From Minecraft to virtual reality: ten lessons learnt from Bett 2015


From Minecraft to virtual reality: ten lessons learnt from Bett 2015

With another year’s Bett behind us, what have we learnt? Not only that the world of education technology is getting even more exciting, but that the way technology is transforming industry, culture and society could be – and should be – reflected in the way it’s used in school.

Technology can be a radical, disruptive force, but it can also empower young people, unleash their creativity and change their lives for the better. And while it’s doing so, it can enable teachers to work more effectively and engage their students in new styles of learning.

1. The tech is here, the training’s on its way

One common complaint in the education sector has been that while it’s all very well to hand out tablets or develop new computing curriculums, these initiatives only work if teachers are trained to make the most of them. Now at last we have movement, with the government, Google, IBM, Microsoft and O2 investing time and money in training for primary school teachers and for a new generation of computing teachers.

BT has extended funding for the Barefoot Computing project, which helps support primary school teachers with no prior experience of coding, while Microsoft’s QuickStart Computing programme can also help teachers on their way. What’s more, the grass-roots support around Raspberry Pi and the new coding curriculum isn’t going anywhere. There are resources out there for teachers, with more on their way.

2. It’s not just how we teach, but what we teach that needs to change

One dominant theme of Bett was that new technology shouldn’t simply mean a change in teaching methods, but also a change in what was being taught. From Professor Stephen Heppell to Apple’s John Crouch, Mark Prensky, HP’s Gus Schmedlen and Sir Ken Robinson, the message came through that curriculums need to evolve to match the needs of a world where technology and culture are changing at an accelerated rate. This will be challenging, but it’s a challenge we all need to meet.

3. Robots are cool

romoIf you’re looking for a way to engage young people in computing, think robots. It doesn’t matter whether you’re plugging an iPod touch into the cheeky, caterpillar-tracked Romo, running Lego elephants and wheels with Lego Mindstorms or connecting a robot claw to the Raspberry Pi; there’s something amazing and instantly exciting about watching something physical respond to the code you’re putting in. Robots encourage logical thinking and planning, and they’re just as much fun when something goes wrong as when everything goes right.

4. The cloud can empower every school

When budgets are tight and schools are struggling for funding, the cloud can help. Microsoft and Google’s cloud-based services are only getting stronger and richer in their capabilities, and they’re available to schools for free. VLEs, classroom management systems, student information systems and other admin and back-office services are all now available in the cloud, without the need for investment in infrastructure.

The client devices are getting cheaper too, with Chromebooks and low-cost Windows devices like the HP Stream 11 Pro available for under £200. There are costs in terms of network infrastructure, but if you want to make the most of a small budget, then the cloud is an effective approach.

5. The hardware is great… and the software and services are catching up

hp_bett-2Even two years ago there was a feeling that, while all these mobile devices were very exciting, the education apps, the management tools and the background services weren’t really there to back them up. Sure, educators could make use of them, but it took some hard graft and some trial and error to get them up and running.

Now, however, things are changing. Many of the big names in ed-tech have their own classroom management systems up and running to support tablets and monitor their use, while Google’s Google Play for Education initiative will make this a very interesting year for Android devices.

Meanwhile, the hardware is only getting better, as manufacturers like HP, with its Education Edition product line, develop devices built for the specific needs of education, based on the ideas and requirements of educators, not just product managers and engineers.

6. The basics matter

Big interactive screens, slimline laptops and the latest tablets always get the most attention, while talks about the future of education get bums on the Bett arena seats. Yet teachers care just as much, if not more, about the nuts and bolts stuff: controlling the classroom, monitoring device and internet use, marking and assessment, administration tasks.

When hardware and software developers take the time to make the basics easier, teachers appreciate it and want the products. It gives them more time to think about how they can use the more exciting tech in class.

7. Education is getting more collaborative

Whichever stand we visited at Bett we got the same message: that new devices, new software and new services were encouraging a more collaborative approach to education.

This not only involves students working together within the one class, but students working together across classes, across schools, and even across international borders.

This looks great on vast interactive screens, but all it takes is a device with a camera, an internet connection and a service like Skype, Google Hangouts or Microsoft Lync. It’s a great way for schools and students to learn from each other.

8. Everyone loves Minecraft

minecraft-164-xb1screenshot-01It’s true. You can run it on a Raspberry Pi to teach programming, or use it to teach everything from physics to geography to history, as Microsoft was demonstrating on its stand. Accessible, collaborative and instantly engaging, it’s not just a game or a way to waste your time, but a tool that every teacher should explore.

9. There’s more confidence in computing

When Michael Gove announced the changes to the ICT curriculum, many teachers were understandably horrified by the sudden shift, the short timescales and the lack of available expertise and training. Yet the government, Computing at Schools, the industry and the whole education community have helped to deal with many of the concerns, and teachers are evolving and sharing strategies to make the new curriculum work.

There’s a long way to go before every teacher is confident, or even feels onboard, but things seem to be steadily improving for the better.

10. Great things happen when real and digital worlds combine

HP talked about a vision for Blended Reality, where real-world books, objects and materials combine with digital content to give students a range of approaches to learning. It also showed how virtual objects could be explored and manipulated within education.

Elsewhere at Bett, other software and hardware developers were looking at ways to mix the real and digital to enhance learning, while 3D printing has potential as a way to bring the digital objects into the real world. We’re only just beginning to grasp the potential of all this stuff. There’s a whole world of innovation yet to come.

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