Recently, I was lucky enough to attend the annual BETT exhibition . This was my third visit to BETT since 2010 and my first with an HE hat on. It continues to grow in size and frankly the quantity of stuff on display boggles the mind. Here are a few of my key impressions of the presentations that I attended.
The word ‘transformation’ was used a lot. However, the most engaging presentations provided clear practical examples of how technology was being used to enhance rather than transform learning. Also, they tended to make clear the challenges faced when making changes to existing practice.
For example, Veena Rodrigues (Professor of Public Health & Medical Education, University of East Anglia) examined the opportunities and difficulties she had faced when setting up a MOOC – Clinical Supervision with Confidence on the FutureLearn platform. She emphasised the importance of putting “Pedagogy before technology” – the need for effective planning and design to make the MOOC a success. In addition, she recognised that the day-to-day running of the course had taken some getting used to and was more time-consuming than she had expected.
Similarly, Daniel Courtney (Learning and Teaching Systems Support Manager, University of Sheffield) was equally candid about the challenges and opportunities that his team had faced when increasing the use of Lecture Capture at the University of Sheffield. His institution had gone for an ‘opt-out’ policy with regard to Lecture Capture, which meant an enormous scale-up in his team’s workload. One of the fascinating details from his presentation was that whilst the number of sessions being lecture captured had increased substantially, the number of views by students had not increased proportionally. He suggested this was because the data had been collected before the exam period and the students tended to use Lecture Capture mainly for exam revision. This left me wondering about the gap between what students say they want and their understanding of how to use the technological tools available to them most effectively for their learning. Currently LEaD is working on materials to address this lacuna, so watch this space.
Finally, Dom Pates and Ivan Sikora (City, University of London) illustrated how a range of technology (PollEverywhere, Twitter, CrowdMics, AdobeConnect) could be orchestrated to enable a lecturer to deliver a session from Auckland (link to presentation slides). Interestingly enough, their session was the only one of the 14 I attended where the participants were actively involved, which I thought was somewhat ironic at an exhibition which sells itself as advancing innovation in education.
Throughout the exhibition, there were two themes very much in evidence:
- Different Realities – “When you change the way you see the world, you can change the world you see” (Microsoft)
It was fascinating to see how much VR (Virtual Reality), AR (Augmented Reality) and MR (Mixed Reality) were being promoted. All have the potential to be tools to enhance learning. The presentation of Microsoft’s HoloLens by Matt Zeller was illuminating. He described how the HoloLens was being used to replace cadavers providing a more cost effective and augmented way for medical students to delve into a human body. Nonetheless, I did think about the need to programme in variability, since one of the challenges of operating on real humans is that no two bodies are the same. Therefore, having a digital representation of a body that is constant would not provide adequate preparation for surgeons dealing with the quirks of individual bodies under the knife. Perhaps this is where some principles of game design should be incorporated into learning software.
2. Big Data meets Artificial Intelligence (AI)
There were many stands promising to help teachers and institutions to track their students and enable them to tailor their education to their needs. These are interesting developments that again can potentially help all stakeholders in education. However, after watching a presentation by the CEOs of Domoscio, who described how their software helps students by prompting them to review certain topics at specific times according to the learner’s profile, I began wondering whether we were training ourselves to be less self-reflective and consequently more dependent on algorithms to guide us. The other concern that I have with data analytical determinism is the destruction of playful spaces of serendipitous potential.
As you can see, it was a thought-provoking visit. What are your thoughts on these developments? In what ways do you use technology to enhance learning for yourself or others?