Bett 2017: use technology to support student outcomes

Microsoft vice-president of worldwide education says technology can help universities’ mandate to aid students’ employability

February 1, 2017
couple wearing virtual reality headsets
Source: Getty
Ready, set, go: preparing students for the future is key, says business leader

Technology can help universities deliver on their “mandated” task of preparing industry-ready graduates, according to Microsoft’s vice-president of worldwide education.

In an interview with Times Higher Education before his keynote speech at Bett 2017, the annual education technology showcase, Anthony Salcito said that in education, “outcome is everything” and students expect a university experience that will aid their employability.  

He added that current tools of technology-enhanced learning, such as the developing field of learning analytics – the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about the progress of learners – could help support students in achieving this.

“The outcome is getting students to leave institutions ready for what they want to do to change the world, [or] to change their career,” he said.

“I think we’re evolving to the point where not only technology’s role, but the mission of institutions, is about getting students ready. Are universities connecting to employers? Do we have a [skills] gap? Are we creating enough jobs in the country [for] students that have that entrepreneurial mindset? That’s what universities are going to be mandated to deliver for their society, and certainly the dynamics that students expect.”

Mr Salcito added that the “disruption” in education that has allowed “students to pursue a path individually” has galvanised higher education to “embrace” technology.

“I would say the one category that applies to everything that universities do – whether it’s student life, classroom instruction, research – is the use and rise of data to help make the operations of an institution far more efficient; to provide much more insight into a student’s learning path,” he said.

He added that these data can help answer questions such as “how does the curriculum become more meaningful and relevant? How does instruction become more adaptive and predictive, potentially? And how can students learn anywhere, anytime, in a collaborative environment more effectively [to] help empower them to create jobs and grow economies?”

His views were echoed by Ian Fordham, Microsoft UK’s new director of education, who said higher education institutions are in a “hybrid” state of adapting technology into their academic offer.

Mr Fordham, who took over the role last month, said universities and their academic faculty are increasingly receptive to using technology in a whole range of areas, and that learning analytics would be “significant” for universities in the future.

“I think HEIs are adapting to new tech but also, increasingly, that tech is working. It’s delivering for learner outcomes; it’s delivering for retention of students.

“I think the learning analytics movement in HE is going to become much more significant, tracking students on their learning journey – for example, the amount of money that universities waste on lost students in terms of that journey. Embedding learning analytics within a university’s tech-enhanced learning environment brings many advantages, including having a single version of the truth where universities have clear data from which to base informed decisions and create intervention plans early to improve an outcome.”

He added that universities are now putting these “tools…into the hands of the faculty leads and tutors”, and he is looking to help them in that process through his role at Microsoft.

“In terms of adoption strategies, there are many programmes we’re working on, including driving a bottom-up approach, utilising digital ambassadors – a selection of students and academics – to create the...model that will help us scale [up] across universities.”

Holo-lecturing: THE reporter John Elmes tries out the latest ed tech teaching tool

Holograms and computer generated imagery have been used to bring rapper Tupac Shakur back from the dead and to recreate characters from past Star Wars films. But can they be part of the educational landscape?

Last week at Bett 2017, I went to find out by trying out the technology behind HumaGram, a fully interactive holographic projection of a living person.

Credit: Promethean

Developed by ARHT Media, the technology was hosted at Bett by sister company Promethean to see if it could be used in education environments to support teaching and learning. From a higher education perspective, it would offer the chance for, say, students in Australia or the Far East to take part in a lecture with an academic based in the US as though they were in the same room.

I allowed myself to be captured and turned into a HumaGram, in the process becoming one of the first members of the UK public to do so. As I sat in front of a green screen being filmed, it felt like I was about to present the weather, but the result was a perfectly rendered, three-dimensional version of myself.

The technology works by capturing ultra-high resolution footage of the subject using a high-definition camera, which is processed and sent via the internet to its destination. Video data are “unpacked” at the destination end and projected between two screens to give the impression of a three-dimensional hologram.

While my hologram’s contribution to higher education teaching would likely be modest, the possibility of taking Stephen Hawking from Cambridge to Hong Kong without his having to leave the UK is something that might just get universities interested.

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