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EdTech Voice Notes with Mark Bramwell

Welcome to the forth 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 Mark Bramwell, CIO of Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford.

In our discussion, we discussed all about digital strategies, effects of lockdown on teaching and learning, social digital divide and accessibility.

Listen to the full episode below:


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To hear more from Mark Bramwell, 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 0:51
Hello, everyone, and welcome to the fourth episode of EdTech voice notes, the podcast of the EdTech Summit. Each week, we interview leaders and experts on education, technology and digital strategies across the education sector. As a thread throughout our series, we ask our guests to answer one question. How can we bridge the gap between education and technology? This question is at the core of our show, and we'll tackle it with a series of keynotes panels and workshops this coming November. This week. Our guest on the podcast is Mark Bramwell, CIO of Saïd Business School at Oxford University. Mark, would you like to tell us a bit more about yourself?

Mark Bramwell 1:32
Yes, my name is Mark Branwell. I'm the CIO of Saïd Business School, University of Oxford. I've been at Saïd Business School for just over five and a half years now. Prior to the business school, I worked at the Wellcome Trust, Biomedical Research Charity for nine years and WhSmith the retailer for 16 years. So my background has been very varied. I'm also a non executive director of the Royal National Orthopedic Hospital in London, and spent three years as the chair of the Corporate IT Forum. And I have a wonderful passion for technology and technology enabling education.

Alessandro Bilotta 2:11
At the EdTech Summit, we focus on the creation and implementation of digital strategies in educational institutions. What can you tell us about the digital strategies of the Saïd Business School?

Mark Bramwell 2:23
Thank you, Alessandro. Well, digital's a very, very broad subject, as I'm sure you know, but digital has never been more prominent or more important than it is now. This extraordinary time for all of us. For Saïd Business School, digital's all about enabling and connecting communities of people, whether that be students, faculty, staff, alumni, or guests. And while supporting this, it's about working in the most effective and efficient ways. You know, digital for Saïd Business School is about developing, developing our people, enhancing our processes, facilitating effective research. But above all, providing excellent student experience. You know our students come to Oxford to learn, it's a hotbed of learning. And we want to do that in the most intuitive, reliable, easy way for them. You know, technology should be an enabler for their learning and not get in the way of learning. So for the school, it's about thinking digital first, it's about being digital by default, to allow us to connect and bring us together as one school.

Alessandro Bilotta 3:22
I do agree with you. I agree with that the element of technology as an enabler and the fact that technology should be of help and assistance and not be an obstacle to learning. Based on this experience at Saïd Business School and previously as well, what are the key elements of our successful digital strategy?

Mark Bramwell 3:45
Successful digital strategy for me Alessandro, is all about something that's customer focused, there's got to be a genuine business need requirement or benefit for any change. So for a Business School, it's about enabling in a positive supportive fashion, the organization and its customers, or for us, our students, although I do see them as being VIP customers. It's not about technology for technology's sake. And that can be a pitfall or a failing for some CIOs in terms of wanting to adopt the latest and greatest technologies without actually seeing whether the genuine business need it. It's about effectiveness, efficiency, differentiation, service and profitability. As we say, a successful digital strategy is bedded in making a difference, a positive difference for an organization. More importantly, for me, it's about being agile and flexible, and ensuring that any changes are sustainable, supportable and secure. Security being an increasingly important element now for many organizations in this digital world. It needs to foster, empower and support innovation. The concept of being able to trial and fail quickly, and roll out and scale up for those that are successful. That for me, Alessandro are the key elements of the digital strategy.

Alessandro Bilotta 5:03
What impact did the lockdown have on teaching and learning at Saïd Business School?Because of the cohort of your international students, the impact must have been different depending on where they're based as well.

Mark Bramwell 5:17
I think when the school went into lockdown on March the 19th, a day I remember, well, I don't think any of us envisage that over six months later, we'd still be where we are today. Like many organizations, the fact that the school went through a digital transformation in two weeks, a level and scale of change that would normally take most organizations two years was phenomenal. We were very fortunate that in the school through our previous IT strategies, we already had many of the core building blocks in place that allow us to deal with the global pandemic. Our investments in cloud technologies such as Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services, our virtual learning environments, such as Canvas, and our online video conferencing solution, such as Zoom and MS Teams, allowed us to be able to respond quickly and relatively seamlessly to the challenges ahead, they underpinned and supported our business continuity plan. Largely what we were looking at was a question around adoption, education and exploitation, and how we could make sure that our faculty, our teachers, and our students were best supported with the use of these new technologies. Obviously, we had to make and adjust to some new service positions around home working and showing that people had equipment at home that they were set up properly, and above all, making sure that the student and faculty experience was center, and front of mind. Of course, we had the challenges around making sure replicating our highly collaborative and discussive nature of teaching at Oxford. And how we could transfer it online from face to face was very hard, but our students, faculty and staff have responded incredibly well. And we're proud to say that during this we haven't lost one hour of teaching. In relation to our international students, you know, that online blended experience has been vital. You know, as an illustration, our typical MBA cohort is 97% International, from over 57 different countries. So be able to deliver and maintain that Oxford experience online has been incredibly important for us as we continue to deliver teaching to different geographies, regions and countries for our international students and learners.

Alessandro Bilotta 7:20
In last week's episode with Amy Hollier from Heart of Worcestershire college, we discuss the important topic of accessibility of online content. Could you tell us more about your approach to accessibility of Saïd Business School and the accessibility of your online content?

Mark Bramwell 7:37
At the business school, Alessandro, we welcome and we embrace diversity and inclusivity is incredibly important for us. It's forefront of everything we do with our students, and our student needs in mind. In relation to this, all of our websites and virtual learning environments, are web content accessibility compliant, all of our pre recorded material, all of our pre recorded content is now captured and has captioning available. And we're currently in the process of taking that one step further, in terms of exploring live captioning solutions. As we say, we want to make sure that we're trying to cater for all of our students needs, and that we can make the learning experience for them as rich, as welcoming and as inclusive as possible.

Alessandro Bilotta 8:23
We will open the second day of the EdTech Summit with a keynote speech on the topic of social digital divide, delivered by Helen Milner, Chief Executive of Good Things Foundation. Mark, what's your take on the issue of digital inequality, that this pandemic has brought up to the light even more than before?

Mark Bramwell 8:44
As we shared at the beginning, Alessandro, I'm passionate about technology and using technology to enable further education. Purely as a personal view, sadly, for me, the current pandemic has just further highlighted the digital skills gaps, and digital provisions that exist across UK education, particularly around access to education. You know, we're especially seeing that in primary and secondary schools. I think, as a contrast to that in higher education, and I'm talking about degree and post degree. This is also presented an opportunity to provide access to education to learners in geographies, regions, and countries, not previously possible. And to an extent, we've been seeing that at Saïd Business School, the University of Oxford, where we've been able to provide free online content by way of our leadership and extraordinary time series. And by access to our online open programs, and from this, we're seeing that we're being able to reach new students and new learners in countries that weren't previously possible. So although there's clearly much work to be done, in terms of providing educational access and digital access to education, there have been opportunities. But we shouldn't rest and we should continue to ensure that every person, every student, every learner, across the world has access to education. One of the initiatives that the school has been supporting just to underline that is, we've been donating our old and out of warranty laptops to the Children Trust, a charitable organization that repurposes those, provides open source software, and then ships them out to schools in Africa, particularly Malawi. A great example again, of providing access to education for those people who might not normally have had access to such equipment, or learning.

Alessandro Bilotta 10:33
Well, thank you for that, Mark. I do agree with your perspective and with your with your actions. Digital inequality is in front of us now. And we should do our best to tackle it. There is an issue, we need to find a solution. Before we go, it's your turn to answer our main question. How can we bridge the gap between education and technology?

Mark Bramwell 10:59
Thank you, Alessandro. I think as we shared earlier, for me, it isn't about being prescriptive. It's about understanding what needs the requirements, the objectives of your customer base of your students are learning and teaching is an incredibly personal experience. Different learners and different teachers have different preferences, styles, pedagogies. They like to consume their content and learn at different times through different channels using different media, they'd like to access different types of content and discuss this either in groups or personally, one to one, whether in real time or reflected. So for me, it's all about choice. And it's all about providing a portfolio of intuitive, available, supportable and secure technology solutions, that best support and enable that. By doing that, I think you'll find you'll intuitively and organically start to bridge that gap between education and technology. It shouldn't be forced, it should be something that is organic. That just happens. And I think you'll find that the best institutions, the best educational providers will do that. And you'll find that they will be the most successful and they will be providing the best student experience.

Alessandro Bilotta 12:11
Thank you, Mark, for your time and your insights. It's been a pleasure.

Mark Bramwell 12:15
Thank you, Alessandra. It's been great talking with you today. And it's been wonderful to share some of the initiatives some of the strategy and some of our our mission and what we stand for Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford. Thank you.

Alessandro Bilotta 12:28
Just a reminder to our listeners. The full agenda of the EdTech Summit is now available on our website The show is free to attend and will take place online on 18th and 19th of November 2020. This is it for this episode. I'm Alessandro Bilotta, Content Lead of the EdTech Summit. Until next time.