Podcast - How Covid-19 is shaping the future of education

How Covid-19 is shaping the future of education

05 May 2020 (22:30)

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Michelle Fava, Mark Andrews and Dan Frost reflect on ideas discussed at last year's SHAPE Education conference and consider how Covid-19 has created the conditions for innovation in education.

Learn more about the SHAPE Education initiative

Podcast transcript

[00:00:11.03] Hello and welcome to the Cambridge Assessment podcast. I'm Alana Walden, and I'm here to introduce the first of our remotely recorded podcast episodes. In September last year, we hosted our first SHAPE Education Conference in partnership with the Cambridge Judge Business School. The event brought together experts around the world to ask, how is our society changing? And what do we need education to deliver for that society? Just over six months on, nobody could have anticipated the enormous impact of the situation we're currently in. In this podcast episode, Michelle Fava and Mark Andrews from Cambridge Judge Business School and Dan Frost, Learning Technology Lead for Cambridge Assessment English, reflect on ideas that are discussed at the conference around the need to create the conditions in which schools can flourish and how Covid-19 may be shaping the future of education.


[00:01:01.8] Well, first, I think this is not a teacher bashing or school bashing talk I'm giving. I think we have to create the conditions in which schools are allowed to innovate. And that is not where we are now. Schools are, I'll tell you a story. I gave a talk similar to this at a conference organized by a friend of mine who's a head teacher, and I was really proud of my talk, I went up to her afterwards and I said: 'So what did you think? Like Tigger you know, What do you think? And she said, it was great. So I said, So you can do anything different as a result of it. So she said no, I can't. She said, I can't take that risk. So they're an outstanding school. The money they get related to that measurement pays for the teacher salaries. If she takes risks with her and I'm serious, she's really serious about this. So she takes risks with that. She's risking people's salaries. It's survival. So first, let's take very seriously the conditions in which schools can flourish.


[00:02:10.24] That was Colleen McLaughlin, director of educational innovation at the University of Cambridge Department for Education, speaking last September at the Shape Education Conference. I'm Michelle Fava from the Cambridge Judge Business School. And today I'm here with my colleague Mark Andrews, also from the Judge and Dan Frost, who is Learning Technology Lead from Cambridge Assessment who were involved in the inception of the SHAPE conference. So SHAPE was an event hosted by Cambridge Assessment English in partnership with the Cambridge Judge Business School, which brought together experts from around the world. So investors, policymakers, ed-tech specialists, entrepreneurs, teachers and learners to debate what changes in society are going to have the biggest impact on education. So, Dan and Mark, we heard there how Colleen was voicing the concerns many of us have had in the education community. There's no shortage of wonderfully innovative educational research and development. But the conditions have not been conducive to applying those innovations. The climate of education was too risk averse. So now here we are six months on and we do have the conditions for innovation, but not in a way that any of us could have anticipated. Our schools and universities in the U.K. have been closed for one month due to the Covid-19 outbreak and education education's been shaken up considerably. So let's reflect on the conversation we had last September at shape in light of the present situation. Dan, Perhaps you can start by telling us a bit of the back story about shape and how did shape come about? What was the thinking behind it?


[00:03:58.63] Yes. A few of us at Cambridge Assessment English had been in conversations over a year or so with Mark and some others at the Judge Business School, and we are all trying to do innovative things. We're all seeing innovative things happening, but we're also seeing a lot of kind of same old things happening. So what's done on paper, in the real world, just plonked into digital. And also seeing stats like three percent of education is digitized and anecdotally seeing things which just look a bit kind of janky and they could have been done better. And we started asking ourselves how can we accelerate this change? Other industries are moving faster than education is and there's a huge potential but education is so important because it's how we get humans ready to be part of society. So if we're only doing three percent of what we could be doing, not that we should digitize everything immediately. But if we're only doing part what we're doing, how do we accelerate that? So we noticed that there were kind of silos of discussions happening. So at a policy conference, you would have policy people talking to each other. At an ed-tech conference, you have ed-tech people and some of those ed-tech people are not tackling much bigger problems, often, often less profitable problems. And you've got people in assessment thinking about just the assessment side of it. So we took a, we kind of noticed this and then we noticed how modern product development is done, is done in a very cross-functional way, because you because a decision is not made in silos, you have to have the whole team behind. You have to have all the skills. So that was our kind of 'Aha moment' we thought. Right. Well, how do we get all these people together? Last September was our first attempt. It was our kind of MVP attempt to getting everyone together, getting people like all the people you describe, the teachers, learners and tech investors. And so putting them in a room and asking them a difficult question with the implication that they have the answer rather than us, Cambridge having the answer. So that was our that was our starting point. And we are what we're saying now is exactly what you're describing. It's forcing the collaboration. It's forcing everything to happen at breakneck speed. The interesting thing now is what we do with with that.


[00:06:30.11] I think it is also right to say that when we initially came to the idea that became shape that we we came to it initially from perspective of new technologies and ed-tech but as we started to enquire more and more into this, we realize, obviously, that this is a bigger system. And that actually we need to have this cross constituents membership for this kind of event to work and for this discussion to have real and lasting benefit.


[00:06:58.26] So one of the themes that came out of that discussion was about uncertainty of the future. So how can we prepare young people for a future that we don't know what it's going to be? So Tim Oates was very vocal about that. So I'd like to play you a clip of him.


[00:07:21.81] And we know that the future is really, really uncertain, course it is. It's the future. I mean, that's the point about the future. It's uncertain because it hasn't happened yet. Now, I want to take that theme and really criticize some things about the assumptions that people have and the facts and figures that they give. The world has never changed so much. It's never been so uncertain. I can tell you, if you were in England, in 1348 30 percent to be will be dead the next year. OK, 30 percent. Look around the room. 30 percent would be dead. We had two agricultural revolutions, we had an industrial revolution with far more social change, dislocation to lives, the economy, where people live, what they did, their life expectancy during those periods than we are experiencing now. But I believe where we've really broken down is in responsible public policy and in public debate.


[00:08:20.51] I think this is a really interesting clip and I love it. In a way, I find it really reassuring in that, you know, it's sort of saying we don't need to become expected to have all the answers now, but I think as a community, we need to come together to help work out and find answers.


[00:08:37.16] I totally agree with that. I think the current situation where we're all in lockdown and yet within like a few days, teachers have worked out, however, scrappily, how to keep the lessons going. And, you know, parents and kids at home are doing the same, not with uniform success. Yes, there's problems, but this future that we're in, the future that was a few weeks ago, we've made it ourselves and that's quite empowering. This just speaks to the fact that we can build the future.


[00:09:13.23] I mean, this is where I'm a bit at the bottom of innovation as a way of getting things done, this whole kind of skunkworks mentality of bringing people together with the needs, with the kind of almost emotional connection with the problem. So then work with people to find the solutions. And I think if we're looking at how to innovate in this time, we're seeing this at the moment with teachers working with how they're going to use versions of technology to deliver to their students at the moment. It's not usually because of some top down kind of ego. A lot of this is people on the ground actually working out what's going to add value to their learners. But I think that's the time we have now. And I think we do need to go back to Colleen's comment a little bit where, you know, we had the SHAPE event, we had a room full of people who were hungry for innovation from across the sectors. There were teachers, there were students that were awarding bodies, all of it. Yet under normal circumstances, it's this system that is hard to innovate in. And I think Colleen gave us some of those answers by highlighting that, you know, it's a high stakes environment. We can't play around with students learning, you know, it's that learn as one chance to attain. And we can't play with that.


[00:10:27.92] But the interesting thing about we can't play around with education and the traditional ways of making sure that everything is gonna work is that we have no time to do that in the current situation. And we will be interesting in retrospect to see what worked and what didn't. But it'll also be interesting to see which bits of bottom up innovation where people just had to solve it themselves, did work and how can we capture that and keep that going? It's going to be exciting and interesting to see how the SHAPE community can can model those kind of bottom up innovations, get people working very rapidly together but with the respect of the learner. So you're not just mucking around. You're not, you know, you care what the output is, but you also want to optimize really rapidly and you want to keep iterating.


[00:11:16.36] Yeah, I think Colleen's point was also that, you know, student achievement is connected to schools finances, and that that's been a barrier, too, to risk taking in the past. And, I feel like this this discourse is also connected to the need for an evidence base with educational research. So on the one hand, we want to have a rigorous evidence base for why we can be confident that what we're going to do will work. But at the same time, sometimes you don't know if it's going to work with your students in this context until you try it. And I think to come back to Mark's point about bottom up innovation, I think sometimes, you know, even if you're applying a new technology or a new teaching method or a new curriculum which has an evidence base, you still can't be certain that it's going to work. So I think that's something we really need to come back to in the educational community and think about the relationship between educational researchers, institutions, teachers and policy in that way. I think we also need to acknowledge that when we do try to collaborate across disciplines and across sectors and across industries, it necessarily it takes longer because we're using different terminology to talk about the same things. We need to take time to understand each other's perspective so that we can have a meaningful dialogue about it. So the great thing about SHAPE was that it gave us enough time well enough, which gave us a whole afternoon to really talk about these issues together, which is refreshing.


[00:13:05.86] And again, we've got to we education industry have got to always be learning what we users as learners and teachers and so on expect because otherwise we're in danger of thinking we know how they will use this stuff, but we really don't.


[00:13:21.58] Yeah, we don't always know what the new possibilities are going to be or how young people actually use the new tools that we give them. My niece was actually sharing her revision, her maths revision notes with her friend for her GCSE using Snapchat. I said, well, how could you keep that? She says, will it just make a screen grab? So we make a screen grab from Snapchat to share your Maths revision notes with your friends. And she was like 'Yeh,  what's the problem with that?' But to make it more historical analogy, when movies cinema was first invented, they would they would film them in a theatre. So, the camera would be static and set up in front of the theatre stage and you would effectively be watching a play on film. And now what we're seeing with lecture capture is kind of like that because people think about a lecture as a performance in the same way. And then what we have on film is a film of a lecture. Where as actually film has much more capability than that, you can cut in scenes, you can go to different places. So there's a lot of capability that we're perhaps not using yet in terms of what these technologies can offer us.


[00:14:27.58] And I think the way that they refer to that is the grammar of cinema. So when they started the technology of cinema, they hadn't learned because they hadn't experimented with the technology. They didn't know what the grammar of cinema is. So in a way, is to coin a phrase or whatever. We haven't learned what the grammar of digital education is yet because we haven't done enough of the experiments. We're only like 10, 20 years into this. So we're still filming things the way we would. So then the challenge to the industry is to learn that and to to share the practices and to work together again.


[00:15:05.6] This isn't one of the key things as well is to change this paradigm a little bit as well, to lose the word digital education into a school education and just take it as a given that actually technology has always played a role in education, whether the digital or analogue technology and that actually we're just talking about education and how we move forward and in place within that actually is going to be a role of some form of technology, which is likely to be digital.


[00:15:30.46] Yeah, the way I always think of technology is it's technology until it's invisible. So I've got lights in this room, but you don't think of it as technology.


[00:15:40.18] You don't notice the electricity is on.


[00:15:42.6] Yeah, precisely. And one of my favourite pictures is of someone ironing, this is from like 100 years ago, someone ironing but then the iron is plugged into the light socket because we hadn't learned to install electricity into houses yet. So we're still at this sort of installation phase and things are a bit clunky. But all it means is we can beat ourselves up about it but back to the way we've reacted to the Covid situation, quite adaptable. We've just got to on occasion, force ourselves to change things. If we're thinking about how to do education in 2020, we need to be careful what organizational structures and ideas we carry over. If you get these people working together and you give them a bit more of a blank slate and say, just leave, leave your business model and your role at the door. How would you solve this now?


[00:16:36.62] Which is effectively what we have with the present situation is not necessarily a blank slate, but certainly things have been shaken up to the extent that we are we have to take more risks because we're already at risk.


[00:16:51.56] So yeah you have no choice. Yeah.


[00:16:56.78] Before we wrap up, I wanted to bring up the elephant in the room, which is inequality, educational inequality. So obviously, historically, there's been a huge attainment gap that correlates with socio economic inequality. And the danger is that the present situation we have with Covid, it means that the children who traditionally will have done better will be doing so because they are in an environment that is conducive to learning and the children who wouldn't won't. So how do we make sure that the Ed-tech innovations that we're introducing to help remedy this situation is actually not exacerbating the situation, but helping to remedy it? So obviously, we don't have the answers, but it's something that we hope we can continue talking about this in future shape events.


[00:17:56.04] Yes, and I think, again, we don't have the answer, but you can imagine the answer being in lots of pockets of so policy and legislation obviously is going to have to correct where, say, some people have devices that are powerful enough to access this and some people don't have those devices or don't have any devices. Then the ed-tech industry has got to build for those devices. So it's got to come up with really good ways of having exciting, highly graphical things, but also that work on a less powerful devices. We've got to think about connectivity and that it's reliable. So if we have an instance like this again, that no one is left with a slightly dodgy broadband connection, regardless of where they are. So, again, it's not fixed in one place. There's lots of different pockets where you going to have to fix this.


[00:18:52.91] Yeah, and also it's not only about having access to the technology, but how it's going to be used. So some children will be using technology with help from home and others might be needing to do it more independently. So we need to think about differentiating for those different groups of learners in this situation as well. So I don't know how, but let's think about it.


[00:19:19.22] I think also there was a piece of work I was aware of late last year, really, which was looking at similar issue in a different sector. So in this example, it was how can we enable inmates within prisons to have access to technology with the right security and things like that? Now, obviously, the prison service is not going to know how to do that. Actually, I saw a nice piece of work where it was a collaboration between some prisons and Google who were looking at how they could be customized like Chrome OS to actually provide secure ways to give technology to prisoners in prison. And that was a great piece of work that I think if we look at that within education of how we can collaborate with in and outside of the sector, could bring in new business technology, answers some of those questions that are difficult and work together on actually how we can solve some of those issues to actually create meaningful technologies and actually further innovation and education. And I think this is where SHAPE does come in for education to do that.


[00:20:26.27] Exactly Mark, so in your prison example, they have to really think about the context in which that technology was going to be used and those specific constraints and doing that sort of thing means that we need to have this joined up, thinking that Dan is talking about, you know, between different sectors. So to wrap up, Tim Oates used a good analogy of the electric car, he says the first electric car was actually invented in the eighteen hundreds and imagine what would have happened if we adopted that technology instead of the internal combustion engine. So, his point being that we do have choices and choices that we're making. The paths that we choose to follow will have a big, big impact on the future of education. I think that's true now more than ever. So we'd like to invite people to participate and to engage with the material that we already have.


[00:21:26.24] So if anyone wants to see any of the talks that happened at last September's SHAPE Education Conference in Cambridge, go to shapeeducation.org and you'll be able to see the videos and the short summary video of the event that give you a sense of what the feeling in the room was. You'll also be able to sign up for the upcoming May 2020 virtual event. You'll be able to apply to that and apply for future events, that'll be happening over the next few months.


[00:22:01.62] Great. Thank you, Dan and Mark. We'll see you again.


[00:22:09.43] Thank you for listening to the Cambridge Assessment podcast. You can find all of our podcasts on our website, just search podcast gallery. Or you can find us on YouTube or wherever else you usually listen to your podcasts.

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