Terry Freedman celebrates Scotland's ground-breaking work with ICT
Samuel Johnson once said, "The noblest prospect which a Scotchman ever sees is the high road that leads him to England." Many of us who were at the recent Handheld Learning 2009 conference in London will beg to differ. As far as pushing the boat out technologically is concerned, the opposite is probably true.
It became increasingly obvious, in the Spotlight Scotland session, that the Scots enjoy a set-up which cannot but help make the rest of us slightly green with envy. For a start, games-based learning is regarded with scepticism, if not downright suspicion, by many in England. Contrast that situation with Scotland, where the new Curriculum For Excellence includes computer game design.
It is not just lip service being paid either. As Eylan Ezekiel, of Brainpop, observes, Scotland's policy teams trust the inspirational leading lights that come out of Scottish schools and back them with funding. What is also true is that the people who are doing the work are still rooted firmly planted in the classroom. It's all too easy for high-flown projects to become lost in some sense as they move out of the hands of practising teachers and into the hands of consultants, or people whose main concern is to write a paper about it.
This was evident in a number of ways. First, Derek Robertson (pictured above), of Learning and Teaching Scotland's Consolarium, goes around interviewing teachers and, crucially, children in schools, capturing their views and observing how they learn through playing computer-based games.
'The Consolarium, a unit dedicated to games-based learning!'
Second – and just think about that last sentence for a moment – LTS includes, broadly speaking, the Scottish equivalent of Becta, and here they are running the Consolarium, a whole unit dedicated to promulgating games-based learning! How cool is that?
Third, several of the presenters are either currently teachers while one of them, Ollie Bray has only recently stepped out of school (Musselburgh Grammar where he is depute head), having been seconded to work as National Adviser for Learning and Technology Futures at LTS..
So what you have here is what looks like Elysium to us on the outside, staring in through the window: official backing, funding, teacher involvement and, just in case that isn't enough, the requirement to address games-based learning in the curriculum itself.
Of course, it's all very well having the right structures in place, but what about the work going on? Needless to say, that is pretty mouth-watering too. And teachers in Scotland can attend online CPD sessions through the webcam facilities built in to the national education network, Glow. The same facilities can be used to have children 'attend' a talk by, say, a famous author. We do have such things in England, but the difference, I think, is that in Scotland it's countrywide, it's seamlessly integrated into Glow, and it works.
One of the most exciting new developments to emerge (and which is still emerging) is Canvas, an online art gallery in a virtual world. Children can display their work, and can record their comments so that others can easily find out more just by clicking. Canvas comprises one main gallery and 32 satellite galleries, one for each local authority.
Lisa Sorbie, a teacher in Perth, gave a convincing talk about how the game Dusk has both encouraged her kids to read but also to do research into film noir, while Anna Rossvoll, who has become known for her work with Nintendogs, spoke about the rich work going on through the use of Wii Musicians.
'Am I alone in feeling somewhat awestruck?'
So am I alone in feeling somewhat awestruck? Not at all. Dughall McCormick, e-learning consultant in Kirklees LA, likes the “joined-up approach right across the whole of Scotland”. This was echoed by Redbridge, London-based ICT advisor Anthony Evans, who said that what inspires him is the "centralised body - the Conolsarium - to provide insight and advice for teachers looking to use games-based learning in their classroom, supported by LAs, with the ability to lend resources to use so that the full impact can be seen and shared".
And Sue Finnigan, assistant manager of the Sheffield East CLC, told me: "I'm impressed by the common vision for education in Scotland which shows in every speaker whether technical, curriculum or more senior. Regarding LTS, it appears that ICT in general is used as a tool to underpin and support all other initiatives – as it should be."
Perhaps the best evidence, however, lies in the fact that Dawn Hallybone, senior teacher at Oakdale Junior School in Redbridge and winner of the Special Achievement Award at the Handheld Learning 2009 Conference for her work with Nintendo handhelds in the curriculum, was inspired to try such things out in the first place because of what Scottish teachers are doing. And she happily acknowledged this when she received her award.
I wonder what the housing market is like in Scotland?
Terry Freedman has worked in education for 30 years. Now an independent educational ICT consultant, He publishes the ICT in Education website at www.ictineducation.org, and the newsletter Computers in Classrooms. He has been engaged in Web 2.0 work for several years, published the highly-acclaimed Coming of Age: An Introduction to the NEW Worldwide Web, and has presented at ICT events run by the TDA, Becta, SSAT and other organisations.
Terry is currently compiling a collection of educational projects which use Web 2.0 applications. If you’d like to contribute, please see this article for details.
COMING: Interviews with key innovators in Scotland - including Derek Robertson, Ollie Bray, Jaye Richards, John Connell, Laurie O'Donnell and Dave Gilmour - will be appearing in this website's new section, The Innovators.