12 February 2013

BETT 2013

This is a bit late coming but here's what I picked up from BETT 2013. It was my first visit and apart from knowing that there is a vast amount of technology I wasn't sure what to expect.

Not especially important but something that stood out for me - everybody had tablets and mobile phones and took pics of everything and anything that interested them….and nearly all the presenters used Prezi!  Not like conferences in Spain at all.

In keeping with the emphasis on images and video for our information saturated students (I couldn’t quite bring myself to prepare a video!), the picture of the Wordle sums up my overall impression of BETT 2013:

Technology V Pedagogy 

I got the overall impression that there is a technology camp and an educational camp. The technology companies are churning out amazing apps and platforms for multiple-choice, gapfill and other question/response testing and assessment. The challenge for the educators is using it all in a meaningfull way to encourage critical thinking in particular, and learner autonomy in general.

There are some great things happening at Google and Microsoft, with lots of tools and ideas for use on their educational platforms.

A clear message was that the challenge for teachers is how to incorporate our information based society into a 19th century knowledge based educational system. Primary schools are having more success than secondary schools – largely because there is less focus on testing.

Here are some of the more interesting things I saw:

Technology

MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) was one of the buzzwords of the conference with a lot of speculation about how they have impacted/might impact on further education. Although it is generally agreed they can’t survive in their current form, nearly everyone agrees that as they evolve further/higher educational institutions will need to rethink their strategies. At the moment the discussion is about business models, not whether they’re going to survive or not, although survival largely depends on satisfactory business models.

I’m keeping a close eye on these as I believe there will be a specific impact on private education. As far as language learning is concerned, it will just take one or two of the big name universities to offer almost free language courses along the lines of the Open University (which are excellent!) and we’ll see language MOOCs where participants are peer teaching across different languages as part of a prestigious qualification. Final assessment would be based on course work and/or a pay for final tutor assessment. This could happen sooner than expected.

BYOD (Bring Your Own Device)

The other buzzword was BYOD. This is something I’ve experimented with so it was interesting to see how other teachers are using and implementing BYOD. Benefits include:

  • reduced hardware purchase and maintenance costs (although you need a robust network infrastructure for this to be effective) 
  • students are familiar with their own devices 
  • motivating, authentic, etc. 
  • students learn how to use “fun” devices to help them learn 
  • lots of apps to use – both for testing and creativity. 
Mobile Apps

There was a plethora of mobile apps. One which I was especially struck by was the Samsung Smart Classroom. This app allows the teacher to manage students’ mobile devices. Some of the functions include:

  • class register 
  • classroom organisation 
  • monitoring student progress 
  • assigning activities and tasks 

You may wonder why a teacher would want that ability in the classroom, but for larger classrooms I imagine it is very useful. At the moment, it can only be used in a classroom environment but my interest lies in that it is highly likely to evolve into an online application and teachers will be able to manage student devices in an online environment = large virtual classrooms.

Online/Blended Learning

This is being incorporated into mainstream education combined with flipping the classroom. Students are asked to investigate topics before working on them in class. There were lots of ideas (mainly around projects) of how to monitor and guide students who are working independently.

Language academies were under-represented, but all the major publishing companies were there and the British Council. I spoke to Pearson and Macmillan about their online platforms and

Pedagogy

Project Based Learning

There was a strong emphasis on project-based learning being experimented with largely by the new “academy” schools in the UK who have extra funding and more freedom as regards the National Curriculum.

Advantages:
  • active learning 
  • social integration 
  • soft skills 
  • autonomy 
  • critical thinking 
  • authentic 
  • prepare for future workplace 

Challenges

  • Working within the current educational system 
  • Student expectations 
  • Teacher Roles 

One school is experimenting with using large spaces with up to 120 students organised in small groups and teams of teachers with a technician. Each group works in a particular stage of a project. Originally they used a carousel model with students moving from one area to another, but the teachers found that this detracted from the learning as some students hadn’t finished that stage of the project. They’re now experimenting with flipped learning so different students do different parts of the project online to allow more flexibility.

Some projects included creating a London Tour Guide for Kids, designing a room using the IKEA website, Vodcasting by both teachers and students with weekly news.

Game-Based Learning

Tim Rylands was one of the main speakers. There were other speakers showing how games can be used to promote learning, as well as getting students to create their own.

Classroom 2020

Finally, but not least, I got very excited by  a live simulation of a vision of a classroom in 2020. Characteristics include:

  • Small groups of students work on desks with large inlaid touch screens, they have their mobile devices and they have two touch screen IWBs to work with. We have moved from one device between two or three, to two or three devices for one student. 
  • The class shown was a biology lesson. The teacher has provided them with a 3D image of the human body, and asked them to find out as much as they can about certain organs of the body and prepare a presentation of what they know. There was no further input for the teacher who guided and monitored. 
An interesting and worthwhile conference, although not specifically aimed at language academies which included a lot of food  for thought!



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