Bob Harrison on day 2 at Learning Without Frontiers
Karen CatorKaren Cator: 'crazy' UK ICT policyIt was ironic that Karen Cator, US director of educational technology gave the opening mini keynote at this three-day pre-BETT 2011 event explaining how the US has decided that its future economic success will be driven by a National Education Technology Plan which looks startlingly similar to the UK's Harnessing Technology Strategy  ditched by the Coalition Government.

“I think it is crazy that you are now going in the opposite direction,” said Karen Cator who was scheduled to present at the Education World Forum in Westminster, and at the BETT International conference. I asked her to try and explain this to education minister Michael Gove MP if she got the chance – but no such luck apparently...

Day two (not free but early bird registration included a free Apple iPad!) began with speakers including BBC Learning's Saul Nasse engaging with the surrouding audience from a central circular platform (disruptive geddit?) and the speakers whirling as they engaged with the audience.

Iris Lapinski, Apps for Good, which is run by the Campaign for Digital Inclusion (CDI) which has been training young people in IT for 15 years, suggested technology would only be helpful if it allowed young people to become a new generation of problem solvers by asking “What is the problem? Whose problem is it”?

One of the founders of Wolfram Alpha, Theodore Gray, and author of The Elements iPad app asked: “Is the world ready for the electronic book?” and suggested that it would NOT be just text in an electronic format!

Controller of BBC learning Saul Nassé, who is about to relocate with colleagues to Salford, believes the experience of BBC Jam, the broadcaster's controversial £150m digital education project which was shelved three years ago, is best left behind. "The BBC are ready and up for the challenge,” he claimed.

I am not sure whether the BBC can move fast enough if Evan Roth from the Graffiti Research Lab is any indication of the direction of travel. His subversive and anarchic perspective was in a different universe to David Bott, director of innovation at the Technology Strategy Board, which was quietly launched by Nick Clegg. (I know – I didn’t realise we had one either). It was a bit like watching an episode of Dads Army followed by an episode of Tomorrows World! Scary stuff.

The highlight of the afternoon session was the contrast between Dr William Rankin, director of educational Innovation at Abilene Christian University, Texas, and Abdul Chohan, director at the ESSA Academy in Bolton. Both demonstrated how mobile and portable technologies have begun to  engage learners and transform learning in their very, very different educational organisations and cultures.

Both acknowledged however that technology was only part of the story and a focus on teaching, personalisation and assessment were also critical ingredients in any transformational journey.

'There is no evidence that the iPad makes learning faster, easier or better'

It was left to the academics from the London Knowledge Lab – Richard Noss, Diana Laurillard and Rose Luckin – to suggest a “balanced” perspective to the day by pointing out that research from a professor at Stanford University, Larry Cuban, stated that “there is no evidence that the iPad makes learning faster, easier or better”. But that's academics for you… always wanting more evidence and research!

Day 2 was brought to a creative close with another classic performance from Tim Rylands with a little help from another star from Bolton, deputy headteacher at Heathfield Primary school, David Mitchell, and recent winner of the Toshiba Innovation with ICT award at the SSAT conference.

The LWF Awards dinner and party provided another brilliant end to a full, fun and fantastic day. A full list of the winners can be seen on the LWF website.

Learning Without Frontiers