An Introduction To Edtech

Edtech – what’s this emerging technology space all about? An event in Cardiff city centre piqued my interest when it popped up in the Cardiff Start Facebook group, so I registered and went along.

What is Edtech?

Clearly the word Edtech appears to be a marriage of ed-ucation and tech-nology, but what really defines it?

Mark Hawkins / Composed Images.

© Composed Images.

Without doing any googling, it seems widely inclusive and rather vague, somewhat elastic. Couldn’t you argue that ALL technology is educational?

Is it about the organisational nuts and bolts of schools, colleges and universities? Is it about how the education itself is delivered?  Say you have an organisational solution which isn’t being applied in an educational environment currently, but could be. Hey presto, a little wiggling and that can suddenly become Edtech?

Emerging technology and the monetary size of opportunity often feels opaque. There must be an element of creative financial massaging before those pie charts and bar graphs are assertively squeezed out.

Having professionally communicated and promoted both technology and higher education products and services, this thing always intrigues me.

 

Where

The chance to nose around inside one of Cardiff’s newest shiny office towers was alluring. As its name suggests, One Central Square is right in the middle of the city. It looms over Cardiff Central station on one side, the Principality Stadium on another, and a sizable construction site, out of which more shiny buildings will soon sprout – including a new headquarters for BBC Wales.

 

Who

The Edtech event was promoted by the folks associated with the Newport based series of tech events. These events begin with ‘Digital’ and end in either a year (usually the big conference at Celtic Manor) or a day of the week (usually Tuesday, a smaller gathering around a specific tech subject with speakers and networking).

[Read the Composed post: Digital 2015 at Celtic Manor]

It was hosted in the offices of E-Spark (E standing for entrepreneurial, a wise abbreviation). And there were plenty of other brands on show. E-Spark is a business accelerator and startup program with a vision “to inspire and enable positive social change through the action of Entrepreneuring” Start-ups based there include Doopoll, an instant online polling platform co-founded by popular Cardiff businessman Steve Dimmick, who chaired the event.

In the office itself there are stand-up desks, there’s open-plan airiness, there are fantastic views and there was a selection of indecently good brownies. (I had two). I was surprised to see former Assembly Minister Leighton James there amongst ubiquitous recruiters and PRs.

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Edtech Event Speakers

Four talks on Edtech followed an introduction from Dimmick about his Doopoll, which the audience was strongly encouraged to use for the event. It does at least spare an audience of the tiresome ‘hands up if you…’ type of polling favoured by many speakers.

 

Ty Goddard – Edtech UK

First up was Ty Goddard, Chair of Edtech UK, Co-founder of The Education Foundation and a generally big deal in all things Edtech. Goddard was brimming with enthusiasm about Wales and work here led by educators. He had been central in a Facebook guide for educators and was convinced by the power of technology in educating the next generation.

Clearly a respected senior figure in the space, he spoke of a project where teachers were matched with developers to incubate Edtech ideas, while acknowledging the reasons why education is not more digitised. These are reasons of access, infrastructure, purchasing and leadership.

There will be a $250 billion market by 2020, Goddard said. £900 million is being spent each year by UK schools. These are big numbers which, even if inflated, suggest the financial pie is massive. Little wonder that venture capitalists are circling hungrily around the space, salivating at the prospect and more than willing to take a gamble.

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Lee Sharma – Simply Do Ideas

Next came a polished younger chap named Lee Sharma.  With a recruitment background, Lee had gone on to found Simply Do Ideas, to support collaboration and innovation.

In truth my mind drifted around a little during this talk. (Really shouldn’t have a third brownie). Possibly the talk prompted the thoughts about the local school in my new Cardiff neighbourhood, which I recently discovered doesn’t even appear to have a website. When Googled it, most results were negative news stories and one positive regarding redevelopment plans.

Edtech is an enormous opportunity in part, if not in whole, because it’s not a priority of teachers who are tremendously overworked and overpressured as it is.  Nor can it be.

Sharma cited the Ted Talk delivered by Sir Ken Robinson: Do Schools Kill Creativity. With 10 million views it evidently struck a chord with people across the developed western world. Perhaps it does kill or at least stifle creativity, but there might be deeper infrastructural or economic reasons for this: not least those of teachers being tremendously overworked and overpressured.

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While what I heard up to now was largely positive, I was still perplexed by the nuts and bolts mechanics, about what Edtech actually is and what these companies do. There was a lot about ideas, hubs, collaboration, talking about doing stuff. There was less about the people who were actually doing stuff, and what that stuff was. So the next speaker was a breath of fresh air.

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Paul Smith – Schoop

This guy immediately seemed cut from a different cloth. There was something humble and modest and not like he was going to speak like a politician or overly deliberate businessperson. He was like a random middle-aged guy you might have a pleasant low key chat with in a small pub and never think about again.

His company Schoop (pronounced skoop), appears to be getting top marks at Edtech.

Essentially a mobile app, Schoop enables teachers to give subjects of parent-child conversation to parents. Parents can ask their children something about what they did at school today and a “I dunno / can’t remember” is turned into a more meaningful conversation. So often the best ideas are simple and brilliantly executed.

Schoop is said to change the dynamic between parent and child, engaging each party in their education. A quarter of families in Cardiff are using Schoop and it’s being exported. Paul has presented and been patronised at 10 Downing Street for being based in Wales, but this example of Edtech is clearly getting straight A’s.

Paul also had a definition of Edtech prepared. Paraphrased (or perhaps taken down verbatim, I can’t remember), this was: Edtech democratises education, enhancing what teachers do and making lives easier.

edtech

© Composed Images

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Robert Dragan – Learnium

Robert spoke mainly about automation and his belief that automation would be what changes Edtech and most technology in the future. Automation will be used to deliver personalised education, with personalised learning the key. This will help to eradicate much administration for teachers. It was a similar line of thought to this year’s Turing Lecture by Robert Schukai.

[Read the Composed piece: 2016 Turing Lecture: The Internet of You, Me and Us]

Dragan’s business Learnium is a social learning platform, but we didn’t learn much about it.

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Edtech Q&A

In the Q&A session a thought I had was crystallised by a question and observation from the audience. Somehow an actual teacher had snuck in. He said that schools are hierarchical organisations which can’t be flexible a lot of the time. Teaching environments are often old and outdated, which could mean literally knocking down schools and starting again.

My thoughts had been along the lines of schools being silos. Like universities or colleges, they are not standardised uniform bodies; they all work on their own terms with their own limitations. A solution which might be an incredible success for one school might fail in another for a number of reasons. Successful and sustainable Edtech businesses need solutions which are easy to replicate. They shouldn’t need schools, colleges or universities to have anything beyond the basics, in addition to the willingness to try.

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Edtech conclusions

This was a decent eye-opener into the world of Edtech. There wasn’t much nuts and bolts about payment solutions or communication systems, but perhaps this was an unreasonable hope. There was plenty about ideas, communities, support, ecosystems and collaboration. And all that stuff is valuable, especially when speaking with a broad audience.

But the actual doing of Edtech, that is vital. It’s greater exposure of success stories and case studies which will validate the financial forecasts and inspire others to start up new Edtech products and services. It’s this that will help make Edtech more real and realised.

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