Edtech is shaping the future roadmap for the higher education sector, and the UK has become a prominent player in this space. We spoke to UCL EDUCATE’s Alison Clark-Wilson to find out how.
Edtech is enabling educators around the globe to rethink the way they approach higher education. In the UK, the evolution of edtech is being shaped by organizations like UCL EDUCATE.
As the Principal Research Lead for UCL EDUCATE, Alison Clark-Wilson will be attending the 2019 Wharton-QS Reimagine Education conference to run a workshop on how edtech entrepreneurs can become more research–minded.
We recently chatted to Alison about the evolution of edtech, where it’s heading in the future, and how it’s transforming higher education.
As the Principal Research Lead for UCL EDUCATE, how have you seen edtech evolve in 2019?
Alison: The most obvious evolutions relate to the way that entrepreneurs are considering how evidence can inform better business and product design decisions.
Of course, ‘evidence’ can take many different forms and mean different things to different stakeholders, but by creating a research narrative for their edtech products, entrepreneurs can have a more convincing story about their educational impact. So, perhaps this is the beginning of the end for the snake oil salespeople in edtech!
What advice would you give to edtech startups that are seeking to create effective products in this space?
Alison: Research is key at every stage of the design process and by learning some educational researchers’ ‘tricks of the trade’, everyone can conduct in-house research that helps move both the product and business forward.
Key to this is the involvement of stakeholders in the design process. For each product, develop the design alongside a theory of change that explains how you envisage the product working to achieve the outcomes that are desired.
Then iterate, iterate, and iterate, and each time review and revise that theory of change and carry out your research with users and stakeholders to keep testing and validating your assumptions.
While you may have to overclaim to gain investment, be honest about your claims with your users and stakeholders and build trust and community, which will stand the test of time!
In your opinion, what does it mean for edtech to be fit for purpose and how can edtech startups work to achieve this?
Alison: An edtech that is fit for purpose has been designed so that it achieves its intended outcomes and impacts.
This is much easier said than done, as the route from product design through to implementation and evaluation is far from straight.
Having an open mind to the many different contexts for which you are designing your product (types of users, ages, school phases, classroom cultures, etc.) will enable you to feel your way to robust designs.
A robust design is not too restrictive for teachers, lecturers, or parents (they hate this!) but not too open that it’s unclear how to ‘best’ use your product in any particular context.
Many startups overlook the need to offer some guidance to educators about how to implement their product, assuming ‘educators will know best’.
In reality, co-designing the educator support materials with educators (and learners) is key to finding that fitness for purpose.
By the end of 2019, UCL EDUCATE will have supported 250 companies through its mentoring and research methods program, what insights have you and your team gleaned throughout this process?
Alison: So, so many – we could write multiple books on our own learnings!
Our first three book titles would be:
Learning to speak edtech: The importance of a common language
Edtech enterprises, educators, and researchers have evolved their own languages to describe educational problems, possible solutions, and the intended impacts. One person’s ‘onboarding’ is another person’s ‘professional learning’. In this book, we demystify the language of edtech to enable productive codesign for better edtech.
Developing theories of change for edtech
Every edtech entrepreneur is designing a product or service to achieve a social impact within education. A theory of change is crucial to achieving this goal. This book explains what this is, how to build one, and the steps needed to validate it as a useful, agile process that will change your business practices for ever.
Agile research methods for edtech startups
In the absence of an in-house research team of experienced researchers, edtech entrepreneurs do not have easy access to the expertise needed to test and validate their product iterations. This book offers a guide to tried and tested ethical research methods that can greatly impact on the quality of edtech products, while not slowing business and product development.
In each case, these hypothetical books would be full of examples and case studies from our 250 companies, all sharing their experience and expertise in designing and conducting agile research on their innovation.
You’ll be running a workshop as part of Reimagine Education 2019, what will participants learn from this experience?
Alison: I’ll be teaching some of the methods we use within UCL EDUCATE to enable edtech entrepreneurs to become more research minded.
It will be a very practical session; everyone will go away with some insights into the processes of researching edtech innovations and a few tools to help them in the future.
It will only be a taster, but it will be highly nutritious!
Finally, how do you see edtech evolving in 2020 as new trends and technologies emerge?
Alison: The sector is definitely noisier about its ambitions, from virtual and augmented reality to artificial intelligence and blockchain technologies, they do seem to grab the headlines!
However, the OECD Sustainable Development Goal on Education offers a more interesting starting point; challenging the industry to develop and adapt the technology to address issues of equity within education on a global scale.
In some cases, this means looking back at ‘old’ technologies that we know are easier to scale. The biggest challenge we face is in scaling educators’ access to technology, supporting them to adapt and evolve their practices.
Educators are key to opening opportunities for their learners, so we must work hard to ensure they aren’t excluded from the edtech design processes. UCL EDUCATE for Schools is developing the technology to support teachers in this way, empowering them to redefine their professional roles.
The 2019 Wharton-QS Reimagine Education Awards and Conference – ‘the Oscars of Education’ – will be held from the 8-10 December 2019 in London. Register now to join more than 600 educational innovators and decision makers from universities and edtech alike at this global conference.