By Bob Harrison
“More innovation and creativity using digital technologies” was the rallying cry of the presenters and 700 delegates at the Frog National Learning Platforms Conference in Manchester this week. The big question is whether anyone in government is listening and what the future holds for gatherings and conferences for education professionals.
Are the days of Becta-, Jisc- or SSAT-type conferences numbered given the recent Department for Education embargo on “marketing” budgets which ususally include conferences and dissemination events and the cost of cover for teachers and support staff? Given the silence surrounding the role of ICT in learning following the cut in funding to Becta, will membership organisations like Naace and ALT need to step up to help fill that space?
How about a “physician heal thyself” approach and conference organisers using technology so that “virtual” attendance becomes the norm? Or should the private sector make a contribution just like Frog did with its conference, funding what was in effect a full day of free professional development for more than 700 education professionals?
Of course there is then the danger that the balance between “product promotion” and professional development could be blurred. To explore that it's worth visiting the blog of delegate Kerry Turner who hopefully represents a majority of the intelligent and discerning attendees who surely are capable of making that judgement for themselves.
'Ordinary people doing extraordinary things with learning and technology'
In fairness Frog did have some key announcements to make about some developments to their learning platform (for example Frog Apps and Frog Primary) which, the company says, is now the “number one learning platform for schools”. Apparently it is now in 10 per cent of schools, and Frog managing director Gareth Davies praised the schools who are using the system as “ordinary people doing extraordinary things with learning and technology”.
While the Frog staff's on-stage dance to “The Eye of The Tiger” failed to rouse the 700 delegates to their feet (maybe they should follow RM's lead and bring in David and Carrie Grant), the "bigger picture” overview by opening speaker Stewart Sutherland (Baron Sutherland of Houndwood KT, FRSE, FBA, FKC to his mates and Wikipedia!) shed a little light on the darkness at the heart of the Government's thinking on ICT in education.
With the demise of Becta and consequent questions over its Harnessing Technology strategy, there appears to be a policy vacuum on ICT and learning. The silence on the subject has been punctuated only by throwaway references in parliamentary answers. For example the following reference by schools minister Nick Gibb MP, buried in a response full of political point-scoring: "We must also retain a focus on the school estate, ensuring that schools provide an environment conducive to education, with high-quality technology and facilities, space that supports different types of education – from one-to-one tuition to whole-year groups – and, importantly, a pleasant environment where children want to be."
In such a void where, until announcements are made, it is vital that the education community comes together and continues to ensure the “crisis of relevance” facing our schools and colleges does not get any greater. Naace recently held a well-attended think tank to tease the issues and dangers of policy withdrawal, and companies like Frog should be congratulated on making their own contribution. The workshops with their focus on learning and teaching, lunch and the informal networking, as ever, provided the highlights of the day where teachers from a wide range of schools and colleges shared their experiences, including what can go wrong!
The venue of the Palace Hotel in Manchester provided the perfect home for the Frog conference where the values of the Refuge Assurance building, the creativity of Alan Turing and the community spirit of "Orator" Henry Hunt fused with the entrepreneurial approach of Charles Rolls and Henry Royce.
It obviously had an effect – according to the Qwizdom live evaluation of the days events, more than 95 per cent are already looking forward to #frog11.
All the presentations and some video footage will soon be available here
Bob Harrison was the host and a workshop presenter at the Frog National Learning Platforms Conference. Bob Harrison is an education consultant who works with the National College for Leadership of Schools and Children's Services (and a contributor to its Future website), the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta) and Toshiba UK. You can read his blog on the Futurelab Flux website. He runs Support for Education and Training.