Tuesday, 18 January 2011

That was the week that was

This week the UK’s educational technology community is collectively breathing out/ succumbing to flu following the annual lunacy of three frantic days at Olympia buying, selling and – mostly – networking. Annual lunacy which this year was prolonged (at least for the well-healed – tickets were several hundred pounds, although the Sunday was free) by the transplanted Learning Without Frontiers conference which took place Sunday to Tuesday.

LWF, clearly pitching to supplant BETT as the event for edtech cognoscenti and international delegations, used its marketing to ridicule visitors to the grande dame of ICT as sheep following the herd… and then proceeded to hand each of its own attendees an iPad without a trace of irony. By all accounts, those who went along had a lovely, multi-touchy time.

CropperCapture[2]Image: opencage.info

However, LWF’s organiser Graham Brown-Martin (@GrahamBM) has got a point. In the post-Becta policy vacuum, the ongoing relevance of BETT 2011 has been repeatedly questioned the twitterati. An inevitable focus of ‘product’ not ‘practice and policy’ was predicted but did not, in my opinion, come to pass. I think this was for three main reasons;
  • The decision of an increasing number of companies to use *gasp* real teachers and children to demonstrate and explain how the product in question helps with learning
  • The fact that the policy and practice aspects of previous BETTs had always read well in the pre-show seminar list but often failed to deliver, usually being a rehash of ideas or a skating over of the surface of an issue
  • The ever-growing prevalence of teacher-led training events such as TeachMeet Takeover
Playful rumours of BETT’s death (from @johnmclear in this instance) therefore proved to have been partially exaggerated, to misquote Mark Twain’s phrase – the place was as full as ever of pushy vendors, excited teachers, and garrulous foreigners - but it's certainly evolving. See @theheadsoffice's blog for details.

CropperCapture[3]Image: timloughton.com

Speculation that education minister Nick Gibb would be speaking on Wednesday proved groundless (which would have been a bit like Darth Vader eulogising at an Ewok funeral anyway), but we did hear from the acceptable, cuddly, eSafety face of the DfE in the form of Tim Loughton (“the time has come to place technology at the absolute centre of our aspirations for a world class education sector” – note the word aspiration. That’s politician code for ‘un-enforcably vague promise’).

CropperCapture[4]Image: trixter.net

As usual, there was a lot of familiar stuff cluttering up multiple stands. The industry clearly seems to think schools really need huge interactive plasma screens (starting at £3000) and 3D projectors. Time will tell, but I’m with Dr. Kermode on this one. I’ll also be interested to see if the virtual mountain bikes being promoted on European Electronique’s stand find a market.

So what was worth seeing? Having long been a proponent of games in education, it was great to see so many games companies emerging into the education space. Playing History seems to be a great way into some hard to visualise topics for KS2 and KS3 students, with players navigating their way through a point and click quest-style storyline. Alternatively, Games Ed’s Sustainaville takes the approach of using a single class version of a SimCity-like game to inspire groups to tackle various urban problems, co-ordinating their approach with other groups and debating decisions before they are modelled by the game. A great approach to developing thinking and team-working skills. Not new but still brilliant, I remain a fan of Stock Market Challenge which, for all its brazenly capitalist ideology, is a superbly motivating way to get students to understand the interconnectedness of economics through competing with their maths and business skills to beat their friends. A use of technology in schools the current administration would unreservedly condone (knew I’d find one if I looked hard enough)!

CropperCapture[1]Image: betterteaching.com

Something else I was pretty impressed with was the classroom observation kit provided by Iris Connect. I’ve been recommending fixed camera's into CPD suites for a few years now, but Iris Connect’s back-end software has been superbly thought through with a view to making video footage a really effective development tool for teachers and observers. It’s portable between classrooms too - highly recommended. I don’t know if the company has been floated, but if so, buy some shares now - with the Government’s plan to move teacher training out of Universities and into schools, these things are going to start selling like hot-cakes.

Dominic Norrish. Follow me on twitter