Plenary and keynote from Geoff Mulgan,chief executive and CEO, Nesta (host: Paul Feldman, chief executive, Jisc)
Paul Feldman: Welcome to Digifest 2017, and to our Stakeholder Meeting attendees who are joining us for this event. I am delighted to welcome Geoff Mulgan, chief executive of Nesta.
Geoff: Thank you all for being here. I work at Nesta. We are an investor for quite a few ed tech companies, we run a lot of experiments in schools and universities… And I want to share with you two frustrations. The whole area of ed tech is, I think, one of the most exciting, perhaps ever! But the whole field is frustrating… And in Britain we have phenomenal tech companies, and phenomenol universities high in the rankings… But too rarely we bring these together, and we don’t see that vision from ministers either.
So, I’m going to talk about the promise – some of the things that are emerging and developing. I’ll talk about some of the pitfalls – some of the things that are going wrong. And some of the possibilities of where things could go.
So, first of all, the promise. We are going through yet another wave – or series of waves – of Google Watson, Deepmind, Fitbits, sensors… We are at least 50 years into the “digital revolution” and yet the pace of change isn’t letting up – Moore’s Law still applies. So, finding the applications is as exciting and challenging as possible.
Last year Deep Mind defeated a champion of Go. People thought that it was impossible for a machine to win at Go, because of the intuition involved. That cutting edge technology is now being used in London with blood test data to predict who may be admitted to hospital in the next year.
We have also seen these free online bitesize platforms – Coursera, Udacity, etc. – these challenges to trditional courses. And we have Google Translate in November 2016 adopting a neural machine translation engine that can translate whole sentences… Google Translate may be a little clunky still but we are moving toward that Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy idea of the Babelfish. In January 2017 a machine-learning powered poker bot outcompeted 20 of the world’s best. We are seeing more of these events… The Go contest was observed by 280 million people!
Much of this technology is feeding into this emerging Ed Tech market. There are MOOCs, there are learning analytics tools, there is a huge range of technologies. The UK does well here… When you talk about education you have to talk about technology, not just bricks and mortar. This is a golden age but there are also some things not going as they should be…
So, the pitfalls. There is a lack of understanding of what works. NESTA did a review 3 years ago of school technologies and that was quite negative in terms of return on investment. And the OECD similarly compared spend with learning outcomes and found a negative correlation. One of the odd things about this market is that it has invested very little in using control groups, and gathering the evidence.
And where is the learning about learning? When the first MOOCs appeared I thought it was extraordinary that they showed little interested in decades of knowledge and understanding about elearning, distance learning, online learning. They just shared materials. It’s not just the cognitive elements, you need peers, you need someone to talk to. There is a common finding over decades that you need that combination of peer and social elements and content – that’s one of the reasons I like FutureLearn as it combines that more directly.
The other thing that is missing is the business models. Few ed tech companies make money… They haven’t looked at who will pay, how much they should pay… And I think that reflects, to an extent, the world view of computer scientists…
And I think that business model wise some of the possibilities are quite alarming. Right now many of the digital tools we use are based on collecting our data – the advertisor is the customer, you are the product. And I think some of our ed tech providers, having failed to raise income from students, is somewhat moving in that direction. We are also seeing household data, the internet of things, and my guess is that the impact of these will raise much more awareness of privacy, security, use of data.
The other thing is jobs and future jobs. Some of you will have seen these analyses of jobs and the impact of computerisation. Looking over the last 15 years we’ve seen big shifts here… Technical and professional knowledge has been relatively well protected. But there is also a study (Frey, C and Osborne, M 2013) that looks at those at low risk of computerisation and automation – dentists are safe! – and those at high risk which includes estate agents, accountants, but also actors and performers. We see huge change here. In the US one of the most popular jobs in some areas is truck drivers – they are at high risk here.
We are doing work with Pearson to look at job market requirements – this will be published in a few months time – to help educators prepare students for this world. The jobs likely to grow are around creativity, social intelligence, also dexterity – walking over uneven ground, fine manual skills. If you combine those skills with deep knowledge of technology, or specialised fields, you should be well placed. But we don’t see schools and universities shaping their curricula to these types of needs. Is there a concious effort to look ahead and to think about what 16-22 year olds should be doing now to be well placed in the future?
In terms of more positive possibilities… Some of those I see coming into view… One of these, Skills Route, which was launched for teenagers. It’s an open data set which generates a data driven guide for teenagers about which subjects to study. Allowing teenagers to see what jobs they might get, what income they might attract, how happy they will be even, depending on their subject choices. These insights will be driven by data, including understanding of what jobs may be there in 10 years time. Students may have a better idea of what they need than many of their teachers, their lecturers etc.
We are also seeing a growth of adaptive learning. We are an investor in CogBooks which is a great example. This is a game changer in terms of how education happens. The way AI is built it makes it easier for students to have materials adapt to their needs, to their styles.
My colleagues are working with big cities in England, including Birmingham, to establish Offices of Data Analytics (and data marketplaces), which can enable understanding of e.g. buildings at risk of fire that can be mitigated before fire fighting is needed. I think there are, again, huge opportunities for education. Get into conversations with cities and towns, to use the data commons – which we have but aren’t (yet) using to the full extent of its potential.
We are doing a project called Arloesiadur in Wales which is turning big data into policy action. This allowed policy makers in Welsh Government to have a rich real time picture of what is taking place in the economy, including network analyses of investors, researchers, to help understand emerging fields, targets for new investment and support. This turns the hit and miss craft skill of investment into something more accurate, more data driven. Indeed work on the complexity of the economy shows that economic complexity maps to higher average annual earnings. This goes against some of the smart cities expectation – which wants to create more homogenous environments. Instead diversity and complexity is beneficial.
We host at NESTA the “Alliance for Useful Evidence” which includes a network of around 200 people trying to ensure evidence is used and useful. Out o fthat we have a serues of “What Works” centres – NiCE (health and care); Education Endowment Fund; Early Intervention Foundation; Centre for Ageing Better; College of Policing (crime reduction); Centre for Local Econoic Growth; What Works Well-being… But bizarrely we don’t have one of these for education and universities. These centres help organisations to understand where evidence for particular approaches exists.
To try and fill the gap a bit for universities we’ve worked internationally with the Innovation Growth Lab to understand investment in research, what works properly. This is applying scientific methods to areas on the boundaries of university. In many ways our current environment does very little of that.
The other side of this is the issue of creativity. In China the principal of one university felt it wasn’t enough for students to be strong in engineering, they needed to solve problems. So we worked with them to create programmes for students to create new work, addressing problems and questions without existing answers. There are comparable programmes elsewhere – students facing challenges and problems, not starting with the knowledge. It’s part of the solution… But some work like this can work really well. At Harvard students are working with local authorities and there is a lot of creative collaboration across ages, experience, approaches. In the UK there isn’t any uniersity doing this at serious scale, and I think this community can have a role here…
So, what to lobby for? I’ve worked a lot with government – we’ve worked with about 40 governments across the world – and I’ve seen vice chancellors and principles who have access to government and they usually lobby for something that looks like the present – small changes. I have never seen them lobby for substantial change, for more connection with industry, for investment and ambition at the very top. The leaders argue for the needs of the past, not the present. That is’t true in other industries they look ahead, and make that central to their case. I think that’s part of why we don’t see this coming together in an act of ambition like we saw in the 1960s when the Open University founded.
So, to end…
Tilt is one of the most interesting things to emerge in the last few years – a 3D virtual world that allows you to paint with a Tilt brush. It is exciting as no-one knows how to do this. It’s exciting because it is uncharted territory. It will be, I think, a powerful learning tool. It’s a way to experiment and learn…
But the other side of the coin… The British public’s favourite painting is The Fighting Temorare… An ugly steamboat pulls in a beautiful old sailing boat to be smashed up. It is about technological change… But also about why change is hard. The old boat is more beautiful, tied up with woodwork and carpentry skills, culture, songs… There is a real poetry… But it’s message is that if you don’t go through that, we don’t create space for the new. We are too attached to the old models to let them go – especially the leaders who came through those old models. We need to create those Google Tilts, but we also have to create space for the new to breath as well.
Q1 – Amber Thomas, Warwick) Thinking about the use of technology in universities… There is research on technology in education and I think you point to a disconnect between the big challenges from research councils and how research is disseminated, a disconnect between policy and practice, and a lack of availability of information to practitioners. But also I wanted to say that BECTA used to have some of that role for experimentation and that went in the “bonfire of the quangos”. And what should Jisc’s role be here?
A1) There is all of this research taking place but it is often not used, That emphasis on “Useful Evidence” is important. Academics are not always good at this… What will enable a busy head teacher, a busy tutor, to actually understand and use that evidence. There are some spaces for education at schools level but there is a gap for universities. BECTA was a loss. There is a lack of Ed Tech strategy. There is real potential. To give an example… We have been working with finance, forcing banks to open up data, with banks required by the regulator to fund creative use of that data to help small firms understand their finance. That’s a very different role for the regulator… But I’d like to see institutions willing to do more of that.
A1 – PF) And I would say we are quietly activist.
Q2) To go back to the Hitchhikers Guide issue… Are we too timid in universities?
A2) There is a really interesting history of radical universities – some with no lectures, some no walls, in Paris a short-lived experiment handing out degrees to strangers on buses! Some were totally student driven. My feeling is that that won’t work, it’s like music and you need some structure, some grammars… I like challenge driven universities as they aren’t *that* groundbreaking… You have some structure and content, you have an interdisciplinary teams, you have assessment there… It is a space for experimentation. You need some systematic experimentation on the boundaries… Some creative laboritories on the edge to inform the centre, with some of that quite radical. And I think that we lack those… Things like the Coventry SONAR (?) course for photography which allowed input from the outside, a totally open course including discussion and community… But those sorts of experiments tend not to be in a structure… And I’d like to see systematic experimentation.
Q3 – David White, UAL) When you put up your ed tech slide, a lot of students wouldn’t recognise that as they use lots of free tools – Google etc. Maybe your old warship is actually the market…
A3) That’s a really difficult question. In any institution of any sense, students will make use of the cornucopia of free things – Google Hangouts and YouTube. That’s probably why the Ed Tech industry struggles so much – people are used to free things. Google isn’t free – you indirectly pay through sale of your data as with Facebook. Wikipedia is free but philanthropically funded. I don’t know if that model of Google etc. can continue as we become more aware of data and data use concerns. We don’t know where the future is going… We’ve just started a new project with Barcelona and Amsterdam around the idea of the Data Commons, which doesn’t depend on sale of data to advertisors etc. but that faces the issue of who will pay. My guess is that the free data-based model may last up to 10 years, but then something will change…
How can technology help us meet the needs of a wider range of learners
Pleasing Most of the People Most of the Time – Julia Taylor, subject specialist (accessibility and inclusion), Jisc.
I want to tell you a story about buying LEGO for a young child… My kids loved LEGO and it’s changed a lot since then… I brought a child this pack with lots of little LEGO people with lots of little hats… And this child just sort of left all the people on the carpet because they wanted the LEGO people to choose their own hats and toys… And that was disappointing… And I use that example is that there is an important role to help individuals find the right tools. The ultimate goal of digital skills and inclusion is about giving people the skills and confidence to use the appropriate tools. The idea is that the tools magically turn into tools…
We’ve never had more tools for giving people independence… But what is the potential of technology and how it can be selected and used. We’ll hear more about delivery and use of technology in this context. But I want to talk about what technology is capable of delivering…
Technology gives us the tools for digital diversity, allowing the student to be independent about how they access and engage with our content. That kind of collaboration can also be as meaningful in the context internationally, as it is for learners who have to fit studies around, say, shift work. It allows learners to do things the way they want to do it. That idea of independent study through digital technology is really important. So these tools afford digital skills, the tools remove barriers and/or enable students to overcome the. Technology allows learners with different needs to overcome challenges – perhaps of physical disability, perhaps remote location, perhaps learners with little free time. Technology can help people take those small steps to start or continue their education. It’s as much about that as those big global conversations.
It is also the case that technology can be a real motivator and attraction for some students. And the technology can be about overcoming a small step, to deal with potential intimidation at new technology, through to much more radical forms that keeps people engaged… So when you have tools aimed at the larger end of the scale, you also enable people at the smaller end of the scale. Students do have expectations, and some are involved in technology as a lifestyle, as a life line, that supports their independence… They are using apps and tools to run their life. That is the direction of travel with people, and with young people. Technology is an embedded part of their life. And we should work with that, perhaps even encouraged to use more technology, to depend on it more. Many of us in this room won’t have met a young visually impaired person who doesn’t have an iPhone as those devices allow them to read, to engage, to access their learning materials. Technology is a lifeline here. That’s one example, but there are others… Autistic students may be using an app like “Brain in Hand” to help them engage with travel, with people, with education. We should encourage this use, and we do encourage this use of technology.
We encourage learners to check if they can:
- Personalise and customise the learning environment
- Get text books in alternative formats – that they can adapt and adjust as they need
- Find out about the access features of loan devices and platforms – and there are features built into devices and platforms you use and require students to use. How much do you know about the accessibility of learning platforms that you buy into.
- Get accessible course notes in advance of lectures – notes that can be navigated and adapted easily, taking away unnecessary barriers. Ensuring documents are accessible for the maximum number of people.
- Use productivity tools and personal devices everywhere – many people respond well to text to speech, it’s useful for visually impaired students, but also for dyslexic students too.
Now we encourage organisations to make their work accessible to the most people possible. For instance a free and available text to speech tool provides technology that we know works for some learners, for the wide range of learners. That helps those with real needs, but will also benefits other learners, including some who would never disclose a challenge or disability.
So, when you think about technology, think about how you can reach the widest possible range of learners. This should be part of course design, staff development… All areas should include accessible and inclusive technologies.
And I want you now to think about the people and infrastructure required and involved in these types of decisions… So I have some examples here about change…
What would you need to do to enable a change in practice like this learner statement:
“Usually I hate fieldwork. I’m disorganised, make illegible notes, can’t make sense of the data because we’ve only got little bits of the picture until the evening write up…”
This student isn’t benefitting from the fieldwork until the information is all brought together. The teacher dealt with this by combining data, information, etc. on the learner’s phone, including QR codes to help them learn… That had an impact and the student continues:
“But this was easy – Google forms. Twitter hashtags. Everything on the phone. To check a technique we scanned the QR code to watch videos. I felt like a proper biologist… not just a rubbish notetaker.”
In another example a student who didn’t want to speak in a group and was able to use a Text Wall to enable their participation in a way that worked for them.
In another case a student who didn’t want to blog but it was compulsory in their course. But then the student discovered they could use voice recognition in GoogleDocs and how to do podcasts and link them in… That option was available to everyone.
Comment: We are a sixth form college. We have a student who is severely dyslexic and he really struggled with classwork. Using voice recognition software has been transformative for that student and now they are achieving the grades and achievements they should have been.
So, what is needed to make this stuff happen. How can we make it easy for change to be made… Is inclusion part of your student induction? It’s hard to gauge from the room how much of this is endemic in your organisations. You need to think about how far down the road you are, and what else needs to be done so that the majority of learners can access podcasts, productivity tools, etc.
[And with that we are moving to discussion.]
Its great to hear you all talking and I thought it might be useful to finish by asking you to share some of the good things that are taking place…
Comment: We have an accessibility unit – a central unit – and that unit provides workshops on technologies for all of the institution, and we promote those heavily in all student inductions. Also I wanted to say that note taking sometimes is the skill that students need…
JT: I was thinking someone would say that! But I wanted to make the point that we should be providing these tools and communicating that they are available… There are things we can do but it requires us to understand what technology can do to lower the barrier, and to engage staff properly. Everyone needs to be able to use and promote technology for use…
The marker by which we are all judged is the success of our students. Technology must be inclusive for that to work.
You can find more resources here:
- Chat at Todaysmeet.com/DF1734
- Jisc A&I Offer: TinyURL.com/hw28e42
- Survey: TinyURL.com/jd8tb5q
How can technology help us meet the needs of a wider range of learners? – Mike Sharples, Institute of Educational Technology, The Open University / FutureLearn
I wanted to start with the idea of accessibility and inclusion. As you may already know the Open University was established in the 1970s to open up university to a wider range of learners… In 1970 19% of our students hadn’t been to University before, now it’s 90%. We’re rather pleased with that! As a diverse and inclusive university accessibility and inclusivity is essential for that. As we move towards more interactive courses, we have to work hard to make fieldtrips accessible to people who are not mobile, to ensure all of our astronomy students access to telescopes, etc.
So, how do we do this? The learning has to be future orientated, and suited to what they will need in the future. I like the idea of the kinds of jobs you see on Careers 2030 – Organic Voltaics Engineer, Data Wrangler, Robot Counsellor – the kinds of work roles that may be there in the future. At the same time of looking to the future we need to also think about what it means to be in a “post truth era” – with accessibility of materials, and access to the educational process too. We need a global open education.
So, FutureLearn is a separate but wholly owned company of the Open University. There are 5.6 million learners, 400 free courses. We have 70 partner institutions, with 70% of learners from outside the UK, 61% are female, and 22% have had no other tertiary education.
When we came to build FutureLearn we had a pretty blank slate. We had EdX and similar but they weren’t based on any particular pedagogy – built around extending the lectures, and around personalised quizzes etc. And as we set up FutureLearn we wanted to encourage a social constructivist model, and the idea of “Learning as Conversation”, based on the idea that all learning is based on conversation – with oursleves, with our teachers and their expertise, and with other learners to try and reach shared understanding. And that’s the brief our software engineers took on. We wanted it to be scalable, for every piece of content to have conversation around it – so that rather than sending you to forums, the conversation sat with the content. And also the idea of peer review, of study groups, etc.
So, for example, the University of Auckland have a course on Logical and Critical thinking. Linked to a video introducing the course is a conversation, and that conversation includes facilitative mentors… And engagement there is throughout the conversation… Our participants have a huge range of backgrounds and locations and that’s part of the conversation you are joining.
Now 2012 was the year of the MOOC, but now they are becoming embedded, and MOOCs need to be taken seriously as part of campus activities, as part of blended learning. In 2009 the US DoE undertook a major meta-study of comparisons of online and face to face teaching in higher education. On average students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face to face online, but those undertaking a blend of campus and online did better.
So, we are starting to blend campus and online, with campus students accessing MOOCs, with projects and activities that follow up MOOCs, and we now have the idea of hybrid courses. For example FutureLearn has just offered its full post graduate course with Deakin University. MOOCs are no longer far away from campus learning, they are blending together in new ways of accessing content and accessing conversation. And it’s the flexibility of study that is so important here. There are also new modes of learning (e.g. flipped learning), as well as global access to higher education, including free coures, global conversation and knowledge sharing. The idea of credit transfer and a broader curriculum enabled by that. And the concept of disaggregation – affordable education, pay for use? At the OU only about a third of our students use the tutoring they are entitled to, so perhaps those that use tutoring should pay (only).
As Geoff Mulgan said we do lack evidence – though that is happening. But we also really need new learning platforms that will support free as well as accredited courses, that enables accreditation, credit transfer, badging, etc.
Q1) How do you ensure the quality of the content on your platform?
A1) There are a couple of ways… One was in our selective choice of which universities (and other organisations) we work with. So that offers some credibility and assurance. The other way is through the content team who advise every partner, every course, who creates content for FutureLearn. And there are quite a few quality standards – quite a lot of people on FutureLearn came from the BBC and they come with a very clear idea of quality – there is diversity of the offer but the quality is good.
Q2) What percentage of FutureLearn learners “complete” the course?
A2) In general its about 15-20%. Those 15% ish have opportunities they wouldn’t have other have had. We’ve also done research on who drops out and why… Most (95%) say “it’s not you, it’s me”. Some of those are personal and quite emptional reasons. But mainly life has just gotten in the way and they want to return. Of those remaining 5% about half felt the course wasn’t at quite the right level for them, the other half just didn’t enjoy the platform, it wasn’t right for them.
So, now over to you to discuss…
- What pedagogy, ways of doing teaching and learning, would you bring in.
- What evidence? What would consitute success in terms of teaching and learning.
Comments: MOOCs are quite different from modules and programmes of study.. Perhaps there is a branching off… More freestyle learning… The learner gets value from whatever paths they go through…
Comments: SLICCs at Edinburgh enable students to design their own module, reflecting and graded against core criteria, but in a project of their own shaping. [read more here]
Comments: Adaptive learning can be a solution to that freestyle learning process… That allows branching off, the algorithm to learn from the learners… There is also the possibility to break a course down to smallest components and build on that.
I want to focus a moment on technology… Is there something that we need.
Comments: We ran a survey of our students about technologies… Overwhelmingly our students wanted their course materials available, they weren’t that excited by e.g. social media.
Let me tell you a bit about what we do at the Open University… We run lots of courses, each looks difference, and we have a great idea of retention, student satisfaction, exam scores. We find that overwhelmingly students like content – video, text and a little bit of interactivity. But students are retained more if they engage in collaborative learning. In terms of student outcomes… The lowest outcomes are for courses that are content heavy… There is a big mismatch between what students like and what they do best with.
Comment: There is some research on learning games that also shows satisfaction at the time doesn’t always map to attainment… Stretching our students is effective, but it’s uncomfortable.
Julia Taylor: Please do get in touch if you more feedback or comments on this.