23. April 2024, Miscellaneous, School, University

Keep calm and keep learning: The EdTech Future Journey 2024

In March, we spent three days in the UK, engaging with the future of EdTech. The focus was not only on upcoming trends but also on evidence-based educational technologies.

The program included visits to universities and schools, as well as expert talks on the interaction between the education system and the EdTech sector in the UK. Around 25 participants from higher education, adult education, consulting, publishing, school furniture manufacturing, and of course, EdTech providers were involved. “This three-day journey into the future of learning was an exploration of school and university concepts. We gained fascinating insights into completely different school models, all characterized by incredible dedication and engagement of the people behind them. Particularly impressive were the ten-year-old students at the boys’ school in Barnet, who designed chairs with artificial intelligence – proof that innovative thinking is a crucial skill in our world,” says Julia Turrell, Head of EdTech Austria, about the trip.

The Basics: The British School System and the EdTech Sector

At the beginning of our journey, we familiarized ourselves with the British school system and the EdTech sector. The British school system differs from the Austrian one and is broadly divided into nursery, primary school, and secondary school. At the age of 16, students can take their first exams (GCSE exams), after which they can either start vocational training or remain in school for another two years to complete their A-levels (comparable to the Matura).

EdTech is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the UK, with over 1,000 companies – almost a quarter of all EdTech companies in Europe are based in the UK. With this large number, the country is a pioneer on our continent. This is also evident in the venture capital invested in educational technologies: the United Kingdom invests twice as much capital as any other European country in EdTech, ranking third globally for VC investments.

Currently, the priorities in the British education sector are to support teachers through technology so they can spend more time with students, to promote digital literacy, and to implement personalized learning. One of the current questions is: How can EdTech be used to create a more inclusive learning environment? The British Department for Education has issued guidelines to meet digital and technological standards in schools and colleges – read them now!

Our key insights from the future journey

The use of generative AI is becoming increasingly important in everyday school life. But how can teachers be trained for this? Some schools establish their own agreements on what should be included in the curriculum and what teachers and students should be able to do. The topic of AI recurs throughout our future journey. All the experts we spoke to agree: AI is a tool that can support teachers and learners. When used correctly, it can make everyday tasks easier, such as lesson preparation or personalized learning. HOWEVER, one must always think critically and question the sources that AI uses. This also includes students and teachers understanding how AI works, how it learns, and how it delivers results – keyword: digital literacy. Many schools already have instructional lessons that convey this.

AI is already being used in the assessment of tests in British schools and universities to enable objective evaluation and reduce administrative burden on teachers. In Austria, data protection regulations would likely pose a challenge to such implementation. Over 60% of examinations in British schools are conducted on the AQA platform. Those interested in learning more can visit the AQA website.

There is already a need to educate students in the skills of the future. But what skills will be needed in ten to fifteen years? This question is precisely what the curriculum of DLD College in London is designed to address. The desired skills are taught in interdisciplinary subjects. This different approach to the curriculum is only possible because it is a private school. Another recurring theme on our future journey is the Future of Jobs Report by the World Economic Forum, which also plays a significant role in shaping the content of DLD College. The success of the concept validates the boarding school’s approach. The Good Schools Guide has recognized the school as “one of the most unique and exciting schools in Britain.” Parents can also suggest subjects and skills to be taught. DLD College is a globally respected private boarding school for students aged 13 to 19. The over 400 students come from 58 nations. Fun Fact: One of them is from Austria.

Top 10 skills of the future, Source: World Economic Forum, Future of Jobs Report 2023

What we also don’t typically see in Austrian schools (at least not yet) is the emphasis on well-being. From empowering diversity statements and guidance on what to do in a mental health emergency to having their own sleep coach and sports facilities: At DLD College, we got the impression that students are taught the skills to develop resilience and take care of their mental and physical health. Whether it’s maintaining healthy sleep hygiene, confiding in someone, or regularly going for a run.

Extracurricular activities strengthen cohesion and impart skills for real life. At Queen Elizabeth’s School in Barnet for boys aged 11 to 18, we were particularly impressed by the Robotics Lab. Here, dedicated students gather multiple times a day outside of regular class hours to tinker with and program their robots. Alongside this, students learn how to collaborate as a team and present their work to others. This also helps them participate in national and international competitions, where they have been consistently successful – so far, they have brought home over 170 trophies.

The atmosphere in this school appears to be highly focused, with both students and teachers showing great motivation. We also gained insights into a laptop class. In contrast to DLD College, this school is public, and in Barnet, not only are the school uniforms uniform, but so are the technical devices. This is because all students are equipped with the same models of PCs or tablets. In the 450-year-old school, everyone is meant to have the same opportunities. Access is granted through a challenging entrance exam: every year, around 180 of the country’s brightest minds are admitted. This elite institution prepares students for the best universities in the UK and beyond: Many graduates go on to attend Cambridge, Oxford, or Ivy League universities in the USA. More information about the school’s performance can be found on the school’s website.

Laptops and tablets in classrooms promote transparent and collaborative teamwork. Teachers can distribute tasks and correct notes, while students can share their learnings with each other. This way, the entire group benefits from each other.

Spin-offs are becoming increasingly important even at elite universities. We saw this during our visits to Imperial College in London and the University of Cambridge. Students, teachers, and researchers are actively encouraged towards entrepreneurship. At Imperial College in London, we were introduced to the spin-offs Insendi and Tutello. Insendi is a digital learning platform focused on the learner experience. Teachers can easily and individually design their courses and have various options to provide content to their students. It also simplifies administrative tasks such as course enrollment and assessments. The startup currently collaborates with over 25 universities worldwide. On the other hand, Tutello is an AI platform for tutoring. Students benefit from personalized learning experiences tailored to their course content, while tutors use their expertise to complement AI-driven content. Students also always have the option to have a personal tutor.

At the University of Cambridge, we encountered the spin-off Camtree (Cambridge Teacher Research Exchange). Camtree is a global platform for practical research in the field of education. Its aim is to support and empower educators to enhance teaching and learning. This means that teachers can share, publish, and make their practical research available for citation to others. AI is also used here, for example, to generate research reports from practice notes, workbooks, or video diaries, or to improve search functionality in the online library.

AI analytics, automation, algorithmic management, and digital assistance: These are the AI trends in education. At Imperial College in London, we learned more about AI and its impact on education and learning. Considering the current hype around generative AI, one might think that AI is a new development. However, for example, machine learning approaches have been around since the 1950s/1960s. The next step for AI is artificial neural networks. In recent years, AI has continued to evolve, and artificial general intelligence (AGI) has now been achieved. This means that AI exhibits human-like intelligence and can teach itself things it has not been trained for. So, AI is already “better” than humans. Now, the challenge is to figure out what humans do better and where the human factor is indispensable.

EdTech tools have been around for 30 years. This also means that EdTech applications have continued to evolve and adapt to technological advancements. It has been repeatedly predicted that technology will revolutionize classrooms or lecture halls. So far, that hasn’t happened. During the lecture on the history of AI and EdTech applications, we were transported back to our own student days: Who else remembers the early days of Blackboard e-Learning?

In the Metaverse, social presence is key. At Meta HQ in Kings Cross, London, we were introduced to the concept of the Metaverse and its potential for EdTech. In the Metaverse, the focus is primarily on presence, a place where friends and colleagues can meet virtually. For example, Harvard Business School holds its class reunions virtually in the Metaverse. There is a digital twin of the campus where graduates can gather. However, virtual and augmented reality environments can also be used for learning. Many educational applications are available in the Meta Quest Store. For example, in biology classes, students can examine the human body from all angles, look beneath the skin, expose muscles, all the way down to the skeleton. Learners can precisely determine what they want to see, when, and how, and access the information they need at their own pace. Admittedly, we already have several EdTech companies among our members that have been enabling this for years. The advantage of VR applications is the enclosed digital space, which eliminates distractions – allowing learners to focus better.

To conclude: Many opportunities, but a unified standard is lacking

We gained a good overview of the EdTech sector in the UK and delved into many different areas. Although the conditions of the British EdTech sector are certainly different from those in Austria, the EdTech applications themselves do not differ significantly from ours. This suggests that EdTech companies adapt to the needs of learners and educators, and that these needs – at least in the UK and Austria – are similar. There are plenty of opportunities here and there, and an independent evaluation or certification of the various tools is becoming increasingly important. For example, through the ISTE Seal or the Quality Seal for Learning Apps. The latter will be awarded at our EdTech Austria Summit on May 7, 2024, in Salzburg.

Thank you!

Thank you to all the speakers who provided insights into their work: Thea Wiltshire (UK Department for Business & Trade), Judith Rifeser (University College London), Anaghaa Wagh (ImpactEd), Adam Foley (AQA), John Jones (RGS Worcester), David Lefevre (Imperial College London), James Connor (Insendi), Rosie Loyd (Tutello), the team at Queen Elizabeth’s School in Barnet, Rupert Wegerif (DEFI), Patrick Carmichael (Camtree), Kevin Martin (DEFI), Imogen Casebourne (DEFI Innovation Lab), Björn Haßler (EdTech Hub), Nafisa Waziri (EdTech Hub), Irfan H. Latif (DLD College London), and the team at Meta HQ Kings Cross London.

The trip was organized by Advantage Austria with Michael Müller and Peter Pesl, and the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber with Melina Schneider and Bernhard Kaufmann, with EdTech Austria as a partner. The trip was supported by go-international, a joint initiative of the Austrian Federal Ministry of Labour and Economic Affairs and the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber. Thank you to all involved, especially to the on-site team at the Foreign Trade Center London for their excellent support!

The participants of the EdTech Future Journey with the team from Imperial College London.
(all photos: Innovation Salzburg/Andrea Kurz)

Für EdTech Austria und Innovation Salzburg ist sie auf der Jagd nach herausragenden Ideen und den Geschichten der Menschen dahinter. Als studierte Archäologin ist sie der Überzeugung, dass man Fortschritt und Innovation nicht aufhalten kann – als Kommunikationsprofi weiß sie, dass man darüber berichten muss.

More articles

The following articles might also interest you.

Foto: Innovation Salzburg/Benedikt Schemmer

This is the EdTech Austria team: Project Leader Jools Turrell

15. February 2024

Read article
Photo: Sincerely Media on Unsplash

ISTE Seal: The Seal of Approval for Digital Learning Tools

20. December 2023

Read article
Foto: Evelyn Baier-Schmid

Programming made easy: Coding Day 2023

27. November 2023

Read article
Photo: Sebastian Pandelache on Unsplash

Early Childhood Education Part 2: The Course is set on the Parents’ Screen

20. November 2023

Read article
Photo: Hao Wang on Unsplash

Early Childhood Education Part 1: Chasing the water strider in a lab coat

25. September 2023

Read article