Report of Learning without frontiers 2012

I had forgotten just how unforgiving pure BASIC was on the old BBC computer. Make a mistake, and you had to delete all of the characters until you arrived at the offending one. I had the opportunity to reacquaint myself with such pleasures at the Learning Without Frontiers conference.

Unforgiving, but fun in a masochistic kind of wayThe BBC booth, like all the other exhibits, was actually a sort of tent. In fact, I was going to call this article Welcome to the Pleasure Domes, but Steve Wheeler beat me to it. Full marks to Graham Brown-Martin and his team for daring to do something different. The “domes” made for an interesting atmosphere, one which was surprisingly calm, especially when compared to the more traditional event, on learning technologies,  being held next door.

I was able to attend only on the first day, so I divided my time between a couple of keynotes and the exhibition itself. It was slightly disappointing in that the main event started late, which meant I missed some of the other talks I’d hoped to attend, but these things happen, and in any case I was able to catch up with some of them by talking to the people involved later in the day.

First off, I attended a pre-show talk by Charles Leadbeater, on the subject of his new book about innovation, Innovation in Education: Lessons from Pioneers Around the World. This is a very handsome book, and I will be reviewing it in due course. In his talk, Charles said that in education we need more finance, more skills in innovation, and better feedback systems, and that we cannot rely on the Government. Also, doing more is not good enough: we need to do more, and do it better.

Noam Chomsky’s talk was interesting, though none of it struck me as new, eg technology is neutral, and you can use it for good or otherwise. Also, tests tell you very little about candidates. One profound-ish thing he did say was something I think is actually incorrect: that current changes in technology do not have the same impact as the sorts of changes we have seen over the last 100 years. I’m not sure that’s true at all: the changes are different, and possibly not as obviously dramatic, but they have had a huge impact in all walks of life, especially education and business, in my opinion.

For example, before the internet, email, the web and video-conferencing were invented, you had to travel in order to see someone or a place. Phone charges for international calls were exorbitant too. These factors alone made it virtually impossible for teachers to give their students great, real-life experiences without having to take them on a school trip.

Ray Kurzweil’s talk was very interesting indeed. For example, he said that the future of technology can be predicted reasonably accurately. One thing I liked was his statement that with the discovery of the human genome we now have an understanding of the system of the human body. This means that we can design cures for illnesses as opposed to trying things out and hoping we discover a cure. He also made much of new developments in 3D printing. If that’s a field which interests you, see the article entitled 3D And Haptics In Education, and the special3D edition of Computers in Classrooms.

All in all, a very invigorating event. You can watch the videos of all the keynote speakers at the Learning Without Frontiers website.

This article was first published in Computers in Classrooms, the free e-newsletter for educational ICT professionals.