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Transforming HE for the digital future

Last month, over 200 delegates from edtech sectors gathered for the inaugural Accelerating Digital Transformation in HE conference

Posted by Hannah Vickers | April 08, 2017 | Events

Hosted by CoSector, University of London, University Business and Education Technology, the event addressed the most pertinent and relevant issues in edtech at present. A star speaker line-up led expert presentations on various elements of digital transformation in the higher education sector, and targeted panels discussed issues from best practice in digital transformation, to improving student experience. 

Professionals from universities across the UK and beyond attended the conference, and had the chance to network with fellow education specialists, as well as to meet some of the top names in tech. Bringing together experts from across the education and tech sectors made for the perfect combination to discuss the current big questions in edtech. 

In order to provide the best student experience possible, universities are increasingly working closely with technology companies to ensure that their systems and processes are up to muster. From efficiently using big data to present students with truly personalised experiences, to implementing systems that allow for inclusivity and ease of access across campus, the expertise available from new developments in the technological community is one of the most valuable investments for universities moving forward.

Man versus machine

Headline speaker Jeremy Waite, Evangelist at IBM, kicked off the day with a session entitled WTF (What’s the Future) – Student Experience. In his talk Jeremy highlighted the importance of using technology to cater to increasing student demand. He said: “This isn’t man versus machine, this is man and machine. It’s not artificial intelligence, it’s augmented intelligence. It’s a system that should be there to help you out.” 

Jeremy also stressed the importance of embracing digital change as its accelerated growth continues: “In 2019, 30% of all browsing behaviour is going to happen without a screen. So, forget about apps, everything’s going to happen with voice.”

Also speaking at the conference was Gi Fernando, an engineer, investor and entrepreneur. Having founded and built a number of successful businesses over the last 20 years including Freeformers – a digital transformation company which trains one young person for free for every business person trained. 

He now concentrates on investing and supporting start-ups and scale-ups.

Gi’s session, entitled How do we educate for the post-AI world? Highlighted the need to train future workers to do what artificial intelligence (AI) can’t.

“We need to train people on mindset and we need to train people on empathy: how do we make friends and build productive and healthy relationships? With diversity of thought – being able to deal with conflict in a really good way. Diversity of thought in our boardrooms and diversity of thought in the people using AI,” he said.

“The secret to change is devoting all your energy, not in fighting the old, but in building the new. This is my philosophy. It’s developed from Socrates, which I think is more relevant today than ever.”

Smartphone study 

The ability to communicate digitally, whether between university and student, or between the students themselves, is a much sought-after commodity within the modern university system. Students are increasingly using smartphones for education-related work, and finding a university that is already working to incorporate smartphone usage as a part of the learning process is high on the list of priorities. iVent’s virtual open days, and MeeToo’s live polling are just two of the techy features that are growing in popularity across universities in the UK, and beyond.

During his speaking session Ivent’s Gavin Newman explained why virtual open days are the future for tech-savvy students: “We’re finding that up to 20% of people who sign up to a live virtual open day event have already been to an open day on campus. They are coming back because they’ve got some questions they want to ask. What’s the difference between what we do and a website? It’s conversation. Students prefer the personal touch.”

As well as a number of speakers from across the education technology profession, the conference had a selection of carefully chosen exhibitors that were present to talk to delegates about their targeted tech offerings, and to discuss how their expertise could be used in an education environment. Exhibitors included the EdTech Podcast, Zengenti, iVent, guidebook – the creators of the event’s bespoke app, and MeeToo, who built the in-app live poll capability.

Digital transformation is at the heart of progress for both the education and tech sectors, and universities are engaged in a race to keep up with the ever-changing face of education and student recruitment. Students expect more and more from the university experience as time goes on, and providing decent Wi-Fi in halls is no longer enough. From virtual open days, to extensive online resources, the digital offering in education is having to grow fast, and conferences such as this one are becoming ever more prevalent.

"From a sponsor perspective, the event was a success from the range of delegates attending to the other speakers involved who covered a broad range of relevant topics. It is good to see someone taking ownership of the need for universities to embrace going digital and iVent have had a number of enquiries about our virtual open days as a direct result of showcasing our platform at the event." - Gavin Newman, Director, iVent 

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