EDUCATION and technology are ever more closely linked.
On the one hand, there is something of a revolution happening in education as technology changes how universities operate, students are taught, and teachers teach.
Recently, the media covered the story of Beacon, an artificial intelligence (AI) education tool, and the first digital assistant of its kind to be operating at a UK university.
Staffordshire University developed Beacon with cloud service provider ANS and launched it in January this year. The chatbot, which can be downloaded in a mobile app, enhances the student experience by answering timetable questions and suggesting societies to join. Beacon can also apply for an exemption from council tax, order new student cards and connect users with lecturers.
Students can chat with Beacon via text or voice conversation, and as use increases, it becomes smarter. Eventually, it will be able to remind students about classes and deadlines. Indeed, it has been said that university campuses are turning into mini smart cities as a result of technology like this.
Different tools are being used across the board - some aimed at tailoring a personalised educational experience for learners, while others ease teachers' workloads through tools such as automated marking. Others help managers make decisions, including tools that analyse data across multiple colleges to predict which are likely to perform less well in inspections.
But whilst education is becoming ever more dependent on technology, the technology sector is also incredibly reliant on the education sector to be able to develop the skills that enable it to be innovative and to create technologies that will enhance the future and help organisations operate more effectively.
That's why I'm so pleased that we at Novosco have been able to partner with both Ulster University and Belfast Metropolitan College on important initiatives to inspire and develop Northern Ireland's IT talent of the future.
One of the challenges is to make sure that we are developing the skills that we will need in the years to come, as well as the skills that we need today. Our initiatives with further education therefore include a programme to inspire school pupils to consider a career in IT, as well as a cyber security academy for those over 18.
Cyber security is obviously a big issue and an area where we need more and more talented people in Northern Ireland. But other areas include robotics and the internet of things. For that reason, part of this year's Novosco Camp, which is free of charge to students between the ages of 16 and 17 with an interest in IT, will take place in Ulster University's smart environment labs, which include some of the latest smart technologies, such as a smart kitchen,?smart bedroom and smart living room, used to support investigations into the area of assistive technologies and activity recognition.
The camp will help students develop their skills in areas including hardware and operating systems, creating a virtual server, machine learning / artificial intelligence, machine vision and sensor technologies, cloud technologies and consider the ‘Internet of Things'.
Through my dealings with Ulster University and Belfast Met on these initiatives, I see the huge value in partnerships between the tech sector and education, and I have no doubt we will continue to develop stronger and deeper relationships into the future. I also have no doubt that some of the talented students participating in these programs will go on to help develop the Beacons and other transformative technologies of the future.