Frank Steiner, Marketing Manager, ULCC, tells us more about this year’s Future of Technology in Education conference

Q: Tell us about the Future of Technology in Education (FOTE) conference. Where did the idea for the event come from?

A: The idea for FOTE came out of discussions between my then boss, Tim Bush (who has since moved on to work for Microsoft), and I back in 2007. We had both worked in the private sector in previous jobs and were fairly new to the education sector and had a genuine interest in new technologies and how they can affect academia. Twitter, launched in 2006, was still largely unknown, iTunesU has just launched in the US, and Moodle started to gain traction as the virtual learning environment of choice in further education. So there was a lot happening on the, as I like to call it, fringe of education technology and we came across some people who put those technologies to great use, being creative, challenging traditional conventions. But there didn’t seem to a platform to share ideas within the education community so we decided to create the FOTE conference.

Q: What does the event aim to achieve?

The key is to bring together commercial providers and educational practitioners to share ideas, best-practice and to future gaze. I know this sounds rather fluffy, but I always said if delegates walk away with one idea they want to follow up on after the conference, then we have achieved our goal.

Q: How long has the conference been going and how has it evolved overtime?

This year will be the seventh time we are running the FOTE conference. Our first event took place on 3 October 2008 at Imperial College, London. We used Twitter and word-of-mouth to promote the event and were concerned about filling the 150 seats. Lo and behold we had to scramble for a bigger venue when we received 400 ticket requests in the run up to the conference.

We’ve always felt FOTE should be a free event and content should be shared as widely as possible, in part this is down to our position as an in-sector provider and also inspired by the approach the TED conferences have taken. We first live streamed the conference in 2011, and have done so ever since, allowing us to go beyond the maximum capacity of the conference venue (350), and attracted around 150 remote delegates in 2014, with the remotest joining us from Hong Kong.

We always stuck to the short 20-minute slot for keynotes, as it helps set the pace for the event and keeps people focused. We had regular panel discussions and experimented with elevator-pitches and audience participation.

Q: What is your best memory from past events?

For me personally it was the moment when the event hashtag trended on Twitter for the first time, back in 2010 (I’ve got a screenshot to prove it!). Our audience has always been quite active and we had a very busy ‘back channel’ with some delegates almost live-tweeting the conference. It’s also nice to see tickets being snapped up shortly after being released each year, with some people drawing Glastonbury comparisons. 

Q: What have you got planned for this year?

We are excited to have Steve Wheeler, Associate Professor of Learning Technologies, Plymouth University, speak at this year’s conference and to welcome back James Clay, Group Director of Learning Technologies, Activate Learning, who has presented at previous FOTE events. We will have two panel discussions, ‘Women in Technology’ and ‘Future Gazers’ and are also working hard on holding a start-up competition to showcase the latest ideas, gadgets and services to hit the mainstream shortly.

Q: How would you like to see FOTE develop in the future?

I think in terms of format there’ll only be minor tweaks. What I do hope to see is our delegates and the wider FOTE community to be more actively engaged with and participate in the event. For example this year we are working with Nicola Whitton (MMU) and Katie Piatt (University of Brighton) on a conference game, and we are also looking to expand the live-streaming offering of the event.

This year’s event takes place on Friday, 3 October in Senate House, University of London. A detailed agenda for the day, how to book a ticket or follow the event remotely are available on the conference website