The tech scene

With 2014 coming to a close, Simon Fry looks at what edtech innovations have been trending this year

Video stars 

Video technology is increasingly used by schools to engage and encourage their pupils, involving the most reluctant of learners, pupils and teachers bringing the curriculum to life. Screens in entrance areas can also showcase pupils’ talents in a similar way to trophy cabinets demonstrating sporting prowess, impressing parents and even leading to more effective parents’ evenings.

The success of TrilbyTV, a video-sharing app and online storage service illustrates such technology’s popularity. Launched at the end of 2013, it is now in over 50 schools, colleges and universities, some boasting ‘digital champions’ (in-house experts) with more coming onboard.

At Yew Tree Primary in Sandwell, West Midlands, an Apple Regional Training Centre where all KS2 pupils have their own iPads 24 hours daily, 365 days annually, pupils produced over 50 videos within a few weeks. The app allows for all videos produced to be stored on a UK cloud-based server, overcoming storage concerns (which had previously led to videos being archived or deleted) removing the extra cost of larger storage infrastructure.

Stanhope Primary School, South Shields, is currently running 16 videos on topics such as literacy and sport on screens within the school and in the parental pick-up/drop-off area, with plans for more screens. It believes it will produce around 24 videos annually. 

MOOCs VS books 

Technology here in 2014 has been used to study events exactly 100 years earlier, with FutureLearn creating the BBC’s first MOOC, by facilitating a collaboration between the broadcaster and four of its university partners on a course portfolio on World War One.

Since FutureLearn’s first courses began in October 2013, the social learning platform has attracted over 550,000 learners from more than 190 countries and territories, clocking up more than a million course registrations between them., which was built to support learning through conversation, has seen 38% of learners behaving socially and posting comments which themselves become a valuable source of learning material for others reading them. Almost a quarter (22%) of all learners are fully participating in the courses – that is completing the majority of steps in a course and all the assessments, a figure two–three times higher than comparable completion rates reported by other providers.

Over 120 courses have been created to date, with courses offered by 40 partners, comprising leading UK and international universities, alongside the British Council, British Library and British Museum. Fourteen universities and specialist education establishments have joined the FutureLearn partnership since the website went live in September 2013, many from outside the UK. In the year, FutureLearn has welcomed its first partners from China, Korea, South Africa and mainland Europe.

FutureLearn is liaising with the National Film and TV School to create courses aimed at creative industry professionals and the ACCA, IET and BT operate as business sponsors of MOOCs for professional recognition.

The ACCA is collaborating with the University of Exeter to create a business course, for which learners can gain exemption from one of the accountancy body’s qualifying modules, upon successful completion and passing of the associated exam.

A 3D future

The last 12 months have been an exciting time for education and the adoption of 3D printing, according to Ultimaker director Paul Croft. “Awareness of this game-changing technology has exploded and education institutions from primary schools to universities are incorporating 3D printing into many subject areas. Whilst 3D printing has been around for decades the recent ‘revolution’ has been fuelled by factors such as the groundswell in the maker movement, economic and social pressures and technological advances making it more affordable. Allied with open-source, knowledge-sharing principles, this accessibility has seeded pockets of innovation globally.”

To support this, and to alleviate many of the headaches traditionally faced when incorporating new technology into education, Ultimaker launched the CREATE Education project, an initiative to share open-source 3D printing technology with all comprising the elements of Community, Reliability, Education, Access, ‘Teachability’ and Economics.

One such educational establishment to benefit is Cardiff University, the formula student race team of which has used an Ultimaker since November 2013 to design, prototype and produce parts for their car, resulting in a record performance on the racetrack and a cost saving of over 70%.

With benefits in fields such as engineering and the medical sector being facilitated through 3D printing, educators, whose remit is to prepare pupils for future employment, will increasingly integrate 3D printing into their teaching in future years. 

Getting social

The key communication barrier for learning institutions to overcome in 2014 is connecting with learners when not in the classroom. Paradoxically, pupils use social media as their core communication means while email is teachers’ primary tool.   WAMBiz has devised the WAMedu app to bridge this gap, providing elements such as peer-to-peer learning and pupil engagement while safeguarding teachers’ professional integrity (so pupils won’t ‘like’ photos of teachers in bikinis.) Indeed, new Ofsted legislation means there will be more emphasis on schools needing social media safeguards and “well developed strategies in place to keep learners safe”.

Designed with the end users in mind to avoid ‘clunkiness’, an ongoing pilot project at South Staffordshire College seeks to overcome traditionally higher drop-out rates seen in part-time courses brought about by less student/teacher classroom/face-to-face time.

WAMBiz is responding to students’ needs. CEO Harry Jawanda said: “The most unexpected, yet valuable feedback from the pilot period before the summer break was that we need downloadable apps with push notifications ensuring even higher engagement. We have spent the summer building downloadable apps for IOS, Android and Windows platforms and are onsite giving students NFC-enabled wristbands they will be able to use to download the WAMedu apps from Android phones.”


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