We marked International Women’s Day 2017 with an “Inspired in Hull” talk from an exceptional alumna with a fascinating story to tell about her career. From the High Fells to Hull, from English to EdTech, Liz Sproat’s journey as a graduate of the University of Hull has been a remarkable one, and entirely in keeping with the theme of the day. Having graduated from English Language and Literature in 1994, Liz is now Head of Education at Google where she is at the cutting edge of the technological transformations in education and the research sector.
Opening with some personal reflections about the women who had inspired her, Liz talked about her grandmother, who had lived with Liz’s family, and her best friend from University, with whom she is still close. From this personal perspective she opened up the discussion to talk about how societal and technological change had meant that her experiences had differed greatly from her mother’s and grandmother’s, but that also the speed of change meant that even within the time since her graduation, life looked very different and new possibilities had opened up.
Moving onto the main body of her talk, Liz asked us to consider whether society’s approach to education had adapted enough to these changes, and whether young people were being given the skills and experiences that would enable them to thrive in the modern world. If technology can put all of the accumulated human knowledge within our reach, should the focus of education be on increasing retention of facts, or should it be on teaching them how to put knowledge to use? For Liz the answer was clear, facts are important because of how we use them.
Liz had many examples of the ways in which Google had empowered young people to think ambitiously and creatively about the world’s problems, ranging from the fun drawings in answer to the question of what one thing children would like to change in the world, to the Science Fair in which 13-18 year olds put their knowledge and understanding to work in addressing some of the biggest issues and ideas we face today. It was in this context that we heard the story of the teenage girls who wanted to address the world food crisis using agricultural science to apply a beneficial microbe called rhizobium, to help boost crop yields.
Finally, Liz talked about the ways in which Google’s technology had been applied in a school local to Hull to help improve the ways that teachers and pupils interacted with one another and shared and disseminated work and information. Her presentation was very well received by the audience, and Liz happily answered their many questions in a Q&A session, after which the Google Expeditions team treated us to a virtual reality tour of some of the most impressive views in (and out of!) the world.
It’s always interesting to hear how Hull alumni are engaging with and changing the world. With Liz we heard about how one of our graduates is making a difference by equipping young people with the tools, experiences and ambition to change the world and their futures.
David Simpson, Alumni Engagement Manager, University of Hull