In the latest instalment of My Job in Higher Ed, our conversation with Sophie Bailey, founder of the EdTech Podcast, delves into the significant role the podcast has in connecting education professionals, and how the fourth industrial revolution will affect the future of higher education. Sophie also explains how she believes Soft Skills or “21st Century Skills” coupled with continual learning will be a big focus for universities.
Sophie Bailey has a background in media as well as in education. She is inspired by the prospect of connecting people on a global scale.
What inspired you to start the EdTech Podcast?
I was already delivering content around the EdTech sector in my previous role. Whilst I was on maternity leave, I was listening to various podcasts to do with EdTech and education to keep up to date with the sector. One of these was the EdSurge Podcast. And I’ve since interviewed and met the CEO there so that was very instrumental in inspiring me to get involved in podcasting.
I saw there was the opportunity to do something that is more global. Not just focusing on deal flow in Silicon Valley or educational policy in the UK, but what was happening in terms of how education, teaching and learning was changing globally. Also, I saw a podcast as a medium to bring together a lot of different perspectives. A bit like this blog segment - one week could be a vice-chancellor, the next week it could be a startup. Enabling people to reach out and connect through this platform was exciting.
What was your background before the EdTech Podcast?
I can go way back to when I graduated with an English literature degree. The world is your oyster when you do a degree like that! As one of the modules of my course I focused on satire, as I was really interested in this. So I actually went into TV production and we produced some amazing satire out of the UK.
After working 9 months in TV production, I realised you have to gamble 10 years of your salary to potentially get somewhere. And it wasn’t really stretching me intellectually at the time. So I moved on and started working in book production for a bit. I was at an independent book publisher. This was all pre-kindle and ebooks, so when someone mentioned the idea of a “blog” to the head publisher he nearly spat his tea out! Again that was a bit dry, so I realised I wanted something in the middle.
I then ended up joining a business-to-business publisher - an information services company who ran the mobile world congress. I worked there analysing research and data, and putting together events in the telecom sector. So that was already looking at technology and the different sectors would come together, whether that’s smart cities or digital healthcare or any of these different areas.
10 years later, I was working as the head of content at one of the larger educational technology shows. So that essentially meant researching and understanding the needs of the different groups within education, whether that’s higher education, early years, vocational etc.
So I built enough experience in media as well as in education so that the podcast was a natural fit.
What are the most challenging and most rewarding parts of hosting the EdTech Podcast?
The most rewarding part is absolutely speaking with and meeting amazing people who are doing really interesting things. I’ve had the honour recently of working with three sixth form students locally. They were studying with me on how to run a podcast, as a part of their work experience. From that to hearing a researcher in the US talk about how they’re trying to measure and track individual input in a group scenario. When you see teamwork as a 21st century skill, the question becomes how do you quantify this skill for an individual? So things like that are just super interesting.
The challenging part of the podcast is, a lot of the work is quite solitary. Which is great on some days, but on other days you find yourself replaying a particular segment over and over again and it seems to take forever to edit. What makes it worthwhile though is a lot of the times I meet people when I’m out and about or at events and they say to me, ‘thank you so much for putting this together. I found this episode super valuable’. That to me is very fulfilling.
In our previous “My Job in Higher Education” segment, Gaute Rasmussen of the University of Newcastle spoke a lot about how VR can be used to augment the teaching experience. What’s your view on VR and AI and how it affects education moving forward?
I think where it has the most value is in simulated learning. For example, I interviewed a lady from Texas Tech University, and they were using simulation to do dissection or learning to be a surgeon.
If you imagine practicing a surgery on a body, it doesn’t respond in the way a live body would. But you wouldn’t just NOT do that. There’s a lot to be gained from that experience. But there is a cost to that - it’s very difficult to have these bodies supplied and released. So perhaps what you do is you have that but you supplement it with enhanced simulation, where the body can in fact respond in different ways or you can set up scenarios to assess for example, how the student responds when something goes slightly wrong. It’s a much more immersive experience with VR, and I think the value is in the additional immersive experience which gets you prepared for tackling such situations in the real world.
I think some of the AR content around science is also very interesting. VR is also very interesting in these instances but I think it sometimes isn’t as scalable when you consider cost of resources (headsets etc). I feel in terms of scalability, AR is slightly more interesting. When we skip to the part about 21st century skills and so forth, we’re often told that empathy is going to be a huge one. So I like some of the stuff by VR and AI focused on this area. I know some institutions in the States have classes where students put on headsets and go through the motions of what it’s like to be homeless, for example. There’s also a Scandinavian company who do a lot around empathy on what it’s like to be a refugee, which really challenges your perceptions when you’re immersed in simulation like that.
We’ve heard your podcast about higher education and the 4th industrial education. Can you explain what is the 4th industrial revolution and what is higher education doing to adapt to it?
The digital revolution was considered the third industrial revolution. This stemmed the 80’s and was all to do with computing. The fourth industrial revolution is about implementing technologies in a way that’s quite fundamentally going to change the fabric of our society. When we think about artificial intelligence for example, that has implications on our place as employees, as citizens and as learners. Essentially if you graduate with a degree in mechanical engineering, and you need to design and build a type of motorbike that fits a particular brief, a team of engineers can come up with that over a year or so. If you can have an AI robot understand and implement this brief and churn out the most optimal designs, and possibly even build that, what does that mean for us as learners?
Part of the podcast is to encourage this joy of learning. Is there a necessity in the fourth industrial revolution to decouple and apply that back to work? This has always something that higher education has defended in a way - it’s not always about work, but about the joy of learning as human beings. AI and Blockchain are becoming ways to make our supply chains and banking systems more efficient. Right down to genetics and some bio-engineering stuff, the question becomes to what point do we remain humans in the way we understand the world and learning experience now?
Technologies can now be applied across all different sectors and that will potentially change how society is run. Obviously that will differ hugely on different parts of the world. These technologies will have an impact on higher education.
"Technologies can now be applied across all different sectors and that will potentially change how society is run. These events will have an impact on higher education."
In your opinion, what are the biggest trends that we can expect in higher education in the next 10 years, in terms of student expectations and the way learning is delivered?
No one really knows is the main point!
I’ve made some notes on previous research which says there could be a couple of different scenarios.
The King in the castle - you might go to university and graduate with a fantastic degree, and then go and work for the consolidated big tech company in that time. This suggests that you could go to Harvard and Imperial, and after graduation get snapped up straight away.
The second scenario is the task based economy which suggests these jobs will become less and less. However, reports say there will even be more jobs due to artificial intelligence.
Consider a doctor, which is a very prestigious and traditional profession. With artificial intelligence now, you could possibly assess a particular condition to a higher degree of certainty and accuracy than a human can. That’s not to say you won’t need the doctor to infer to the patient what the implications are. But some of the safer jobs that the university system has produced (lawyers, doctors etc.) are certainly going to change with the artificial intelligence taking shape in many of these industries.
I think that in higher education, all scenarios point to this idea of continuous up-skilling. Whereas university used to be a place where you go, do your degree and set off on your working life, I think the role of university (and other suppliers) will be providing continual learning.
In terms of student expectations, some research suggests that courses will be delivered online first. Online courses are considered to be more convenient and research suggest they could get more expensive. So the business models around this are changing as well.
With these factors in mind, there’s a place for higher education to focus a lot of it’s teaching on soft skills. Those traditional professions are not going anywhere anytime soon. But our creativity, our compassion and our collaboration is what needs to be nurtured. And employers have said for a long time that the ability to not be spoon-fed is lacking somehow. So I see a lot more teaching around “21st century skills”: how to measure and assess these skills.