Developments in Education Technology: Reflections on the first day of BETT

For me, the day can best be characterised as one of mixed feelings and divided loyalties. To be sure, there was all the excitement and adrelain-inducing "buzz" for which BETT is noted, and why it ought to be prescribed on the National Health Service as a cure for "the blues", but the experience was not one of unadulterated pleasure.

(If you're now experiencing a distinct sense of deja vu, it may be because this was posted yesterday. Sadly, as ICT consultant Andy Bruce kindly pointed out, the word "education" in the title was spelt rather creatively. So I've republished this under a headline which boasts the CORRECT spelling this time. Unfortunately, I am too tired right now to write anything new, but there will more reflections in due course.) `

Take the first product I saw, Oddizzi. I shall be reviewing this soon, but I had the privilege of being given a guided tour by the company's director, Jenny Cooke. It looks to me like a great product, one which brings the world to the primary (elementary) classroom in a way that Google Earth does not. For example, children can post their reflections on the site, and schools can select other schools with whom to become digital penpals. Oddizi won a BETT Award in the Primary Digital Content Category, and that was well-deserved. So why the mixed feelings?

Well, I also took the opportunity of visiting the Purple Mash (2 Simple) stand, where I saw the 3D games-creation module. An excellent piece of software engineering which enables children to design their game in 2D and then have it instantly rendered into 3D. It is now well-established that PLAYING games can help children learn, but it is also the case that CREATING games can have profound effects too, given the deep thinking and planning required. Purple Mash lost out to Oddizi. It only goes to show what a terribly difficult job the judges have in choosing an overall winner in each category.

In the support services category, Joskos won, and again it was a well-deserved result. But I was disappointed on the Havering team's (HSIS) behalf.

And finally, whilst on the subject of the BETT Awards, I was disappointed that the series Switched-On ICT, did not win. Declaration: I was the series editor!) Had Mr Gove, the Education Secretary, seen this series of ICT books aimed at Key Stage 2 (around 8 to 10 year olds), he may have had a different view on the potential richness of ICT as it stands (see below). But that lost out to the Haptel Project, another brilliant application of technology, and which I have written about elsewhere.

All this is, however, somewhat eclipsed by Mr Gove's announcement that the ICT Programme of Study will no longer need to be followed from September. This has been erroneously reported as ICT in the curriculum is to be scrapped. Nothing is further from the truth. "All" Gove has said in this regard is that from September schools can address ICT how they like, but that it is still compulsory pending the outcome of the National Curriculum review. He also welcomed the creation of exciting computer science courses, and spoke about including Computer Science in the English Bacalaureate.

Well, no surprises there, of course, although this new-found freedom of schools to do their own thing isn't really that new. The current ICT Programme of Study supports all the creative aspects of ICT that Gove talked about (Scratch programming, for example), which is why many teachers have found the Amazing Web 2.0 Projects Book so useful, and why the Switched-On ICT series is so great -- and why these resources will CONTINUE to be great even come September.

Mr Gove mentioned, as is de rigeur these days, that the current ICT curriculum is boring, and that by dropping the ICT Programme of Study children will no longer need to bored by having to learn Word and Excel. Well, given that these are not mentioned in the Programme of Study, how will dropping it have any effect? Also, given that programming IS in the Programme of Study, but is not usually adequately covered, how will dropping the POS change anything there either?

There are some big dangers which schools and teachers need to look out for in my opinion:

Beware of academics who come up with great-sounding ideas for Computer Science courses but have no understanding of pedagogy or even how schools work, let alone how children think.

Beware of poor journalism and vested interests combining to convince Headteachers they don't have to worry about ICT any more. They do, at least for the time being.

Beware of boring, plodding products that will no doubt emerge to fill the Computer Science resources gap. Always ask to trial sample copies before spending loads of money.

I'll no doubt have more to say on these matters once I've had more time to reflect on them. In the meantime, it's back to the fray....