The work that earned Bob Overton a Becta ICT in Good Practice Award when he taught art at Mere Oak special school in Wigan, is unforgettable (link below). Bob helped severely disabled children create wonderful works of art and movies, all of them enabled by the use of digital technologies. One young learner, who had great difficulty with other media, used a whiteboard to achieve a very high grade in an art examination which many other schools simply would not have made available to him.
Bob Overton had the vision and the commitment, and the technology gave him the tools to equip his learners. Whiteboards themselves are extremely potent tools for sharing, exploring and creating artworks. You can use your finger to create artwork on SMART Boards, while Promethean technology allows more than one user to work on a board together - useful for a collaborative project. And the new SMART Table promises to be a terrific tool for expressive art work with early learners.
Inclusive Technology, which runs a major special needs exhibition next to BETT in the Olympia Hilton Hotel, supplies touch-screen plasma screens which are very popular in schools. It is the UK's leading ICT and special needs company and will have plenty of advice and products for creative art work.
It's the software that unleashes the imagination
Digital tablets, from the graphical tablet Wacoms (see the latest Bamboo) that let you "paint" into PCs. Macs and laptops, to Tablet PCs, also enable you to create and edit artworks, and then there are scanners and the increasingly popular visualisers (check out http://visualiserforum.blogspot.com). But of course it's the software that really unleashes the imagination.
Whiteboard companies provide their own software, but there's astonishingly good software that can be used on whiteboards as well as PCs and laptops. Adobe is the dominant force in graphics software and it has incredibly good network licence deals for schools (check the prices for the latest Creative Studio 4 and the excellent Visual Communicator). These provide tools that can maniplate and enhance all the digital imagery that is generated from the wide ranges of digital cameras and camcorders (check out the new Flips) making their way into schools. And try to track down Adobe Education Leaders who might be at the show, teachers like Ross Wallis (self portrait above) who supported his students in their use of digital phones as cameras for their GCSE art coursework. Check out his website.
But Adobe doesn't get it all its own way. There's a whole wealth of other software for creativity. For special needs and lower primary and early secondary you should check out the excellent Clicker Paint from Crick Software. And Revelation Natural Art and Revelation Sight and Sound are long-time favourites from Logotron.
Then there are all the companies which never made it to the Adobe heights but nonetheless have quality products that are popular and useful in schools. Corel Painter is a favourite (check out our review of Painter and ArtRage elsewhere on this site), and Serif is launching two new products. Its new Digital Scrapbook Artist combines ICT with art and design - easy ICT tools and clip art for arts and crafts, collages, photo-editing, drawing and painting. It is also launching MoviePlus X3, powerful video and audio editing tools for secondary. Free evaluation copies will be available on the Serif stand.
Serif is also working with schools and exam boards. Chris Bradley, AST at Frederick Gent School, specialist school in maths and computing, Derbyshire, says: “As a package of useful graphics software and supporting resources, Serif has helped us to implement the OCR Nationals with the minimum of complications and with the most support for my students.”
Open source isn't just about free licences - it's empowering
If you haven't checked out open source software it's high time you did. It's not just that the licences are free (and programs like GIMP certainly will save you money) - that's missing part of the point. Open source is about community and enablement. This website was produced with open source tools (with the Joomla content management software and, before that e107), and the learning journey was fascinating and enjoyable even though digital friends were required from time to time.
The open source people to talk to at BETT 2009 can be found at the Open Source Precinct. They will be the digital guides who can explain its potential and point you to the places where you can get started.
While Google might not be open source exactly, it is free, and Google Sketchup is a very powerful tool that is already generating good work in schools where they are also using the Google Apps to support their collaboration and communication. This stuff isn't just free; it's better than what a lot of people have been paying through the nose for over many years. Check it out.
Most important for visiting BETT, however, is loosening up your own creativity. Imagine how you could put interesting technologies to totally different uses and find time to talk to the people you might not at first "get". They often yield nuggets. Also, keep an eye out for the BETT first-timers. One of these is Magic Studio, supplier of online services to schools in Nottinghamshire and elsewhere. Magic Studio has been working on a government funded collaboration with Bridgeman Education and The Open University's Knowledge Media, and I hear that it will be making an interesting announcement. Check it out.
TES article on Bob Overton's work
Stand B50, G40
Olympia Hilton Hotel
Adobe Systems UK