Ed-techs on ed-tech: How to fix higher education

Educational reform has never been more salient in the Nordics, as schools race to integrate digital competences into the core curriculum.  Ed-tech Foundry, an ed-tech company based in Norway, has some thoughts on how higher education can be reformed to prepare students for the future and the best way to use ed-tech learning tools.

“Tell me and I forget,
teach me and I may remember,
involve me and I learn.”

Heard it before? Reading this master plan, I’m pretty sure you have. It’s said to be the famous words of Benjamin Franklin. The likely origin is Xunzi (Xun Kuang), a Chinese Confucian philosopher:

In short: Make people do stuff and learn from experience.

But students are passive receivers of information instead of active creators of new knowledge. Most seem to agree this should and will change, but the change is happening very slowly. There are four reasons for that.

Our master plan is to overcome the four challenges and create a functional educational system for higher education. I’ll take them one by one.

1. New technologies should be evaluated in how they trigger learning

There are some fantastic solutions out there dealing the educational challenges in awesome ways. The products are well-made, robust, have user-friendly interface and engage the students.

On the other hand we have the procurement rules, the universities and the public school’s preferred method for buying new technology. It’s a long and tiresome process designed to save the schools’ asses. The process usually starts with input from stakeholders on what they want. Then ends with a long list of requirements and some kind of everlasting beauty competition.

Procurements are evaluated based on what the users think they want instead of actual performance and continuous improvements. It’s designed to solve yesterday’s problem.

The procurements are so time-consuming for technology providers and structured in such a way it excludes a lot of great solutions. They dictate the providers of learning technology to meet specifications instead of improving education. It often forces companies to choose between building sales and support teams or invest in product innovation.

We believe the procurement processes are the single biggest obstacle for new technology and companies with the ambition of revolutionizing the educational system.

How we will take on the challenge: Give our best stuff away for free

If you want to sell to schools, you must join the procurements processes.
We want to change education and prefer to ignore procurement processes.
Our solutions will be free for all students and teachers.

2. Reward students for creativity, collaboration and sharing

In the most simple form, students go to school to buy a certificate to prove that they know a certain topic. Universities provide access to a knowledge bank and judge students in how good they are at reproducing a given part of that bank.

To be able to differentiate how good students reproduce, most schools use a grade system with standard deviation distribution. In reality that means students fight each other for the best grades.

As a result, we have an educational system where students are neither rewarded for helping their peers nor for exploring new ways of solving problems. Yes, yes, I know the old term of helping others will make you learn more yourself. But in reality, every single student knows perfectly well the better the others are doing things, the more they have to work themselves.

Education as we know it was built for a world where knowledge was little accessible. Today, information is a commodity. With the right motivation, everyone can find anything at anytime. And that’s the key: Motivate students to collaborate, involve each other and put things into practice.

“The support for collaboration must be a lead design goal, not an afterthought”, an important Educause report states. It says current technology is“(..)designed on the transmission model of education (…) time must be given to collaboration, a true learning dimension.”
We could not agree more.

How we will take on the challenge: Build a chat with collaboration as the lead design.

We want to make all students into teachers and teachers into involvers. We must remove the barrier of helping each other. Learning happens when students are rewarded for talking, involving each other and putting things into practice. The most efficient technology for that right now is a chat.

3. Scaling personalized learning and teaching

Personalization and adaptive learning have been buzzwords in education for a while. For a reason, I would argue. We are all individuals. We are driven by different things, thrive in different scenarios and see different solutions to challenges.

There is an obvious need for personalized content for every student. But there is an equal, and less talked about, obvious need for personalized teaching and communication. Teachers all around the world are facing a growing demand of giving personalized, timely and motivating feedback to an increasing number of students.

Being a teacher can be compared to having children. As all parents know, it’s a full-time job to raise just a single kid. We can not expect teachers to be able to follow-up tens, hundreds or even thousands of students all by themselves. We need to do a big time collective effort if we want all students to get the individual feedback they deserve.

We need a collective brain.

How we will take on the challenge: Introduce pedagogical chatbots

We will introduce pedagogical chatbots to be that brain.

The chatbots will learn from activity in all courses and help all lecturers in higher education to motivate, guide and trigger student activity.

4. Cracking the “Walled Garden” problem

As a result of the procurement processes and requirements from educational institutions, providers of learning technology are very competitive and protective. Most systems are proprietary, which simplified means that transferring data between them is a hassle. This is called the walled garden problem.

Meanwhile, as a part of the globalization, technology providers are becoming more and more specialized. It is increasingly less likely for a single provider to have the best solution to several problems. We are becoming a world of niche products.

To be able to build a collective brain based on a large amount of providers, we need systems that work together. They must share same-structured data and at the same time respect privacy issues. Perhaps most importantly, we need to incentivize technology providers to share the same vision.

How we will take on the challenge: Incentivize all learning tools to share

We want to connect to all learnings tools, tear down the walls and make providers of learning technology make money by accessing students and teachers on our platform.

The master plan

To sum it up, we want to make all students knowledge creators.

This is how we plan to do it:

  1. First build a chat with collaboration as the lead design goal
  2. Give our best stuff away for free so any student or teacher can use it
  3. Introduce pedagogical chatbots to personalize teaching
  4. Incentivize all learning tools to share
  5. Make a kick-ass party. Seriously kick-ass.

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