Trip report: Edtech Expo

Yesterday I attended the EdTech Expo event at Old Trafford Stadium. A great venue and a surprisingly useful conference. It was clearly targeted at those working in ed tech at schools, rather than in FE or HE, but there was some useful insights and inspirational talks.

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The opening panel was on ‘the future of digital learning’ and featured Dave Smith (Havering education services), Emma Owen-Davies (fellow, Chartered College), Abdul Chohan (CEO of Essa M.A.T. and co-founder of the Olive tree school, Bolton) and Steve Wheeler (Learning Innovations Consultant, formerly Plymouth Institute of Education). It covered broad topics including how we develop the skills in our students that businesses needs, how we build our staff digital capability and how schools can use digital technologies to retain their staff (they are leaving in droves unfortunately).

Steve Wheeler’s solo presentation on ‘digital literacies and capabilities: Learning in the 21st century’ followed. He offered some interesting insights and considerations: a blasting of the digital natives and digital immigrants idea – let’s think about digital residents (habitual users) and digital visitors (casual users) instead. Tales of his 80 year old father’s online life (some of his post have 1000+  likes!) and the slightly scary observation that this year every teacher was born in last century, every child born in this century. Steve ended by looking at the EU digital competence framework 2.0 highlighting our need for new skills like transliteracy, identity management and the 4 Cs: Connection, content, complexity, connotation.

Abdul Choan: “These are six of the most expensive words in education”

By far the most inspiring talk of the day was by Abdul Chohan. Growing up just outside Manchester Addul made a commitment to improving the area and after time spent working as a Chemistry teacher co-founded the Olive school in central Bolton. The school intake is predominantly from deprived areas but a commitment to the growth mindset and major tech project where all children have been provided with originally ipods and now ipads has led some incredible results. Abdul offered many words of wisdom but the ones that resonated with me were:

  • If you can master the art of changing a person’s belief, then you can change their actions.
  • Simple and reliable are the most important factors when it comes to digital technology – he illustrated this with a great story about the laptop trolley at his school. When staff don’t believe something will work then they just won’t use it.
  • If something works then you can get rid of something else and save money. Educators are terrible at moving on.

Abdul touched on many areas of pedagogy that warrant further investigation: Webb’s depth of knowledge, Dale’s cone of experience, Schlech’sty Levels, Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development, Puentedura’s SAMR and shared some great case studies – too many to list here, see his Twitter feed for more details.

I enjoyed the interactive session on ‘marginal gains for big wins’ from Patrick McGrath from Texthelp. It was delivered using Pollev.com. Patrick’s suggestion that we move away from the idea of transformation (whoops…it’s the name of this blog!) and instead focus on these smaller, quick wins. He covered a number of useful tools including Kahoot, Padlet and of course Read&Write – Texthelp’s main accessibility tool. We have Read&Write at the RAU and it is definitely a tool we want to promote more to all our students as a great productivity tool. Patrick’s suggestion was that students use it to listen back to their reports allowing themselves to take a more critical look at what they’ve written.

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In the afternoon there was a session on ‘The future of Education: Artificial Intelligence’ delivered by Charles Wood from CENTURY tech. CENTURY tech uses artificial intelligence and big data to improve learning outcomes and reduce teacher workload. His overview of AI covered:

  1. Reasoning e.g. chess
  2. Knowledge representation e.g. identifying brain scans
  3. Planning (navigation) e.g. self driving-cars
  4. Natural language processing e.g. Siri
  5. Perception e.g. safe self-driving cars

[If you want an accessible and quick introduction to AI, or machine learning, listen to the  Miranda Mowbray interview onthe recent Jisc Podcast on ‘how AI and big data will transform research’ – about half way through] While CENTURY tech’s tool appears more appropriate for schools than HE (the learning activities it offers are predominantly multiple choice questions based on the national curriculum and there is currently no free text analysis opportunities) they are beginning to work with universities who have taken the front end and are developing their own content.

The most sobering talk of the day was by Andy Wood, online safety consultant, South West Grid for Learning. While the Internet is a tremendous resource it is a potential area of danger for young people. Andy made a compelling eSafety case for why we need to ensure children and young adults are digitally literate and taught to be resilient. His recommended model is that we fully understand the landscape (bullying, porn, so that we can mitigate risk. Some of the key organisations working in this space are Internet Watch Foundation, Childnet International, SWGFL and Professionals Online Safety Helpline.

While Ed Tech Expo wasn’t what I thought it was going to be it was actually refreshing to spend some time looking at digital through the eye’s of a teacher. And in true good conference style I’m itching to get back to my desk to look up the links I’ve jotted down.

Useful links

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