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EdTech Voice Notes with Dr Maren Deepwell

Welcome to the fifth episode of EdTech Voice Notes, the podcast of the EdTech Summit.

In this week's episode of the EdTech VoiceNotes, we had the pleasure to catch up with Dr Maren Deepwell, Chief Executive of the Association for Learning Technology (ALT).

In our discussion, we discussed all about the importance of training, the newly launched network AmplifyFE, and the effects of lockdown on the education system - including assessment.

Listen to the full episode below:


To hear more from Dr Maren Deepwell, alongside others leading in delivering effective digital and technology-focused solutions for education, secure your free pass here to the EdTech Summit, taking place online on the 18-19th November.


Alessandro Bilotta 0:50
Hello, everyone, and welcome to the fifth episode of EdTech voice notes the broadcast of the EdTech Summit. Each week, we interview leaders and experts on education, technology and digital strategies across the educational sector. As a common denominator to every episode, we ask our guests to answer one question, how can we bridge the gap between education and technology? The agenda of the EdTech summit has been carefully curated to answer this important question. But back to today's episode, here with us is Dr. Maren Deepwell, Chief Executive of the Association for Learning Technology. Maren, would you please tell us a bit more about yourself and your background.

Maren Deepwell 1:30
Hi, everybody. I'm really delighted to be joining the EdTech voice notes and glad to be recording this podcast with you today. Looking forward to taking part in the summit. As Chief Executive of the Association for Learning Technology. I lead the leading independent professional body for learning technology professionals here in the UK. ALT was established in 1993, so we've got a long standing history of supporting professionals and championing the recognition of the important work that we do. Using technology for learning teaching and assessment. As an independent charity out is funded by its members. And amongst the things we do, that I'm hoping to talk a little bit about today, are including promoting current practice and providing practical resources as well as publishing the newest research and innovation in the field. We work across all sectors, including schools, further and vocational education, higher education and work based learning.

Alessandro Bilotta 2:34
In previous conversations we had on the podcast with Vikki Liogier and Steve Hope. We talked about the importance of training for staff and educators working in education institutions. This is a core objective of ALT. You provide an array of resources with the same events taking place across the year, papers and videos available on your website. You provide structured training courses, and you've also recently launched Amplify FE, a network to connect and amplify communities of practice for digital learning, teaching and assessment in vocational education. Am I right?

Maren Deepwell 3:12
Yeah, that is right. I'm looking forward to telling you a little bit more about it, because there's a lot of resources that we produce that are openly accessible, and free to anyone to use. And I hope that some of these might be interesting to our audience. So firstly, talking about some of the events that the association organizes. Most recently, we had a summer summit. And the theme of the summit was learning technology, in times of crisis and complexity, I think we can all agree that this year has certainly been one of crisis. And our members are very focused as well as on the technical aspect of things, to think about care for the well being of staff and students to really focus in on how we can use technology, not only efficiently and effectively but also well, to make education more equitable and give better access to everyone. And some of the sessions in the summit, we looked at some of the harder questions that maybe we don't find answers to so easily, such as, you know, what we can do about digital inclusion, or how to take off racism and discrimination using technology in education. But some of the other questions we're looking at are around the ethical use of technology, particularly for younger learners or vulnerable learners. But over all, we need to look at what we can do to ensure that, for instance, the data that learning technology generates is handled ethically, that students are aware of the digital footprint that they are creating while they're learning and that also staff are able to make informed choices about what technology to use beyond the classroom. We have an inventor conference coming up in December. And we also run weekly webinars and crisis sessions, which we have done since March, which tackle all kinds of topics from copyright and open licensing, to scaling up use of technology, to finding free and open resources for teaching, training and assessment. One of the project you mentioned Amplify FE, it's really close to my heart, because I've been working in this sector for a long time. And I've been part of many really fantastic projects. And unfortunately, it's had quite short time before they were replaced by the next one. And it's particularly difficult to build a professional network that's sustainable over a long period of time, as these projects come and go, and then professionals have a lot of disconnect between the different communities they're involved in. So Amplify FE, which is funded by the Ufi VocTech trust, is really looking at establishing an overarching network supported by ALT to connect and amplify existing communities of practice. So if you're interested in connecting with other professionals, and a range of topics, that would be a good place to start to find out where to go.

Alessandro Bilotta 6:16
I think that during these difficult times, the teaching and the education community has come even closer together. So I think a project like Amplify FE, would be able to make sure that these community stays together and shares the type of insights and support that they would need to better the system even further. As you said, ALT works across the education sector, discussing education, technology and digital strategies across schools, colleges and universities. What are the similarities and the differences that you come across when it comes to digital learning?

Maren Deepwell 6:58
I think this year, there is a lot that all professionals have in common, regardless of which sector they work in. Because I think for everyone, it has been a huge shift, to adjust to working and continuing keeping to support students keeping institutions running and while working amidst a global crisis. Even those of us who usually work from home and I'm lucky that I am one of those people have never worked from home in lockdown have never worked from home with partners, kids, home schooling, and all these other challenges that we've been facing. So I feel we have certainly in common that we've all been experiencing our own challenges that have made life so difficult, and particularly for professionals working in learning technology, who, you know, for better or for worse, have had a mix of, you know, responses from academic colleagues or institutions previously, some may be more reluctant to adopt technology, some maybe unconvinced, and they now have to accelerate and scale up progress at a rate, which no one would have wanted to plan for or recommend. We all know, educational technology can be amazing and has fantastic potential. And we have decades of research and practice of what works and what doesn't work. We know how it's done. But to translate that into the great online pivot, or indeed, emergency provision for every learner, everywhere, or now to plan for a new term, in a couple of weeks or months, is absolutely a challenge that, you know, everybody is struggling with. So I feel this year in particular, we have a lot of commonality, we have a lot of challenges that we're sharing. And we've seen wonderful spirit of sharing knowledge and helping each other particularly in community sessions and people recording podcasts, celebrating each other's work, sharing expertise, sharing challenges, and also supporting each other's well being. And I think there's also a lot that we have in common in trying to manage and support different expectations from learners, from parents, from colleagues, everybody is somewhere on a broad spectrum of digital capability from, you know, their basic digital literacy, to having more advanced skill of being able to use technology effectively for learning or for teaching, for assessment. And I think that as well, we have in common. Now we all serve extremely diverse set of stakeholders and individuals that definitely all need support all of the time. So I think that's been Generally a huge rise and increase in demand for this type of professional expertise in every sector.

Alessandro Bilotta 10:06
Following up on what you just said, the Office for students released a report on the ability of students to participate in higher education during the lockdown. According to the poll of almost 1,500 students, they said that 71% reported lack of access to a quiet study space with 22% severely impacted. 56% said they lacked access to appropriate online course materials, with 9% severely impacted and 18% were impacted by lack of access to a computer laptop or tablet, with 4% saying they were severely impacted. What's your take on these findings? And how do you think the lockdown affected HE and the wider education sector?

Maren Deepwell 10:55
I think it's a really interesting set of statistics and really welcome the office for students releasing that report. I think I'm also aware that Jisc has released its student tracker survey, and which has 40,000 responses, and I think would be interesting to see how the two data sets align in terms of their output. And I'm aware that there's also from the Office of Students, currently a call out for consultation under the Sir Michael Barber review, around looking at a digital learning and teaching provision during the initial pandemic crisis, to which ALT is currently collating members responses, and making a response to in the coming weeks. But I think as well as the impact on students, which is, you know, been clearly severe. And there's also been a strong impact on staff, and both academic staff learning technologists and all other staff who, you know, similarly, I think, had impact from lack of access to suitable technology, infrastructure, and quiet space for work. So I think there's been some early research into how different student groups and different diversity challenges have been articulated through the pandemic, and how different groups amongst learner communities and staff have been affected more severely. But I'm really looking forward to hearing more about what the real impact has been, because I think we were still kind of at the tip of the iceberg. That said, I think there are straightforward things that we can start doing straight away to help address these challenges. And one of the drivers is, I think, for us to try and remove the stigma of people not necessarily having appropriate technology or access, or indeed, space at home, and to really think about online course design. With that in mind from the beginning. So one of the things we've seen, for example, is really more nuanced discussion about whether, for example, synchronous learning that requires video cameras to be switched on, could be inter dispersed with other types of activities that are maybe more collaborative and require less access to infrastructure and bandwidth, also require less live video to be used. And one of the areas I'm particularly keen to see a change in discourse is around assessment and proctoring technology, where I think all of these issues that you've highlighted from the survey really come into play.

Alessandro Bilotta 13:40
Do you think that the change we've seen, is going to be a permanent change to how we envisage teaching and learning? I mean, expectations from learners, educators and parents might have changed. Will we need a structure of reform of the educational system? Or at least more freedom for education leaders and practitioners to adapt their teaching models?

Maren Deepwell 14:01
I think there's been a permanent change to how we envisage teaching and learning for for over 20 years, if I'm honest with you, and I think we've made a number of structural reforms and there's always more that policymakers should address. I think what's the big shift is in the public perception, and also the scale of adoption of technology for learning and teaching and assessment, that we've seen this year. That has certainly been a departure from the scale at which things have been happening over the last 10 years or more. I feel that learning technology professionals have a really key role to play in helping education leaders and practitioners adapt their teaching models, because one of the things we have to really be mindful of is that while many of us are just discovering new opportunities, they are experts in the community that, for example, I represent and hopefully attend the EdTech Summit, who really know their stuff, who know how it works, they know strategies for every different pedagogical model for different sizes for different contexts for different disciplines. And for very specialist learning scenarios. And we do have the know how, to make this work. And clearly, it's extremely challenging to do that at scale in a very short time. And I salute all the learning technology individuals and teams who've been working their socks off over this year, and many of whom have worked above and beyond day and night to support learners and staff and their institutions. But we definitely know how to do this. And we have the tools, we have the technology. So it is really about the mindset to now not look at the short term crisis solution and think, oh that's the best we can do. Because we all know it isn't. And the media headlines might make you think otherwise. But learning technology is an extremely powerful, and potentially also very empowering strategy for both teachers and learners.

Alessandro Bilotta 16:10
At the EdTech Summit, you join a panel on Pedagogy of Education Technology, how important is pedagogy in this successful implementation of a digital strategy?

Maren Deepwell 16:21
Absolutely a key part of all the work that we do, and should always be at the heart of how we design and deliver any type of learning. I think we've seen that over the years where, for example, the highly successful blended learning essentials courses on the Futurelearn platform that we developed and provided input to led by Neil Marez, from the University of Leads and Hanna Lauren are from the Institute of Education at UCL. And we've seen that at all levels, regardless of what context you work in, pedagogy is absolutely key and different strategies have to be used to really create engaging, and successful learning and teaching. I think, I'd really like to see more pedagogy and more imaginative and creative solutions, which put trust in learners is around assessment. And I think it's one area where through the great move online in education, we have now an opportunity to see a real change happening. And this is where we'd also look to other professional bodies who specialize in assessment, such as the assessment Association, or the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to work together with policymakers, to look at how we can deliver assessment that's really fit for the kind of pedagogical models that we're now already using.

Alessandro Bilotta 17:48
Now the question we've all been waiting for. How can we bridge the gap between education and technology?

Maren Deepwell 17:56
That's a great question. And I'm really looking forward to hearing all the discussions at the summit. And to really help inform our thinking going forward. I feel as a membership organization, we've been thinking about how to bridge the gap between education and technology for you know, 10, 20, nearly 30 years. And I feel that the answer to it is really collaborative, professional practice. So much in learning technology is reinventing the wheel when someone discovers a new technology and uses it for the first time, and maybe has a bad experience or maybe doesn't feel confident there's lots of barriers to adoption of innovative tools. And I feel, sharing best practice across sectors between institutions. And really sharing our know how our experiences with learners and different academic colleagues is the key to the most cost effective and most efficient implementation, but also enables us to address some of the bigger questions I mentioned earlier in our conversation around making the relationship between technology and education more equitable, more inclusive, and more fair and ethical for all involved. So I'm hoping that we'll see some thinking around those issues at the forthcoming event. Definitely looking forward to joining the conversation.

Alessandro Bilotta 19:22
Thank you, Maren. It's been great to hear your thoughts, and I very much look forward to welcome you to the show next month.

Maren Deepwell 19:29
Thank you, Alessandro. It's been a pleasure to root here and I hope everybody enjoyed the podcast. I'll see you at the EdTech Summit.

Alessandro Bilotta 19:37
We have come to the end of this week's episode. To hear more from Maren and many other excellent speakers and leaders. Do visit and register for free to attend our show. Taking place online on 18th and 19th of November 2020. I'm Alessandro Bilotta, Content Lead of the EdTech Summit. Thank you for listening and until next time.