Monday, 12 October 2009

Naace's Autumn conference 2009

This year's Autumn Naace conference took place last Friday and Saturday and, as it was my first experience of this, I thought I'd share a couple of things I learned.

1. The Home Access programme, for all its potential pitfalls and doubtless negative future press ("Barmy Becta's mobile devices sold for glue" etc) looks like it could be a truly transformational initiative, making a real difference to disadvantaged families. This is, after all, what central government should be all about. Becta's Steve Goodman gave details of the offer (device + support + connectivity + software + assistive kit if required), who was eligible (Free School Meals families, essentially, starting with those in KS2 + 3) and the news that they plan to get 270,000 households safely across the Digital Divide by late 2011, regardless of the looming spectre of Gove et al. My opinion is that if these devices are to most effective (most will be mobile), they need to integrate successfully with any Managed Service being offered by BSF projects. This is partly a challenge for MSPs but it would be reassuring to know that Becta had thought about it too (perhaps through a basic set of standards all devices would comply with?). In summary though; looks exciting!

2. Vital Skills (a DCSF-funded regionally-delivered project from eSkills UK and the OU) is positioning itself as the antidote to NOF, which is good because I'm still suffering recurrent symptoms. I was hoping to leave this session with a clear understanding of what Vital's concrete offering would be, but I'm still a little hazy about this. Here's what I hope will be the cornerstones; school-based, colleague-led, practice-driven initiatives which go far beyond 'training'. Debbie Forster and Peter Twining raised this very interesting question however; why we as teachers spend so long developing brilliant practice for helping others learn, but revert to the simplest and least effective of didactic methods when engaging in professional development ourselves...

3. Twitter at conferences; It's a good thing if contributions are evenly spread across a diverse audience. I liked Chris Gerry's suggestion that people offer live criticism of his section, so that he could rebut it there and then!

4. New Line Learning. I already know a fair bit about this project (these two Kent Academies are clients of Novatia) but I was blown away by the clarity and scope of Dr. Chris Gerry's vision for how ICT should be impacting on students' lives. The Business Intelligence model he described (essentially getting to grips with as much knowledge about learners as is possible, from a range of sources, and using similar historical data to see which interventions work best with these groups of young people) has the potential to fundamentally change how the education sector uses data; honestly, it's an information revolution in the making. Talking to a fellow delegate on the way out, we wondered why the big MIS players hadn't addressed this before and concluded that it must have been down to the market's appetite for such a product. But if New Line Learning can get it to work as described on the tin, I can't think of a school in the world that wouldn't want to buy it, such is the ability to intervene and change lives it will afford.

Congratulations to Naace and all the contributors for two very illuminating days.

Dominic Norrish