FOTE 2014

The 6th Annual Future of Technology in Education Conference, hosted at University of London provided  the ET team with an opportunity to connect with other learning and IT professionals working in Higher Education. Themes centred around Women In Technology, Co-Creation in Learning, Collaboration between ET and IT and Digital Learners.

After registration and welcome, Samantha Swift, Product Manager, McAfee Labs took to the stage to talk about promoting role models to bridge the gender gap between women and men in technology leadership. She noted that the public are more aware of key male figures in technology than they are of female leaders. This may be in part due to our seemingly embedded patriarchal society in the west and it seems like it has taken until now to identify that something needs to change in society to enable the gender gap in leadership to be narrowed. The #FOTE14 hashtag for the event was quickly trending on Twitter and colleagues in Educational Technology noted that there were an increasing amount of women in leadership roles within ET. Perhaps this is due to it being an emergent field with less gender predispositions/stereotypes.


In her speech Sarah highlighted that issues of this kind tend to be pointed at in a reflective manner; if we are serious about changing the roles women play in technology then we should be talking about the future and what needs to be done. Personally I felt that the panel after the session drifted into the kind of discussion Sarah was trying to avoid, with panelists reliving past examples where women weren’t as accepted in technology. While these anecdotes were interesting and reflective they didn’t really address or suggest how in the future we can alleviate current issues experienced by women in technology.


The Women in Technology panel that followed, identified some interesting projects such as WIDGIT (Women in Digital and IT) a female technology forum set up in Liverpool, but didn’t really conclude whether there was a problem with the lack of women in tech roles and if so how we might address this.


Coffee break allowed us to catch up with colleagues from UCL and talk about how our teams operate, our responsibilities and relationships with staff. Learning Spaces and staff engagement were topics of conversation


The second half of the morning consisted of three short presentations around the future of technology in education. The first from Dave Coplin of Microsoft was billed as not being a sales pitch, but effectively was a list of Microsoft acquisitions and their developments. We played Microsoft bingo for a few minutes and the talk culminated in the latest MS swoop, “Minecraft” which offers new opportunities for constructing learning online. A list of alternatives can be found here.


Bethany Koby, founder of tech start up Technology Will Save Us was up next. Aptly titled ‘Will Technology Save Us?’ Bethany’s presentation showcased some of the work her company was undertaking, which included DIY Technology kits for children. The kinesthetic nature of this hands on approach really makes technology accessible for younger people; each kit encourages exploration and play to construct gadgets and truly involves students in the process of learning. During the presentation Bethany was optimistic about the future of education and the part that children play in shaping the digital economy. This session was the only one of the day which featured physical technologies, a refreshing change from the abundance of apps and websites showcased as part of FOTE. Working in an area where creative physical technologies are abundant it was surprising that more initiatives of this kind were not featured as part of FOTE.


Miles Metcalfe talked amongst multiple expletives of Co-Creating the Future and cargo cult IT solutionism. He suggested that one-sized solutions won’t fix problems with communication and that the future of technology lies in the hands of the people that create and produce not those that consume and that we need to work across sectors to facilitate this.


The afternoons speakers featured James Clay and Steve Wheeler. James is the Group Director of Learning Technologies at Activate Learning. His presentation was titled “You underestimate the power of the dark side” and started with an homage to Star Wars which nicely illustrated frustrations commonly felt when working with technology. James continued his presentation with reference to good and evil, dark and light and while I related to many of the situations he described, I did disagree with some of the attributes he described of Learning Technologists. While we can be fans of the shiny, an ability to stay focused is something I personally strive to keep.  James also talked of ignorance amongst the dark and the light in understanding the constraints within enterprise IT and the flexibility and forward thinking required in ET. Arguably is it the comprehension of these tired IT processes that prevent these areas working more closely together and driving positive change within education. Nevertheless, we could all agree that collaborative practices and clear communication are essential when working across departments.

“Digital Learning Futures: Mind the Gap!” exclaimed Steve Wheeler in our last talk of the day. Steve talked of understanding learner needs and designing learning content to match. The talk suggested that institutional choice of technology might not facilitate learner needs and that students should be empowered to inform those choices. A more comprehensive write up can be found here.