Feb 19, 2020

Interview with Peter Westcott on EdTech, part 1

Teaching & Learning 4 min read

When Peter Westcott, a renowned education technology consultant, came to visit our Barco HQ in Kortrijk, we took the opportunity to ask him a couple of questions regarding his insights in EdTech trends. As a strategic, creative, and outcome-driven 'imagineer' and 'learntrepreneur', Peter has extensive experience in implementing technology into learning, teaching, and research environments. Currently, his focus is on leveraging AI-driven analysis to improve teaching and learning outcomes.

Hi Peter, welcome to Belgium! Considering you are from Australia, can you tell us more about the situation in higher education in Australia?

Lovely to be here, thank you for your invite!

Australian universities are much larger compared to the ones in the USA or Europe. The average number of students is about 40,000 to 50,000; while in Europe this is 10,000 to 12,000 (there are many more universities, so students in Europe have far more choice compared to Australia).

Also, there is intense competition between universities because government funding is tied to the number of students. There is a lot of pressure to have students graduate because much funding is based on the number of students who graduate, so there is always stress from administrators towards educators for success.

Structurally, there are two tiers. The first one is a group of eight research universities, in the other category are technically focused universities with a high proportion of vocational studies – like engineering and architecture. In the USA and Europe, you tend to have general humanistic courses that finish off with a specialty, but in Australia, we focus entirely on specialization, so the structure is slightly different.

 

Universities want to be seen as advanced, but no one wants to be the first to start

Peter Westcott

 

In your opinion, is the situation regarding technology enhanced learning getting better in Australia?

I think Australian education institutions are more advanced in technology, but not necessarily so in teaching methods. We’re very interested in applying technology at scale in a way to enhance efficiency, for example, to simplify administration and to equip students to become work-ready. More and more institutions integrate experience platforms into learning processes so that students can already learn to use them before entering a workforce.

Another thing I see more advanced in Australia, are micro-credentials – so called co-curriculum learning or 21st-century skills – like collaboration, problem-solving, and critical thinking. There is a dominant tendency to create the workforce of the future, and students are paving the way to new skills.

Who are the thought leaders in the domain of technology enhanced learning, in your opinion?

The changes I see usually come from the Vice-Chancellor positions. Some of the influencers I admire are:

  • Belinda Tynan, who has great vision and transformational leadership
  • Darien Rossiter, for outstanding insights in the future of education especially in micro credentials
  • Linda Corrin and Cassandra Colvin, regarding learning analytics 
  • Dragan Gasevic, Rose Luckin, Mutlu Cukurova, and Roberto Martinez-Maldonado, for their biometrics-driven learning analysis research
  • Matthew Hillier, for transforming assessment
  • Cliff Ashford, regarding delivery of education technology
  • Frans Van Dam’s leadership of the Utrecht learning lab
  • Jan Haarhuis’ leadership of education and assessment innovation

What triggers universities to start with technology enhanced learning?

Education has been transforming in the last couple of years, and concepts like “blended learning” and “flip the classroom” are becoming common. As we’re connecting with digital natives who interact via digital communication, we need to adapt education and technology to their wants and needs. Tools like learning management systems, where students can easily log in whenever and from wherever they choose, interactive digital content, flexible learning spaces with different teaching styles, … all require powerful tools like, for example, Barco’s remote collaboration platforms, weConnect and Overture.

I must admit, there is an element of fashion, too. Universities want to be seen as advanced, but no one wants to be the first to move, because it’s risky. Quite often when I talk about innovation, the question will drop: “Who else has done this before?”

As main trigger, I see a need to transform pedagogy, a lot of platforms are coming to the end of a cycle, there’s a rapid rise of cloud solutions replacing in-house solutions, etc. Universities have more options to start their digital transformation, but also more pressure!

EdTech

The big change in higher education institutions is that before, it was a privilege to go to university whereas now it’s a privilege for universities to acquire students. Also, the critical role of the university will change from imposing knowledge onto students, to developing them to well-rounded human beings. Constructivism is a learning theory where students learn by doing and reflecting.

Thus, we need to implement technology that encourages exploration, innovation, and reflection. With the upcoming AI technology, there will be a greater need for people who can apply critical thinking, personal skills, and solving problems. There is a huge tendency for people to learn how to code, but it’s far more essential to know how to tell that code what to do. I see AI as fire - it’s a very good servant but a terrible master. We have a moral obligation to use AI everywhere it can benefit us and help us bring better learning and teaching outcomes.

How important is the digital ecosystem in a learning environment?

The ecosystem is everything! All the elements need to fit together to provide a great experience – from technology to functionality. You need to make sure different parts comply and complement each other. It’s a step up to see the concept of the ecosystem rather than seeing only parts of it.

How will assessment change with the trend in distance learning?

I see it changing into a series of small pieces of assessments that take place during the course, so eventually you don’t have this huge assessment session. Breaking it into smaller bits, means it’s going to be easier to digest for students, and it also reduces the probability to cheat. Self-reflection will be the essential part and the ability to accept feedback and improve what you’ve done – exactly how it’s also done in business environments.

Eventually, there will be no difference between distance learning and on-site learning – it’s all about personalizing the experience and building a flexible learning space! Even though students are remote, they can still have a real learning experience. Barco’s virtual classroom provides that in the right way!

 

Read part 2 of the interview here!

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