EdTech beyond the lockdowns

I thought, following my recent panel discussion at the Schools an Academies Show in London I would write a short post on my thoughts on the 3 key questions posed as part of the session.

Delivering the curriculum beyond the physical classroom: how can schools effectively implement hybrid learning plans?

Some schools have been doing this for some time, using the flipped classroom for example.    The issue is it needs to work for your school, your context, staff, and students.   It needs to work for your hardware and infrastructure, etc, so just because an approach worked in other schools doesn’t mean you can simply pick up that solution and replicate it in your school.    So, for me it’s about experimenting a little, and taking it slow.   A large part of effective hybrid learning, is the same as traditional face to face learning, and about building up effective learning habits and routines, but this takes time;  We need to allow for this time.   Use what has been learnt over lockdown as to what worked and didn’t work in your school and go from there.   But yes, look at other schools and what appears to work, but pick carefully at the elements of their practice that you wish to implement, and then give these approaches time to embed before seeking to advance further.   And make sure to engage the teachers, students and parents in planning.

Do we finally have enough proof of the pedagogical efficacy of EdTech?

Given the variety of uses of edtech, edtech products, planned outcomes (e.g. academic, or soft skills, global awareness, etc), staff skills, equipment level, student tech skills, etc it is difficult to assess general efficacy accurately.   As I wrote in my last post, it is a bit like assessing the efficacy of a bunch of hand tools, including some hammers, screwdrivers, hand drills and saws.   Their efficacy depends very much on what they are being used for (e.g., using a screwdriver to hammer in a nail) and the skill level of the user, that of a DIY’er or an expert craftsperson.  As such I am not sure what value there is in the question, given the large number of variables involved.   I also note that the more variables involved the greater the likelihood of high levels of variation in results from different research studies plus a tendency for the generalised results to regress towards the mean, and a likely insignificant impact being suggested.   I therefore believe we need to look at a different question, and whether EdTech has the potential to bring about positive improvements or impact in teaching and learning.   Her I believe we already have proof that when used well, it can have a positive impact.   We also have proof that without it learning during a pandemic wouldn’t have been possible, or not to the extent that was achieved.   And we can see we now live in an increasing technological world.   So, if the core of the original question is do we have evidence to support the continued use and required investment in Edtech, I would say yes.

How can leaders empower educators to discover the potential of technology in teaching?

This is about sharing and the organisational culture in my view.  Establishing opportunities for people to share ideas and what worked as well as seeking support on what didn’t.   It is also about encouraging sharing beyond the school using the various sources out there such as Apple Distinguished educators or Microsoft innovative educator experts.   For me twitter is often the go to place and I have heard it described as “the best staffroom in the world”.    So the sharing gets the ideas as to things to try, and then they need to be put into practice and this is where culture and climate come into play.   The climate of the school has to be warm and supportive, and the culture open, thereby empowering people to try things in the knowledge that, they may not work as planned, but where they don’t this simply serves as a learning experience to be shared to help the collective teaching and student body move forward.   In all my years working in education, and using EdTech, or simply technology in education, I have tried lots of different approaches, apps and other tools, with some working well and some not so well.  The key has been I have been lucky to work in schools and colleges which were supportive of these attempts, the potential for them to bring about improvements, but also the acceptance that some might not work.    Now obviously this isnt about throwing out a new app for all students in a school to use and running the risk of a negative experience for all students, but more about piloting and trialling with small groups where, should things don’t work, it is easy to discontinue the trial and recovery or address any negative impact.    Looking back to the question, the key words are discovery and empower;   This requires experimentation, people to feel valued and supported to innovate, the need to share so experiences are collective across staff/students rather than limited to a given teacher or class, plus there needs to be acceptance that the discovery made might simply be that a given tool or approach doesn’t work for your students.

Conclusion

I think the pandemic has both shown the importance of technology in education, plus has helped move schools and colleges forward, driven by the immediate need of the pandemic.    Now the pandemic is (hopefully) receding, we now need to build the intrinsic need and want to continue the development of the use of technology in schools.    It also needs to be something not just put in place now, but something sustainable in the longer term, so a simple purchase of infrastructure and devices in the coming months or year is insufficient if it isnt backed up with a plan for ongoing upgrade and replacement into the future.     I suspect we now stand at the point where the rubber band may be stretched, encouraging a tendency for us to start to rebound back to the “way things were before the pandemic”, so it is now, more than ever, important that we push forward.

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Schools and academies Show, London

Am attending the School and Academies show in London this week including being part of a panel session discussing “EdTech Beyond the Lockdowns: Reaching a Long-Term Balance Between Distance and In-Person Learning”.    Firstly, I have my fingers crossed that I can manage to get to London and the event without any of my usual travel mishaps, and if any travel mishaps have to happen the happen after I have finished the panel session.

As always, one of the big benefits to these events is simply the networking side of things and getting to meet and discuss various educational issues with colleagues from schools and colleges from across the UK and beyond.    I note that the Association of Network Managers in Education (ANME), of which I am an ambassador, have a stand (D34) at the event, so it is likely I will spend some of my time there catching up with other ANME members.   Hopefully, I can get a few more selfies at this event, than I did at Bett earlier in the year.

In terms of the panel session, one of the questions posed relates to the efficacy of EdTech and this has got me thinking.    EdTech covers such a broad range of tools, from visualisers to bits of software, AR/VR headsets, the dreaded interactive whiteboard, and many other technologies.  In addition, each technology may be used in different ways dependent on the students, the curriculum content being covered, the access to equipment, etc, plus the impact of EdTech will depend on what impact is being sought, the skill level in tech use of the teachers and the students, the organisational culture of the school plus its climate, along with a multitude of other factors.    In seeking an analogy, I wonder if seeking to access the efficacy of EdTech is much akin to seeking to assess the efficacy of hand tools such as hammers, screwdrivers, saws, etc.    It depends on user skill level, with a skilled tradesperson more likely to get positive outcomes than your average DIY’er.    It also depends on purpose, with a hammer used to nail together your shed seen as more positive, than a hammer being mis-used as a weapon of violence.     As such seeking the general efficacy of EdTech seems a little difficult, or possibly even a little meaningless. 

Maybe we need to change the question and focus on the potential for positive impact.  On this front I think there is plenty of evidence of specific technologies being used in schools and colleges to positive effect.   From this I think it is also possible to identify some of the features which support technology to have a positive impact in schools, such as appropriate staff training, an open and supportive climate which supports innovation and experimentation, collaboration between staff as to successes and challenges plus students and staff who are engaged in what and how technology is used.  

I am looking forward to being part of the School and Academies Show event and to sharing my thoughts, to seeing what exhibitors are there, to networking with peers and hopefully to NOT getting lost, on the wrong train or a similar travel mishap.

BETT 2022 (including day 2)

After my Bett day 1 post (read more here) I was intending to post at the conclusion of day 2 however having travelled home, feeling a little bit under the weather (but not covid thankfully), and suffering from Bett fatigue this just didn’t happen.   As such I thought I would combined my Bett day 2, and overall Bett post into a single post;  this one.

Day 2

So, day 2 for me didn’t get off to a great start as I woke feeling a bit under the weather, however thankfully the lateral flow tests indicated negative.    As such I decided to cancel a planned breakfast meeting in order to get a couple of extra hours in bed in the hope of feeling better.   I was also concious of having to travel home at the end of the day, having only been able to justify attendance at 2 of the 3 days of Bett, as such I thought the extra bed hours were wise.

I spent a bit of time of day 2 supporting the Association of Network Managers in Education (ANME) on the stand area they had on the NetSupport stand.   This was good as it allowed me to have discussions with IT staff from a couple of schools which I wouldn’t otherwise have talked with, discussing issues and possible solutions.   Again, this highlights the key benefit of the Bett show in the opportunity to network with colleagues.

It was while on the stand that Bukky stopped by for a chat.   I always come away from chats with Bukky feeling positive and upbeat and this time was no different.   We discussed a number of different areas including assessment and how there is a need to explore how technology can be better used to change the examinations and assessment systems which currently still rely on paper based exams.    Mark Anderson also popped by, and I was introduced to Esam from Microsoft leading to a nice group selfie.   I note on reflection, I may have briefly met Esam at a Microsoft FE event some years back however at the time and in the busy day and number of people met, I didn’t associate the face or name.  And this is a problem I often have at Bett, recognising who I have or havent met in the past, including those I have only met via social media;   It is however great when Bett provides you an opportunity to meet someone you have previously only corresponded with online.

During day 2 I also had the opportunity to meet up with an ex-colleague who is now working for a college.  He was at the event with a new apprentice, so it was nice to see them both exploring Bett and was a good opportunity to introduce them to the ANME, which I am not sure FE colleges are as aware of as schools.

Before I knew it, it was time to jump on the train and head home.

Bett 2022

I suspect on reflection that 2 days at Bett is likely to be about the most I could reasonably allocate to the show.   I will admit there were a few people I had wanted to meet, who due to time, etc I didn’t manage to catch up with, plus there were a few presentations I missed which may have been good to attend.   That said, I think this year, although the need for planning your time at Bett was clear, I also realised the importance of allowing some time to support those unintended catchups and meetings which could never be planned.

For me, sadly not feeling so great towards the end of the first day, and into the second day impacted on what I was able to achieve;  Sadly there is little I could have done about this.   It had been a busy couple of weeks leading up to Bett and I think this simply caught up with me.

Again, looking back, the key benefit of Bett is the networking opportunities.   During the two days I caught up with a variety of other educational professionals in different roles and in different educational contexts, and was able to chat and discuss the opportunities and challenges, including how technology is being, or could be used.    Without Bett, and similar other shows, these opportunities wouldn’t exist.     It was at this point I also thought about the ANME trail, which sees visitors to the show encouraged to visit a set of stands to try and win prizes;  I love the way this encourages visitors to follow a path around the venue, and in doing so hopefully encourages opportunities for networking and discussion.   

I didn’t manage to attend as many presentations as I intended during the two days, however I think this is partly due to some incidental meetings, which resulted in me not going to some of the presentations I planned to go to.  On reflection, I think this was a fair exchange.   The presentations I did manage to attend were all useful and informative, so it is definitely worth reviewing the programme of events ahead of Bett and planning which sessions to see, even if you don’t eventually get to them.

Conclusion

Bett continues to be a big event in the UK EdTech calendar.    I am not sure I go for the stands anymore, instead going for the presentations and the mainly for the networking side of things.   And the networking side of things never fails to deliver, especially following a 2 year absence from face to face meetings at Bett.

Looking forward to Bett 2023, I think I will be in attendance once again.   I suspect one area I need to work on is planning to visit more of the stands, and particularly those stands which represent new start-ups and solutions, as opposed to the established brands and products.  

Bett 2022 was another useful, memorable and fun event.   Here’s looking forward to Bett 2023.

Some BETT Show advice

Its been a while since the last face to face BETT show, so I thought I would share what I hope is some useful advice in advance of the event.

Wear comfy shoes

There will be a lot of walking involved, although my understanding is that the event is smaller than it was previously, it still presents a significant bit of floor space.   As such it is important to be prepared and therefore to have comfy shoes on, and also generally comfortable attire.   That said, I suspect I will be in suit as per normal;  I once wore my suit on a trip with year 7 and 8 students to Blackpool zoo, so suspect this is simply a habit when working.

Bring a supply of Bru (or other drink!)

There are places to get a drink and a bite to eat but, in my experience, they can be busy, plus sometimes have limited choice, and tend to be expensive.    As such it’s worth making sure you bring something to drink with you, which in my case has to be “the bru”.   I will also be trying to get my usual Irn-Bru themed selfies as usual, but more on selfies later.

Have a plan

I think this is the most important piece of advice I can give.    With Bett I feel you get what you put in.   If you go without a plan, you are likely to get little from the event, or at least will get less than you could have got.    As such look at the programme of presentations, look at the stands, consider the colleagues who will be there and then consider what you want to achieve.   With this information you can now plan your trip, which stands you will visit, what speakers you will go and listen too, etc.    You can make sure that you get to the speaker sessions relevant to you and your school, avoiding the disappointment of a missed session.   That little bit of effort in planning your visit will pay off when you reflect back on what you have got from the event.

Selfies

The BETT Show is also a great opportunity to get some selfies in;   Now I have never been too good at this so it is something I need to work on.    When do you interrupt a little networking discussion to ask, “Can I get a selfie?”   The key benefit of a couple of selfies, is the ability to use them as a conversation starter online, and to engage with other EdTech people via social media.   Its also nice to keep a record of who you met and bumped into to reflect back later in the year or further into the future.    Am increasing aware of the need to gather photos as a record of my endeavours to help when my memory fails me.  

Enjoy and network

Above all BETT is a technology show, with people there to share their thoughts, to share their products and to generally explore technology in education.    As such take the time to network and meet people, discuss your thoughts and ideas and seek the views of others.   Enjoy the fact that for the duration of the BETT show there are people from all over, all located in the same building because of their shared interest in how technology can be used to support, enhance and redefine the educational experiences of our students.   BETT is the home of the EdTech crowd.

Conclusion

I have in the past been disappointed with BETT but in recent years I have come to realise it isnt about all the stands and the presentations, that which disappointed me, but about the people you meet and interact with while there.    Its about networking, and about a little fun.    So, with that in mind, I have a plan, my comfy shoes are ready, the Bru will be packed, and I will be off once more to network with as many EdTech enthusiasts as possible.

Look forward to meeting some of you on the BETT show floor, do feel free to stop me and say hi if you see me and if we don’t bump into each other, I just hope you have a great visit!

EdTech Summit 2021

It was March 2020 and I was attending the JISC DigiFest conference in Birmingham.  Little did I know that this would be the last face to face conference I would attend for over 1 ½ years, and it would November 2021 before I would once again venture to Birmingham this time for the EdTech Summit and Schools and Academies Show.   Reflecting back, it was to a year and a half of significant challenges but also massive progress in how technology is used in schools.

My trip to Birmingham this time was to present a session on the role of IT leads and IT teams in schools in supporting the use of technology to enable, enhance and even transform teaching and learning.    It was also going to be a chance to catch up with staff from other schools face to face for the first time in quite some time.    Notable in the catch ups were a group of ANME members plus Dave Leonard, Abid Patel, Osi Ejiofor and Tony Sheppard among others.

As to the event itself, a couple of messages or themes came out for me in the various talks I attended:

Investment

This was mentioned in the ministerial opening speech at the start of the schools and academies show.    Additional funding for schools.    For me some of this clearly needs to go into investment in technology to ensure we are ready for a future event like the current pandemic, but also to equip our students for the future and to allow schools to make use of technology to enhance and even reimagine the learning experiences students receive.    And linked to this point is the need for sustainability such that any technology put into schools has the required investment in the longer term to ensure the training, support and eventual replacement of hardware/software is all planned.

Collaboration

The importance and power of collaboration within schools and also between schools and other educational establishments was mentioned by a number of individuals.    I suspect the pandemic has encouraged collaboration as people share their experiences, their successes and challenges, along with their resources online for others to benefit from.   This is something we need to actively encourage and support going forward.    The best training is just in time training, and the best just in time training results from 1000’s of educators and school staff sharing and collaborating through the medium of technology.

Agility

The pandemic proved that schools, which generally are slow to change, can be more agile and change quickly to adapted to changing situations.    The pandemic forced such change.   Going forward though we need to be better at change, we need to be better at accepting “good enough” and we need to be like industry and seek greater agility.

Conclusion

As always I suffered my usual travel mishap as is customary, this time being rushing between trains following a train delay, and then managing to get on the wrong train.   This is the usual pain but on reflection the pain was worth it.   I got the chance to catch up with other IT and EdTech professionals, discussing a variety of matters, I got the opportunity to share my thoughts with an audience and to discuss my thoughts with a number of individuals following the session and I got to have a look at a variety of product offerings from various IT vendors.    I also benefited from the act of presenting which forced me to carefully think through and structure my thoughts in relation to technology and teaching and learning.  

Roll on BETT 2022;   See you there!

Roundtable event

Yesterday I had the pleasure of being involved in a little virtual roundtable event titled “The Future of Education is here, Take learning and teaching to the next level” sponsored by Logitech.

The event focused on education, the changes brought about by Covid19 and the future of using digital tools within education.   I found the discussion quite interesting particularly given I was representing an independent school while others involved represented universities, business schools and also Logitech, thereby providing a reasonable diverse range of participants.

My main takeaways from the event were:

Culture

Culture was mentioned on a number of occasions including by myself.    The culture in educational institutions, particularly in relation to technology, changed over the lockdown period and into the new academic year.   There was more sharing and collaboration both within schools, colleges, etc but also between them as we all sought to find solutions to the myriad of challenges presented to us through lockdown and then in a hybrid teaching environment.   There was more positivity and agility, with greater willingness to try new things where maybe previously some minor issues would have been identified as justification for not trying something new.

It is important as things progress, and maybe as things move towards a greater degree of normality, whatever that may be, that we try to retain this culture of positivity, of agility, of trying new things, being brave and of sharing what works and what doesn’t.

Web cam culture

This is related to the wider organisational culture issue above and was something I hadn’t given much thought to however something we very much need to consider.   What is the culture in the digital space?   Do our students turn their cameras on or leave them off?    Do staff meet face to face or, even now where things are largely back on-site, are meetings more or less carried out from offices, with interactions online only, even where offices may only be a short distance apart?    What are the implications of this growth in web conferencing and the corresponding reduction in face to face meetings, or even in the occasional corridor interaction enroute to meetings?    There are lots of human issues which have or may arise as the result of covid19 and the sudden growth in work or learn from home.  

Digital Divides

Discussion regarding digital divides initially focussed on device access with universities in particular referencing the difficulties with students accessing from different devices ranging from laptops or tablets to students simply using their phones.   Those students with limited or no access to a device which could be used for accessing learning content were also discussed.   From here though, the discussion broadened to other divides such as access to Wi-Fi or available bandwidth, other users wishing to use devices, confidence and skill in using digital platforms, teacher pedagogy in relation to digital tool use, etc.    It was clear that digital divides are a significant problem, one with many different interrelated layers.

Privacy and Security

Unintended consequences were mentioned early on in discussions.  Covid19 had educators rushing to find the best solutions to continue the learning of their students outside the classroom with IT teams rushing to support educators as best they could.   As such it is likely some decisions reached in the interests of continuing learning may not have given sufficient consideration to security and/or privacy.  We now need to start unpicking these decisions and the potential implications.   We need to consider the platforms we are using, how they are be used, how they are configured and how this all relates to privacy and security of student and staff data.

Conclusion

One thing was clear in the discussion, that it isn’t just a case of returning back to the way schools, colleges and universities were in Jan 2020.   Equally its not a case of all change.   The reality is that the way things were had its advantages and disadvantages the same as the new normal which was adopted during lockdown.   It isn’t a case of either or.   It is a case of finding a “new balance”; a phrase one of the attendees at the roundtable event used which I think sums up the situation. Each organisation needs to revisit its aims and establish the new balance which it feels is most appropriate for its own students, staff and community.

JISC DigiFest: Digital Citizenship

Following my DigiFest session I thought I would share some thoughts which went into my session.

Slide1It is important to firstly acknowledge that our views on technology are very much the result of our experiences.  My experiences include learning to code in Basic on the Commodore 64 at an early age, before moving on to AMOS basic on the Amiga and then QBasic, Visual Basic and C++ on the PC.    This early use of technology, and the ability to develop software to solve problems has very much shaped my views.    Now, today I walk around with a mobile phone with over a million times more memory than my commodore 64, from less than 30 years earlier, and the growth rate across the period has not been linear.   A perfect illustration of this lies in how long it took various technologies to reach 50 million users.    Radio took 75 years whereas TV only took 38 years.   Bringing us close to today, Facebook got the time to 50 million users down to 3.5 years before Pokemon go managed it in less than a single month.   It is clear from this that the pace of changing is quickening.

Looking at our use of technology today we find that most of us now use technology for communication or entertainment in the form of mobile phones, social media and on-demand TV.   We are also increasingly being required to use technology to access governmental services, council services, banks, etc.    Technology is now integral to our lives and here to stay, complete with the ever-quickening pace of change mentioned earlier.

Slide2The more I think about the pace of change and the way that technology is becoming an integral part of our everyday lives the more the movie Ready Player One comes to mind.   In the movie Wade Watts makes use of virtual reality to live a double life, living as Percival in VR.   As the film progresses it becomes clear that his two lives aren’t as separate as he would like and that events in virtual reality impact on real life and vice versa.   For us, like Wade Watts, our lives in real life are inseparably linked to our digital lives.   In fact, I believe that it no longer serves us to think of digital citizenship as the term implies that there is something else available, a non-digital citizenship, when in fact there is not.    Possibly the discussion should not be of digital citizenship at all but simply citizenship.  As Danah Boyd, in her book, Its Complicated said, although the apps might change our online connectedness, our need to share and the challenges around privacy are “here to stay”.

Resulting from this new technology there are benefits or potential benefits and we need to acknowledge this.  A couple of examples include the current exploration of self driving vehicles plus the recent use of choreographed drones as an alternative to traditional new years day fireworks.  In relation to current events around the globe, there is also the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to identify new antibiotics and other drugs.   We need to prepare to make the best of these new opportunities and to ensure the students in our educational establishments are prepared.

But with the above benefits, there are also risks.    Fake news and the ease with which videos including interviews can be faked will increasingly make it more difficult to tell fact from fiction.   We also have challenged to individual privacy and risks around habits and potential addictive behaviour plus also the potential for platforms to go so far as to actually shape and influence human behaviour.

The danger in the benefits and risks of technology is the currently common resultant binary views of either technology as infinitely good or inherently bad and evil.    Sadly, these views are seldom of little use as to view technology as purely good is naïve whereas to consider it as purely negative equally naïve and simplistic.   The reality is that technology and more particularly the use of technology for a given purpose will lie in between the extremes of good and evil, positive and negative.   Any use of technology is likely to have its positives but also its drawbacks or unintended consequences and therefore we need to consider carefully the pro’s and cons and seek a balance.

slide3Looking at how we prepare our students for the world and the issues listed above I can see the things which we do satisfactorily, through our eSafety programmers, however I can also see those areas where little or nothing is currently offered.   We currently discuss the importance of privacy settings on social media, of having strong passwords, of how online content, once posted, will remain permanent and of the need to be aware of bullying online.   These areas are currently covered.    Sadly, however little is said in relation to the conflict between user convenience and individual privacy, between individual privacy and public good, and between social media reporting on or actually creating the news and truths which we come to believe.     These are the areas which we need to discuss, for which there isn’t a single answer and therefore where the most we can do is help students develop their own views through discussion.  It is through discussion that we can hopefully ensure that students, when presented with the infinite challenges of technology use, will approach them with their eyes wide open.

This brings me nicely to raising a couple of examples, from the many examples available, which would make valuable discussion topics for use in our schools.

Algorithms and AIs can be manipulated by an individual or organisation, to their own ends.   

Do we understand why algorithms might exist?     Do we understand why an individual or organisation might seek to “game” an algorithm and the potential gains which may arise?   The use of a series of mobile phones to fool googles traffic analysis algorithm into identifying a traffic jam where one doesn’t not exist, resulting in it redirecting traffic away from a given street, being one simple example of what is possible.

Governments can filter and censor content based on political motivations.    

Do governments need to be able to filter content for public safety?   But could their filtering be used to shape public perception or to revise fact to their own political ends and political gain?   What is truth and should governments be allowed to control and revise truth?    We have already seen governments filtering internet content with their filtering then being identified as being lacking transparency and in their own self interest; Filtering of TikTok being one possible example of this.

Online companies can gather and sell your data for profit.  

Do companies need to gather all the data which they gather?   Do they have the right to sell this data?   Where data is anonymized is it possible for data sets to be combined which then might reverse the anonymisation process?   A simple example of this being a cellular carrier selling on viewing habit data.

Mary Aiken in her book, the Cyber Effect, identifies the need for us to “make sense of what’s     happening” and only through discussion is this likely to occur however one concern I have is where these discussions might happen.   In the current crowded curriculum they tend to be banished to the IT classroom, a subject which not all students will study.   I don’t think this is sufficient.   These discussions need to take place throughout schools, across the subject areas, across the stages, with students, with staff, with parents and with the local community.   Discussing the challenges of technology needs to become part of the culture, simply the way we do things around here.

As Danah Boyd stated, “Collaboratively, adults and youth can help create a networked world that we all want to live in”.  If I am to ask anything following my session at DigiFest, I would ask this:  Lets begin with a discussion in our schools, colleges and universities, any citizenship related discussion where technology has its part to play complete with its pros and cons, but let’s do it today.

You can access my full presentation from DigiFest 2020 here.

Final Note: As we now engage in much more home and distance learning due to the Corona virus it may be more important than ever for these discussions to happen, and to happen now!

 

 

JISC DigiFest: Thoughts from Day 1

JiscD1I thought I would share some initial thoughts following day one of JISC DigiFest.  The event was launched with a very polished and professional pre-prepared video displayed on screens scattered around the events main hall, focussing on the rate of change in relation to technology and some of the technological implications of technology on the world we live in.   The launch session also included a room height “virtual” event guide introducing the sessions and pointing you in the direction of the appropriate hall.    In terms of the launch of a conference this was the most polished and inspiring launch I have seen albeit on reflection there wasn’t much particularly innovative or technically complex about it.

JiscD1-1The keynote speaker addressed the changing viewpoints of different generations of people focussing particularly on Generation Z, the generation which currently are in our sixth forms, colleges and universities.   I took away two key points from the presentation.   The first was how each generations views were shaped by their experiences particularly between the ages of 12 and 20 year old.   Jonah Stillman used thoughts on space as an example showing how Generation X might have positive views focussing on the successes of the moon landing whereas Millennials may have a more cynical view following the Challenger disaster.   Additionally, Jonah mentioned movies as a social influencer and how those in the Harry Potter generation may view cooperation and trying hard, even where unsuccessful, in a positive manner.  Those born later than this may draw on another series of films, in the hunger games, resulting in a greater tendency towards competition and the need to succeed in line with the movies storyline of everyone for themselves and failure results in death.     The second take away point from the session resulted from the questioning at the end of the session around what some saw as the absoluteness of the boundaries between generations.    I think Jonah’s use of the word “tendency” addressed this concern in that the purpose of the labels was for simplicity and to indicate a general trend and tendency rather than to suggest that all people born on certain dates exhibited a certain trait.  It increasing concerns me that this argument keeps coming up when surely it is clear that there is a need to use simplistic models to help clarity of explanation and that no model, not matter how complex will ever truly capture the real complexity of the world we live in.

My 2nd session was actually the delivery of my own session.   I will be sharing some thoughts in relation to my presentation along with my resources in the near future.   For now I will simply say that the session was not one of my best.   I do however hope that my main message, in the need for greater and broader discussion in relation to citizenship within the now digital world we find ourselves living in was clear.

The third session of the day focussed on  digital literacy programme one particular university had developed.   I found it interesting in this and a later presentation, how digital literacy or digital citizenship appeared to often fall to the library in universities in terms of developing and delivering a programme.    In schools I feel the same topics tend to fall on the IT teaching department rather than libraries however it is interesting that something which should be permissive would find itself localised in educational institutions in a single department rather than being supported across the institution.   It was interesting how the programme the university developed had evolved over time, which seems to me to be the correct approach given how quick technology is changing.  I also found it interesting in that student voice suggested needs which then later students indicated they did not find useful.  In other words students themselves were not an accurate judge of their own wants and needs.     Session five followed a similar topic again looking at digital literacy however the presenters made use of a fairy tales as a vehicle to deliver their message of the pros and cons of the digital world we live in.   I must admit I enjoyed this presentation in its novel approach to delivering the concept in hand.

Session four focussed on partnerships between a university, a local council and a number of corporate organisations focusing in particular on data analysis and business intelligence.  I think schools have some way to go in this area as they regularly gather huge amounts of data however little is actually done with it beyond reporting it to school leaders, parents, etc.   I think the challenge is that schools often lack the resources which a college or university may have at their disposal, such as having data scientists as part of the staff body.   That said, the sessions seemed to indicate the potential for schools to leverage partnerships to fill this gap with minimal to no outlay on their own resources.

My final session of day one focussed on digital transformation, and like the key notes was insightful and inspiring.    Lindsay Herbert discussed the bear in the room, which is similar to the elephant in the room but more dangerous.     I particularly like the way Lindsay stated early on that the world was a “terrible place” citing issues such as the corona virus, fires in Australia, storms across the UK and ongoing technological change.   She then quickly moved on to the fact that we are inherently brave in our attempt to not only exist but to strive to flourish in this world, before then going on to identify various success stories where the bear in the room was tackled.    She left us with 3 main tips, all of which struck a cord with me, in that transformation starts with a worthy cause, requires lots of people and needs to be learned and earned rather than purchased.   The third tip in particular strikes a cord for me as I have encountered change where it has not gone as smoothly as I would have liked, and where significantly more effort was expended than had originally been attended;  In retrospect this may have been the change being earned, plus certainly involved a lot of learning.

Day 1 was useful with the keynote and closing session of the day being my highlights.    Have plenty of notes to digest when I get back home.  Roll on day 2.

 

 

 

EdTech Conversations and BETT 2020: Reflections

20200123_115436_resizedAnother year another BETT and guess what?  Once again, I failed to learn from experience and decided to make my way down via train and once again it went wrong.  This time it was simply my first train being late leading to me missing my connecting train.  This had the same concertina impact as I experienced last year leading to me rushing around.  Maybe next year I will learn?   Third time lucky?

On top of this, as I was visiting the EdTech Conversations event at the London Design and Engineering UTC first, I found that the google location for the venue actually took me the wrong way.  Thankfully some helpful students were on hand to assist and point me in the correct direction plus we had a good chat regarding the architecture course the two lads were studying.   One consolation was that at least I decided to take the DLR to the event rather than choosing to do what Ty Goddard had suggested was a 10min walk from BETT to the UTC;   Clearly according to a few audience members who had accepted Ty’s guidance, the walk was significantly more than 10mins.

Now my reason for being at the EdTech Conversations event was to present on School Tech Strategy.   On reflection I think my session was a little bit of a rambling so I must admit to being disappointed with myself.   In addition, I had technical issues with my wireless pointer, something which I should have checked before setting out.    That said, I hope those in attendance understood what I believe to have been my main point in the need for all schools, educators, support staff, etc to work together more, share their experiences, ideas and thoughts and take a more collective approach to education in general.   We all have different views, ideas, experiences, contexts, etc and together we are infinitely stronger than trying to go it alone and often re-invent the wheel.

20200123_140747_resizedIn terms of the other speakers, who presented in a more professional and polished manner than myself, I found Emma Darcy and her discussion with Ty very interesting discussing. I particularly liked her mention of preparing students for “jobs of the future” which fits with my views in the needs to do more in relation to digital citizenship.

I think my highlight from the event would be Laura Knight who despite expressing she didn’t quite agree with my “journey” idiom, went on to say so many things I agreed with.    I loved her focus on the human aspect of strategy in presenting her EdTech leader superpowers and the need to be ambitious, fearless, to find simplicity and to be relentless.    I think the human aspect of EdTech and of strategy in general is often overlooked but given it is people who generally enact strategy we should in fact have people at the forefront of thinking.

20200123_145926_resizedAlso, another highlight was Mark Steed.  Now I have heard mark speak on a number of occasions, but his 6 lessons were particularly interesting.   Like Laura Knight he mentioned the need to focus on people, adding to this regarding a focus on training.   He also highlighted that although his strategy appears to have been very successful it wasn’t without errors.  I think this is an important message in that in reviewing others strategies and approaches it almost always looks like a straight line; they were here then did X and Y and got to there.   The reality thought is that there would likely have been lots of wrong turns, mistakes, problems so its more like they did A, B, C, D, E and A and B didn’t work, C had to be adjusted and became F, and eventually they got to X and Y and success.   I think this is what I was trying to get across with my journey idiom however I don’t think I was successful in this.

Overall the EdTech Conversations event was fun and useful, and I look forward to more discussion-based events like this in the future.

20200123_153225_resizedAs to BETT, after all my rushing around I only ended up with a couple of hours in BETT so can only offer a rather superficial view.   Sadly, this view is that the event generally seemed very much the same as it has in every year I have attended since returning to the UK.   If you had a specific stand or vendor to see, then it would be useful but if you are seeking to browse or to find innovative ideas then I think you would have been disappointed.   This at least was my initial view on reflecting having returned home.     A few days have passed this then I have reflected a bit more and I can see how BETT can be seen as very worthwhile now.   It isn’t in the EdTech conference which the event is, or in the stands of technology vendors.    The strength in BETT lies in the fact the event draws educators and EdTech leaders from across the country and across the world together for 4 days and in the networking this brings.    On hindsight, even in my brief visit, I ended up at one stand where I had conversations with a number of EdTech leaders and as a result came away with plans to connect further and explore ideas and also issues and problems.   But from this comes a question: Can we stimulate the same networking opportunities without the massive cost to vendors to be present at an event like BETT?  A cost they ultimately pass on to their customers; schools.

 

BETT 2020: Its almost upon us.

bett1Its BETT this week!  Will be popping down to have a brief look on Thursday and also to speak at the EdTech UK Conversations event also on Thursday.   Given the shortness of my visit to BETT I am unlikely to be able to make the most of the various talks and presentations which will be going on.  Sadly, there is little I am able to do about this although I will be planning for a more significant visit to BETT next year assuming my brief visit turns out to be worthwhile.

I expect the BETT event will once again have lots of Interactive Panels and Projectors on display, something which I am not so positive about.    A quick look at the exhibitor list highlights 39 vendors in the Interactive Whiteboard Category;  Am not sure why this 25+ year old technology still occupies such a significant portion of what BETT has to offer.   Of particular interest to my visit will be those exhibitors focussing on STEAM and also AI solutions.   There’s lots of buzz around AI, and I like what Century.Tech are doing, however there are also lots of people saying they are using AI where I am not sure they really are.  I note “Find a stand sharing an AI product that has no AI” on the BETT Bingo card which seems to agree with this perception.   I will also be very interested in any solutions focussed on supporting the development of digital citizenship in schools.  Digital Citizenship has been a particular focus of mine recently and I must admit that the lack of a category for this in the BETT show guide worries me.   My hope however is that vendors covering Digital Citizenship will simply be under different categories.   The Microsoft, iSAMS, Century Tech and Netsupport stands will also all be on my list for a quick visit.

I expect it to be a busy day in terms of travel, BETT and EdTech Conversations.   I look forward to it, to catching up with people and also meeting new people or meeting in real life for the first time.  I will try and share my thoughts and experience shortly after my visit.

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