Technology within education is great and ever-improving but the students must come first: UCEM’s Vice Principal – Online Education, Lynne Downey, responds to the Education Secretary

Posted on: 2018-08-08

Damian Hinds, the UK’s Education Secretary, yesterday challenged the tech industry to launch an ‘education revolution’ for schools, colleges and universities.

The MP is calling upon tech organisations to develop solutions which education providers can utilise to the benefit of students and improve the functionality of their organisations.

Technology within education is nothing new – after all, UCEM is the leading provider of supported online education for the Built Environment – so we asked our Vice Principal – Online Education, Lynne Downey, to sift through the Education Secretary’s press release and comment on it, as well as relate it to what UCEM is doing itself with incorporating the latest technology…

Lynne Downey

UCEM Vice Principal – Online Education, Lynne Downey

Technology is ever-evolving and it is being used more in education in a variety of creative ways. As such, technology firms work closely with schools, universities and colleges to assist with creating learning resources and designing software which improves administrative practices.

As an online institution, we are committed to finding the best software to complement our learning offering. We are already part of the ‘education revolution’ Damian Hinds refers to and are five years into this journey.

I would be wary of giving tech firms the go-ahead to lead on finding solutions for the education sector. The technology is already out there so I think it is more imperative that educational institutions consider how they may wish to incorporate such software to support their teaching resources.

Schools, colleges and universities need to ensure that technology is used to support their pedagogy and improve students’ digital skills which will prepare them for the workplace.

Technology should not be used for the sake of it – there has to be a purpose for using it.

Each year, colleagues from our Online Education Department attend the Learning Technologies exhibition in London which brings together 200 exhibitors showcasing the very latest technology within education.

The range and scope of technology available to educational institutions is vast and, undoubtedly, it’s a worthwhile exercise for the Department to undertake to keep up-to-date with the latest trends in the industry, but, in practice, UCEM uses a small number of technologies as they have to genuinely add value to our learning design and, ultimately, our students.

Ultimately, the technology has to fit the institution, and this is my fear for anyone taking Damian Hinds’ words at face value. Schools, colleges and universities should not be trying to shoehorn technology into their offering at the behest of the technology industry. Instead, schools, colleges and universities should be assessing what is currently offered by that industry and carefully think about how certain technology may boost their current academic offer.

Back in 2013, we began the transition of moving away from sending learning materials to students by post to delivering our learning wholly online. It was a huge project which took years to fully implement and any education provider looking to embrace technology should implement it with their eyes open.

Not only are there logistical hurdles to overcome but to make the most of any new technology, you need to have the right people using it so there is a knock-on staffing element to consider too.

Here at UCEM, we have an entire department comprising 22 members of staff tasked with ensuring our online learning delivery is the very best it can be. Within that department, we have a Learning Technology Innovation (LTI) team dedicated to evaluating new technology and assessing whether it can be used to enhance the teaching and learning process to give students the right skills to be effective in the workplace.

We are continuing to engage with several technology companies to ensure our Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) is working for our students and academic colleagues alike.

For example, UCEM uses X-Ray Learning Analytics (predictive analytics software provided by educational technology company, Blackboard Inc) to monitor student engagement on the VLE which helps to flag up trends in engagement which suggest a student may be struggling on their programme. Action can then be taken to speak to ‘at-risk’ students and try to ensure that they remain on course to complete their studies.

Rather than react to Damian’s call to action, we are working with the technology industry already and we feel Damian would be impressed with the work we do in this area. As part of this, we will continue to research what ed tech works in partnership with tech companies.

Drilling down into the five key opportunities for the technology industry to improve the education sector, as highlighted by the Education Secretary, once again, we feel that we are already making, or looking to make, the most of these opportunities.

The first opportunity listed advocates teaching practices to support access, inclusion and improved learning outcomes for all. Our teaching is available to all and as an online provider, it is accessible to students 24/7.

We work towards a model which is fundamentally student-centric with the four pillars of this approach being the consistency, relevance, accessibility and flexibility of the learning resources we design (see the diagram below).

UCEM (2018) ‘UCEM pedagogy’

UCEM (2018) ‘UCEM pedagogy’, UCEM: Reading.

A key focus for our department is student outcomes and working towards designing learning resources which enable better outcomes for our students.

On the second of Damian’s points (assessment processes, making assessment more effective and efficient), the design of our learning resources from 2020 will be assessment-led. This approach forms part of the semester change project we are currently implementing to improve student success moving forward.

As a Department, we are investing in technology to support the marking process to the benefit of our tutors. We also use e-portfolios so students can use what they do in the workplace in their studies by gathering evidence of skills gained and reflect on their practice.

On the teacher training front, we offer training opportunities to our academic staff (e.g. access to online education company,’s video courses) utilising a variety of technology.

With regards to the administration processes which make up Damian’s fourth point, we use technology to reduce non-teaching tasks. For example, we use computer-marked assessments to test students’ knowledge and members of our department facilitate the transfer of learning resources onto the VLE so our tutors can concentrate on the teaching material itself and not concern themselves with the mechanics of uploading it onto the VLE.

Finally, Damian calls upon the tech industry to create solutions to lifelong learning to help those who have left the formal education system to get the best from online learning. UCEM is a vocational institution designed to improve or kickstart the careers of those within the Built Environment. The majority of our students are part-time and juggle their studies along with work and other commitments. Our online mode of learning provides the flexibility to learn with us at any point in their life to enhance their careers.

There is plenty to recommend technology supporting the education sector and, indeed, it is a crucial component of UCEM’s online education offering so the Education Secretary is right to acknowledge the important role the tech industry can play for schools, colleges and universities. The onus placed on the tech industry leading this ‘revolution’, however, is where the Education Secretary and I differ, as education needs to be student-focused and technology needs to support the education process, not lead it.

To find out more about UCEM’s supported online learning, click here. To see how UCEM can support your ambitions within the construction and real estate industries, visit our Study with UCEM webpage.