FOTE 2014

The movers and shakers in education technology met on 3 October to discuss its future in Senate House at the University of London

By Nicola Yeeles

Media sponsors of Future of Technology in Education (FOTE) for the second year running, the Education Technology team were out in force to chat to readers, old and new, and get involved in the judging for the prestigious start-up PitchFest.

The annual event, organised by The University of London Computer Centre (ULCC), was held just 10 days ahead of Ada Lovelace day, which celebrates the achievements of women in science, so it seemed appropriate to kick off the morning on that theme. We first heard from Samantha Swift, Product Manager at McAfee Labs, about the lack of recognition of key female technologists. She was then joined on stage by three influential women for a provocative panel session to discuss why there are so few women in leadership positions and what we can do about it.

After a break, the conference delved deeper into the topic of technology. Microsoft’s chief envisioning officer Dave Coplin made a call for us to “make positive mindful choices” in our use of tech. Bethany Koby, from Technology Will Save Us, agreed about the need to think deeply and creatively, for example through encouraging kids to get involved with making stuff using sensors, welding and circuits. Provocative Miles Metcalfe, however, wasn’t so optimistic, and called for us to pay far more attention to the way that technology is changing our world.

At this conference, the post-lunch slump never appeared, thanks to the fizz of energy that came in the form of 10 bright young start-ups competing at the annual PitchFest. As Maren Deepwell, the CEO of the Association for Learning Technology, and I grilled them in our roles as Dragons’ Den style judges, it became clear that everyone in the room was absolutely engaged.

It was no surprise to me at least when two of the most innovative emerged as the winners of the audience vote: Fluency, a digital literacy course, came in first, with Reframed, a tool for leaving comments on videos at specific moments, as runner up. The teams’ energy and ideas were definitely the best way to illustrate the bright future of technology in education.

Frank Steiner, Marketing Manager, ULCC, said: “I felt there was a great buzz during the day and plenty of lively discussions during the breaks. I’d like to thank all the speakers and start-ups who took time out their busy schedules to be part of this year’s conference. Planning for FOTE15 will start shortly, as they saying goes – ‘after the event, is before the event’.”

For me, the highlight of the afternoon talks was James Clay from Activate Learning who took us to the dark side of learning in higher and further education in his Star Wars inspired presentation: the battle between IT and learning technologists. He ended with a plea for compromise and collaboration which received enthusiastic applause.

With just 350 invited delegates, it certainly isn’t be the biggest conference of the year, but the calibre of keynotes at FOTE14 was excellent, key takeaways being:

  • Are we doing enough to champion women in leadership roles?
  • How can we better equip our young people to think deeply and reflectively about their use of technology, while giving them the skills to get on with it?
  • Are we really ready for how technology will change us and our education system in the future?