ECTEL2015 Thu a.m. (2): Juan Pelegrin Keynote

Liveblog notes from EC-TEL2015 (#ectel2015) in Toledo, Spain, 16-19 September 2015.

Keynote: Learning Technologies and skills in the EC

Juan Pelegrin, DG CONNECT, European Commission

Overview of the new work programme coming up. A disclaimer: it’s pre-published already. But it’s not the final and official text. So my slides are not the final ones.


  • Context/policy and R&I background
  • Challenges and scope
  • Research and innovation WP 2016-17
  • Conclusions


Digital skills shortage. Mismatch of rising unemployment, with 1m vacancies not filled. Have to modernise education and training systems, cheaply and effectively. Cost-saving a priority. The OECD report on Thursday, where the conclusions were misread to say digital technologies do not help learning. Not good news, we will have to prove them wrong.

Barriers: Limited uptake of ICTs in schools and universities. There is plenty of EU money for that. Regional funds, billions, are available for local authorities, regional authorities, to upgrade their educational infrastructure including the training of teachers. At EU level, fragile Learning Technology industry. We have 28 markets, no European market yet. 23 languages, so mobility, content sharing, OERs, does not help. Pedagogical approaches are changing only very slowly.

Opportunities: Technology has finally come to education, can have a great impact. MOOCs, cloud, tablets, interactive books. Open, flexible, ubiquitous learning. 21st century skills – not about content, but skills. Problem solving, team work, creativity – how do we teach those with technology? And how we build a European market.

Challenges: digital learning for 21st century skills. Match skills and employment market. Requirements move very fast – how can we anticipate those skills? We need a triple play – innovation, inclusion, impact (economic – growth and jobs). Politicians are concerned about growth and jobs. Politicians happy for you to write papers, but they want to see you contribute in the mid-term to have an economic impact.

Results of a study – EC ICT and Schools Survey (2013). Very few schools highly digitally-equipped, teachers not confident, broadband a concerned, Europe lagging US and Asia. They are investing in this sense.

What has changed from last year? New Commissioner. Günther Oettinger – Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society. His main view is digital skills. His mission “to reinforce digital skills and learning across society, with a view to empowering Europe’s workforce and consumers for the digital era”. There is a dedicated Commission team for this. And a Vice-President also focused on this topic. For once, the EU has put real political attention on this topic.

Recent EU actions:

  • Digital Single Market Initiative (2015)
  • Initiative Opening up Education (2013) – broadband, content, innovative pedagogical approach in schools
  • Grand Coalition for ICT jobs (2013) – ICT skills shortages
  • Research and Innovation on ICT for Learning – FP7, H2020. Important to signal, we have to start to deliver. When we go for new money, have to show what this EUR 185m has delivered, beyond just papers.

What do we fund?

No area we don’t fund.

Outline of 2014-15 Work Programme

Not much money around. Difficulties within Commission and with member states.

Topic 20: Technologies for better human learning and teaching.

174 proposals, EUR 640m requested. Gave 54 proposals ranked above threshold, 12 retained, 5 reserve list. Quality of proposals could be improved. We see many resubmissions from other calls, other research programmes, trying to fit in to this. The cost of preparing a proposal ranges from 60k to 100k. Not much money, there is a finite budget. This is not the Olympics, going for the gold better. If you have something really good, go for it. But have seen things which are not new, the evaluators are very good in knowing what’s new, the iterative process of evaluation is really thorough. Go for it, but go for gold. Silver medal is not good enough at this stage, the amount of money we have is limited. We are aware the research funding in EU countries is limited.

In R&I, we had 10m, got >100m. The average proposal amount is 4-5m.

Coverage was very good. Formal to informal learning. Advanced personalisation and adaptivity – incl analytics. STEM, artistic, languages, open courseware, assessments, career development, skills for industry. All proposals addressed special needs. No PPI submission, funding purchases. The community, local authorities, are not ready to embark on these activities. This is a concern because the work programme is under the umbrella focused on innovation, growth. So too much research focus.

Outcome Topic 21 – gaming/gamification. 91 proposals, 49 proposals retained (above threshold).

Research was more targeted than the innovation actions. They [the innovation ones] are less well developed or drafted than the research proposals. We need to ensure deployment. The quality of the research was much better in the research actions than in the innovation. Lower scores in innovation action were funded, but high quality research was not funded in the research.

Coverage: applied games, tech transfer. Pocket Code, Hearing Aids, games for social inclusion.

Research and innovation Work Programme 2016-17

Two topics.

ICT-22-2016 Technologies for Learning and Skills

ICT-24-2016: Gaming and gamification.

Deadline mid-April. Evaluation in June. 43m available.

ICT-22-2016 Technologies for Learning and Skills

Learning changing, new players, changing roles of teachers. Build an open ecosystem, digital infrastructure for improved learning.

Innovation Actions (20m). Skills validation. Assessment of learner’s progress. Availability and wider adoption of education technology. Efficient and effective learning. Very large pilots in several European countries – means very large, scaling up, different schools, organisations. When text says “address at least one”, there are no extra marks if you go for three. Read the text in English as it is. Focus on primary and secondary schools ONLY. [gah] Narrowing the scope of actions. Looking for proposals in the area of 5m, ish – not bulletproof.

Research and Innovation Actions. Creativity. Focus on STEM plus Arts (STEAM). [So no social science!] Develop creativity. Foundational research (very basic, fundamental research) and piloting (and testing). Will do both. Looking for potential impact on key growth areas. Less ambitious projects, testing this area, small scale Proposals around 2.5m. There’s 10m in principle available.

ICT-24-2016 Gaming and Gamification.

Innovation Actions (12m available). Looking for gamification technology transfer, in to non-leisure contexts, especially education and training. Lots of studies suggest lots of potential, OECD, Horizon. But see it failing to deliver. So objective to increase takeup. Very small projects. Very focused, very targeted, time limited. Let’s try in different contexts, see where it works and it doesn’t. About 1m per project.

Competition is very high. If you have a good idea, go for it. The money is finite, may lead to frustrations. Half of the evaluators are in this room. There is someone who’s read a paper, see it’s not new. You’re really good, don’t try to play the system. If it’s new, draft the proposal, go for it. Otherwise, wait for a better …

16 April likely to be the date, don’t leave it to the last minute. Look for good partners, good process. More formal presentation will be soon. There is an amendment to some areas. But this is the overall vision. Interpret the language as it is – if it says “and/or”, it means that. We follow a wide interpretation of the text. Drafting EU Commission text, we have to give accommodation for many other services. Be quite open in your interpretation.


We have the potential to contribute, deliver skills. There’s loads of money – not in the research area, but for delivering skills, for providing the skills the market and the unemployed require. Digital skills can help, provide skills, validate skills. Potential for digital skills has never been better. It’s the right time to make our case.


Q1: There are some surprises in it. Can you give some reasoning about the Arts?

JP: The input there, we come from how Arts can contribute to delivering creativity. That’s the reasoning behind the STEM plus Arts deliver creativity. New ways of creating, designing, different ways of doing things. Creativity is a buzzword. Want to improve creativity of kids and graduates etc.

Q2: Appreciate Commission’s view. Talked about disastrous resources in developing proposals. Maybe it’s time to change procedure on Commission side. Good experience in regional funds. Two-phase process. Pre-proposal, very short, initial selection. Then full proposal. Less resource to develop. Easy on [all sides – proposers, reviewers, Commission]. H2020 was launched, have a third call, the game is as usual. Are you considering this?

JP: The official response. Or the real one. Personal capacity, I agree that we are fighting to get the pre-proposal checking back in to the system. Our experience is that most of the negative pre-proposal feedback was ignored. I’ve said do not submit, its out of scope, don’t bother, then you see the proposals in the evaluation. It’s a political decision from a higher ranking, it’s not up to us. We in the unit think it’s a good idea, to say if you are in scope or not. Second comment. Every time the Commission says streamline the procedures, there’s always a 1y process for each programme, and it gets worse. In terms of paperwork, there are many checks and balances, it’s out of our arena. Our comment is, we don’t negotiate proposals, the proposal as you send it is funded. Made case you can make very good proposal in to excellent. But moving whole Commission is not easy. I’ll take it forward.

Q2: The pre-proposal stage is a screening process. If it doesn’t go through, that’s it. If it does go in, then invite to submit 100 page proposal.

JP: It’s a long conversation.

Q3: In Germany, we have a way to do it, and it did not work properly, so I am not sure this is a way out.

JP: There is no excellent way of submitting.

Q4: Change topic. I came from robotics. Learning technologies call, a number of projects used robotics for teaching maths or other things. I don’t see well the connections. Given you say there are still broadband connectivity problems in schools, how the idea of funding big numbers, robots teaching something, can really fit in to the possibility of making schools capable to assess new technologies. It’s looking too far to what schools can today take on. Even in the next 5-10 years. It’s something for 40 years.

JP: The question is whether there is funding for that. The answer is yes. EU Regional Funds. With loads of money. It’s loads of money. Billions. E.g. Castille-La Mancha can make a bid, to connect schools, give training. Even if a gradual pace. There is EU money for this. It’s not the peanuts we have for research. Hundreds of millions for upgrading this. It’s the political mastters in your local region saying this is important, this is critical. Maybe it’s unknown, there are communication exercises we have to do. There’s DG REGIO, regional funds, looking for ideas for how to spend money! It’s a lose-lose situation. There’s a need in many areas, education. We at our place can only foster it, can not take the lead. Has to come from school heads, the Government, time, strategic plan, broadband suppliers. But nothing is easy. The promises of technology. We can’t say no just because it’s difficult. Training of teachers, there’s millions and millions. Make a bid. I know you’re not the audience. But teachers are not trained. I want to train 25,000 teachers, they will fund it.

Q5: Are you saying we should join it for research funds? It’s not connected. Question is whether suggestion is to combine research fund application with national or regional applications for training teachers and [developing ICT]

JP: There is no linkage. But local initiatives can build up with regional activities. 50% by EU, 50% by local initiatives. But this is only anecdotal evidence.

Q6 (Yishay Mor): Two-stage proposals. Even from 174 proposals would toss a coin, select just 20 and say you submit a full proposal, you would have saved millions of euros that go in to writing and evaluating them. Two-stage just follow logic. Elaborate money for training teachers to use ICT. A lot of us would be happy to engage in it, perhaps you could explain more where the moeny lies.

JP: It’s not my call. EU Structural Funds, to upgrade regions lagging behind. Education is one of them. ICT is eligible. Regions or member states through their regions make a bid through their regions to the EU, saying this is an area of importance, want to train X teachers, address digital skills shortage. If that gets through, normally co-funded, need some backing from local/regional authorities. That normally gets through. Initiative from local or regional Governments, go to educaiton department, see who is looking after structural funds. Some requirements, but research project proposal is harder. It’s easier. It’s not from you personally, it has to come from a public body.

Q7: Strategic perspective beyond project. Some barriers and challenges we face in Europe. Could have shown the same slides 15 years ago in 5th framework. Temporarily limited projects, it’s hard to make long-term structural change. Europe is lagging, some are structural areas you mentioned. What could we do in a more long term way? In other countries, have organisations that co-own the work in a long-term scale. Pre-standardisation in TEL, those organisations are keen to collaborate with Europe. Particularly in multiculturality, privacy, they are open but hard to understand them without active collaboration. Chances to build long-term global coordination of activities?

JP: That goes a bit beyond my remit. All collaboration is good. Many research projects end when the project is finished. Taking up the knowledge in research, it’s only left in research papers. The next step, innovation, there’s scope for improvement in our field. 99% of projects usually fail, the website remains for 2y, but then it is not working. That extra step is where we need to improve. Other countries, especially the US, they are especially good at taking it forward. Europe in general, we buy the content from the West and the hardware from the East, and the EU makes all the research papers. [We’re not that great at those either.]

Q8: Reviewing process, number of proposals, amount of time. Last year, machine learning conference did expt with 2 panels looking at papers. Turned out, less than half of papers accepted by one were accepted by another. This was always my suspicions, the process is partly random. We say the most excellent get funded. It’s better than random, but not much better. Tossing a coin is almost as effective as an entire review process. I’m not saying you should do this. But it’s an argument. I don’t think it is always the case.

JP: I have to disagree.

Q8: Of course you have to. [laughter]

JP: 80 top researchers in the areas of digital learning in the world. I agree there is a random factor, component. I can tell you that, in our review process, the collective effort of all the bodies of learning, the experts we invite, normally we get a fair and good output of the call. A panel review, proposals are literally slaughtered. [?!] I would disagree with you. Many people here know, in a panel, those who have ranked, only the really good proposals are funded. Once you’ve seen the system.

Q8: I’ve been in the system, I know people do it very carefully.

JP: I cannot accept that the collective effort of 80 researchers is less good than tossing a coin.

Q8: Only slightly better. I know it is hard to accept.

Q9: Innovation part. New funding type, successful research projects with good results, to finance next phase of the transfer, work on the next step, to go to next phase with funding. Good prototypes, but companies not convinced to invest millions that it will really fit the market.

JP: We have a problem, we don’t know how to do it. We are thinking how to improve innovation, the next stage I call it. We are looking to that. Our new DG has been tasked with improving innovation at the European level. A need to look at what instruments to make that extra step, to make it available, to give projects a chance. Many do get left in the shelves when the project is finished.

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Author: dougclow

Data scientist, tutxor, project leader, researcher, analyst, teacher, developer, educational technologist, online learning expert, and manager. I particularly enjoy rapidly appraising new-to-me contexts, and mediating between highly technical specialisms and others, from ordinary users to senior management. After 20 years at the OU as an academic, I am now a self-employed consultant, building on my skills and experience in working with people, technology, data science, and artificial intelligence, in a wide range of contexts and industries.

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