Harnessing technology – beyond tomorrow

May 05, 2006

Miles Berry

NCSL asked me to run my seminar on ‘extending the school’ for Wednesday’s London conference as part of their SLICT conference series. My perspective is, as you’d expect, about the contribution that a VLE can make to extending opportunities for learning beyond school into the home environment, and thus utilizing pupils’ home technology to provide far more access to computing to support and enhance the curriculum. Having been inspired by some of Futurelab’s work on informal learning and personalisation, I’ve also tried to weave in a few threads about using blogging and personal learning spaces to reverse the direction and bring some of the strengths of home based learning into the school too. As my audience was school leaders, the key message was about choosing and using learning platforms in a way that supports and underpins the school’s own vision for learning and teaching. I think the sessions were well received by those attending, and there were some good questions raised. The notion of using Moodle courses (or their equivalent) as a mechanizm for communication with parents seemed an appealing one. Somewhat depressingly, this was the second NCSL event where I’ve been asked ‘what does open source mean’. I’ve uploaded a pdf of the slides, and NCSL have asked me to take part in one of their Hotseat follow up discussions for the next three weeks, for those who have Talk2Learn accounts

The two plenary sessions made interesting contrasts. In the morning we had Doug Brown of the DfES Technology Group bringing folks up to speed on the latest thinking for the big picture stuff about schools IT. Interestingly, he (and Becta) seem to be talking now about personalised content rather than personalised learning. I think this is rather worrying, and Doug’s example of the machine deciding “It seems you’ve responded well to content presented visually, so here’s more content in a similar format” did little to set my mind at rest. Surely we should be using the huge potential of networked learning to have our students working together to create things, and engaging with authentic problems and other people in the process, rather than returning to an old fashioned notion of individuals working through texts and exercises, even if these are now multimedia, adaptively designed SCORM packages.

One of the other delegates challenged him about the perceived centralisation coming from the DfES IT people, and he said something quite curious in response, indicating that the reason why he sees us at the cutting edge of educational computing world wide is because they’ve allowed 23,000 flowers to bloom and encouraged a culture of innovation in schools, but now the priority has to be to make sure that the practice of the best and the good is adopted by all the other schools. What I’m not clear about is whether the stadardization that this involves is going to leave much room for risk taking, creativity and enterprise at school level. He’s not happy about teachers spending time supporting their own use of computers, which sounds fine at first, but will ultimately result in a teaching profession who will be end-user consumers of the IT industry’s offerings, at the mercy of the good folk on the tech support desk.

The afternoon session was with Russell Prue, self-styled ICT Evangelist. Now, knowing something of Russell’s background with RM, and a little of his reputation, I thought I wasn’t going to enjoy this, but actually it was really good stuff. OK, so he’s very much the showman, and his style may not suit everyone, but his sheer enthusiasm for the difference that the technology can make came across loud and clear. It was also refreshing to find him using more technology than PowerPoint for his presentation, and he even had a mobile number for folks to txt him with questions during the session. Perhaps not surprisingly for a former RM employee, there was a focus on hardware, but some of this was pretty cool, like the Digital Music Mixer or PSPs as wifi tablets (apparently there’s a keyboard available now). There was a refreshing focus on encouraging pupils’ creativity in this session, which was perhaps missing from the morning one.