New Horizons – How technology will change teaching and learning – Summer Symposium 2019

New Horizons – How technology will change teaching and learning – Summer Symposium 2019

16th August 2019

This paper summarises the discussion from FETL’s 2019 Summer Symposium which explored the role of technology in FE and its potential to transform every aspect of teaching, learning and the education environment.

The impact of technology on the further education (FE) sector has been a recurring theme in FETL research publications. For example, contributions from Sir Michael Barber, Bob Harrison and Paul McKean focused on the implications of AI and digital skills gaps in the sector.

This summary is divided into the following sections:

1.     Seeing the difference 

2.     Opportunity and augmentation 

3.     Past and futurism

4.     Motivation, confidence and skills

5.     The role of learning technologists

6.     Further reading

Held in the House of Commons in July 2019, the symposium brought together an audience of over 100 attendees, which included parliamentarians, civil servants, sector leaders, practitioners, academics and the wider policy community. The event was hosted by Lord Holmes of Richmond MBE (left), who had recently been appointed as Chair of the Department for Education EdTech Leadership Group. 

Contributions were made by

  • Paul McKean, Head of Further Education and Skills, Jisc
  • Deborah Millar, Group Director of Digital Learning Technology, Grimsby Institute of Further and Higher Education
  • Dr Maren Deepwell,Chief Executive, Association for Learning Technology (ALT)
  • Dick Palmer, Former Chief Executive, TEN Group, and Adviser to FELTAG

1. Seeing the difference  

The event began with a lunch reception and showcase of Virtual Reality technology. Guests donned a headset to enter the world of Natalie 4.0: software which allows users to explore what the day in the life of a student might look like in 2029. The project is created by Jisc as part of their thought leadership on education and the fourth industrial revolution.  As Paul McKean explained “digital technologies including artificial intelligence, automation, the Internet of things and robotics will affect the way we work, rest and play”.

As well as giving us a glimpse into the future of education, other VR exhibits highlighted how the technology is already being used to help students develop vital skills. Denyse King, Lecturer at Bournemouth University (left), is researching the role of Virtual Reality Learning Environments (VRLEs) in helping teach skills in healthcare (the CILVRS project); she has written content on safeguarding which has then been to her specifications by tech company Daden Ltd. As Denyse explained she was able to share this technology with symposium delegates to show how:

VRLE offer Further Education and Higher Education level healthcare students the means to access and revisit learning materials in ways which enhance the educational offer, student and patient experience. […] use of VRLE mean educational institutions can offer students clinical experiences which cannot otherwise be guaranteed as routine part of their healthcare education. […] VRLE also have a place in offering realistic clinical experiences for CPD. 

Policy Connect CEO, Jonathan Shaw (above) was one of those who experienced this technology, and Denyse noted that “the response from symposium delegates to the VRLE was overwhelmingly positive and with excellent discussions regarding the possible content of future VRLEs.”

Another area in which Virtual Reality is making an impact is by helping learners gain vital interpersonal skills. Delegates at the symposium got the chance to try C-Live, which allows users to develop their soft skills such as managing difficult conversations in areas as diverse as hospitality and teaching (pictured right). Sue Day, CEO at Connect Solutions Group, which produces the virtual learning experience, pointed out that the system:

Is used as a tool for problem-based learning, allowing users to practise difficult situations in a safe environment, working on the basis of ‘freedom to fail.’ The avatars are controlled by real people who are trained actors.[…] The benefits of its experiential learning potential and flexibility for bespoke training was felt by those who participated. We are pleased to have the opportunity to demonstrate how technology can develop and enhance skills.


2. Opportunity and augmentation

The symposium was chaired by Lord Holmes who has been appointed by the DfE as Chair of the EdTech Leadership Group, supporting the delivery of the 2019 EdTech Strategy. In his opening remarks, Lord Holmes focused on the impact that technology can make in FE: “technology doesn’t need to be magical, certainly should never be mystical. It should never be in search of a solution. It should be sufficient and it should be there to solve a problem.”

As Dick Palmer explained in his remarks, the college of the future may look very different but the technology will serve the pedagogues and purposes we recognise and value today. Speaking about the power of AI to support self-directed learning he said “I think for FE, one of our greatest, best strengths is our ability to differentiate for our students and self-directed learning [using AI] is just a part of that.”

Inclusive learning was also highlighted, with accessible and assistive technology helping students with diverse needs. Deborah Millar referenced her own dyslexia and shared her particular passion for the inclusive benefits of EdTech. Dr Maren Deepwell highlighted the new digital accessibly regulations and the positive change this can bring to FE by making blended learning a tool for inclusion.

Speakers also addressed how technology is reshaping the workforce and the need for the skills system to embrace EdTech to prepare learners for this future. As Paul McKean (above) explained:

The World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report in 2018 stated that every business needs an augmentation strategy. That’s a strategy that determines the aspects of a business that can be more efficiently and effectively carried out by a machine, and which parts need to be carried out by a human being. … It suggests more and more mundane repetitive tasks can be carried out by machines, freeing up people to do the things that they do best. This will mean significant retraining for large parts of the workforce, for the people who are doing the tasks machines will be capable of doing in the future.

Speakers pointed to fields as diverse as health and social care, food processing, and search and rescue, as cases where colleges are working with industry and students to develop bespoke skills offers using virtual reality and other technology.


3. Past and futurism

As we consider the 2019 EdTech Strategy it’s important to learn the lessons of past efforts to bring technology in the skills system. Dick Palmer (left), who has worked on EdTech in FE as far back as the BBC Microcomputer, reflected on past initiatives:

I sat on the government’s Science Foresight panel. We were looking at something called Learning 2020. We published a document describing how education was going to look in 2020. I think looking back on that document now is fascinating, because one of our projections was there wouldn’t be colleges as we know it now in 2020, and in fact people would be learning in Nike Town, and that retail outlets would be the place for learning. We clearly didn’t get that one right!

Though predictions about the ways FE will be shaped by technology have not always come to pass, this does not mean that technology has yet to make its mark on the sector. As Dr Maren Deepwell pointed out:

I think we talk a lot about the future and how technology will transform, where we may go in the future, but actually when we look back …we will certainly see that we have shifted a huge amount. […] It’s just that technology keeps evolving, and so the goalposts keep moving, and so we’re never really arriving. That doesn’t mean that things haven’t changed massively already.

Tools such as PowerPoint presentations, virtual learning environments, and digital data bases have already transformed both learning in FE and how FE institutions are run. Technologies such as VR, chatbots and learning analytics are already starting to be put to use in the skills system.


4. Motivation, confidence and skills

 As Lord Holmes set out in his opening remarks “the kit is only as good as the training and the people who are behind it”. This theme was echoed in subsequent contributions and, in particular, speakers emphasised the importance of winning over and motivating teaching staff. As Deborah Millar (below) explained, staff often remark that they “don’t know where to start” when it comes to technology. Drawing on her own practice as a learning technologist, she stated that:

I need to win your heart and your mind as a teacher. You do not want to know about this technology, but if I talk to you in teaching terms, and I say, ‘Your assessment, the feedback will be far richer. The student can access it at any time, and it will reduce the amount of time that you do by marking,’ then I hopefully win your heart. Now, if you’re one of these not-so engaged members of staff and I win your heart, you will shout it from the mountains. 

Teaching staff have so many demands upon their time that they, quite rightly, only invest time on developing EdTech skills if they see the benefits. As Deborah Millar mentioned, these benefits includes both improved teaching and reduced administrative burden. EdTech offers opportunities for personalisation and, as Paul McKean explained, this can improve both learning experience and teacher workload:

You’re transforming the way a teacher teaches by providing the personalisation, because a teacher simply hasn’t got the time to provide 38 learners, for example, with that personalised study, but the machine can help there. What it means is the intervention from the practitioner is at the right, appropriate time, when the learner has the problem. I think that’s the real value of EdTech.

As EdTech starts to win the confidence of teaching staff they will be motivated to develop their own EdTech skills. As stressed by contributors, this doesn’t necessarily mean becoming an expert but rather learning to employ technology as a teaching (or administrative) tool. The Chartered College of Teaching has produced an online course which, though it uses the language of ‘schools’, has applicability to FE. Grimsby College has produced an online training program for all staff – teaching and administrative – called ‘Level Up!’ which won an Association of Colleges National Education Award. In addition, as part of the EdTech Strategy, the DfE will create demonstrator colleges to share their approach to using EdTech with other providers.

In this regard, Dr Maren Deepwell called for FE providers to invest in their staff and cautioned against an over reliance on external expertise:

I think there’s also a need to recognise, for providers, that investing in staff qualification and training is a real long-term gain, rather than relying on providers who sell tech solutions to come in and help provide that level of expertise.


5. The role of learning technologists

While all staff have a role to play in EdTech, the position of learning technologists was identified as crucial for the success of this agenda in FE. Dame Ruth Silver DBE (FETL) (below) asked panellists how learning technologists can come together to “contribute to the leadership of this system, rather than institutional initiatives and individual pathways?” and “where does this come together as a family, as a system of development, for new technology in education?”

Dr Maren Deepwell (left) noted that learning technologists are indeed starting to take this role and that is in part because they are now gaining more senior positions in their institutions:

We represent members who maybe 10 years ago there were 5% of people who had a leadership or management role. Now, when we do our annual surveys, we can see it rises up to 30%. Deborah is a great example of that. People who have a learning technology background stepping up into senior roles. I think as that becomes more prevalent and we have more diversity in leadership and have that understanding, hopefully we will make more progress with professional recognition and how important that is.

The EdTech Strategy provides an opportunity to form initiatives into a unified offer to the skills system. Following the symposium, Policy Connect is developing a survey and call for case studies to gather evidence on best practice in the FE sector.  This will be shared with the DfE to inform the development and delivery of the strategy.

5. Further Reading


One thought on “New Horizons – How technology will change teaching and learning – Summer Symposium 2019”

  1. shaterone says:

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