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Together for Transformation: Research for a Changing World

Professor Sara de Freitas

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Thursday, 9 March 2023,
18:00 to 19:30
Waterfront Building, University of Suffolk, Neptune Quay, Ipswich, IP4 1QJ


Since the first decade of the 21st Century, the traditional education systems that most of us grew up with have been going through a quiet but significant revolution. In this respect, one of the most obvious examples of this development was demonstrated during the recent global pandemic and the lockdowns of 2020-2022.

Notably, for a great many students during that period, for the very first time, the digital delivery of education services became the default means by which they received their education. However, it is important to note that the ability to provide education in the only way that was legally viable and socially acceptable, at that time, was the result of academic and commercial partnerships and investments that date back to the early 2000s. And in this respect, the development of these kinds of digital services was part of a far wider cross-sectoral and cross-disciplinary set of efforts from academic, commercial and government partners to harness the full potential of digital technologies to reorganize and optimize the ways in which we teach and learn.

However, while most commentators do now acknowledge this ongoing revolution in education, there is still a vibrant debate about precisely what might be changed as a result of the pivot to digital strategies and what should not be changed. In this lecture then, I will set out a notional vision for Education in 2035 consider which of our current approaches in education can be further usefully enhanced and optimized by digital technologies and hybrid strategies. At the same time, drawing from the experiences gained from the development of online education services at all levels, I will look at some of the challenges and considerations that have to be taken into account for the successful planning of future services.


Sara is Director of the Digital Futures Institute. Working with colleagues, the Institute will develop focus areas such as digital education, environment, ICT, health and security. As BT Professor and Director of the DigiTech Centre, Sara is looking to deepen the University’s partnerships and programmes with BT and the ICT cluster of 155 companies based at Adastral Park.

With her Doctoral research in Data Science, Sara’s work has always been cross-disciplinary, initially focusing on understanding how institutions work with respect to digital processes and systems. This set up an interest in understanding natural human computer interfaces and game-based reward and feedback systems, which she explored in her work at the London Knowledge Lab (University of London, now UCL) and the Serious Games Institute (Coventry University). There, Sara was generously supported by Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), European Commission and a range of regional and national funders, addressing research questions around efficacy, natural interfaces, and accelerated learning.

The work was often applied and impactful centring upon systemic improvements through policy and strategy, sectoral development through clusters (ICT and Manufacturing), innovations in education, health and wellbeing and regional growth.

In addition to completing 81 research, development, and knowledge transfer projects, over the period, Sara has developed virtual software applications and demonstrators and three platforms and was fortunate to be a Scientific Coordinator of a large EC-funded network of excellence. Through firsts in field in the new field of serious games and with a deep engagement with digital education, Sara’s models and frameworks, papers, books, case studies and applications led to significant impact regionally, nationally, and internationally.

This work placed Sara well to move into executive roles in the UK and Australia where she was able to apply the lessons learnt from research with significant benefits for students, executives, and Boards, as well as other stakeholders. Through applying the models and approaches developed, Sara was able to become adept at adapting organisations, systems, and processes to digitisation with clear improvements and outcomes. In the recent period, as an AIM-company listed Director, Sara has developed end-to-end systems working with local authorities, a network of universities and contributing to government consultations. Sara holds fellowships with the Royal Society of Arts, Business Excellence Institute, and the Higher Education Academy.



The lecture commences at 18:00, with teas and coffees from 17:30.