Reflections on EduTechAU 2023 Day 2

The second day of the EduTechAU 2023 conference was just as full on as day 1 (reflections here), however I was able to have a number of great conversations outside of the formal sessions I attended.

TLDR; Top of Mind

Due to a combination of sessions on offer, clashes with concurrently running sessions and just a desire to network and connect with partners and schools present, I did not attend as many formal sessions in day 2. Compared to the last EduTechAU I attended (2014!) the exhibitors hall was significantly larger and it was very evident the cost/effort the exhibitors had gone to in terms of creating engaging activities on their stands. If I was still working in a school, this would be a great event to attend in terms of engaging directly with partners who were displaying their solutions.

My advice, as always, is be targeted: know what you want to see/learn and be focused on going to those stands and exhibitors. It’s easy to wander aimlessly (and at times this can be helpful) but generally to get the most out of a conference like this having a planned focus on what you want to learn from exhibitors is a very helpful tactic.

The Impact Of AI In ANZ – Education & Beyond (Microsoft CTO Lee Hicken & Education Industry Exec Travis Smith)

I had heard that Travis Smith’s session on AI in Education was excellent on Day 1 and I assumed this was a repeat, however it ended up being an open Q&A. What interested me was the very clear statements from Lee Hicken around Microsoft’s commercial ambitions in AI. Perhaps unsurprisingly, his message reflected the profit driven realities of a company like Microsoft and a summary of his message could be:

Microsoft see the commercial opportunities in AI, so we are building out the infrastructure and compute to support this, the services that will run on top of this, but we know no one will use AI if they don’t trust AI. So we are working to also build out the “Responsible AI Framework” and are actively working with Governments in the region to help them form their policies on how to regulate AI and build safe guardrails for it’s use.

Lee Hicken, Microsoft ANZ CTO

Interestingly, Lee is leaving the sales org of Microsoft and joining the CELA team (legal) as the AI Advocacy Lead for Asia, effectively working with / lobbying Governments to shape their AI policies – watch this space!

It was also interesting to hear the language used around ‘mitigating’ the impact/biases of AI – it’s not solely about remediation, but instead recognising that bad inputs can lead to bad outputs with generative AI and what can be done to mitigate this.

I did throw them a question which they acknowledged was a tricky one but Lee did a good job attempting to answer it. The question was essentially along the lines of:

Given everything we heard in Day 1 at EduTechAU around the need to manage PII and privacy/security through the use of AI, and given that Microsoft’s services are GDPR compliant, could a teacher or student effectively ask ChatGPT to tell them everything it knows about them as an individual and then ask ChatGPT to be forgotten?”

Sam McNeill – Cyclone Computers

The “right to be forgotten” is a core part of the privacy regulations built into GDPR so I was interest in how generative AI would handle this. After a bit of umming and ahhing from Lee and Travis I did get a reasonable answer to this along the lines of:

  • ChatGPT is GDPR Compliant
  • It’s not like it’s a database that has an entry of all knowledge on an individual – it’s building the answer on the fly, and so if you’re asking it to delete records, it’s not really a single entry that could easily be deleted.
  • A legal dispute between Italy and Microsoft resulted in an option to have the interaction with ChatGPT to be forgotten
    • I did ask if this was available in ANZ or just Italy, and they confirmed it was So I went looking for this and found the following deep in the settings of ChatGPT:

It’s worth noting that the above is per user and per device – so this setting would need to be turned on/off on every device a teacher/student uses and can’t be set at an organisational level. Given the potential risks around PII being shared overtly or inadvertently, this seems like a suboptimal setting for education users. It would be great to see Microsoft running some sessions on this setting and providing guidelines to educators.

I had a further chat with Travis Smith about this later in the day and his suggestion schools need to consider this ‘risk’ around PII and either accept it and move on, or pay for their own Azure hosted instance of OpenAI generative AI. The reality is, most schools will not be able to afford a consumption based pricing model for their own protected environment so I will watch with interest the way schools and Districts tackle this challenge.

Launch of $1.7m Classroom For Hybrid Teaching & Learning – Dr David Kellerman

This was a session I was very much anticipating as I’ve seen Kellerman in action a few times and he is one of the few educators I would genuinely describe as visionary. He walked through a brief history of teaching in Universities through the following model (apologies for poor image quality):

Dr Kellerman was very clear – student engagement in higher education is the biggest issue facing the industry: lecture theatres are empty, flipped learning didn’t work because the majority of students were not completing the pre-read material and coming prepared to discuss and based off student surveys, 80% are saying they want an ‘on campus experience’. They prefer live sessions which they can interact with and ask questions, not endless watching of pre-recorded content.

Interestingly, it was pointed out that the recording of lectures was originally for accessibility purposes – to help those that could not physically get to a campus due to a mobility impairment. However, once the general student population realised they did not need to physically attend anymore, attendance dropped to 30% almost immediately.

With this in mind, Dr Kellerman and the UNSW set out to build an ambitious pilot concept of what a true hybrid learning environment could look like. I loved that he set a challenging bar for what success looks like in his vision of hybrid learning:

Online and on-campus students mutually enriching each other’s learning experience

Dr David Kellerman

In other words, it was not sufficient for the online users to simply be passive observers of a lesson being live streamed – they must be active participants. To that end, this was their goal:

I don’t know Dr Kellerman well, but the couple of interactions I’ve had with him he is very personable and this seems to be proven by how his new class works – it’s required that every student must attend the very first lesson in person. This is followed by a BBQ and then a trip to the pub – it’s about building human connection from the outset.

After that, it’s optional to attend in person or online and a booking system built using the UNSW existing Microsoft Power Platform was used and students must register if they’re going to attend in person. During the hybrid lessons, real experiments are conducted and the data measurements are outputted in real time to the online users who get the same data sets as those in class, delivered via Microsoft Teams.

The Digital Teaching Studio seats only 45 in person students, but it’s a great looking environment and has a coffee machine at the back – it’s to encourage students to attend in person:

Plans are underway to offer an augmented experience too:

This pilot was designed to deliver better outcomes for the five key stakeholders Dr Kellerman identified:

  1. The University
  2. The Professor
  3. The in-class student
  4. The online synchronous student
  5. The asynchronous student

It was certainly an impressive presentation and showed the ambition at the heart of what UNSW is trying to do. It was also ambitious to race through all of this in 20mins so I’d love to sit down and learn more of this and see how scalable this would be to other institutions.

Projects & Internships For Student Employability – Tom Worthington (ANU)

This was an interesting session and actually had echos of a session I attended at ANU back in 2015 which talked about real world projects being run by cross-degree students to give them workplace readiness ahead of graduation.

The focus of Tom’s session was sharing the TechLauncher program – a group computing project where students completed work for a real client. He had a great expression for this:

It forces students to do what they need to do the day after they graduate (in a workplace), but a year before they graduate!

Tom Worthington

This is part of their degree course and is not considered an extra-curricular option – they are graded on it. ANU academics work alongside industry experts to make the project relevant and useful so that the assessment ends up being authentic. The projects are 12 months long.

I remember being on a call with the Minister of Education for Indonesia when he talked about the challenges of fast tracking 3million undergraduates each year into the workforce. His focus was rapidly shifting to workplace readiness during the degree, through similar projects to what Tom was talking about.

I expect to see more universities adopting this approach.

Apple Education Experience – What’s New (led by Apple Learning Coaches)

This one hour session saw us revolve around 6 different stations to explore cool functionality in the Apple ecosystem

  1. Intro to the Mac (honestly, 8mins was just too short to do justice to this topic)
  2. Accessibility on an iPad – I learnt quite a lot on how to customise the command centre which was cool.
  3. Using an Apple Pencil and Notes to annotate on a digital copy of a student’s work
  4. Augmented Reality apps on an iPad – some basic AR building outside with 1st and 3rd party Apple apps
  5. Coding with Swift Playgrounds – a basic WYSIWYG app for building out apps on an iPad
  6. Wellbeing in Apple – some tips and tricks on learning how to use customised focus times on an iPad to support your wellbeing as a teacher.

The sessions were slick, ran to time and shared some new info that I did not know about Apple solutions.

Reimagining The Teacher Role With Connect Schools & AI – Meredith Rowe & Aidan McCarthy from PWC

I was keen to get along to this session and see my two old mates from Microsoft presenting the amazing solution that is Connected Schools. Aidan and Meredith did a whistle-stop tour of what is available – hard to accomplish in only 20mins.

The essence of the solution is offering teachers a single portal view of everything they need in their school day: from teaching and learning (My Classroom), through to managing their administrative load (My Admin), followed by professional development (My Learning) and finishing with tools to look after their wellbeing (My Wellbeing).

This experience is all delivered via Microsoft Teams and powered by many of the best technologies Microsoft has to offer (D365, Viva Learn, PowerBI, and AI bots with nudges and timely recommendations).

It is intended to span the breadth of roles in schools from a student to a teacher, to a leader and the admin staff. It’s a big solution but intended to replace many individual offerings schools may be using today and deliver it through a single platform accessible on any device.

My view: it would be a big undertaking for an individual school to adopt this and it would likely work best for a collection of schools / district level to roll it out.

Interacting With Your School Board – What Your Board Needs From IT & How You Can Add Value – Dan Pearson Emmanuel College

I was looking forward to hearing this session led by Dan as I’d heard him present at other conferences previously and he was excellent. He’s been a busy lad subsequently, getting his MBA and just completed a Company Directors qualification. He shared this session because he said when he completed his ICT Degree he was given no training on how to interact with Boards and has had to learn this through experience.

Dan shared some excellent tips and one slide was helpful showing the top concerns of Board members right now. In order, here are the top four:

  1. Cyber Security (very unsurprising here)
  2. Legal and regulatory obligations
  3. Labour shortages
  4. Structural change

He also shared that Boards are starting to take a greater interest in organisational culture – something that has historically been beyond their remit from a governance perspective and seen has an operational concern. There were some high profile cases in Australia that have seen Boards get into trouble for ignoring company culture.

Understandably, Boards are also very interested in AI but don’t necessarily know a lot about it – this creates a chance for IT Managers to educate and provide guidance. Key questions Boards are asking about AI included:

  • How can we use AI to increase/improve our outcomes?
  • What are the risks attached to the use of AI?
  • What is our current AI footprint? How are students using it?
  • How is AI affecting our supply chain?

Dan finished his session with some very constructive guidance on how IT managers should be thinking about working effectively with their Board. They were:

  1. Education: Help with knowledge gaps the Board may have (they’re volunteers, not necessarily IT experts)
  2. Transparency: The Board needs to understand both risks and opportunities – share openly with them
  3. Information: Timely and concise sharing of requested information to the Board help builds trust
  4. Understanding: The Board has a duty to ask the hard questions – embrace this and work with them
  5. Partnership: You’re on the same team – in the end the Board and the ICT Manager should be aligned with the vision and execution of ICT services in the school.

A great session from Dan!

Cases In Workforce Skilling Partners: Universities & Industry Via Microcredentials – Anitra Nottingham RMIT University

I was very interested to attend this session as Microcredentials has long been held out as one of the key answers to rapidly addressing the skilling gap in industry.

RMIT Online has created a number of ‘off the shelf’ and bespoke Microcredentials to assist industry with reskilling of employees. Anitra was very clear that universities can not sit on the sidelines when it comes to reskilling – currently universities graduate only 3% of the demand for top ten skills in industry that will be needed by 2030.

A mind blowing stat was shared that large businesses in Australia would need to spend upwards of $924m on digital skills training to close the gap and get up to speed across their workforces. However for this to work, there needs to be high levels of trust from workplaces that the upskilling of employees has tangible value. To gain this trust, Microcredentials must demonstrate:

  • Skills must be quickly demonstrated in the workplace
  • Skills must be externally validated (by the Uni for example)
  • Digital Badges that can follow an employee and show they’re qualified

At their core, Microcredentials are skills you’ve had externally assessed because they’re deemed as “high stakes” to the employer. Consequently, testing on actual workplace products/tools is desirable and even if the worker has the skills, they need to be externally validated by an organisation as evidence of competency.

Anitra stressed that the final assessment after a 6-8 week course on a Microcredential must be as close to the workplace task required to make it immediately relevant and applicable. This drives a learning behaviour of moving beyond consuming content and rather engaging with it directly.

Through RMIT Online, all students have an industry mentor they can get support from through 1:1 sessions and weekly webinars, combined with a Slack channel for mutual learner support. I was keen to learn how the assessment was shaped and fortunately this was covered in some detail:

  • Flexible assessment strategies allows learners to bring their own project from work to the training or choose an ‘off the shelf’ project to engage with
  • Assessment must be as close to ‘real world workplace’ as possible
  • Thinking about the assessment is the start of the microcredential and then work backwards to design the learning task
  • A focus on not wasting the workplace context – use it for a richer and more authentic learning experience
  • Utliise workmates during the training who can support learning and the assessment – just as you would rely on help from workers in the workplace

The session did close out with three case studies, one with Telstra in Australia, one with a customer wanting to reskill their workforce on building Software Defined Networks (SDN) and lastly one with New Zealand’s Waka Kotahi (Transport Agency) around skilling staff in storytelling and communication.

Some impressive stats were shared from the Waka Kotahi case study: 73% of learners felt confident to apply the skills learnt in the microcredential, and 64% of them applied it in the first month after gaining the qualification. Three reasons were shared why this was effective:

  • High degree of relevance to the the learner’s workplace requirements
  • Personal Motivation – asking people what they want/need to learn to be successful in their role
  • Additional Support – nudging via email, learners being asked/required to reflect on their learning journey throughout their course.

Final Thoughts

I did end up missing a number of sessions due to clashes or opportunities to have extended conversations with partners/vendors/educators I came across at the conference. Ultimately, the networking that takes place at conferences like this is hugely valuable and so I was comfortable missing some sessions to get those conversations in.

Not having been to EduTechAU for 8yrs this was a welcome return. I loved not ‘working’ there from a vendor perspective and has allowed me to plug into the ANZ educational zeitgeist effectively by attending so many of the sessions on offer.

I am always keen to discuss what I've written and hear your ideas so leave a reply here...

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