At the heart of the learning at any BETT show you will find the Heppell family, encouraging creativity and discovery. At BETT 2010, Stephen Heppell's Playful Learning feature has even stimulated Google to make its BETT debut - as a platinum sponsor. Here he explains why Playful Learning isn't just a prediction.
"Education hasn't had a very good track record with innovative technologies. Mostly we ban things, then, if they don't appear to have gone away, we appropriate them.
"Education asks, when faced with most emerging technologies, a traditionally simple productivity question: "How can this new thing usefully improve what we are already doing?" Rather than asking, "What new things might we now do?". The learners' question of course has always been that latter one, hence the dissonance that technology often produces.
"The obvious and early excitement of games became tamed to "spelling space invaders"; the art, installation and exhibition and celebration potential of a computer plus projector was reeled back into the "stand and deliver" of an interactive white-board; the personal computer could have unleashed suites of learning tools that mirrored the creativity of a primary classroom, but instead it was reeled back with a suite of dull software that bizarrely mirrored an office. ICT capability became dull conformity, rather than startling creativity. But you know all this already.
"But this time it really is different – this Christmas and New Year break saw hosts of families gathered around their Wiis and other gadgets, playing together and enjoying themselves hugely. The phones dreaded by so many schools for so long have opened up hosts of new play opportunities - for adults as well as children (HOW many games on the iPhone already, HOW much fun?!) and we are very obviously at the beginning of an era of post-appropriation in our schools relationship with technology.
"And that changes everything as we struggle to keep education up with the progress of post-appropriation technology, rather than to drag technology back to where education is. Gaps will widen, schools that realise where we are will, and in many, many cases already are, listening to children who have suddenly moved from being "the learners' voice" to being reconnaissance scouts spying out possible new futures. Smart schools will send their scouts ahead, with wise teachers, to spy out future possibilities.
"Much of this is, of course, in the mind. We might see leaners doing creative and playful things, but too often our minds see a misfit with the structures and strictures of an orderly education life, and then we demonise what we saw.
"A simple example: BBC's Top Gear regularly features the little "adventures" of its three presenters. In truth we know that as the car edged around the crumbling roadside there was a full BBC production team watching. We know this "three men alone with a challenge" is a bit of playful fiction, albeit with real characters, and people seem to find it entertaining stuff. Indeed, even when the presenters go into bully mode, as for example when they have yet another pop at green politics, many viewers still seem to laugh.
"The presenters are apparently lauded for this – but when instead the story is concocted by school children, filmed by their mates' phones rather than a camera crew, and when the results are circulated among peers to laughter and delight, we call it Happy Slapping and see the perpetrators as the devil incarnate. I'm only signalling that children being playful with technology, with games, with video, with tools like Google Earth and consoles like the Nintendo Wii, with phones and social networking and more, will not this time be dragged back and appropriated into the old factory model of learning.
"These post-appropriation technologies won't be tamed. There won't be an "educational version", or a government scheme, so we'd better start some serious conversations about what 21st century learning might look like if we embrace, rather than deny them.
"I can't think of a better place to start than chatting to learners as they play.
"So, send out your reconnaissance scouts. Having a bunch of articulate, normal, tech-savvy, diverse London kids playfully learning on the stand, is looking like a pretty important "don't miss" opportunity for BETT visitors. And we have a scheduled series of inputs too, if you want to sit a while and ponder..."
January 13-16, Olympia, London
Profesor Stephen Heppell will be taking part in the BESA "Breaking the bonds of learning" 12.30pm keynote panel that follows schools minister Vernon Cauker MP's official opening of the BETT Show in Olympia's Apex Room. He will join Professor Angela McFarlane, learning and teaching expert Tim Rylands and 2Simple's Max Wainewright to give their wishlists for making progress to 21st century learning. Mobile phone interactivity for the audience will be provided by Steve Sidaway and the Txttools service.