What I learned from BETT 2012 #2: Grass isn’t always greener

I’ve never experienced a different education system than the British one, but of course the odd snippet or two has come my way over the years which have led me to the following beliefs about education in different countries:

  • The district structure in the US is ideal with between 10 and 20 schools in each district.
  • Hungarian education is best at teaching maths.
  • Finland is perfect.
This BETT washed those beliefs away like the chaff they really are.

 

I spoke to a Norwegian lecturer bemoaning the loss of small rural schools and the devastating impact it is on their community.

 

I spoke to US educators tearing their hair out at the slow pace of change exhibited in their state’s education system, with each district being stalled and blocked by what they really want to do.

 

I spoke to teachers from Germany decrying their assessment regime in the way in categorises students into 3 categories of achievement at the age of 9 or 10 – you know whether you’ll be going to university at that age.

 

I spoke to an Italian teacher shocked at how much technology was available to British schools and how little to Italian schools.

 

And I thought, it’s not actually that bad here.

What I learned from BETT 2012 #1: Cloud is the new Interactive Whiteboard

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1. Cloud is the new Interactive Whiteboard

 

My first visit to BETT was last year and I was struck at that time by just how many companies were marketing interactive whiteboards, or products that somehow augment interactive whiteboards. They just weren’t there this year. The obvious few had stands – Smart, Promethean and so on, but I didn’t notice many more.

 

What I noticed instead was the word ‘cloud‘.

 

It was everywhere, usually alongside some alliterative slogan that also used words like ‘connect‘ and ‘collaborate‘.

 

It seems to me that loads of companies are on the cloud bandwagon, hoping that schools will invest in some product somewhere on a server in a secure room on a business park in Milton Keynes.

 

Now I’m not averse to cloud stuff. As a Google Apps for Education user I have a lot of time and effort invested in the cloud and it has begun to make good efficiency savings at my school. It’s even helped some kids do some learning. Alongside Google Apps (which is free), I’ve also invested in Incerts, Purple Mash, Education City and Espresso, not to mention other free Cloud-based products such as Manga High, PixlR, Prezi, Aviary, WordPress, Posterous and Khan Academy. That’s quite a daunting list, and if I’d had the school check book with me I could have quite easily come away with another half-a-dozen products from the show. Moople was particularly interesting as it presents a kind of one-stop wrapper for a load of different cloud-based products, effectively providing a single sign-on for all users. Single sign on is critically important for younger users as they often have difficult remembering one username and password, let alone twelve.

 

What concerns me with all this is not really the huge range of products, but the fact that they can act as a barrier between the teacher and student. One-to-one teaching is the most effective way of raising a child’s attainment and skilled teachers spend their time finding opportunities for these one-to-one’s to take place throughout the course of a school week, no matter how big the class size is. One danger is the temptation to think that teachers can facilitate the use of these technologies to somehow engender learning. But teachers are trained to teach – the proven way of developing a child’s knowledge – and using cloud-based technologies can, if used incorrectly add an extra layer of complexity between the one-to-one teaching relationships that exist in classrooms across the country.

 

Similarly, for years interactive whiteboards have been seen as the must-have piece of kit in any classroom, but have also come with cautionary tales of only being used for presentations at the start of a lesson, or being hidden in cupboards only to be discovered by a particularly eager Ofsted inspector. I wonder if cloud technology will become that next big thing – used well be some, touched on by others and hidden in cupboards by a few.

 

And I also wonder if it really matters – I mean to education as a whole. Would students at my school really be disadvantaged at their secondary schools if they’ve never collaborated on a Google Doc before they get to Secondary school? Of course I’m going to continue using Google Apps and the many other cloud products I’ve brought into my school – but where’s the evidence that it really makes a difference?