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E21 builds a future vision of education through collaboration

Tricia Whenham
Posted by Tricia Whenham on Nov 28, 2018 11:15:00 AM
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“We need new models of education – and we need them fast.”

This belief shapes Dr. Aline Germain-Rutherford’s work as vice provost, academic affairs, at the University of Ottawa. “We push for innovation so that we are always in phase with the students we have – with the evolution of their needs and the evolution of the workplace and society.”

Change is tough – and changing the education system, which has remained largely the same for many, many years, is even tougher. But Aline thinks one key lies in pulling together everyone affected – and tapping into the power of collaboration.

“We need to bring people together – thinkers, innovators, visionaries. Students, faculty, government and industry,” she says. “And through that dialog, hearing different perspectives from different stakeholders, we will bit-by-bit start to understand what education should be – and could be.”

This vision turned to reality on October 22, 2018. A diverse group put aside their day-to-day work to spend a day at uOttawa tackling one of the biggest issues in education today – the current and future role of artificial intelligence (AI). As people shared ideas, asked tough questions and elevated seldom heard voices, a new model for education got a little closer.

E21 Symposium in Ottawa, Canada

Dialog at the center

When thinking back to how everything began, Aline says that “it all started with collaboration.” A year earlier, she and her counterparts from uOttawa and other postsecondary institutions made it their goal to actively imagine the future of education. Local tech companies, government workers and the African Virtual University also got on board. The E21 Consortium (named for the group’s focus on 21st-century education) was born.

“A consortium is good,” says Aline. “But a consortium needs to do something. It needs to take action.” So planning began for the group’s first-annual symposium. They knew what they didn’t want – a bunch of talking heads disseminating wisdom to a listening crowd.

“We want to break schemas and break ways of thinking, to really try to go outside of the box,” she says. “For that we needed to ensure that dialog is not only key but at the center of what we do. The symposium needed to be very participative and very interactive.”

E21 was also determined that the symposium would lead to clear action. “The second symposium would not just be restocking a game,” she says. “It needed to build on the reflection that we had the year before.” Keeping a record of all parts of the event – the ideas, the debates, the questions – was crucial. “We needed to capture everything.”

QuickShare at the E21 Symposium

Technology to elevate perspectives

With their goals clear, the consortium began the hard work of meeting them. But they faced a collaboration challenge – how to keep the event interactive considering the large number of participants?

It’s easy to write collaboration on a mission statement and check it off the list, but Aline and her colleagues knew it would be a lot harder to achieve. They needed everyone to have their say without bogging down the momentum of the discussion with logistical challenges. They also needed to capture the thinking of multiple participants in a way that would be easy to digest and build on.

They turned to Span™ Workspace, a cloud-based tool for real-time collaboration. The SaaS product gives groups digital canvases, perfect for capturing ideas. E21 was particularly interested in QuickShare – a feature that lets anyone add contributions to a canvas without needing a subscription or login.

At the symposium, panels of experts spoke to different aspects of AI – from educational benefits to workforce shifts to ethical considerations. But most of the time was devoted to questions and comments from the audience. QuickShare let anyone type up a question or comment on whatever device they had in hand and then post it to a shared canvas displayed on screens around the room.

“What was fantastic is we were able instantaneously to see the questions come in on all the screens around the room,” Aline says. This multiplied the number of people who were able to contribute to the discussion. As contributions filled up the canvas, two graduate students sorted them, highlighting comments that were ripe for further exploration.

“We could push the debate further,” she adds. “The fact that participants and panelists could see the questions on the screens all around the room led to other questions. This technology helped us ensure that the dialog was going on through the whole day.”

Students contribute at the E21 Symposium

Data to move forward

As the day progressed, more and more questions, comments and design ideas were added to the Span Workspace canvas. The breadth of insights was striking, thanks to the diverse group. “It’s rare to have that many stakeholders together,” Aline says. “We had so many different people in the same room, for one day, sharing their ideas.”

Some of the strongest voices were the youngest. “The questions from the students were very powerful, very in-your-face,” Aline says. “They want something deep. They are ready and they’re pushing us to change our models of education. They want to be able to explore instead of just receiving and listening. They want to be true agents in the system.”

The symposium shone a spotlight on all points of view – not just those who would be considered experts. This led to a rich discussion and comprehensive understanding of the issues. And it was all captured – both on video and on Span Workspace.

“Now we are in a position to go deeper into our analysis, and see if some themes are emergent, some questions are more urgent,” Aline says.

E21 participant feedback

The power of collaboration

The event was a huge success – with all the depth of discussion Aline was hoping for. And audience feedback was very positive. “They were thrilled by the dialog and by the high level of interactivity and participation between the panelists and the audience,” she says.

For Aline, it’s clear why the event was so effective. “It’s because of all the participants and guest panelists. And the students – high school, college, university. Their questions were so important. I truly thank them all.”

The E21 Consortium’s work will continue to be shaped by the needs of the workplace, the expertise of educators and the voices of students that came through so strongly at the first symposium. “It’s all going to help us to prepare for the next symposium in one year.”


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Topics: Customer Story Higher Education Span Workspace Facilitation