The recent EduGrowth Summit provided the forum for a strategic discussion as higher education and VET providers grapple with changing demands from learners and employers driven by rapid technological change.
There were a number of thought-provoking discussions during the Summit, including the keynote from Prof. Pascale Quester, Vice Chancellor at Swinburne University of Technology. In it she laid out the reform path she is leading the university on and how it is changing the university to meet those demands from learners and employers.
Swinburne University’s reforms involve putting the student at the centre of the university’s thinking and actions – and Quester went on to give a blunt assessment that “some academics want to teach how they learned”. Her stated preference is instead that academics should take on the role of coaches rather than lecturers.
She also explained the importance of Swinburne’s Online Program Management (OPM) partnership with SEEK’s Online Education Services through Swinburne Online and discussed the learner cohorts they are specifically engaging through this partnership.
Kate Pounder from the Tech Council of Australia and Patrick Kidd from the Digital Skills Organisation explained the magnitude of Australia’s digital skills shortage, as well as the upskilling and reskilling opportunities both higher education and VET providers are responding to. Specifically, the Tech Council forecasts that Australia will need to employ an additional 653,000 tech workers by the end of the decade, which represents an increase of 186,000 qualified workers over “business-as-usual”.
Technology is not just changing the world of work and the skills learners need, it is also changing educational institutions. Elisa Newall, Edified, warned that student communications are another area being disrupted. Currently 100 per cent of Australian universities email their students, 50 per cent use live chat and only 20 per cent use live messaging (eg We Chat). She contrasted that with the US where universities make much greater use of chat groups eg Whatsapp and Discord, as well as the growing use of student ambassador platforms (which allow current students to engage with and answer questions from prospective students). Her message was clear: “don’t try and engage your students with the tools you like to use, engage with them via the tools they’re using.”
The Summit also showcased examples of how EdTech is changing teaching and learning. Wendy Palmer, from Deakin University’s “Global Studio”, is working with academics to redesign courses to meet the needs of learners and employers including in new markets offshore. The Global Studio is trying to support systemic change by helping academics across the university rethink their courses and offerings to students. Ellen Sullivan, Director of Learning Innovation Lab at Melbourne Business School described their engagement with Swedish EdTech firm, Sana Labs, to help redesign their courses as the University of Melbourne explicitly recognises that the future of higher education will not always involve full degrees, especially at postgraduate level.
There were fewer presentations at the Summit from VET providers although Tamara Kearsley from Holmesglen Institute explained their use of virtual reality for offshore delivery in nursing, and Holmesglen is also making use of EdTech in construction training (as a partner with Monash University as they look to address the education challenges arising from the application of Industry 4.0 technology changes in the construction industry). I was also pleased to interview Robin Shreeve as part of the Summit, who shared his insights and expertise on how VET is changing in its use of EdTech.
Finally, it was notable that the Summit’s discussions were where the UK, Europe and the US EdTech sectors were a few years ago. There is now a different conversation underway, certainly in Europe, which sees governments engaging with the EdTech sector to work cooperatively on regulations to safeguard student data privacy and ensure the claims made by the EdTech sector about improving educational performance can be verified. Undoubtedly it will not be too long before those discussions commence in Australia.
Claire Field is a PhD candidate at RMIT University and the Managing Director of Claire Field and Associates. She was an invited presenter at the 2022 EduGrowth Summit.