#Bett2015

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On Friday 23rd January, I travelled to the ExCeL Centre in London to attend the Bett Show 2015 on behalf of Digital Leaders @ SJHS. Bett (formerly known as the British Educational Training and Technology Show) is the world’s leading learning technology event and has been bringing innovation and inspiration to the education sector for over 30 years.

The hall was packed from the moment the doors opened at 10:00 with exhibits as far as the eye could see. I’d planned beforehand what I wanted to see and this post is just a summary of some of the highlights from my time there.

Keynote from Apple Distinguished Educator, Abdul Chohan (@Abdulchohan)

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For those who don’t know, Abdul Chohan (above) is an inspirational leader who used 1:1 technology to transform a struggling school, Essa Academy in Bolton (the full story is profiled on Apple’s Real Stories page here). Abdul delivered a series of Keynote speeches at the Apple Solution Expert Village. Firstly he made it clear that a vision or philosophy was a necessity for any institution and without it, there is no direction. Essa Academy’s was simple: “All will succeed“. He stressed the importance of the word “will” and said it is this attitude which has helped the school change its fortunes.

He went on to outline the role Apple had played in their own 1:1 journey. In particular, Chohan focused on iTunes U as the cornerstone of their success. His main reasons for using iTunes U were simple:

– iTunes U is used by top institutions around the globe (eg. Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Stanford and Harvard)
– It only has one function: iTunes U is designed to contain and organise course content and is both simple and reliable
– VLE (Virtual Learning Environments) are too complicated and expensive

At Essa Academy, departments design courses collaboratively to ensure they are the best they can be. Staff then duplicate these and may make minor tweaks to suit their teaching style. Chohan argued that one of the benefits of this is that the content is still there come the next academic year. Departments can improve and refine existing courses, rather than constantly creating new ones.

Students are also using this as a vehicle to create and host their own courses which are then available to a global audience. Chohan suggests that this is immensely powerful as it prepares students for life beyond school as they are creators of content rather than merely consumers. He pointed to one example where one GCSE pupil at Essa Academy had created an iTunes U course for To Kill a Mockingbird, which now has over 1 500 subscribers!

Alongside iTunes U, Essa academy use Showbie (also available as a web app), again because it is simple and serves only one function: feedback. Showbie “completes the circle“. Finally, Chohan acknowledged that mobile devices do not replace exercise books as writing is still a vital skill. Students submit tasks completed on their devices to Showbie and reference in their book where the task can be found, but also take snapshots of their work which is then uploaded for the teacher to give feedback.

How can technology enhance collaborative learning? Mark Anderson (@ICTEvangelist)

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Mark Anderson delivered a Keynote at the Bett Futures stand, which could hardly contain the sheer number of people who turned up to listen to what he had to say. The aim of this presentation was to demonstrate practical ways to enhance collaboration between learners in a classroom through the use of 1:1 technology.

Mark talked about a variety of different methods to encourage students to work collaboratively. For me, these are the ideas presented which I feel are the best and can be used by many different subject areas:

– Creating books collaboratively: learners can create a book either as a class or in smaller groups using an app like BookCreator. One of the most powerful features this app has is the ability to let the user combine books. Some examples of how this could be used include creating a story where each student writes a section which is then combined to create something whole. Alternatively, students could be asked to research a range of different people, events or case studies. Each student could focus on just one and then this is combined and put on iTunes U or Showbie so that students have a whole bank of information which they have contributed to.

– Getting learners to explain what they have done: the obvious app for this is Explain Everything. However Mark suggested that other apps can be used to achieve this, depending on the learners in question. One app that was recommended was Tellagami. Students can set their work as the background image, create a character and record their explanation. Another feature that makes this app so useful text to speech. This means it can also cater to those who are less confident or perhaps do not like to record their own voice, as they can type in what they want to say and the app will create the audio form them.

– Students creating podcasts: firstly, for those who are not aware, podcasts are digital audio recordings that can be downloaded to devices. Many are already available through the dedicated iOS app, but as Mark suggested, why not get students to create their own podcasts about their learning. One app he suggested for this was a free app, Spreaker DJ. This allows the user(s) to record speech and if they wish, play music in the background from their iTunes music library. Once they have recorded, the podcast can be simply uploaded to their site for sharing with others: it could be to share members of the class, their family or anyone around the world.

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Image credit: @sylviaduckworth via @ICTEvangelist

During a quick Q&A session afterwards, many in attendance asked how to engage members people who lack the confidence to use technology effectively. Anderson suggested that anybody who feels this way should “rather than try and do everything, pick just one thing that (they’ll) find useful and be the boss at that“. He suggested that when they then see this working effectively it’ll breed confidence and will encourage them to take on new things. This is something I believe Digital Leaders should recognise when assisting those who are not as confident at using technology, rather than bombarding them with information.

Update (25/01/15): Mark Anderson has added his own blog post to his website about this keynote he delivered at Bett 2015. You can check it out here: highly recommended!

Minecraft in Education: Inspiring the next generation of developers, Raymond Chambers (@Lanky_Boi_Ray)

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One of the things I was most excited to see at Bett was how Minecraft can be integrated into the curriculum. I’ve never played Minecraft, however I’m aware that it is a phenomenon amongst children: some can’t get enough of it. A Keynote speech by Raymond Chambers, Head of IT at Uppingham Community College explained that this is the hook that can really engage students.

Like myself, Raymond opened by saying that whilst he’d heard of Minecraft, he’d never played it and wasn’t aware of how it could be used in lessons. This was until he was teaching a ICT lesson when a learner asked “is that like in Minecraft?“, which prompted him to explore further. He found that the reason children love Minecraft is because it is a sandbox where they can be creative and build anything they like and summarised it by stating “it does exactly what it says on the tin: children are mining and then crafting“. Chambers showed an example of an amazing model of Titanic created by a team of students in their History lessons, based on their own, independent research about the ship. Another example cited involved a maths lesson where children were learning about the surface area of shapes by building them using blocks in Minecraft. However Chambers demonstrated how this could be extended further by using survival mode, where the students have to go and mine the materials for the shape and calculate how much they would need beforehand, with the aim of having as little waste material left over as possible.

To conclude, Raymond said that whilst this is a very engaging tool for students, it is important that educators do not place too many restrictions on how students use it. He recommended setting a goal for a task rather than a list of “do nots” because that takes the fun out of it. I think I may need to get some lessons from students and watch some videos by YouTuber who goes by the name of Stampy, to learn how to play Minecraft and then think about ways of integrating it into the classroom!

And finally…

Previously, I featured a blog post about our use of Foldr. The team at Minnow IT contacted me to see if they could use the post as part of a case study showing how different schools were using the app for Bett 2015. And here is the finished article which went out to anybody who stopped by their stand…

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Pretty cool eh?

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