Edtech Challenge Competition: A virtual learning environment without a screen

We have just launched a challenge competition for ideas around what a (virtual) learning environment without a screen might look like, by the this I mean it that allows you in access and interact with learning through other methods as well as or instead of a screen.

The challenge page suggests some technologies that may be relevant such as artificial intelligence and voice controls, augmented and virtual reality, gesture-based interfaces, wearable technologies, etc.

So what are we looking for…

A vision of what could be

I asked Marcus Elliot, Senior Digital Practice Adviser at Nottingham Trent University to comment on this before it went live. He made some useful contributions and also said it needs an example of what we meant by a vision. I try to avoid being too prescriptive of what we want from a challenge as it can skew what you get, however I am happy to share this one.

Marcus suggested an example could be “a voice-activated ice cream machine that dispenses desserts when someone answers a question correctly in a lecture or seminar”.  I responded saying I liked the idea of a voice activated ice cream machine and linking it to reward based learning and would you get an ice cream in the face if you get the answer wrong?

He responded, “ooh, operant condition with negative reinforcement?” (Ok he lost me there), “Mean but effective. It probably wouldn’t put me off; maybe fish flavoured ice-cream would be a better punishment.”

Ok, I know he meant it to be ridiculous but for me this is where a good idea can begin, as you start to develop it and explore the boundaries of what is possible and the reason for doing it. What problem does it address? Who will it appeal to and why? What would be innovative?

So the vision we after is a description of an idea of what could be developed. It should be feasible to develop. We don’t expect you to build it or even have the expertise to make it happen. As long as you can describe it, shows us what it might look like and be clear of the benefits.

Here is a bit more background and context that will help you to get started, Lawrie Phipps talks about the next generation of learning environments and how it can help to develop a more inclusive learning envirnment.

Ideas for the next generation of learning environments.

During Jisc’s “Co-design Challenge” around the theme of the next generation digital learning environments. Jisc asked “What would an environment do for staff and students?”, “What kind of learning experiences would an environment need to support?”  and “What learning and teaching practices aren’t currently supported in environments?”. Various themes around technology and pedagogy including the growth in social media, analytics, usability and design and the identification of new vendors in the market were all raised. With regards to technology in practice the report also identified that innovative practices in teaching tended to occur outside the virtual learning environment. Further information can be found at

A more inclusive environment

New legislation requires systems and content to be accessible, but can we aspire to be more inclusive. What tools would we need to build to engage disenfranchised groups that aren’t covered by legislation.  Instead of tools aimed at students, what would an “inclusion AI” do for staff developing content, or designing courses?

Some  other useful links

The chatbots are coming – a  recent blog post from Paul Hopkins explores the application of chatbots to education.

Bringing augmented and virtual reality to the classroom on a budget – Matt Ramirez looks at how this is innovativbe technology is already been used and suggests a future where AR/VR coudl be a more common tool used in learning. Do you have ideas of what that might look like?

The competition

Visit the challenge page to find out more, register for the webinar on the 14 November and submit your idea to this edtech challenge by the 3 January to enter the competition and chance to win £1000.

By Paul Bailey

Head of co-design, part of a research and development team

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