A year of digital learning: Imperial marks milestone at global conference


Professor Simone Buitendijk on stage at the conference

VP Education Professor Simone Buitendijk takes part in a discussion at the conference

The College sent a large delegation to the Coursera Partner Conference this year, reflecting its growing expertise in delivering digital education.

The week-long gathering started with a visit to Imperial on 1 April from Dr Andrew Ng, a globally recognised leader in AI and digital learning.

Dr Ng is the former Chief Scientist at Baidu and the founding lead of Google Brain. A long-time advocate of accessible education, he is also the Co-founder of Coursera, an online learning platform that has worked with Imperial to launch pioneering new online degrees.

Dr Ng’s speech focussed on emerging trends in AI and online education, and was part of the Data Science Institute's Distinguished Lecture series. Vice Provost (Research and Enterprise), Professor Nick Jennings, followed Andrew’s speech with a lively question and answer session.

Professor Jennings and Dr Ng in conversation
Professor Jennings and Dr Ng in conversation

Global learning for global impact

As the week progressed, members of the Imperial learning and teaching community presented their work to a varied audience of education technology enthusiasts from industry and the higher education sector.

VP Education, Professor Simone Buitendijk delivered the keynote address to the conference on Wednesday morning, with a focus on the future of higher education.

Professor Buitendijk provided delegates with some stark statistics regarding the global state of higher education: "72 million people across the world cannot access higher education, and a staggering 92% of young adults in poorer countries are not enrolled in any form of education after their school years.

"72 million people across the world cannot access higher education, and a staggering 92% of young adults in poorer countries are not enrolled in any form of education after their school years." Professor Simone Buitendijk VP Education

"To keep pace with demand for education, many countries are simply not moving fast enough. To take one country as a case study, India needs to create 1500 extra universities in the next 10 years if it is to move beyond the 25% of its population it is currently able to serve."

Professor Buitendijk also used her address to highlight the fact that universities are increasingly able to use their global connections and digital learning technologies to fulfil their purpose to become engines of collaboration, equality and positive global change.

Collaborations with Coursera and EdX

Imperial has partnered with online education platforms Coursera and EdX to deliver a wide range of learning experiences, from short sample courses to full Masters degrees.

Creative Thinking: Techniques and Tools for Success

One of the first of our EdX collaborations, the 'Creative Thinking: Techniques and Tools for Success' online course, was developed by Head of the School of Design Engineering, Professor Childs.

The course equips participants with a ‘tool-box’ of behaviours and techniques that will foster their innate creativity. The course has been specifically designed to provide a practical approach that will help learners acquire an essential skill-set for generating new and creative ideas.

A-level Mathematics for Year 12

Maths visualisation graphic

The A-level Mathematics for Year 12 course develops student's thinking skills, fluency and confidence to aim for an A* in A-level mathematics and prepare for undergraduate STEM degrees.

School student are also encouraged to consider how what they know fits into the wider mathematical world.

Over seven modules, covering an introduction to calculus and Newton’s law, test student's skills and give them a clear understanding of how background knowledge underpins the A-level course.

The Clean Power program

Global renewable energy graphic

Many of the barriers to moving to clean power are increasingly political, rather than technical or economic. The Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial College has joined forces with Children's Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) to launch three short online courses to educate and address some of these challenges and advance a global transition to move towards cleaner power.

Richard Green, Professor of Sustainable Energy Business at Imperial College Business School, said: “While the courses are open to anyone to take part, we are hoping that senior decision makers in government, civil society activists and others interested in understanding and promoting renewable electricity will take the courses. The aim is to help policymakers and business-people to develop action plans.”

Global Master of Public Health

First announced in March 2018, and launching September 2019, the Global Master of Public Health is Imperial's first fully-online degree in the health field.

The degree has been developed specifically for online delivery by Imperial's public health experts. Successful applicants joining the course can expect a world-leading educational experience, featuring ample opportunity to interact with an extensive community of researchers and teachers.

Master of Machine Learning

Launching in autumn 2020/21, the Master of Machine Learning will be one of the world's first online degrees that focuses on Machine Learning and its applications.

The degree will teach students in the computational, mathematical and statistical foundations of Machine Learning.

Students will also have the opportunity to work with industry-standard tools like PySpark and PyTorch to develop and apply their Machine Learning and data science skills. Over the coming year a number of specialisation courses will be released which will give students the opportunity to explore these areas.

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Holographic teaching

Students at the College's Business School will be the first in the world to have live lectures delivered to them via hologram.

The technology, developed by Toronto based hologram company AHRT Media and adapted by the School’s Edtech Lab, will enable faculty and guest speakers to present to students in real time, via a hologram link, from studios located in a variety of global locations including the US, Canada and Singapore.

Speakers will appear as 3D, life-size entities within one of Imperial’s lecture theatres. Rather than simply projecting a pre-recorded message, the technology enables those appearing via hologram to engage with their audiences in real-time, responding to audience reactions and taking questions via a camera link in the same manner as if they were physically present in the lecture theatre.

The future of digital learning at Imperial

In the coming months the College will continue its investment in digital learning, as part of its wider Learning & Teaching Strategy.

This summer the Digital Learning Hub team will move into a new Digital Learning Studio at the College's South Kensington campus. The Studio space will serve as a media production facility for staff, workshop spaces for digital content development and an experimental classroom simulator for 50 students in order to research the connection between digital and physical learning.

The new Studio has been created as an area for cross-College collaboration. Colleagues and students will design and deploy education technologies in a showcase space that demonstrates to the outside world how Imperial envisions the future of learning.

By testing and experimenting with different physical and digital set ups, it is hoped the Imperial community will be able to contribute to the design of innovative, efficient and state of the art new classroom environments.


Murray MacKay

Murray MacKay
Communications Division


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