IATEFL 2015 An Engaged Tone: How ELT might handle the ‘EdTech revolution’ – Nick Robinson and Laurie Harrison

I can’t remember what the abstract for this one was, only that it roused my curiosity and I wanted to be here. In any case, with Nick Robinson (who until yesterday was the MaW SIG coordinator) speaking it’s bound to be good. This is also the last talk I’ll watch before my own which is in a couple of hours time. Gulp…

Laurie and Nick are from ELTJam (yes, *that* blog!). Today they will talk to us about how ELT will handle the EdTech revolution. Since its conception two years ago, the main focus of ELTJam has been looking at two different worlds – ELT and EdTech, which seemed to be something interesting springing up out of the high-tech start-up world. There’s lots of cool interesting stuff happening, and through the emergence of “EdTech”, that world is starting to get very interested in education and ELT. They want to explore how it might play out.

The ‘…’ around EdTech Revolution are deliberate. They don’t subscribe to it. BUT, over the last 15 years, a lot of change has happened and as a result there is and will be a big impact on education. We are not just talking about the fact that there is tech in ELT – that is nothing new – but that it has coalesced into a movement under the banner of EdTech.

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Bill Gates is driven by evangelical zeal to transform the world of education. George Lucas is a leading figure in EdTech did you know that? 21st century learning etc. Sugata Mitra….! Google, Apple, Microsoft all moving into education in a big way. Duolingo. Voxy is also a well-funded EdTech start-up. EdTech is within ELT already, they are interested in it as a movement.

What are the characteristics of this revolution?

  • Money – there’s a lot of money pouring into education right now that wasn’t previously. Big corporations and companies are throwing money at it, specifically digital education. We have venture capitalists into a start-up, who are looking for at least 10 times return.
  • Disruption – education is seen, by a lot of people in the movement, as a sleepy, backward, old-fashioned place that is ripe for disruption.
  • Grassroots entrepreneurship – with the digital technology available now, it is easer than it ever has been before to create a digital education product and get it out into the world. We are seeing more and more teachers in ELT thinking “I can do this” – who think they have identified a need in the market and think they can do something about it.
  • Polarisation and controversy: On the one hand you have “EdTech is an amazingly wonderful thing. It is going to transform education. We are going to equip learners for the 21st Century” on the other, you have “EdTech is a conspiracy to take over the world” (or similar).

What about ELT?

Specifically, is there polarisation and controversy? Enter Sugata Mitra at IATEFL last year! A mixture of standing ovation and people walking out in protest. Standing ovation because he is doing something very interesting, trying to improve access to education etc and the converse, that he is saying teachers are redundant, not needed.

Not all EdTech in ELT is controversial. But some is. And some is more controversial than others. Controversial – Sugata Mitra, adaptive learning etc. Less controversial: there’s lots of cool free stuff out there we can use for learning. Some things will become more acceptable over time.

Let’s take a closer look at the Scale of controversy in ELT about EdTech. This is the SCREECH index!!! 😀

This is brand new, this is the first announcement of it. It’s early days.

At the top we have zero (uncontroversial) to 5 (most uncontroversial)

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Maybe things will move up the scale as they become less uncontroversial.

Meanwhile, ELT has three response choices: Resist! Surrender! Engage! i.e. refuse it completely, accept it blindly or engage with it and getting involved with it in order to change it for the better and…make it less screechy!

How might that happen?

We will look at publishers, language schools/institutions, teachers and writers

Publishers

Thinking back to the characteristics of the EdTech revolution, one of them was disruption. Our sector is ripe for disruption with new ideas and money. ELT publishing is a good target for this.

So publishers need to engage actively in order to be able to stand up to the massacre or ignore perspective of EdTech. ELT publishing needs to look outside itself: look at its competitors, who is out there in EdTech land? Yes they know to an extent, but not enough. DuoLingo is free and trying to market itself directly to language schools. How will publishers complete? How are they making this free product sustainable? How are these products developed so quickly? Understand how it all works. There is potential mutual benefit. This could be by working with established EdTech companies or interesting new start-ups who need help to get the next level with their really good ideas. Finally, most EdTech companies are terrible when it comes to the methodology behind the products, most ELT publishers are hot on that. Somewhere there is a marriage in heaven waiting to be made!

Within publishers there is stuff that can be done too. E.g. within the publishing company, create start-ups. In-house start-ups.

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Doesn’t need to look like this, but needs to be small, self-contained.

E.g. Newsmart: The Wall Street Journal. This was developed as an in-house start-up at News Corp (?). The question was can we create an interesting product using content from the Wall Street Journal? The answer was yes.

“If it isn’t digital, we don’t do it”

This was said by the head of the English programme in a big chain of language schools.

The first thing we are seeing a lot of is expansion beyond the four walls of the school. An illustrative example of the scope of ambition a school can have. EF London has Englishtown, completely online programme that has had 2 million students.

British Council – lots of apps, podcasts etc. They have an app portfolio of these things, they are not just a language school chain anymore. They also have the MOOC. ELT’s first MOOC didn’t come from a publisher but a language school chain. The lines between language school and publisher are more blurred now. Language schools are saying, we can build these courses for ourselves, we don’t need publishers. And now they are selling these to other schools. So customers become competitors.

DuoLingo and Voxy started by selling direct to learners, now want to sell direct to language schools. So language schools have power to influence the product and make it better via feedback. They could do with some improvement, time to feed into that.

Teachers and Writers

We’ve seen teachers starting to solve some real problems in their classrooms. Meanwhile – problem – in EdTech high-up people don’t have active recent classroom experience. In start-up weekends, people get together to come up with ideas for new products. Only 5% came from ELT and only one active teacher showed up. Marie Goodwin. And she won. With a reading device that helps children struggling with reading. Her idea came from the classroom.

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We are starting to see teachers talking to learners about EdTech. #ELTyak is a hashtag for learners and teachers to address.

Why do it? You get insights, you get your assumptions challenged.

Teachers or writers – 3 things you might want to learn to engage with EdTech:

  • Read “The Lean Start-Up” by Eric Ries.
  • Figure out how to get some cash
  • Look at Easy Tweets – you need to learn coding (you can do it in 3 months)

Don’t let EdTech just happen to you. As whoever we are, we can get involved and do cool stuff!

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Contact details

 

Another really interesting talk! 🙂

 

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4 thoughts on “IATEFL 2015 An Engaged Tone: How ELT might handle the ‘EdTech revolution’ – Nick Robinson and Laurie Harrison

  1. hi Lizzie, many thanks for your IATEFL reports you must be well knackered!

    your readers maybe interested in reading about Mike Boyle’s project mentioned in the talk https://eflnotes.wordpress.com/2015/04/10/grassroots-language-technology-mike-boyle-easytweets-net/

    hopefully that and other posts in the grassroots language technology series may prompt teachers to consider this area differently and help make sure that “edtech does not happen to them”

    ta
    mura

  2. Pingback: IATEFL 2015: All my posts indexed! | Reflections of an English Language Teacher

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