simulation or online group interaction. Experiments and innovations carry a degree of risk – that means they may fail. If an innovation is small and responsible, and subsequently fails, the consequences to the learner are not grave but the potential benefits are large. Teachers and lecturers should always be encouraged and supported to take proportionate, responsible digital risks.

Phil Richards is Chief Innovation Officer at Jisc