Posts Tagged ‘BETT2009’
At BETT all the big companies are represented and none more so than Microsoft. For purely personal temperamental reasons I usually make a wide berth around Microsoft products, but a demonstration of Microsoft Surface made me linger. It was quite exciting! At first it seemed like a totally unnecessary piece of equipment. Microsoft Surface is a hardware and software combo that allows students to interact in a group with digital content “in a revolutionary way”. The physical unit is a large touchscreen table top around which students can gather and… play with content by dragging their fingers (all fingers, some fingers, one finger) across the surface. It encourages co-operation and is visually very satisfying. You can move, stretch and minimise objects with your hands, objects placed on the surface “introduce themselves” by displaying information. Very fancy (and no doubt very expensive). Still, the question if this is merely a very expensive technological toy does come to mind. Is this really very different from the way a teacher would have brought in physical photographs and asked students to huddle round and interact with the physical objects? Of course it is slicker – but is that enough of an improvement to justify the expense? Does it have the educational advantages that it promises, or is it merely exciting because it is new? Naturally, windows surface is much more versatile than merely a visual aid to share photography. It can display a variety of images (which will always be in peak condition unlike those on photopaper), and video and audio. The table can authenticate users by placing chips or ID cards on the surface. There is a drawing application and the screen responds to the touch of brushes as well as fingers. Learning programmes can be loaded that encourage students to interact and work
things out in groups. (Again, we should at least ask – is group work dependent on technology or on teacher encouragement?) The demonstrator showed how medical records could be called up and displayed, showing patient information including 3D images of a heart which can be rotated and zoomed into all by a mere drag of a finger. That’s when the thing became really impressive and what seemed like no more than an expensive “toy” came into its (educational) own and where I could imagine it as a useful application in teaching. But apparently, Microsoft is targeting this as a consumer good and this video does a good job explaining why you’d have to be a bit stupid to buy (into) it.
BETT is the world’s largest educational technology event (or so it says) and it’s certainly massive. After not attending for 2 years, I very happily spent the day there yesterday. After queueing for 1 hour and 20 minutes (my bad luck the system had a bit of a breakdown and I was in a particularly bad queue, others were much luckier) I finally got in at about 11.45am and was immediately overwhelmed by the sheer volume of it all. Stand after stand after stand of sales people hawking their wares, albeit in a very pleasant manner. I should have used the online interactive BETT route planner before I got there, but I hadn’t and so I just wandered around for 20 minutes and then decided to attend a seminar that had caught my eye:
The speaker, Clare Johnson, was enthusiastic enough and a fervent advocate for the use of IT in the classroom. She underlined the importance of ownership when it came to kit, explaining how the electronic objects we use everyday (mobiles, laptops) become personalised possessions and that pupils work better if they too are allowed to develop a sense of ownership over their equipment, even if it is only for the duration of a school year. Fair point – I too treat my own and work computers as personal and would find it difficult to work in the same way if I had to share. The independent is running an article on an initiative that promotes the same principle today. [Noteworthy is this supporting statement by a 10 year old pupil: “”It’s better than just doing it on paper, and you can save all of your work,” he says. “Pen and paper is just boring.”] But I would have liked her to suggest that an alternative to schools providing the kit for students might be for teachers to utilise much of the kit that students already own themselves. Of course there are still many students who do *not* have their own kit, who do not own a mobile or a home computer, but any alternative to buying yet more and more kit for every child should at least be explored. In the complimentary BETT guide in wednesday’s education supplement guardian, there was an article asking “How green is my classroom?”
Making classrooms greener great – but hopefully not by way of bying new, “greener” kit and chucking out the old.
Clare Johnson ended her talk by complaining about the reality of student education, focusing on the statistic that despite the efforts of government iniatives to bring IT to schools, a far too high percentage of teaching/ learning is still done by “copying from books or the board”. She seemed really upset about it, but seemed to presuppose that this is a “bad thing”. But why is it bad? She didn’t reason the point other than by pointing out that outside of the classroom, children spend much time on social networking sites. Yes… but… when I was in school I spent much of my time outside the classroom sitting on swings or watching cartoons on television. This did not however help me in any way with my geography or maths.
I get Ms Johnson’s point, of course (are there better ways of engaging students in their learning than making them copy information from books?); yet something else rankled. Effectively lambasting teachers for not using ICT creatively in their teaching, she made this point in the most archaic fashion. She delivered a 45 minute lecture to a silent audience, from a podium, supported only by a few powerpoint slides, crammed with text. Just like lecturers do all over the country. Isn’t there something about leading by example?