“Education is massive and there is innovation to be found in an amazing variety of ways through coworking”-Laura Billings (Edspace)
Edspace was started by four cofounding directors, who all worked in education in some way, but felt that changes needed to be made. The Edspace Team were inspired by the coworking movement, realizing that that could not only benefit from working in a sector specific space, but that they could foster change via a shared workspace that focused on education and community.
We spoke with Laura and James from the Edspace team to learn more about the role that coworking can play in changing education for the better.
Hi, Edspace team. Can you please tell us a bit about how you started your space?
(Laura)We started off in a temporary space in Camden in London, that was around 4,000 square feet. Once we outgrew that, we had the opportunity to move to our official home, in partnership with the Hackney Community College. Today we have 11,000 square ft, with over 40 companies who are out members, while continuing to grow.
Since your space is focused on transforming education can you please tell us why you chose to create a niche space, rather than one that would be open to various startups and professions?
(Laura)There’s a huge movement of coworking spaces of course, and many of them are open to anyone, but for us we saw a benefit to being sector-specific. One of the main benefits of narrowing our focus was to pinpoint the specific shared challenges by our community and therefore we make space for highly productive collaboration. We are all sharing a social mission in addition to a business one.
We get feedback from a lot of people who have found that they didn’t have much in common with other companies when they were a part of other more broad coworking spaces. As we are not just a space, but also an education institution, there is no better place to look at education in terms of the opportunities that the college gives , which includes access to students and teachers.
What were some of the challenges that you identified in the education system that you are now attempting to change/improve?
(Laura)The education system is still very traditional but, education is a huge ecosystem that involves not only institutions but also libraries, parents, grandparents, in addition to life long learning, career development, employment opportunities and various other specialties. In short, education is massive and there is innovation to be found in an amazing variety of ways and areas.
Edspace as a coworking space does not tackles a specific challenge, but moreover, supports members who are tackling specific challenges.
How does a coworking facilitate progress within education? Can you give us any examples of projects between coworkers that have led to changes?
(Laura)One of the things we offer is support to members, including connecting them to professionals experts from the college, as well as external experts for anything from public speaking, to investment, to making an effective pitch or even how to hone the skills that are need to build a successful education company.
Also, Emerge Education is our sister company and they are a three month accelerator program for edtech companies. Some examples of how things are currently moving forward would be a company called Empowering Futures, who is in touch with the Careers office at the college. We are also organizing events that link the companies that work here with school leaders in the local community. We are also organizing an event that links the companies that work here with school
(James) The idea behind this event is to showcase the most innovative companies and companies that we have at edspace with that hope that the schools wll use them and in turn imporve the quality of education. One of the biggest problems for schools is that they don’t know what some of these companies can offer because, there is a a gap between school leaders and edtech companies and we are trying to currently bridge that gap.
How can coworking spaces create room for collaboration with outside partners, and, does your community work with external communities?
(Laura) The classes we offer are put on by different experts, only some of which are members. We also have breakfasts that anyone can attend in which teachers from the college have joined , as well as people interested in becoming members. We support local businesses, including the store where we buy fruit for our members from Buzz Bar, a one stop media shop up the road with whom we partner and with and through we have various discounts.
In the future we could possibly utilize other aspects of out resource rich neighborhood, including the public library on site, the nursery and the primary school. The longer we are here the more relationships we build.
Do you believe that coworking spaces should be implemented in classrooms, or should students have access to a space? How do you imagine the role of coworking in education in the future?
(Laura) More and more people are working in careers or roles that suit coworking spaces. Also , more traditional offices are trying to become more like coworking spaces, so there is a benefit for students to see the advantages of coworking spaces as that will be the direction of a lot of companies. There are some schools such as the Stockholm school without classrooms that is descrbed as a “meeting place with a positive and open atmosphere” that are also deisigned like a coworking space , so tht are schools experiementing with this type of dynamic and trying to translate the lessons of an effective coworking space into a school.
Also, how do you see technology changing the way we approach education?
(James) Firstly, education is going to move away from traditional ways of consuming knowledge so we’ll start moving away from textbooks and seeing different ways to learn. A good example is Now Press Play, an edtech startup who uses wireless technology to give children a unique learning experience. I also think technology has a big tole to play in helping teachers provide feedback and communication with students. Technology aims to make teachers’ lives easier so that they can focus more on teaching and less on administrative tasks.
What types of skills do the future generation of workers need to learn today to prepare them for professional success?
(James) Clearly there is a greater need in the UK for better IT and computing skills. That is something that is lacking. There needs to be more emphasis on character traits such as wit and determination that aren’t being measured presently.