Last week I had the privilege of attending BectaX. Becta is the government body which promotes technology in learning and BectaX (exchange) is the start of a conversation between digital media specialists, educational professionals and policy makers about the future of learning through ICT in schools.
Alice in Wonderland?
As an outsider to the workings of Becta I felt a little bit like Alice entering Wonderland when I arrived at the Wellcome Collection Conference Centre. Entering a room full of 150+ people (mostly men) I felt very small indeed. There were also many participants, including school students as young as 8, watching a webcast of the event and feeding through comments on Twitter using a BectaX hashtag. (#BectaX).
Then, in the afternoon, after my 6 minute “quickfire” presentation about some of the innovative things we are doing at Kingswood I felt I had grown to such an enormous size that I was touching the ceiling! There were so many complimentary tweets being projected onto the screen at the front of the auditorium I wanted to curl up in a tiny ball and hide.
Of course like Alice, shrunk or enlarged, neither is the true picture of me!
A mad hatter’s tea party?
I’d asked to be at BectaX because, as many in school know, I’m passionate about the need to help students learn to use the web in smart ways and to ensure they have the skills for an adult life that will be very different from what my own has been.
Most of the discussion throughout the day concentrated on the way school filtering systems and very strict Internet “acceptable use policies” are hampering teachers from helping students understand the best ways to use new digital media. Many teachers are themselves not confident users of ICT and have very little time to learn. So what to do? It was a bit like the Mad Hatter’s tea party with many riddles and no clear solutions. Should teachers have a new place (learning platform) where they can be guided through the learning tools online? What about making time for all this? Could motivation be provided by the likes of Ofsted?
Curiouser and curiouser
As a librarian I have a unique opportunity to observe all the teaching and learning taking place in school. And I have great faith in good teachers. They are always using the things students are interested in to engage them in learning. For example: last week I observed many Year 9′s creating and naming their own super energy drink as part of the science curriculum. They were having great fun.
But teachers who are passionate about their subject don’t get the chance to see students using new media and so can’t get ideas about how to incorporate it into their teaching.
So I think the solution is quite simple really! Set up a good WiFi system, open up the network and allow students to use their own handheld devices and laptops in school. Teachers will do what comes naturally to them – watch, learn and assimilate! They will quickly adopt the tools that they find fit comfortably into their own teaching style and that will make the use of these tools authentic.
There are risks to such a strategy but this is where Becta can help – by providing a framework for assessing the risks and preparing a programme to help schools educate students to safely participate in the new communities to which they belong.
At the risk of stretching the analogy too far I say lets get rid of this “Off with his head” all- or-nothing approach to Internet use in school and get on with the Game!