Reflections on BETT 2012

Arriving at Kensington Olympia for the annual BETT Show is always a daunting experience. Thousands of people from all over the world converge together for what is the worlds biggest Ed-Tech conference and as soon as you walk into the Great Hall the sheer scale of BETT immediately hits you. As you fight your way through endless crowds and stalls, you are left wondering how on Earth you will ever find your way out again, let alone meet all the objectives of the trip.

Nevertheless, after four days of seminars, meetings, bartering and endless conversations with sales-reps, my colleague Nathalie and myself headed back towards Monaco pleased that although not every question had been answered, we had learnt a huge amount about the significance and importance of educational technologies and the positive impact they were having (or could be having) on students and their learning.

My first conclusion is paradoxically positive; I actually left BETT feeling that I had learnt LESS than during my previous two visits. Not less about the impact and significance of digital technologies in schools, but certainly fewer new ideas / concepts to bring back to the International School of Monaco. The positivity lying beneath this seemingly stark statement is simply because at ISM, we are no longer catching up with the rest of the world regarding ICT, rather we now have in place and are using many of the tools that are regarded at the forefront of innovative teaching. Apps and programmes such as WordPress, Prezi, Audioboo, Storybird, Voicethread and Story Creator were all mentioned as outstanding tools for cross curricular integrated learning in ICT and are all regularly being used at ISM in the Primary School.

However, one web-based tool that was repeatedly mentioned and referred to that has not been fully utilized at ISM is Twitter. Described by Piers Morgan in 2010 as a ‘pathetic, juvenile, pointless waste of time’, (a few still shared by many) Twitter is now regarded by some in the Education World as the greatest source of Professional Development and educational information available on the planet. I attended an interesting seminar in which a panel of experts answered questions on the future of ICT in schools. Their views generally agreed; there is no area of education that is more significant, faster moving and innovative yet misunderstood and poorly managed. The barrier between students and teachers and their knowledge and application of ICT is unacceptable and is it integral that things are done to ensure our learners are provided with the knowledge and skills to utilize the tools at their disposal to their full potential. This is all well and good, but in a time of economic crisis how can this be achieved? Well, firstly schools should be utilizing the technology that the children already have in their pockets. Rather than iPads and iPhones being barred in schools, the students should be allowed to use them in class. Clearly, guidelines and acceptable policies would need to be laid out and strictly adhered to, but this cost-effective approach could save schools thousands, give each child that personalised learning potential that is such an advantage. The second cost effective strategy that schools and teachers could embrace is Twitter.

By signing up to Twitter solely for professional purposes, a teacher is entering a brand new world of ideas, strategies and resources that previously were only available by attending full day/week courses (in which only 20 minutes were of any reward) or through hours upon hours of endless internet searching. By using or following a ‘hashtag’, a teacher can very easily pinpoint information on a specific subject. For example, receive every tweet that features #ukedchat. This is a hashtag used by teachers, educationalists or anyone connected with education and therefore gives me instant access to apps, blogs, resources, opinions, links etc. to anything related to education. Furthermore, every Thursday between 8-9pm there is a specific #ukedchat discussion that thousands of teachers contribute to; keeping you well up to date with the latest views, opinions and pedagogical stance on a whole host of different subjects. Even if one never ‘Tweets’ themselves, twitter can be of huge reward although I must admit, it is rather addictive…

Click HERE for a list of educational hashtags.

So, what next? Well, among all the stands and stalls there were some very interesting educational suppliers with many interesting products. The difficulty is working out which is the best and most appropriate for ISM. Much like with educational Apps on the iPad there is a surplus of different manufacturers all doing very similar things. However, we were able to cipher through them all and feel that we have a few excellent options to improve learning even further at ISM. Watch this (cyber) space…

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Blog Site and ICT Update

Following John Sutton’s visit to ISM, our blogging site is undergoing some major re-construction! A lot of teachers have shown a lot of interest in starting a new blog, so we are currently working hard to organise the site. It should be ready very soon!

In the meantime, at ISM, a small amount of teachers have been allocated iPads and are experimenting with them and various different education related Apps. Furthermore, we are currently trialing the use of Edmodo as a learning network. The early feedback has been extremely positive.

iPods and iPads in the classroom

A group of representatives from ISM, including myself, have just returned from a fascinating trip to the UK and Norway, in which we were able to see some outstanding schools where iPads and iPods are being used to enhance learning.

The first school we saw was the ESSA Academy in Bolton. The staff and kids from ESSA were a real inspiration. The shared vision was quite extraordinary; from the way the intuitive curriculum was organised to the 1-2-1 allocation of iPod touches, everything at ESSA was very forward thinking and aimed at achieving the higest possible standards for the children. The results of the school’s GCSE’s over the last 3 years in fact proved that the vision was working, exceptionally well – in 2008 30% of their children acheived 5 or more GCSE’s A*-C, the figure acheiving that now is 70%…

We then flew to Stavanger International School, via Copenhagen where the project was slightly different. Similarly, the school was using iPod touches as a day to day classroom resource, although the allocation was not yet 1-2-1. Stavanger also has iPads in the classroom, and we were able to see first hand their potential as we walked into a year 1 classroom in which the children were literally using iPads for the first time. Within munites they were loading apps, drawing pictures, writing words and reading. Incredible.

Our final destination was Bowes Primary School in London, where again iPads and iPod touches were regularly being used by the children. We saw them being used in a variety of different contexts; in one y5 class the children were acting scenes from Romeo and Juliet, taking photos and then adding speech and thought bubbles in Old English to a comic strip! This was happening in a matter of seconds.

A huge thank you to all three schools, whose hospitality, advice and knowledge were outstanding and incredibly motivating. Whenever we saw the devices being used, we saw engagement, collaboration and learning. Food for thought for all involved and certainly an inspiring and exciting glimpse into what the future holds for education. A future, that is not what it used to be…