I recently dipped into Digifest 2019, an annual edtech event for staff in higher education held over two days every year in March. This year we were in Birmingham and the focus was shaping education for a hyper-connected world.
The opening keynote speech was delivered by Joysy John director of education, Nesta. (Nesta being an international innovation foundation). She attempted to answer the question ‘How, in a rapidly changing world, do we create an education system that prepares all learners to thrive in the future world of work?’ She based her answer on Nesta’s research concerning the future of skills which shows that skills like creativity, communication, problem-solving and resilience will be more important than ever.
Making more effective use of technology and data can help make education more convenient, accessible and effective. Businesses, academia and government will need to work in partnership to ensure that the education system is fit for the future.
This reminded me of London Met’s investment in Nureva Span enabling active student collaboration via a shared panoramic canvas and how this links with creativity and the whole process of ideation that Joysy was talking about. I also thought of how, since the start of this academic year our Psychology, Business Studies and Social Professions students have used the software and the whole area of the importance of employability being as the software is also used by the architects Foster and Partners and the Mace group that built the Shard. A recently published blog post explains more about the software and how London Met users access it.
After coffee, a panel of experts discussed the findings of JISC’s first Horizon report, aimed at helping universities to decide on which emerging technologies to prioritise. Emphasis was placed on how technology could be effectively used in response to the fact that in 2017 the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) reported that there had been a fivefold increase in the number of students who had disclosed a mental health condition to their college or university over the past decade. The following conclusions were drawn:
- Data and analytics has an important role to play in identifying those at risk and enabling early intervention eg NTU has a dashboard for staff and students that generates an alert after 14 days of lack of engagement.
- Apps and online support services are increasingly popular with young people seeking help with anxiety, depression and self-harm. The NHS has endorsed a number of apps to help tackle mental health.
- Big White Wall has an important to play as an anonymous online peer support space overseen by qualified counsellors.
- AI-driven natural language text and voice chatbots are gaining support among universities examples cited included Becky at Leeds Beckett University.
Andrew Proctor the director of digital services at Staffordshire University gave a thought provoking talk after lunch. Staffordshire deploys a digital assistant or chatbot called Beacon to support students with their studies and on-campus life. It is hoped that Beacon will, in time, become more than a responder to FAQ by providing relevant content based on previous student behaviour and by flagging up those students that may need additional support. Beacon was launched in January earlier this year and during that month it responded to 6137 questions from students.
On reflection Digifest 2019 was certainly high-tech and very thought provoking. Core themes were
- Education 4.0 - with one of the ways of preparing students for this by providing virtual assistants that relieve staff of essential admin tasks and notifying them when the data identifies when a student is showing signs of suffering from mental health.
- Creativity - Mention was made of the fact that the web is 30 years old now and it’s time to get creative. Joysy John discussed the skills gap and the need for creativity, communication and resilience.
It might be apt to finish this piece by leaving you with the wise words of Pablo Picasso that ‘Computers are useless. They can only give you answers’.