BETTing on the future

I'm flying out next month to a place I always wanted to visit - Abu Dhabi. Having already presented at the BETT Show in London's Excel earlier this year, I'm honoured to also be invited to keynote the BETT Middle East Show. Ahead of this presentation, the BETT Middle East team asked me for an interview about the future of education which I have reproduced here:

What are you responsible for day to day at Plymouth University?
I am curriculum lead for two subjects - computing and science - on all of the initial teacher education programmes at Plymouth. I lead a team of academics who are engaged in developing the next generation of teachers. I also chair the Faculty’s Digital Learning Futures group which is there to think about and develop new responses to the needs of education, including the integration of new and emerging technologies, and the development of new learning spaces.

Why did you choose the education sector?
I have been involved in education, across all 4 sectors (primary, secondary, tertiary and professional) because to educate is to prepare, and an educated population can meet the needs and demands of society more effectively. I’m biased of course, but I don’t believe there is a more noble profession, because doctors may save lives, but teachers make lives.

What do you think are the main challenges facing educators today in the Middle East?
One of the great challenges is the decline in the oil industry, which has enriched the Middle East in recent years. The currently oil rich countries now need to look to new and emerging industries that will replace fossil fuel economies, and that are more sustainable. The unrest due to insurgencies in parts of the middle east are a concern not just for the region but also for the entire global community. Education, whether face to face, or technology mediated, can play an important role in improving intercultural relationships and raising awareness of social responsibilities.

If you could change one thing for education leaders in the Middle East, what would it be?
I would provide educators with access to all of the world’s knowledge in their local language.

How can schools help their students succeed in today's fast-paced, highly competitive global economy?
When they leave school, today’s future workforce will need to be agile thinkers, flexible and creative in their approach, and tech-savvy. They will need to be digitally literate and effective self-promoters to be successful in the emerging economies of the future.

Who was your greatest teacher and why?
My American music and drama teacher, Larry Domingue was a liberal, approachable and very talented teacher. He turned a blind eye whenever I turned up at the back of his lessons (and should have been elsewhere). I wasn’t allowed to study music, according the curriculum of the time, but his approach to education was to inspire rather than constrain. I successfully followed a career in music which included leading several bands, songwriting, and the running of my own independent record label in the 1980s as a result.

What are the best practice case studies you are aware of in using technology to enhance educational outcomes, either in the UK or the Middle East?
Involving students in the production as well as the consumption of knowledge is a radical shift in education and can be achieved through the use of the new social media and personal technologies. Students can now create, repurpose, share and remix content and more importantly, engage in dialogue with others beyond the walls of the classroom as a result. Some universities are now breaking with tradition away from standard didactic delivery to incorporate personal response technologies into the lectures. One of my PhD students is currently doing his research around the use of these tools in a Saudi university.

What does the future of technology in education look like and how long is it until we ‘get’ there?
Trying to predict the future, is like trying to catch up with a mirage in the desert. You can see something there, but it’s always moving away from you as time progresses. The best thing we can do is to watch the trends and anticipate what might be happening in the next 1-2 years. Any further down the timeline, and our predictions are often hopelessly wrong. The future of technology in education, from the recent trends, is an increase in personal technology, and a potential for wearable, smart technologies to be introduced widely.

How can student outcomes best be improved in the next decade?
By good pedagogy. All else is secondary and an extension of this.

What book are you currently reading?
I’m currently reading Andy Wier’s The Martian, which is a fiction book (recently a movie starring Matt Damon, but the book is better than the movie) about an astronaut stranded on Mars. Every page is replete with science, computing and mathematical solutions he comes up with to respond to life threatening, and seemingly intractable problems.

Which global visionary do you admire for their work on education?
I love the work of Sir Ken Robinson, whose ideas around creativity and school reform particularly resonate with me. I am friends with Sugata Mitra and Stephen Heppell, both of whom have offered a number of radical and at times controversial solutions to every day pedagogical problems.

Describe the biggest challenge you've ever had to face.
Trying to balance my professional life and personal life has always been a huge challenge. I have been quoted as saying ‘I live and work in the future, but I go home at weekends’. It’s partially true, but sometimes I have to bring work home with me!

What is the greatest achievement of your career?
Being voted as most inspirational teacher in the entire university by my peers and students has to come near the top of the list.

If you could do any job in the world, what would it be and why?
I am in the job I have always wanted. I’m a global educator with students everywhere. I will continue in this role until I retire.

Photo by Hisham Binsuwaif on Flickr

Creative Commons License
BETTing on the future by Steve Wheeler was written in Plymouth, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


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