Forget top-down. Rethinking ICT showed the strength of the grassroots, says Tony Parkin
Winchester House SchoolWinchester House: 'If Hogwarts had a prep school, it would look like this'Even before the infamous Gove BETT speech, to be followed later by the summer's "disapplication of ICT" announcement, many educators had been suggesting that the time was right to rethink ICT.

Many events have explored what a rethought ICT curriculum might look like, but I suspect none to surpass the impressive Rethinking ICT event held at Winchester House School, Brackley.

Rethinking ICT was the brainchild of Chris Leach, better known to education's 'twitterati' as @chrisleach78, who had been attending events on the topic run by others. However, Chris wanted an event firmly rooted in schools, bringing together practitioners based mainly in schools, to look at how they were approaching this challenge from the grassroots. (We really do need a different expression to 'chalkface', a 19th Century word that desperately needs updating, if any neologists are reading this.). And, of course, there was a smattering of like-thinking individuals from outside schools to bring their different perspective to the event, but without diverting attention from the core grassroots approach.

"Grassroots" is a particularly fitting way to describe the event held at Winchester House School, a "prep and pre-prep" school where Chris is head of ICT. A beautiful golden-stone establishment, in matching golden sunlight on the day, it is surrounded by green lawns and sports areas overlooking glorious countryside. If Hogwarts had a prep school, it would look like this, at least in the first two movies before things got darker...

'Where better to try and put together an ideal ICT curriculum'

Several teachers at the event were overheard making wistful comparisons to their own establishments. But if it looked like an ideal school, where better to meet to try and put together an ideal ICT curriculum, in rooms that had clearly started life as the stable blocks behind a country house.

Things were auspicious from the start. Gathering for registration and coffee, the school's staff were warm and welcoming, and stamped on the event those human, school-based values never achieved in even the best purpose-built conference venues. So the attendees were immediately 'in the zone', and what a collection of attendees there were. Heavily orientated towards educators active on Twitter, one of the added delights of the day was putting faces, and sometimes real names, to those inspirational teachers and educators in your Twitter stream. And even if you couldn't meet them all, their inputs throughout the day were as impressive as they are when confined to 140 characters.

The opening address from the head was ideal – short, to the point, without a sales pitch, and cutting straight to Chris Leach as host and introduction to the main theme of the day. Though the head's mention of his own uncertainties in the area of ICT made one reflect that perhaps the SLICT courses had ended before their work was complete?

Chris Leach's opening address (blogged here) put the day in context, and then a series of speakers, each limited to around 15 minutes, in turn revealed different aspects of the wider Rethinking ICT agenda. Happily, one of those participating in the day was Oliver Quinlan, renowned for his abilities to live blog any event. So if you weren't able to attend Rethinking ICT, or follow the livestream that Chris organised, you can get a real feel for the contributions by the speakers at the excellent #RethinkingICT blog by Oliver.

'No weak points, wrong turns or embarrassing moments'

What Oliver Quinlan's blog can't do is share just how well judged, sequenced and timed the speakers' contributions were. The story and themes unfolded throughout the day engagingly and effortlessly. There were no weak points, wrong turns or embarrassing moments. And enough changes in direction and approach to keep everyone on their toes and engaged.

RethinkingICT panelThe RethinkingICT Panel: teacher focusedSeveral contributors, including Chris Leach, Tom Crick, Miles Berry, Brian Sharland, Jan Webb and Chris Allen highlighted developments already under way in the field, and links into activities that teachers could join, whether interested in an open-source approach, the contributions from Naace and CAS (Computing at School), or the work of the impressive #digitalstudies and #ictcurric crews. Contributions by people unable to be at the day were highlighted and recognised, including those by Zoe Ross and Nick Jackson. Sheli Blackburn and Ian Addison looked at ways to promote student voice and leadership, and accredit their contributions through open badges. While Kate Glover's "Callum breaks things" painted a portrait that many recognised, and underlined why change was so essential.

Julia Skinner with her 100 Word Challenge showed us just what good embedded ICT could look like and achieve, and Vic Rogers from Double Negative highlighted the desperate need that the visual effects industry, and similar creative industries, has for youngsters enthused and highly educated in the use of technology.

Sheridan Williams had us looking to the past and The National Museum of Computing, with its rich inspiration for the youth of today as well as support for the nostalgics among us. Stephen Lockyer entertained and provoked us in our attitude to the present, particularly in its analogue and "wetware" (people) dimensions, while Eylan Ezekial acted as Lord of Misrule and challenged us over the real demands of the future and what education should look like. Not a wasted minute, and certainly no hesitation or repetition. A stunning agenda, and apologies to those omitted or under-represented in this canter through it.

Rethinking ICT trended on Twitter nationally and globally

Lunch was collected in the wood-panelled hall but enjoyed in the sun on the manicured lawns, and great was the networking and excitement in conversation. The rapid batch of afternoon presentations led us into breakout workshops linked to the themes of the day. Spoilt for choice doesn't tell the half of it, and though it was possible to move from one to another I only made the Raspberry Pi and Student Digital Leaders sessions, leaving the other stones unturned. But each one was clearly enjoyed by those who attended.

A final panel session, chaired by Julia Skinner, was lively, had superb contributions from the platform and just as many from the floor of the hall. This was a genuinely participatory event that clearly left people demanding more, notably by asking Chris Leach to organise #RethinkingICT13.

At its peak, 526 people were watching the #RethinkingICT live video stream, in addition to the around 80 who managed to attend the event in person. Even more impressive, the #RethinkingICT hashtag trended both nationally and globally on Twitter during the day.

The challenge remains to turn all the energy and excitement of Rethinking ICT 2012 into practice and outcomes. But Chris Leach should be congratulated on putting together a superb event that gathered together a key group of educators that have an enormous contribution to make in doing this. All movements need their aspirational, inspirational, evangelical gatherings, and Rethinking ICT 2012 was one of these, and one of the best.

More information

The #ReThinkingICT event was held at Winchester House School, Brackley on June 25, 2012 
Rethinking ICT blog   
Rethinking ICT wiki  
Oliver Quinlan's Live Blog of Rethinking ICT
The Digital Studies Curriculum Wiki 
The Digital Studies Curriculum Blog 

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