The Edtech Podcast monthly roundup: January 2020

Sophie Bailey returns with the low-down on what happened throughout January in the edtech world, including a focus on innovative pedagogy, and empowering best teaching and learning

Long-gone are the memories of mince-pies as we bowl into 2020. It’s been the biggest month yet on the podcast, with 12,631 downloads at the time of writing across January 2020. We also wrapped up our six-part What Matters in Edtech series with a LIVE recording at BETT, focusing on skills and the new vocational qualification landscape. So, what were the podcast’s talking points across January 2020? 

Skills, vocational learning and technology

Human beings are not homogenous, it’s about different routes, different pathways, for different people to get them where they need to get to and celebrating that

The UK skills gap reportedly costs £4.4bn per year

In the UK, the skills gap is reported to cost businesses £4.4bn a year, not to mention the personal cost to learners who feel unable to fulfil their unique potential. As we all know, there is a disconnect between education and skills requirements; as well as employer, student and provider wants and needs. Whilst it is often quoted that businesses are unhappy with the skill sets of graduate students, it appears students are also underwhelmed by the variety of employment opportunities available. Indeed, a recent report by the charity Education and Employers, which surveyed 7,000 teenagers, found that five times as many 17-18-year-olds want to work in art, entertainment and sport as there are jobs available. ‘Will US universities be made redundant by the employability agenda?’ asked Times Higher Education, pointing to increasing numbers of companies who are taking the training of their workers in-house, unhappy with what college graduates have to offer.

On episode 183 of The Edtech Podcast, I discussed these issues with Cindy Rampersaud, senior vice-president of BTEC and Apprenticeships at Pearson UK; Ben Blackledge, deputy chief executive officer of WorldSkills UK; Sarah Taunton, acting head of pathways and enrichment at Ark; and Helen Hall, UK recruitment and partnerships director at Oxford Brookes University (and University Alliance representative). We talk about how other countries are investing huge sums into vocational learning, whilst the UK still retains a slight (class-tinged?) stigma against vocational routes. This is interesting given a) When considering the value of qualifications, nearly three-quarters (74%) of respondents to the 2018 CBI or Confederation of British Industry Skills Survey said that they prefer a mixture of academic and technical qualifications, or that they view all qualifications equally and b) When we consider the skill-sets required now and in the future being, on the one-hand, associated with computing, and on the other around caring and education – i.e. high-level graduate earnings are not the metric we need to see if our skills crisis is levelling out. With the introduction of T-Levels into the discussion, we questioned whether we are on track to keep vocational learning broad (and transferable) or if we are going back to a vocational vs. academic dichotomy. Headlines like this certainly don’t help quash that feeling of division. Don’t worry, we have a lovely audio recording from a previous BTEC radio production student who now produces at Talk Sport, plus loads of guest recommendations (like this book) to keep your chin up and skill conversation flying high. 

Companies don’t have an understanding of how to make learning investments

The conversation around skills also played out in an earlier episode on vocational learning in Finland (episode 181), recorded LIVE from Helsinki during a week dedicated to Boosting Skills & Continuous Learning in Europe. Alongside a panel of adult education and corporate training providers, teachers, and eco-system supporters, we asked questions such as ‘Whose responsibility is upskilling workers?’, and ‘Are learning economics fit for purpose in corporate learning?’ This last question is interesting, given the increasing role of corporates in learning and the presumption from many that they will ‘takeover’ training from traditional providers and bring it in-house. An interesting hybrid approach to this is in the ‘education-as-a-benefit’ model, with companies like Guild Education reaching Unicorn status by brokering the relationship between universities, colleges and corporates and offering continual learning up to degree level to their loyal employees. (I’m interviewing their founder of Guild Education Rachel Carlson this week, so out on the podcast soon).  

This conversation included Janne Hietala, chief visionary Officer at Valamis; Antti Korhonen, CEO of xEdu; Reidar Wasenius, executive director of Soprano Plc; and Jenni Huopainen, pedagogic teacher at Omnia. We also talk about how Finland is focusing on social education around AI with its elements of AI course.  

[On self-directed learning], I think we can all think of activities that are conventionally done with other people, but occasionally we do it on our own

And, finally, we looked at lessons from a lifelong learner in episode 184, by chatting with the exuberant Cath Brown, the Open University students’ association president and a prolific learner both online and offline. She offered some great inspiration on using technology in learning, the importance of good mentors, and flexible learning.

Innovation in pedagogy and technology

There are a lot of people who aren’t necessarily willing to take risks on startups or younger, smaller companies – I go the other direction. These are the people I want to start to engage with because they have more of a willingness and an opportunity for us to share out ideas of innovation with them and a willingness to listen to us

Holon IQ recently predicted that US$US87bn of venture capital will back edtech startups over the next decade, following US$US32bn across 2010-2019. Much of this investment will be tacked to ventures aiming to transform learning, human capital development and powering UN Sustainable Development Goal four (SDG4) –  ‘To ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.’ But how do we ensure that such investment in new ideas has impact?

In episode 182, we asked entrepreneurs, ecosystem developers, academics and educators, ‘What is innovation? How can it be measured and sustained? How can a culture of innovation be developed, and what examples of pedagogical and technological innovation have come to the fore in recent years?’ This episode covered how an academic is assessing the educational application of virtual reality, how curriculum developers are working with industry on cybersecurity in career technical education in the US, why STEAM educators in Brussels are going back to the early days of the internet to seek guidance on the innovation process (ps. ‘It’s a conversation’), and how government and educators in Bhutan are using fab lab techniques to solve local problems to do with bees, blood transportation and flooding. In this episode, we talk about how the ‘pedagogy must come first’ approach to innovation in education is now evolving to accept that excellence in technology and UX is just as important for innovations to have success. The two are reliant on one another. This discussion was timely, given the Department for Education’s recent edtech innovation testbed programme announcements, run in collaboration with Nesta. We speak to Nancy Wilkinson, senior programme manager for education at Nesta, as part of this episode; along with Dr Peter David Looker, formerly head of teaching, learning and pedagogy division at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, now chief learning officer at Eon Reality; Niko Lindholm, programme director of Eduspaze (formerly XEdu); Jesse Lozano, co-founder and CEO of pi-top; Thomas Thoss, M.Ed., enterprise networks instructor at Orange Technical College’s Mid Florida Campus; Garland Green, IT director at the International School of Brussels (ISB); and Karma Lhakyi, director of Fablab Bhutan; and Tsewang Lhundup, research and development engineer at Fablab Bhutan

In episode 184, Ian Hurd also chats to Emma Ball, head of learning technologies, and Tom Davies, learning technologist at Solihull College and University Centre. Here, you’ll hear all about their work in developing in-house artificial and virtual reality for skills development.

Empowering best teaching and learning

Hierarchy is used as a way of exerting power or telling people what to do

User-centricity also resonated in episodes 179 and 180, where we talked about empowering teachers and students respectively. In our podcast episode about empowering teaching and learning, much of the conversation was about teacher time, flexibility and trust, which is why I noted wih keen interest that Emma Mulqueeny OBE (of Rewired State fame) has just joined the flexible working for teachers in public schools’ programme at the Department for Education. Watch this space. Our guests on this episode were Deirdre Hodson, policy officer for the European Commission across education, youth, sport and culture; Sarah Horrocks, director of the London Connected Learning Centre; Cat Scutt, director of education and research at Chartered College of Teaching and Learning; Rachel Ashmore, head of the Promethean Academy and senior education consultant at Promethean; and Stephen Holden, headteacher of Tottington Primary School. 

70% of students feel that digital skills are important for their chosen careers but only 42% feel that their courses prepare them for the digital workplace

Creating flatter structures which allow for quicker, more continuous feedback also came into play in episode 180, looking at the diversity of student experiences in higher education and how to support them. I spoke to Warren Stanislaus, PhD Student at Oxford University about his experiences of studying in Asia vs. in the UK; plus Seeta Bhardwa, content editor of Times Higher Education, on what students want. Much like my conversation with the founder of Unitu recently, students aren’t expecting the five-star experience that universities often mistakenly believe they require. They want the basics: good WiFi, a microwave, better options for workspaces, etc. In this episode, Dr Emily McIntosh, director of learning, teaching and student experience at the Centre for Academic Practice Enhancement, Middlesex University, and co-author of Effective Personal Tutoring in Higher Education also talks about our misconceptions of ‘GenZ’ – that they are digitally literate which suggests better pathways to support co-curation of resources by and with students. One such example is Mukund Desibhatla’s, Agents of Change Student Leadership Podcast, from the University of Connecticut. To cap it all off Sarah Knight, head of change and student experience at Jisc talks about what over 100,000 student responses told us in their Digital Experience Insight Survey. Guess what? It underlines the notion that there is no-one student type; and that staff, as much as students, need support on digital.