More than 200 guests and dignitaries from across the continent attended the launch of the European EdTech Network in London, on June 19.
The event was hosted by the UCL EDUCATE programme, with partners Oulu University (Finland), KU Leuven (Belgium) and IE Business School (Spain). The EETN brings together stakeholders of the EdTech ecosystem at a European level, including academics, researchers, entrepreneurs and potential investors.
The network is project-funded for three years by the European Commission via the Erasmus+ programme and was a winner among 85 competitors bidding for funding.
Welcoming guests to the launch, Lucia Figar, Chief of Corporate Innovation and Ventures at IE University, said: “We would not have thought for a minute it was possible to build such a European network to advance education, without the involvement of the UK.
“Our mission now is to expand the network, and one of the tasks for the next three years is to bring together all the stakeholders to connect and incorporate them into the network.”
The nurturing role of higher education in EdTech
The evening comprised guess speakers from the four higher education institutions, and two panel discussions. The first was led by Professor Rose Luckin, the director of UCL EDUCATE, who told guests that she was “a huge believer in Europe” and the benefits of international collaboration, and said she was delighted that UCL EDUCATE was able to host the launch. The discussion examined the role of higher education in nurturing EdTech and entrepreneurship, and some of the challenges and conflicts this relationship might entail.
Avi Warshavsky, CEO of MindCET, a privately-run EdTech innovation centre in Israel, described how the rigour and rigidity of the education system in his country was at odds with Israeli society’s inclination towards innovation and “openness to new things”.
“The good thing is that the government doesn’t interfere with the market, but the downside is that the education system is highly regulated, so the market is limited,” he said.
The panel debated how technology might teach 21st century skills. Leila Guerra, Assistant Dean of Programmes at Imperial College Business School, said that universities had to adapt and accept the ease with which students now use technology, while changing their way of teaching.
She said that despite the proliferation of technology “the most valuable asset we have remains the brain of the academic who is teaching. We can’t always convert the classroom experience into the exciting environment offered by technology”.
She added that the means now existed to put whole courses on online platforms, but that these would never replace the personal approach that educators could offer.
EdTech supporting learning and teaching in higher education
A second panel discussion, chaired by Mary Curnock Cook, the former CEO of UCAS, looked at the role of EdTech in supporting learning and teaching in higher education.
Angela Mcfarlane, an education consultant, said EdTech would lead to a re-thinking about mastery and expertise which were “at the heart of what it means to be educated”.
There was still too much reliance, she said, on the “expert in the room” which impeded the potential for EdTech to contribute to community-based learning and a wider reach of potential learners. She criticised current methods of assessing students which relied on what students could recall under certain conditions, rather than their deeper knowledge and experience.
“If you simply want to test competence then EdTech is very good for that,” Ms Mcfarlane said. “But if you want to assess broader skills then you need to talk to one another, which is why doctoral exams involve a viva.” She said academics couldn’t complain about students downloading essays from the internet if they were “setting assessment that are so lacking in innovation that they can download essays – and you can’t tell the difference”.
Vic Vuchic, Chief Innovation Officer at Digital Promise Global and director of the Learner Variability Project, said education needed to get away from one-size-fits-all methods of teaching, which were usually aimed at the “average” student, and resulted in most learners not being properly supported.
Furthermore, he said there was a “toxic incentive” in higher education to associate quality of education with how few people succeeded. “If you have to change the way you teach or support there is an assumption it is dumbing down, and not rigorous. Yet far more people could achieve with the right support and pathways.”
Mr Vuchic added: “EdTech allows personalisation and allows more people to succeed, but it needs to be based on learning sciences and the whole learner. EdTech shouldn’t see student problems, but design challenges.”
Closing the event, Dr Alison Clark-Wilson, UCL EDUCATE’s principal research lead, urged more universities to come forward to join the network.
She told guests that the role of the UCL as a major teacher training institution, gave it an opportunity to engage with EdTech start-ups to give teachers a different mindset about the use of technology in the classroom.
Dr Clark-Wilson said one of the challenges of the programme had been to test whether it was possible to activate the interest of start-ups with research “to help communicate how the EdTech would impact positively on society”.
“Research doesn’t just have to be undertaken by higher education and academics. It is something we can collaborate on and learn about as we scale EdTech and look at how it works and with whom it works best.”
She urged academics, entrepreneurs and innovators to get involved to help to organise and expand the network.