Have you been following all the coverage about the fourth industrial revolution – Industry 4.0, as it’s sometimes called? Big data, artificial intelligence and robotics will fundamentally change the way products are designed and built and how services are provided. They are already changing how we live and communicate.
Although it is difficult to accurately predict the future, it is clear that jobs in 2030 will be very different from the jobs of today. The technological changes in the workplace mean that education will have to change too, to take advantage of the possibilities of technology for education and to provide a workforce capable of exploiting rapidly evolving technologies.
Graduates will need good digital skills and strong digital capabilities and they’ll also need well-developed critical thinking, creativity and problem-solving abilities so they can adapt and make sense of their changing world. Moreover, students expect an education experience that reflects the way they live, communicate and learn – that is, driven and enhanced by digital tech.
We’re calling the education revolution that’s needed to deliver this change Education 4.0. We’re keen for the UK’s universities and colleges to take the opportunity to lead the way and we want to work with them to co-create technological solutions so they can deliver a fulfilling and effective university experience for every student.
So, what might Education 4.0 look like? Already, some universities are working on innovative approaches that suggest some answers.
Rethinking staff and student roles
One important theme in Education 4.0 is the need to rethink how teachers best support their students’ learning, making the most of uniquely human online or face-to-face interactions, and allowing technology to support where it can. The way in which the digital and physical campuses blend and interact will also be key. We’re already seeing a couple of large-scale moves in this direction, aiming to support students to become highly engaged, independent learners.
SCALE-UP is an approach to active learning in which groups of nine students work together around a circular table, using shared laptops (in groups of three) to solve problems and address questions, and then share their conclusions with other groups through the technology. Teachers are always present, moving around the room to observe progress, pose questions, offer guidance and intervene when groups or individuals hit difficulties.
This combination of pedagogy and space seems to be very powerful and gets results: the approach has been shown in a number of evaluations, including NTU’s own, to lead to improved student learning outcomes, including improved conceptual understanding and better problem-solving, as well as improved student satisfaction and lower failure rates.
The University of Northampton is also transforming learning spaces to create learning environments that support its own brand of active blended learning. Northampton’s approach is to expose students to a rich blend of learning experiences, including face-to-face teaching, online learning and active student engagement with course content. As Professor Ale Armellini explains:
“What matters most is what learners do with content to achieve outcomes. Sense-making is key. Content is not king – context is.”
Excellent space design and quality teaching are both crucial elements in the mix. At Northampton, traditional-style lecture theatres are consigned to the past. Prof Armellini says this change has been well received and, while it hasn’t been a cheap option, it is proving effective. Using smaller, interactive teaching spaces with flexible layouts, and equipped with technology that enables students and staff to connect to screens wirelessly for collaboration, is delivering high levels of student participation.
Inevitably, new methods like these call for fresh thinking and the university is working with teaching staff to make sure they are equipped to work differently. They’re being supported to identify gaps in their knowledge and skills and to brush up where necessary, enabling them to make creative use of digital resources and tools and to hand routine administrative and assessment tasks over to the technology. The result is more (and higher quality) contact time for students.
Education 4.0 offers both students and staff the chance to have more meaningful face-to-face contact; technology really can enhance the learning experience and support what students are calling for in their education.
Students at Northampton are generally responding very positively, when they understand the reasons for change. Perhaps surprisingly, quite a number are traditionalists who expect to sit in lecture halls, but they engage well with active learning when communication is effective, the learning pathways are clearly defined and their activities have a well-designed and articulated purpose.
Students as creators and communicators of knowledge
The University of Edinburgh is giving its students opportunities to play a part on the world stage. The university has a mission to lead Scotland’s development of a digitally literate workforce and it has formed a mutually beneficial partnership with Wikimedia as part of its strategy.
In place of essays that may be read a couple of times and then forgotten, students studying many different subjects are taking part in ‘editathons’, creating new Wikipedia entries to disseminate knowledge widely.
They’re learning digital skills, engaging with the Wikimedia community and discovering how to write for a public audience. The thought of creating outputs that could have real impact and longevity encourages students to think carefully about what they produce and to take pride in it.
For the university and for Wikimedia, this project has potential to further their respective public missions. For example, gender equality is important to both organisations, but Wikipedia’s editors are predominantly male and less than 20% of its published biographies are about women.
Both Wikimedia and the university are keen to address this and, at a specially themed ‘women in science’ editathon, a large cohort of predominantly female students created new biographies of notable women. This is a great example of the way in which universities can engage with the role of digital technology in society and develop their civic mission as we move into the era of education 4.0.
Student wellbeing is another important area to consider under Education 4.0. At the University of Oxford, Professor Helen Christian has found a cost-effective, easy-to-implement way to reduce stress while helping students achieve more.
Students in medical sciences and biomedical sciences are taking part in live Q&A sessions using their mobile phones and polling software. Lectures in these subject areas often involve a large number of students but this technique enables lecturers to pose questions and receive answers in real time so the lesson can be adapted if there’s a concept that people haven’t grasped.
Students can also ask their own questions anonymously, without embarrassment, and the full list of questions and the answers is saved automatically so that students have a resource to call on when they revise later. Prof Christian points out that real-time polling identifies problem areas of the curriculum before assessments rather than after, and this helps to reduce exam stress and burnout, ultimately boosting student success.
Find out more
These case studies give a snapshot of how some institutions are reshaping aspects of education to make the most of technology, so that human interaction and effort can be applied where it has most impact.
You can read more about how all these institutions are rising to these challenges and there’s more about our CEO's thoughts in his blog post on Education 4.0. In addition, Jisc's futurist, Martin Hamilton, has presented to the education select committee's inquiry on Industry 4.0.
We’d love to hear views from our members and to have an opportunity to collaborate with them on developing new solutions. Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.