Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Enhancing Benefits of Online Learning; Education Is a Growing Market for Technology, as Pearson's Recent Pounds 140m Buyout of US Firm Schoolnet Indicates. JOHN HILL Talks to Some Creative People in the North East Who Are Working on Projects That Could Make Education More Accessible for Children and Adults Alike

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Enhancing Benefits of Online Learning; Education Is a Growing Market for Technology, as Pearson's Recent Pounds 140m Buyout of US Firm Schoolnet Indicates. JOHN HILL Talks to Some Creative People in the North East Who Are Working on Projects That Could Make Education More Accessible for Children and Adults Alike

Article excerpt

SOME technology may be jaw-dropping and rhinestoned with buttons and chips, but we're basically talking about tools.

We're talking about a word which arches over devices of different shapes and sizes, innovations designed to address problems and make the impossible more achievable.

If innovative technology works well and proves useful, it becomes part of the furniture, like printers, pens and calculators. If it doesn't, it becomes a doorstop. The problem is that when people talk about "technology in schools", some people start to think you're talking about something that's a shiny add-on to the process itself.

When UK tech sector trade body Intellect popped up just over a week ago to urge that ICT should be dropped from the curriculum in its current form, it said the lessons were effectively being used to teach students how to use certain software and not how to develop necessary skills for a career. It argued instead that interactive and multimedia training should be woven into lesson plans for other subjects in the curriculum.

Education programme manager John Hoggard said: "Our member companies tell us that they often have to spend considerable time upskilling employees as a result of the current ICT teaching."

Rattling on about whether and how much schools should invest in technology is as helpful as sending your partner out to the high street armed with a to-do list saying "buy stuff". Any school should want to evolve and develop its approach to suit students. It's all about what it brings back from the shops.

Around 11 schools are currently looking at the potential of Every1Speaks, an online platform created by educational consultant Peter Hirst and digital entrepreneur Jeremiah Alexander. Every1Speaks, a Newcastle-based company, allows students, parents and teachers to pitch in and share ideas and feedback on school issues.

Alexander says: "This platform looks to level the playing field. The people that are best able to articulate their points aren't necessarily the people with the best points to make. There's definitely a trend towards people being a lot more vocal on social media platforms than they might be in person. That could be to do with confidence, but it's also about insight. People like to see what others think of what they say, as well as what others say themselves.

"We're not focused on the curriculum.

We're focused on the culture within the school itself. It's about diplomacy and democracy and giving people a voice. The key thing is people want to have a say, but that doesn't mean they want control. The school will have control of the decision, but it's about listening and giving people a chance to contribute."

Alexander is also working on a project with public policy strategist Oliver Roberts called Bookmarked Games, which is currently looking for user groups of parents and children to help guide it in the development of an educational game for three to sevenyear-olds.

Alexander believes introducing games mechanics can encourage more effective learning, and it's a school of thought that's becoming increasingly popular worldwide. In America, President Obama used a speech in a Boston school in March to highlight his desire for innovations to improve education.

Obama said: "I'm calling for investments in educational technology that will help create digital tutors that are as effective as personal tutors, educational software as compelling as the best video game. I want you guys to be stuck on something that's teaching you something, other than just blowing something up."

Alexander adds: "A bit earlier in the lifetime of technology in schools, there was this view that it was something that replaced traditional learning, but now it's seen more as something that facilitates it.

"Introducing things like game mechanics into the process shows that people are starting to see that making something enjoyable and challenging can streamline the learning process and make it more frictionless. …

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