Dan Bowen finds a healthy balance of learning and teaching, technology and community at EduTECH
The buzz that permeated this year’s EduTECH event in Brisbane, Australia, last week was present from the opening until Ian Jukes’ final keynote presentation and underlined why this event is the most important in Australasia’s edtech calendar.
In tune with education trends worldwide, the strongest technology theme was ‘mobility’ – no surprise. Every hardware vendor wanted to talk about the growing use of tablets in the classroom and how their products fit the bill, but inspirational educators were also on hand throughout to show the kinds of learning that this technology can enable.
The quality of the keynotes, workshops, master-classes and teacher clinics was excellent. The general theme of most speakers concerned the empowerment of the classroom teacher to make a difference.
Sir Ken Robinson was on top form (see left), promoting its importance and the need to develop macro-level change in schools. He suggested that an organic methodology of school leadership was vital to move from an industrial to a more effective and healthier school system.Creativity champion
Ewan MacIntosh presented some clear messages about change and introduced several well thought out research pieces culminating in some tools for “design thinking” processes to help actually start to vision organisational hierarchy.
The Australian speakers brought their own practice to the masses, including the ‘happy schools’ and ‘youth engage’ initiatives from Dan Haesler and some excellent practice shown by Chris Betcher. It was good to meet several friends such as Pip Cleaves, of Design, Learn and Empower, and also Nick Jackson, a long-time friend from the UK, and to follow their current successful exploits in educational technology in Australia. I really enjoyed catching up with some school leaders who are forging ahead and pushing boundaries including Matt Richards who has been embedding BYOD and Google apps for EDU for several years.
There is clearly some amazing pedagogy in the educational technology space in Australia and in many respects they have the collateral to run this event with totally home-grown expertise. There were also several prominent sessions by Australian universities and the tertiary sector as well as from industry and the military.
There were more presentations, workshops and keynotes at this conference than I have seen at any event and the way in which the congresses were organised meant that it almost had the feel of several conferences in one. This meant that delegates had to be well organised and timetable their time there with precision.
Microsoft’s education chief Anthony Salcito and many others were delivering messages of educational impact and change. They culminated in a passionate closing keynote by Ian Jukes (@ijukes) who pleaded with the audience to understand and accept that they were the “key to change”, and that if they ever felt like this was not the case to remember the Helen Keller comment: “The worst thing than not being able to see is being able to see but not to look”.
The TeachMeet offering was of the highest quality with presentations in many areas from the use of the Google Maps engine to the use of ebooks tools to revamp a school media centre. This was highly organised by Matt Esterman and was housed in a central area where everyone was welcome. It followed a polished, effective and very social TeachMeet format.
A human-scale event designed for social interaction
It was a refreshing change for those familiar with the chaotic halls of the massive annual BETT show in London. EduTECH was busy; however, it had the feel of a more intimate and social event. For this visitor the stands were easy to get around and the conversations involving products and services were of the highest quality, which is often lacking at the large European or American events that can seem squashed and rushed.
For such a large event it also made a difference that food, teas and coffees were freely available throughout. This made the social interaction and community feel easier and more natural, which contributed to it feeling like an event you needed to stay at rather than rush around before heading off.
BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) has caused a huge ripple in the education sector; the search is clearly on for sensible, well-priced solutions for schools to consider for their strategies for BYOD. That’s why the show’s dominant theme was mobility. Hardware vendors wanted to show their products, from light-touch through performance to hybrid devices.
The rise of BYOD is especially good news for companies like Samsung which manufacture their own tablets (in Samsung's case the Galaxy Tabs). This helps them leverage sales of other useful kit for schools, such as digital signage and Chromebooks, off the back of customer enquiries on tablets.
Microsoft’s Surface 3 beefed up the competition for the iPad
tablet (right) was the outstanding piece of new hardware at the event. Microsoft had the only three devices in Australia on its stand which proved very popular with teachers at the show. The Surface 3 is a tablet running full Windows 8 and offers real competition to other tablets already on the market. This allows students to use apps and develop their thinking as well as use industry standard video and multimedia-based specialist software such as the Adobe Suite as well as heavy-duty music software.
Lenovo had its ThinkPad 10 hybrid Windows tablet/laptop on show and was also offering a range of other devices for students and teachers alike. Similarly HP, ASUS and Samsung had various options around mobility and performance from standard hardy laptops to hybrid tablet options.
Google was showcasing its Chromebook option which still seems a popular choice for primary schools and its Google Apps for EDU enterprise networking offering.
3D printing focused on pedagogy and school needs
3D printing was big and the technology seems to be settling on standards and technology. The hype of 3D printing seems to be settling down and the technology is actually becoming more agile in the hands of schools and their learners.
Several companies presented heavy-duty 3D printers which can handle a high volume of printing. However, my standout product of the event in this area was by Makers Empire, a company passionate about making 3D printing accessible for a primary school audience. Its free app to develop models, and its all-in-one lesson plan, app and printer solution just seemed to fit the needs and requirements of teachers and schools in the primary and high school market. All these companies were pushing pedagogy and promoted the design process rather than merely the download and printing of already-created 3D objects from the web.
Although the Australian Digital Technologies curriculum is being implemented, there were a limited number of new products to tantalise the computer geeks among the EduTECH visitors. One new Australian company showcasing products was Tribotix. It specialises in robotics toolkits and has a good grasp on education market.
The big suppliers all had interesting software for schools. Google had various educators on its stand demonstrating Google solutions from Apps to administration and from certification to training.
Microsoft has a complete workflow from Office 365 to Windows 8 and its apps which, in conjunction with the Surface may prove to be a complete solution for schools. It featured several sessions on its stand showcasing creativity and apps and the power of OneNote which now seems to operate on all devices across all platforms.
Microsoft also showcased a new third-party product called Mosaic, which is a free release due in July. Developed by N-Synergy, it’s a school-friendly skin for SharePoint which gives a much more teacher-friendly experience for classroom workflows. Microsoft is also bringing the 21st Century Learning programme and pedagogy to the fore which is always a good sign in this arena.
Adobe attracted attention with free 'Presenter Express' app for Mac
The Adobe team ran several product demos by teachers and also Dr Allen Partridge. I was most impressed with the free Adobe Presenter Express app for the Mac. This works like a dream and outputs professional, high-end video. They also were running 1:1 clinics, discussions and training around their products.
Promethean launched ClassFlow to the Australian market which is a reaction to the growth of BYOD in the classroom, but also points to a less hardware-dependent future for some interactive surface companies.
ClassFlow is a cloud-based classroom tool that enables teachers to create lessons, deliver interactive content across multiple devices, and assess student understanding. ClassFlow software is available to download now for free but Promethean has also launched two paid-for ClassFlow products: ClassFlow Teacher app allows the teacher to manage lesson presentation and send lesson material being displayed in front of the class to student devices; the new ClassFlow Student app allows the student to receive and annotate lesson material on mobile devices, respond to questions, create original material and send their work back to the teacher.
Global education publisher Pearson was also present, showing newly developed assessment tools to help schools create, assign and mark tests, as well as its online and text-based content.
The successful UK based learning platform Frog is hopping into the Australian market through Civica which has exclusive rights for the Australasia market. Civica was also showcasing its broad offering from consultancy support to student management systems.
Nelson Cengage has launched the popular Mangahigh.com online maths service for Australian schools. The Australian offering is $10 per student which also links the mangahigh.com service to key classroom texts in the maths curriculum in Australia.
Ziptales is an interesting literacy resource, also mapped in detail to the Australian curriculum. It is aimed at K-6 students and possibly highschool SEN students, and it contains several multimodal texts to develop literacy.
3P Learning, of Mathletics fame, was showcasing its new Australian-based immersive environment called Into Science (video above). This exciting project is fully curriculum mapped and links to several immersive areas including the Jenolan caves which have been recently mapped by the CSRIO. There are several other immersive areas including Asian woodland and biosphere.
Monash University demonstrated its unique in-depth 3D and immersive units of work called MWorld. This cleverly branded product contains several sets of specialised resources for schools. It leverages universities’ academic rigour and multimedia capability to produce an in-depth product for use in primary and secondary schools.
I always enjoy looking for kinaesthetic and analog hardware at these events and the standout product for me were called Kimochis. These are soft toys for autistic syndrome disorder (ASD) students which represent a personality type and emotion.
Missing in action – Apple and some curriculum publishers
In line with its strategy on events, Apple did not attend EduTECH although the company had a presence on many stands in terms of devices and apps. Apple tends to not support other organisations' events, preferring instead to run its own. It clearly has a strategy in the educational space in Australia with its existing networks, however I am not sure why it did not exploit such a large and successful event. There also seemed to be a lack of curriculum publishers in this space, especially as there are new curriculum developments at a federal and therefore at state level.
So how was my first EduTech? It was thought provoking, well structured and had a good mix of philosophy, research and practitioners. It was really well organised and nurtured more human elements than large education shows I have been to over the years: it was big but felt intimate; it was corporate yet social; it had big hitters and the practitioners who really matter.
It certainly made delegates comfortable from services for food and drink to seating and space. I had plenty of time to talk to vendors and delegates and also to participate on the fly, so I'm already looking forward to attending the next one.
Dan Bowen is a former head of ICT and assistant head of sixth form. He was an education advisor in Surrey and the south east of England after cutting his teeth as a National Strategies adviser. He is an active member of NAACE, Computing At School, CEOP, STEM ambassador and a fellow of Mirandanet, and has moved to Australia to advise and work with educational technology in the sunshine for a few years.