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Rémy Challe, Edtech, Higher Ed: What changes?

This week we are talking to
Rémy Challe, the CEO of Edtech France, the new association gathering more and more startups of the French Edtech.

On the menu, the state of Edtech in France and elsewhere, its problems and opportunities for the future. Has Edtech really succeeded in changing Higher Education for the better? What are the inherent problems of education that hinder educational innovation?

Many questions to which Rémy answered through his analysis.

TestWe: So what is the state of Edtech in France?

Rémy Challe: We are at the beginning of something there. 6 months ago I did not really know what it was for various reasons. But there is clearly a growth curve that is emerging. Now, although this growth curve is double-digit in France, when we look at the massive investments in India, China and the United States, you realize we French still have a long way to go.

France is a country of education! We must be able to support our entrepreneurs much more and not just send them to CES in Las Vegas, if not in a few years, the tools we will use will be Chinese, Indian, American etc. That does not mean that they are bad, they are just, I think, less adapted to the system of values ​​of the French education. French Edtech becomes almost a question of sovereignty!

T: What is the French value system? What are we claiming?

R.C: There is a form of universalism, France is also the country of Human Rights. In a very pragmatic way: the protection of data, well, it is not known in the same way in France, China, India etc.

And that, we must claim it, we must protect these values ​​and promote them in France and abroad. I sometimes meet entrepreneurs from the French Edtech who make 100% of their profits abroad. So that's good, it means that they export easily and that the "French touch" is successful, but it's sad at the same time because it means they have difficulties offering their solution in their own country, and that's not normal.

T: What is the feeling of the actors of Education regarding Edtech tools?

R.C: (laughs) Well, there are various feelings. First, here, I would not talk about continuing education/ professional training, because Edtech is widely accepted and there are fewer dogmas. We are dealing with actors who are companies that are going through periods of significant digital transformation, and Edtech is already considered as a solution that one must be armed with to train all members of a company.

When we talk about school in France (ie K-12) it's complex, because there is a market that is a public market. In France, it is not the professors who buy for example, which is not the case in China. And even if they want to buy an innovative and relevant solution to meet their educational needs and those of their students, it is not they who will pay.

You want to sell to a primary school, you have to go to the commune, you want to sell to a college you have to go to the department and for a high school, you have to go to the regional administration. And then the one who decides is not the one who pays, the one who pays may not be the one who will use the solution, and he may pay for someone else to finally use the solution, so you see it's a little nightmarish.

And then there is more dogma. First, there is the argument that education is free while there is always someone who pays in the end, and then there is always a kind of a distrust of the private sector. There is often this vision of entrepreneurs as sharks of finance when in reality it is far from being the case. In Edtech, we find almost exclusively entrepreneurs passionate about Education or people coming from the world of Education who seek to solve real problems. Whatever happens, we do not go on this sector for greedy purposes.

Finally, there is this third silo which is that of Higher Education. Here we find private actors, public actors. Generally, in Higher Ed, there is a general awareness that Edtech could greatly help. This position is explained by several factors. First, there is an appetite for innovation, there is a climate of competition that pushes institutions to innovate. And then there are these 20-year-old students, who use their smartphone during their classes. So the question is not how to ban these tools but rather "the learner that faces me is not the same as one was twenty years ago, so I must adapt. " So there is a change of posture expected but also a change that is inevitable.

Basically, we are moving from a time when the teacher was the only holder of knowledge to a time when knowledge is everywhere and we just need to know how to access relevant information, a time where we must learn how to learn and the teacher plays a determining role there above. The teacher must become ... well, a coach.

TW: What do you think about teacher autonomy?

R.C: There are programs that the teacher has to follow, it's clear, but after all, teachers have a certain pedagogical freedom and you have to have that freedom, through which you can choose your own methods, your own textbooks, and so on.

TW: In the Finnish way? In Finland for example, teachers have total autonomy ...

R.C: So we're not there but besides I do not even think that we should replicate this model in France. Finland is Finland, and then it's a smaller country, the scales are different, the traditions are different. On the other hand, in France, there is still pedagogical freedom. The problem is that it is not at all extended to innovative solutions. So perhaps we should give more freedom to teachers as to their pedagogy, their methods ...

In Higher Education, on the contrary, there is more freedom! In the development of programs, the choice of methods ... that's why it's a space that interests me and that can perhaps by capillarity, disseminate this educational freedom to K-12.

So yes, there is a resistance to change, but as I said earlier, awareness is already there.

T.W: Let's get out of the classroom and talk about Education as a whole and more structurally. There is a crisis of Higher Ed that looms on the horizon, especially in the US and the UK. A financial crisis but also a crisis of knowledge via the skills gap phenomenon. What do you think?

R.C: So first, the situation in France is not quite comparable to the Anglo-Saxon situation. Firstly, because Education is "free" when we talk about universities for example, or costs a few hundred euros.

TW: On the other hand there are also more and more students going into the private sector, like business schools

R.C: That's right, there are these schools of commerce, communication, engineers where the costs are relatively high. To be clear, the cost of a student at university (about 13,000 euros) is about the same as that of a student in a management school.

So for the university, it is the community that pays and it's great, and in the big management schools it is the learners who pay and it's not stupid either.

So yes there is a student debt that exists but it remains very far from American or British cases, so the crisis that can be seen in these regions does not exist in France ...

TW: But can it exist?

R.C: It's a fact, tuition fees have increased significantly in management schools over the last decade, they have almost doubled. And yes to start in life it can be a ball to the foot.

Now there are lots of support programs and alternative programs like apprenticeships where it is the companies that pay for students who are also paid between 1,000 and up to 2,000 net euros per month!

Also, we must also not fall into the cliché of prestigious management schools as the places where we find exclusively rich spoiled brats! There are sometimes more diversities in the grandes écoles than in some lecture halls at the university. Even in the grandes écoles, one can have access to scholarships, one can work alongside his studies, one can borrow from the banks if need be.

While it is true that the costs increase, I do not think they can still go up, contrary to what others think, it would not seem reasonable to propose schools at a 20,000 euros yearly tuition fee.

T.W: And the return on investment remains positive?

R.C: Yes it is still positive, now ... It is not exactly the same either compared to 20 years ago. The more graduates we have, the less value our degree has in away. So hiring wages are probably less efficient than 20 years ago.

But I do not believe that the crisis that you seem to announce with reason will arrive in France. On the other hand, there are points of vigilance, we must be careful, education is not a commodity, at least not like any other, we must not fall into a trap as it can be observed in the United States. or elsewhere.

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Should we choose a university according to its ranking?

Today, if you're not a part of the Higher education industry (not talking about the students here), how do you know if a particular university or business school is interesting, or simply good for you?

That's right, you look at rankings. Ok, you can also ask around you who went where and how the experience was but come on, you always refer to the rankings? Imagine for students, how much weight rankings add to their decision-making.

Now there are a number of problems with these rankings.

Teaching and pedagogy are not represented enough in the calculations

Depending on the rankings and knowing only three rankings are considered internationally relevant (THE, QS and Shanghai), the quality of teaching and pedagogic innovation accounts for more or less 30% of a university's overall grade.

This is problematic because:

  • today, pedagogic innovation in Higher education has become the most important factor in the success of students, not research. Indeed, proving you have a good quality of teaching means that in the end, students who'll become researchers will have better backgrounds for their projects.
  • it pushes the universities to invest massively in hiring professors pursuing trendy researches and not necessarily good pedagogic methods. Worse, it pushes tenured and non-tenured professors to produce a highly growing number of papers, researches, articles etc. Putting that much pressure on professors to ensure their status in the university prevents them from spending time with students or on pedagogy. In the end, it means less skilled students and a growing skills gap.

Too many students, too few universities

According to UNESCO, in 2030, more than 400 million students will enter universities compared to less than 99 million in 2000, so that's a more than 400% rise. The problem is that it means we need more and more universities to open or new ways to manage that many students.

See the problem? No? Well.

University rankings are a symbol of elitism. Generally, no one ever looks past the first 150 universities ranked on the list and most of the times, these are all from developed countries (mainly the US, China and the UK).

Knowing that most of the young generation is coming from Africa, the Middle East or South America or Asia, these rankings don't help existing institutions in these continents even if lots of them are incredibly innovative or give effective learning programs.

  • It pushes these universities to adopt elitist measures to try to resemble universities from the ?upper class club?
  • It doesn't provide a real opportunity for students to envision a future they'd like to reach if, for example, they don't have the means to get to American expensive institutions or if they just don't want to travel thousands of kilometres to study abroad

Rankings as they are, propose a grim future. With the growing population going to universities, does it mean some will have to study through online learning only and via poorly engaging MOOCs while the richest more lucky ones will have the chance to access physically to the ?best? campuses?

It shouldn't be like that.

These rankings aren't appealing to students

?I'd be curious to hear if one student ever found his university good, or even decided to apply for a university, according to its ranking,? says Victor Wacrenier, CEO and co-founder at Appscho, a French startup that provides a campus management app.

It is true that students consider these rankings as essential in the decision-making process, according to a QS survey, 70% said so. But the main reason is that rankings seem to be indicators of employability. It stays elitist.

According to this survey, students are either over-relying on universities rankings, either need more metrics to understand what university can be the best for what they're searching for.

There is currently a rethinking of universities' values as institutions providing skills and a culture of learning rather than access to jobs. ?It is a shift toward Lifelong learning? as says Patrice Houdayer, Vice-Dean at Skema business school. Rankings should thus adapt to these new values and propose appropriate guidings for a new generation of learners that have completely different expectations of their experience in universities and after.

In Conclusion, rather than spending massive amounts of money to go up or stay up in the rankings, universities should adopt another strategy and invest in pedagogy and the campus experience to make sure students are trained enough for having a life long learning discipline, skills for their future career. Naturally, these students will take care of the reputation of the school.

Rankings are needed though, but they must take into account much more variables like eco-friendly standards, pedagogic standards, innovation standards or campus experience standards. Accreditations are already on the move, so should rankings.

Accreditation Management 2.0: A Conversation with Dr Keith Pond, Director at EOCCS

Getting accredited is becoming an ever more important task to fulfil for schools who want to prove their quality on the international scene. That's especially the case for business schools.

It is a tough thing to do for deans although the reward is more than interesting. It's all about having efficient processes.

Although it's a hard time for faculty to adapt and play the game collectively, it is an even harder time for accreditation managers.

Indeed, we asked more than sixty accreditation managers what were their most annoying pain points. 83,3% of them told us their most difficult phase of accreditation was the implementation of processes and data collection phase.

Two problems stood out: 37% said getting everyone on the process to be involved was their biggest challenge. 51% said data collection techniques were the one challenge that made their day? well, not a good day.

In the meantime, it is important to remind that this function is still significantly new in universities' structures. With tech coming into the game and the growing importance of reputation internationally, accreditation managers will see their job greatly evolve through the coming years.

How? How can they get through these pain points and ensure AoL? We asked these questions to Keith Pond and Stephanie Lambert, director and administrator at EOCCS, a promising and innovative accreditation and a part of the EFMD group.

The institution's brand strategist

Accreditation managers have access to data. A lot of data. They collect, centralize, simplify the visualization of these data for directors.

They have a viewpoint on everything. ?Having a lot of data is great, but what do you do with it?? says Keith Pond, ?they must wonder how do they maintain data, how to use it in management decisions.?

And that's where the role of accreditation managers is getting very much exciting. They could be seen as the spearhead, the strategic brain of an institution.

?Higher education is becoming more and more like a market. Thus, the accreditation manager has got to be very strategic with accreditation. He's the one who knows how to show that university in its best light.?

Opting for one accreditation or another, thus, has a concrete significance. Whether you want to be part of the elite with the triple crown, or whether you want to show you are innovative and provide online courses with EOCCS, or whether you want to show your deep attachment with ethics with PRME and learning with ABCSP.

According to Keith Pond, in the end, it's the whole university's identity and image depend on what the accreditation manager thinks could be smart to do. More than just the accreditation, "data collected by managers are now used for the school's marketing."

More implication on the learning experience

The need for measurement, for qualitative and quantitative data on the learning experience (reflected by students surveys, team excellence frameworks or teaching processes) are at the heart of Assurance of Learning (AoL).

AoL is a process and a methodology for continuous improvement in learning, it is also an indicator of how well you do with your students. There, an accreditation manager will be more and more important and implicated in the "what you do with data. That's what an EQUIS panel will ask you when they come to your school," Pond adds.

"For EQUIS, accreditation managers are responsible for proposing ways to use data in order to show improvements in the learning experience."

"So definitely, the accreditation manager is going to become a far more important role in those institutions that want the reputation and that want to recruit students from outside of their local area," Keith pond affirms.

Simply put, a lot of schools are going to need to put this position at the heart of their decision making, their pedagogical and their marketing strategy.

Nevertheless, this position still faces a problem of recognition in schools. "Accreditation managers are far far more important than they ever used to be, but I'm not sure if universities are very good at seeing academics and administrators on the same level. You have academics and then there are administrators," Pond says.

In the survey, we conducted with sixty accreditation managers, one of the issues that made difficult data collection and interpretation was that it was hard for them to get everyone on the same page and get help the right data from everyone.

The game-changer

In conclusion, the ever-evolving position of accreditation manager is going to get more importance in schools' structures. It is in the interests of these schools to help them facilitate the decision-making, the analysis and the use of learning data for AoL.

Innovation and tech can play a role in it. That is one of the visions of EOCCS. More innovative initiatives from schools help at two things: improve learning and ease decision-making.

Hence the deep attachment of this one-of-a-kind accreditation that provides schools with strategies and guidance to achieve this goal.

This is where tech tools can help, not by trying to replace pedagogy and trigger the "dark version of a tech-based Education," as Keith Pond says, but by helping academics and administrators like accreditation managers to improve the learning experience.

In the case of the latter, it would mean save him time to ease the data collection, letting him more time to focus on the big challenge: "what to do with data."

If you're an accreditation manager and feel sometimes in difficult times with your task, fear not, your voyage is full of promises and excitement.

Keith Pond is Director at EOCCS and Senior Lecturer at Loughborough University. More than wise, Keith is a fount of knowledge who deeply believes in a change toward a more innovative Education.

His stories and adventures with EOCCS are greatly inspiring for all academics and accreditation managers in search of improving their students' learning.

Close the loop effectively. Get accredited without hassle.

Accreditations like AACSB or EQUIS are the keys to access the club of the world's most prestigious schools in Higher Education. No need to say these accreditations are expensive, exhaustive and require drastic transformations of a school's processes and organization. Getting them, renewing them and entertain continuous improvement can be a real hassle.

First thing first, it is important to understand what accreditations like AACSB clearly ask for:
  • They want data-backed (quantitative & qualitative) decisions
  • Rapid execution and testing
  • Constant feedback
  • A focus on how students learn
  • A culture of innovation

You probably know that the goal of getting accredited is to open a loop of continuous improvement that you'll be able to close and continue to improve if the committees of the accreditation decide that you nailed it. What they want to you to do is to ensure them that students are learning well. That's Assurance of Learning (AoL).

As the process of accreditation is tough!

AACSB is first about reading and understanding it

Understanding the organization, its values and processes are not that hard. There's a whole library of documents that just wait to be read. Nevertheless, it's complicated to understand but it's the best thing to do before applying to the accreditation.

It is about integrating EVERYONE in the process

Often, the complexity of the accreditation process pushes accreditation and school managers to isolate themselves in a high tower trying to sort out a way of getting things done. First and definitive mistake. AACSB, like other labels, is a matter of teamwork. Everyone must be on the same page, from the top management of the school to the students themselves. How?

  • By forming the school management and the faculty to learning optimization
  • By forming teachers and faculty to innovative solutions to give them autonomy
  • By calling students to rally around the flag and motivating them to take initiatives, from entrepreneurship to student life projects

Basically, it means telling everyone what's going to happen and why it's good.

It is about managing a team!

Calling everyone for participation is great. Organizing each group and process actions is even greater. The goal is thus to plan and attribute roles and problem-solving methods between all the actors. But hey! You’re not alone. Never forget it. Mentors and committees are here to help you carry this out thanks to their pragmatic experience.

Organization and processes to adopt vary a lot according to schools and their cultures. Nevertheless, adopting an organization and processes based on constant communication and rapid execution between groups is crucial.

For example, you can do:

  • A first analysis of the state of the school according to the criteria, goals, given by AACSB (or another accreditation) and a benchmarking of all issues or things to improve. That's opening the loop.
  • Prioritize your goals and communicate them to the faculty and professors, assign them roles and goals per program.
  • Communicate with your Data analytics department (if you have one or do it yourself) a data collection and analysis process (we’re talking about Learning Analytics). Decide which data you’ll record to follow the evolution towards the achievement of your goals. That's the innovative management part of the loop.
  • Professors must be formed with the platforms if they’re not already, you’ll use to follow data and feedback. They must organize their courses according to the goals you prioritized and communicate them to students in their syllabi, learning goals, learning objectives and learning outcomes and in any other ways possible. Let them be creative.

    - Their results will show up through data and feedback they get from students.
    - Then, do a regular follow-up to add qualitative feedback and ideas on how to improve your learning processes. That's the pedagogic innovation part of the loop.

  • Call for initiatives and projects from students to let them be active in continuous learning improvement. Remember, letting them engage and produce knowledge and innovation is ensuring they learn and are prepared for their present or future projects. Most importantly, by letting them do, you give impact to your school, you get access to more qualitative and quantitative data, you're being innovative, you ensure your AoL.

    - Then, do regular follow-up to add qualitative feedbacks and ideas on how to improve your learning processes. That's, again, the pedagogic innovation part of the loop.

Process this organization and cleanly close the loop, you're ready to be an accredited, top innovative institution!

Get a learning optimization process

Take a look at this process. Part Design thinking, part Growth hacking, we adapted it to learning processes. The goal is to quickly operate tests and changes following feedbacks from professors or students, thus you can easily accelerate your accreditation process and improvement cycles.

Learn more about learning optimization here.

Finally, hear what your mentor has to say. This one seems super easy but still is crucial. Mentors are here to help you get that accreditation. Plus, the school he or she comes from already is, so they know how to do it.

TestWe helps you optimize your learning processes!

Closing the loop means entering constant optimization and improvement of your learning processes. Whether you're applying for an accreditation like AACSB or if you're already accredited, TestWe helps you optimize learning.

First, because we offer a solution that let's collect, store, analyse and report one of the most precious data you need to benchmark your AoL and continuous improvement: academic data. Simply put, to get or renew easily your accreditation. That solution is e-Exam.

By digitizing your exam processes, we do not only save you time for your exam creation or exam grading. We do not only let your students take their exams on their own laptop or tablet in a secure way. We let you have access to their academic data reports through a data visualisation tool, facilitating thus analysis.

By inputting learning outcomes, learning goals and objectives as well as professors qualitative feedback on each of the students' assessments, we help you track their skills acquisition, thus facilitating learning processes improvement.

Want to know more? Sure, take a look at this white paper, you'll find other tips and testimonies from accredited schools.