CAT | Events
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Running from January 30th to February 2nd last week was the 29th Bett show, the British education training and technology event. This year was bigger than ever before and to accommodate the increasing demand Bett moved to the Excel arena which meant our journey involved an exciting trip on the DLR. There was a lot of hype around the event this year with #Bett_show trending throughout the week:
New this year was the Bett Arena, a 750 seat amphitheatre to host talks from influential thought leaders in education from around the world, including Vince Cable and Professor Brain Cox. The education sector was shaken up in 2012 – ‘The year of the MOOC’ – so it was exciting to see two MOOC pioneers also attended the show – Shimon Shocken and Daphne Koller of Coursera.
In the opening ceremony Microsoft’s VP for education Anthony Salcito’s proclaimed that ‘’Technology will always step up to the challenge we need in our classrooms’’, so let’s take a quick look at what stepped up this year:
Innovation was abundant and it was focused around tablets, apps and cloud technologies. As expected, everywhere you turned to look there was an interactive whiteboard and some were showcasing some impressive improvements – SMART were exhibiting their Short Range Projectors which can be mounted only 50cm away from the board, meaning no more blinding lights for teachers. GloView have launched Any Surface IWB which can be used on any wall to turn it into a touch sensitive interactive whiteboard. 3D projectors like 3D Visualisation by Reach Out Interactives Ltd were another exciting development meaning that students can see objects such as a beating heart in 3D, moving it around to view all angles. Augmented reality apps also featured at the show with Samsung showing an app that scanned codes to show 3D objects that could be moved around on a 2D screen.
The range of interactive learning resources on show was incredible and we particularly enjoyed being shown around the Royal Society of Chemistry’s interactive periodic table:
Big this year was the Cloud; looming and ominous, it looks to be supplying programmers and educators with unlimited possibilities. Google Apps and Microsoft Office 365 were promoting their cloud based applications. Microsoft Office 365 enables you to run Office applications such as Word, PowerPoint and Excel within your web browser – to launch the program all you need to do is log into a website. Integration with SkyDrive cloud storage and the fact that you don’t need the programs installed on your harddrive to run them means that students can access the programs and their files anywhere.
However, whilst there were lots of impressive technologies on show, this does not always translate straightforwardly into improved learning in the classroom. In November NESTA found that “costly digital technology that has the power to transform education often sits in boxes because teachers do not know how best to use it”. Chief executive Geoff Mulgan said: “The emphasis is too often on shiny hardware rather than how it is to be used.” The technology available offers so many valuable opportunities to educators and students that it cannot afford to be underutilised. The show opened with the message that technology should follow the needs of teaching and this was a theme ran throughout Bett 2013. The slogan “vision before technology” was used by Janet Hayward (Cadoxton Promary School) and Tom Rees (Simon de Senlis Primary School) as they expressed the “need to take an educational perspective as opposed to a technological approach to digital learning by training our best teachers to talk about how it benefits them and their classes’’. This is where Bett becomes all-important; events like TeachMeets allow teachers to share their experiences, favourite resources and to learn from each other. Resources such as Teachers TV, which we were very happy to see in it’s new form at the show, are vital to share knowledge and helping keep teachers up to date and informed. The countless workshops, meetings, breakout sessions and LearnLive talks that Bett facilitates provide a platform to bring together and encourage discussion between the developers, teachers and content providers. Communication on this level is vital to ensure that the exciting technological advances exhibited at the show are used to their full potential and not left clean and shiny in their boxes.
Wednesday 13th January sees this year’s BETT Show roll into town. Housed within London’s cavernous Olympia and playing host to 600 exhibitors and almost 30,000 visitors, BETT is the largest educational technology conference in the world.
Every year BETT gives teachers and those involved in education the opportunity to enhance their knowledge of learning through technology. We will be there, catching up with friends, partners and clients – and investigating some of the new developments at the start of an exciting new decade for ICT in education.
The central theme that seems to be coming out of the build up to BETT 2010 is playfulness. Professor Stephen Heppell will be running a new feature at the expo entitled ‘Playful Learning’ – an interactive area where visitors can immerse themselves in educational gaming at its best and use fun technology to overcome learner engagement issues.
Prof Heppell points out that “survey after survey suggests that our UK schoolchildren may be some of the least happy in Europe” and thinks he has the solution: “Playful learning is great fun and has re-energised classrooms, rekindled school-parent relationships and re-engaged brains.”
Other new features for BETT 2010 include the Future Learning Spaces area, which will give visitors a glimpse of what classrooms could look like in several years’ time, and TeachMeet Takeover – thirty minute slots when vendors hand over their stalls to informal, teacher-led discussions.
BETT 2010 looks set to reflect the trends and developments of the past year. The last twelve months has seen the continued rise of social media, and particularly the explosion of Twitter into the mainstream. There has been a degree of acceptance that these media are valid forms of communication for children and young people, with suggestions that they can improve confidence and literacy.
The prominence of these topics is reflected in the seminar programme at the event. Other significant issues of the past year include augmented reality (AR) and eSafety. The former is represented by Futurelab’s Spark, a mobile exhibition which uses 2D AR markers to enhance pupils’ experience in the classroom. Meanwhile Roar Educate’s Us Online seeks to educate pupils on safety, security and good citizenship in the online world.
The Government’s Home Access scheme is being formally launched at BETT 2010. A trial of the scheme – which will seek to remedy the ‘digital divide’ by providing 270,000 low income homes with computers and internet access – “went like a rocket” according to Becta, the government agency in charge of it. The scheme is exciting news for all those working with ICT in education – but it is likely to cause controversy given the state of the economy as a general election approaches.
We will be helping our good friends at QCDA. Since last year’s event we have been working hard together on mycurriculum.com, a website which allows teachers to connect and collaborate with each other by discussing best practice and sharing resources, activities and examples of pupils’ work. QCDA will be showcasing the site on two of their four ‘pods’ so come and check it out at Stand J30.
See you there!
On 30th June Channel 4 education hosted “What Comes Next?”, its summer conference. The attendees were what Flux calls “an eclectic mix of digital media and education professionals“, and the day was characterised by an inspiring degree of enthusiasm from both audience and speakers alike. Below are some soundbites which stuck out in my head – not necessarily direct quotes, these snippets may have fallen victim to my unreliable memory and atrocious handwriting:
‘Culture eats strategy for Breakfast’
Zenna Atkins, Chair of Ofsted, impressed upon us that government can come up with strategy until it’s blue in the face, but unless a culture is nurtured in which that strategy can flourish, be that an approach to education or anything else, it’s fighting a losing battle from the off. I couldn’t agree more. But creating that culture is a problem of complexity and sophistication, as I’m sure Zenna realises. It might be politically naive of me to suggest this, but I imagine a great deal of strategy aims at precisely that.
I was also struck by one thing that she said might characterise the future – an increasing modularity of life. That is to say, a movement away from a life split into dedicated chunks of work, rest and play. We’ll all be alternating between them much more rapidly, to the point where we’re mostly doing all three at the same time. I was under the impression that this was just how idiot twenty somethings like me lived. It’s reassuring, in a way, that this is a wider phenomenon.
“We are built for face to face interaction…
…and technology provides a barrier to that.”
Or so says Shaun Bailey, co-founder of My Generation, and a prospective Conservative Candidate for the constituency of Hammersmith and Shepherds Bush. The idea being that as a species, human beings are best at talking to each other face to face – which is an easy thing to forget when you’re playing Call of Duty 4 live with people in Beijing, Toronto and Johannesburg, all at the same time. I’m always wary, though, of the picture so often painted of people permanently plugged into machines alone in darkened rooms whilst the sun shines brightly in an outside, personal and social world which they have left behind. In addition to facilitating long distance communication, technology also gives rise to curious idiosyncracies in face to face encounters, like the way in which we watch youtube with our friends. I’ll grant that Shaun was simply recommending caution (he himself admits that technology is a wonderful thing), but I don”t think the slope is quite that slippery.
“The picture of me sitting around watching TV with the family is an anomaly.”
David Smith, Head of ICT at St Paul’s School, Barnes, (who I have since had the pleasure of talking to in person), suggested that the kind of collaboration and crowd generated content, that has characterised Web 2.0, is a return to form. Curiously reminiscent of Tim Berners-Lee’s comments that so-called web 2.0 was what the internet was for all along. David went on to describe some very interesting things that his students have been doing with facebook to complement lessons. When it’s so simple to set up a facebook group to allow pupils to collaborate on classroom assignments, you have to wonder whether the case against schools banning the site has gained a little more weight.
‘Pumping technology into classrooms for no reason is an awful idea.
Using technology to promote learning outside of the classroom, is a good idea.’
Donald Clark, co-founder of Epic Group and hailed as an e-learning expert, attacked what many would call technological development in the classroom with alarming ferocity. I agree that “technology”, a word which I’ve often found myself saying so many times I barely know what it means any more, is often thought of as an educational panacea; it’s an attitude like that which means schools get kitted out with interactive whiteboards with no training for staff, and there are apparently plans for electronic tablet desks to be introduced too, which Donald found witheringly laughable. I admire his fervour and agree with his views. I also find him a little scary.
Are bank bonuses and MP expenses just sensationalist news fodder or genuinely a sign of our times? Do we live in a time without morals?
These and other questions will be debated at the UK’s first philosophy and music festival which takes place in Hay on Wye on 22nd-31st May (at the same time as the Hay Literary Festival). It is organised by our sister organisation, the Institute of Art and Ideas. OCC has designed the festival website.
With the overall theme: ‘Crunch. Values and Belief in a new era’ the Philosophy Sessions examine where we are and where we might go from here. The festival brings together a celebrated cast of speakers including philosophers Simon Blackburn, Susan Neiman, AC Grayling, sociologists Steve Fuller, Zygmunt Bauman, and political theorists Will Hutton, Phillip Blond, Geoff Mulgan. Evenings are host to musical sets from performers including Michael Nyman, Baka Beyond, Stephen Fretwell and many more; as well as daily comedy sketches come from the likes of Ed Aczel and Robin Ince. For more information or to book tickets visit www.howthelightgetsin.org.
You can become a fan of the festival on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/pages/hay-on-wye/How-the-light-gets-in-festival-at-hay-2009/ and for those who tweet, you can follow us on Twitter on http://twitter.com/howthelightgets.
So. The BETT show is over. Online CC spent a great deal of time at the event, which for the second year in a row struck me as an unholy marriage of a livestock pen and a telesales call. I only spent a day at Olympia, but the experience sapped my strength so much that it felt like a week.
I don’t have much of a problem admitting that I didn’t like BETT – it seems to be pretty much unanimously agreed by everyone I spoke to there that time at a show like BETT takes its toll; which isn’t to say that the whole thing is pointless or uninteresting of course. It’s a very good thing for people in the industry to get together like this, and every year some real gems come up, which make the over-priced refreshments and crawling through Learning Management Software stands worth it.
Take Rafi.ki, for example. Rafi.ki is an online learning community which builds partnerships between schools all over the world. Pupils exchange information with one another, embark on projects together, and make friends. Simple? Yes. Worthwhile? Undoubtedly. Successful? It seems so. The gent on the stand (one John Macnutt, lovely guy) pointed out that on facebook, most children simply collect people who are already their friends and remain in those groups. Here was something that allowed children to make new friends, and work together on projects that can be extremely valuable.
Or Roar Educate’s “Us Online“, an ‘online learning module’ which allows children to learn about what exactly you can do on the internet, via the experience of a set of fictional characters. I saw a demonstrator show how a learner can help a girl set up a myspace page, from choosing her screen name and picture to making friends; and it’s only once you’ve set up a profile picture of the character in her underwear and befriendied a suspicious individual called fluffybunny73 who says he ‘likes to play’ that the program takes you step by step through what you’ve done that might have gotten you into such a situation. This kind of digital literacy is working its way up the agenda as people accept that things like Myspace are now a fact of life, and learning through experience and simulation is a great way to get across the idea that your actions in the digital realm are not without consequences.
Or Pixton, a really fun site that allows people to (fairly) easily create and share their own webcomics. I don’t know a great deal about ‘Pixton for Schools‘, but there’s been a lot of talk about video games’ ability to present content to children. Comics, as another staple of my youth, show real potential to do the same.
Rambling around the upper levels I stumbled across some charming gents from Rolling Sound, who run multimedia courses for schools, community groups and young people ‘at risk’. Roll 7 is a recent expansion of Rolling Sound, and are a company making socially responsible video games, actively recruiting from the young people that complete courses at Rolling Sound. Their flagship piece is a game called ‘Dead Ends‘, which managed to make it onto Channel 4 News in its treatment of knife crime. It’s even got Jon Snow in it. I also almost tripped over Serious Games Interactive’s very small stall; these guys make a series of games called ‘Global Conflicts’, which aim to inform on the (extremely complex) issues behind some of the most intractable and damaging conflicts in the world. As ever, I’m a sucker for video games and so must admit to taking a disproportionate amount of interest in stalls like this…
Finally, I did a double take at the back of Olympia Grand Hall when I walked a stand where grown men and women seemed to be playing Dance Dance Revolution on the kind of wet-pour rubber surface that you get on playground floors. It turned out to be Smartus by Lappset, an intriguing hybrid of digital game based learning and physical exercise – whether it’s stepping on marked tiles in the right order, or running round posts as quickly as you can, Smartus has developed installations for playgrounds or indoor halls which have children taking orders from weather friendly consoles. Though I didn’t partake myself, I imagine it to be like performing mental arithmetic whilst playing ‘tag’.
I’m not sure I like the sound of that.
Last week Online ventured north to the 2008 Scottish Learning Festival … always worth the trip because of the buzz around the show (and the fact that it’s far more manageable than London’s rather overwhelming BETT show).
The show itself is ok, but the talks, meetings (e.g. Teachmeet) and case studies on offer around the festival is where the good stuff happens. Channel 4 was there to showcase their latest education projects (e.g. The Insiders), and LT Scotland impressed with their attitude towards and demonstrable results of the use of commercial games in schools. Who knew that the Nintendo Wii and games such as ‘Endless Ocean’ could be such an effective learning tool! LT Scotland’s Derek Robertson clearly does and has been busy ‘evangelising’ and persuading students, teachers and parents through his work at the Sottish Centre for Games and Learning – Consolarium. He has just been nominated for special achievement award at the upcoming Handheld Learning show, and I can see why.
Even a talk on classroom voting technologies and devices proved to be a lot more interesting than expected. These things have moved on a lot since I last paid attention to them. In fact they do their best to appear and function much like a mobile phone. How long, I wonder, before students will be able (and allowed) to use their own phones?
Clayton Christensen’s new book, Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns looks at the reasons why public schools in the US struggle to help all children fulfil their potential and offers solutions based on Christensen’s studies of innovation in the commercial sector. The answer, he argues, lies with online learning.
In fact, Christensen is so confident of his conclusion that he predicts by 2019, approx 50% of high school courses will be delivered online and by 2024, this percentage will have become 80%.
Christensen works from the assumption that children, and by extension people, learn in different ways. Therefore to teach effectively, schools need to cater their teaching style to the learning needs of each child (personalized learning being the appropriate buzz word). Unfortunately, this is currently not possible as the one teacher, one textbook, one time approach (named monolithic instruction by Christensen) employed by most US public schools leaves little opportunity for customisation. Do not fear, however, because online learning is at hand to save the day. Educational software will facilitate customised learning by allowing students to pick a teaching style, to learn at their own pace and to repeat material as necessary. In such a vision, teachers will act as tutors, walking around the class helping students with particular problems and providing guidance where necessary; instruction will be left to computers.
Unlike the sceptics who have noted the potential for online learning but argued that technophobia is widespread and schools will fail to harness the potential of new technology, Christensen believes that US public schools will adjust with relative ease to this new approach. The book briefly reviews some of the major changes that have occurred in the US state education system in the last hundred years and concludes that schools have proved themselves adept at adopting and meeting changing goals.
Happily the title “Disrupting Class” is not an attack on teachers in anyway but a reference to his theory of disruptive innovation. Differentiating between sustaining and disruptive innovations, Christensen identifies the latter with new products that are more accessible and usually cheaper, but initially of lower quality to existing products in the marketplace. Disruptive innovations therefore first take root among nonconsumers of the older products, whilst the underlying technology improves until the new product is of equal or higher quality to the traditional products. Applied to education, e-learning and its variants will first take root among students that for some reason cannot access their desired subjects within schools. For example, home schooled students, schools in rural areas where there are a lack of specialist teachers, poor rural urban schools that lack funds for specialist teachers or a wide array of course offerings or bright students that want to pursue non conventional subjects that are not offered in their schools. As more students enrol in e-learning courses, (and Christensen cites data showing that between 2000 and 2007, there was a 22 fold increase in enrolments) the quality of the courses will improve until mainstream schools are using online learning as a routine teaching tool.
Christensen’s greatest contribution to the education debate is definitely to place it within the framework of his theory of disruptive innovation. If like me, this was not a theory you had previously encountered, then the book makes for especially fascinating reading. I was so inspired that immediately after finishing it, I ordered The Innovator’s Dilemma (1997), Christensen’s first book and winner of the Global Business Book Award for the best business book of the year. And generally, it’s just nice to read a book that is so positive about the future of education, because it seems to me that its predictions are as salient to the UK as they are for the US.