News

Passion for edtech

Published: 7. April 2016

ICT-Norway has put better learning through digital tools on top of the agenda for many years. Oslo Edtech Cluster caught up with managing director Heidi Austlid, who is passionate about edtech.

EdTech presenterer etc etc

 

By Ingrid Somdal-Åmodt Vinje

Oslo Edtech:
What are the biggest challenges Norwegian edtech companies face today?

Austlid:
We have an immature education sector, the school is based too much on tradition, and too little on innovation. Teachers don’t feel confident with digital tools. There is nothing wrong with the use of traditional schoolbooks, but we need to expand the teachers´ knowledge of educational technology when choosing different digital tools. The learning itself should be at the core. We have turned digital learning tools into a question of technology. A lot of people have had a blind faith in technology as a miracle worker for learning, but that’s not it. The magic can happen when we start focusing on the outcome of tools, fill the technology with quality content and provide it with competent teachers.

Oslo Edtech:
Now you are referring to a subject a lot of people fear – the technology being the supplier of terms. People worry that educational technology lacks a solid grounding in the pedagogy. Are you worried about this?

Austlid:
I don’t think we can blame the edtech companies. I rather think that for several years we have just bought technology without having a pedagogical thought regarding why. I talk with a lot of principals; among them the principal at Teglverket School. All the kids are given tablets, and no schoolbooks. In the Norwegian school system, it is expected that the first graders knows all the letters by Easter. At Teglverket they use digital tools for the letter adaption, and guess what? All the students managed to learn the letters before autumn break, and then they learned how to read. The principal says: “I don’t do this because I believe that the iPad works miracles, I do it because I want to choose the most fitting tools to make sure my students learn more.” It is all about the way we choose to use the technology, and how the digital content can serve as a replacement for the traditional schoolbook. But we have to make sure that the schools´ mandate is learning, so we need to talk about what kind of wrapping the learning will come in.

Oslo Edtech:
What can we do to strengthen the teachers’ digital literacy?

Austlid:
We have a Minister of Education and Research that needs to take charge of how the future education sector should look, and what kind of literacies we need among teachers to make that happen. We need to get a solid further and postgraduate education in place, which we lack today.

I also think that the order- and purchasing competency has it shortcomings. In secondary education you get roughly 2000 NOK per student to buy learning aids, and 400 NOK goes straight to NDLA (the National Digital Learning Arena, established to provide open educational resources for secondary education). Then the politicians and municipalities get to say ‘all right, now we’ve used 400 NOK on digital learning tools, good job!’ – while the suppliers of educational tools doesn’t get their piece of the pie. The remaining 1600 NOK is spent on printed books. ICT-Norway as a digital organization wants a higher share of those 2000 NOK to be spent on digital learning tools.

Fundamentally, I believe that the government should not develop in competition with the market, as we can see happening in digital learning, including NDLA. That is why ICT-Norway have suggested that we should consider the Danish model, where you have a fund that repays 50% of your expenses if you choose to buy digital tools; I think that is important for the stimulation of buyer willingness. And we need an arena to show off the broad range of quality and content in some kind of marketplace, or showcase.

Oslo Edtech:
Do you think of a digital one? We have the Norwegian pavilion at BETT, but that only lasts a few days, making it hard to get a proper overview.

Austlid:
Yes, we need to work more strategically towards the Norwegian education institutions and market and show off the variety, at the same time as we stimulate the purchasing of digital tools. We are talking about genuine and serious actors that consist of pedagogues, teachers and programmers wishing to approach learning in a new way. And a lot of them have made great success outside of Norway, but not in their home market.

Oslo Edtech:
Can you tell us a bit more about the export potential?

Austlid:
The Norwegian market is small; you neither get rich nor fat by only working towards the Norwegian market, so my best advise is to have a global approach from day one. We see that a big number of the successful companies had this approach. Norway have already accomplished to get a good reputation when it comes to edtech, and Fronter and It’s Learning should get a lot of credit for putting Norwegian edtech on the agenda about 15-20 years ago.

Now we have a lot of rock stars that delivers world-class digital tools. We should continue to support that; the potential for export is huge. I am convinced that Norwegian solutions for educational technology can contribute to the revolution of learning all over the world. Some of the companies have big market shares in a lot of different countries, and the growth will continue. Norwegian edtech has a seal of approval – we have a solid brand and a smoothly functioning welfare system.

In addition, we have achieved something amazing here in Norway: the different actors and companies in the edtech ecosystem help each other out. The competition is there, all right, but it is also important to assist and encourage each other. When one company achieves success, they make sure to let that success benefit other Norwegian actors. Kahoot! is a good example on a company doing very well right now. When they are at South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas, they make sure to bring the other companies to attention. That journey started last year, and this year several more companies made the trip to Austin. Kahoot! takes the role as a locomotive.

We also see that this collaboration between the actors are increasing; they approach different markets together, instead of trying to approach each market alone, which can be too big of a challenge for most of them.

Oslo Edtech:
We get a lot of international acknowledgment, is there any companies in particular you think we should draw attention to in 2016?

Austlid:
There is so much exciting things going on these days. I find it especially interesting to follow the publishing- and media industry and watch how they are approaching the field of teaching and learning. They are becoming digital houses, suppliers of digital services and not just suppliers of papers. That is indeed an exciting transformation. And I find the way small players taking different parts and roles of the supply chain fascinating as well.

We can see examples of this in the Fintech space as well, where you don’t have one complete supplier anymore. The banks have lost their hegemony in delivering banking tools; different actors are rising and claiming different parts of the supply chain. We also see that with edtech, where we have someone that delivers amazing tools for organizing the school day, others create great devices targeting school-home communication, and others delivering learning analytics tools. Together they create complete tools for learning.

Oslo Edtech:
Norwegian edtech companies covers a broad range of different technologies, among them are game based learning, learning analytics, learning management systems and simulation. Do you find any of these technologies particularly exciting?

Austlid:
I find learning analytics really exciting because it has potential to create value for each and every student, in addition to releasing time for the teachers. When the teachers have more time, they will be able to adapt the teaching to a higher extent. The Education Act demands customized training for each student, but this is impossible to implement in a classroom with 30 students and only one teacher. With learning analytics, we actually get the possibility to make that happen.

Putting gaming into learning really fascinates me as well – just imagine the enormous motivation it creates. An example is Numbers, created by WeWantToKnow, enabling the smallest children to calculate. Imagine that my five year old has managed to understand calculation already. She doesn’t know that she is doing it, but she is learning as she finds it motivating.

But it´s OK to think that some of the digital learning tools look like books, while others doesn’t at all. It is the content and how we wrap it that matters.

Oslo Edtech:
You say that game based learning makes the learning process funnier, which could scare some of us. Are we not used to look at learning as a source of fun?

Austlid:
You’re onto something essential. I believe it is about what kind of attitude we have towards learning, that it should be something really serious. Well, it can be both serious and fun, something we have not related to earlier. The edtech industry needs to work on this; we need to show that edtech is serious and that it enables more students to succeed with their growth and learning.

Oslo Edtech:
Can you describe your ideal school?

Austlid:
My ideal school is able to create motivation for learning for all students, every day. Research shows that kids enrolling schools are highly motivated for learning, but then something happens between the fourth and fifth school year. Their motivation collapses, and they strive to get it back.

We are not focused on the students when we construct teaching, and we tend to forget that learning should be adapted to every student’s needs and level. Digital learning tools, have great benefits when it comes to make this possible. Edtech can provide learning regardless of time and space.

I also believe that this can contribute to decrease the drop out rate in schools, one of the biggest challenges we see nowadays. I visited Nordland county a while ago, and was told that the High School drop-out rate is 40 percent. That is incredibly high. Is it the youth’s fault? The answer is no, it is due to the way we design the school system. I’m thinking that the most difficult task we have in front of us is to design the school of the future. We are going to educate for professions we don’t have any idea will exist or how they will develop. So we need to teach our kids based on 21st century skills, a mindset the Norwegian school haven’t put up with yet.

Oslo Edtech:
Is edtech reserved for students in school?

Austlid:
Not at all. We need to be careful with regarding edtech as something just intended for the classroom, because learning is something that take place through our whole life. It is just as applicable in the work life, and in the changeover Norway is a part of these days, edtech will have a key position.

Oslo Edtech:
Do you think that we in some years will be talking about Norwegian edtech in the same way we speak of Italian wine and German cars? That it will have a similar seal of quality?

Austlid:
Yes! The potential in the Norwegian edtech industry is huge, and we are best at collaboration. That makes endless possibilities; we already see that our products have a seal of quality.