Teachers possibly look at January in a slightly different way from the rest of the population. For us, the new year – at least from the working point of view, starts in August (or September in the case of UK schools). January is more like a halfway point. On the other hand, a halfway point is also a pretty good place from which to review and look ahead. Here at ACS Cobham International School we have our own little wish list for 2013 – and the good news is that it’s a wish list for sharing. That’s because this month marks an important deadline in the planning for the European Council of International Schools (ECIS) biannual Technology Conference which our school is hosting in March, and the wish list in question deals with what we would like to see and share at that conference. In short, what are the emerging tech themes that a 2013 conference attendee is likely to want to discuss?
Throughout the autumn, the planning committee drew up a working wish list of proposals for presentations, workshops, keynotes and panel discussions that we felt might form the core content of a tech conference worthy of the name. Now that all proposals have been submitted the planning committee has already begun to meet to sort out what items from the list have been checked and to discuss the timing and placement of each session in the three-day schedule.
I should just say upfront that this is not a conference restricted to discussing only mobile devices, or only Apple devices come to that. But undeniably a huge portion of the interest across the education sector is firmly centred on the iPad, with presenters only recently beginning to nod additionally in the direction of Android where those devices are capable of supporting the apps, app workflows and methodology teachers had originally planned for the iPad. The release of the iPad Mini has also refuelled the debate. I’ve seen nothing yet to suggest that iPad minis are not capable of supporting the same workload asked of the full-sized version, but we may see a reopening of the discussion on smaller keyboards in the coming months.
Pre-kinder student Thomas (aged 5) confidently using an iPad Mini in an Apple Store. Does the smaller keyboard suit smaller fingers? Or does the younger child’s comparative lack of dexterity outweigh the keyboard size issue? Admittedly, this was merely a game of Temple Run but Thomas’ high score was quite impressive!
An interesting discussion has been had on what gaps remain in the planning programme. Our wish list was augmented by a description of six semantic themes that could be embedded in the programme or at least associated with certain keynotes (That was Then, This is Now; Technology – driver or enabler?; The role of Social Media in Technology and Learning and so forth). By year’s end 2012 all of our themes had been covered by accepted submissions from at least one presenter and the wish list was looking completely checked too (although naturally we adapted the list as submissions poured in). The list included programming (in particular for elementary and middle school students); writing for Web 2.0; best practice with cloud-based servers; using Google Apps in an iOS or mixed platform environment; publishing eBooks; digital wisdom (as opposed to digital literacy and digital citizenship) and administratering mobile device programmes. Subjects not on the original list but included once we had read the submissions and spoken to the prospective presenters included the future of the IWB and an ethical hacking take on digital security that I for one cannot wait to hear!
Based on the (admittedly early) discussions to be heard around the faculty rooms of various school campuses, the most popular workshops will be on iPads and in particular eBook creation. This is perhaps not surprising considering the popularity of apps like iBooks Author 2.0 and Red Jumper’s Book Creator for iPad, but the real value of the discussion is not necessarily in the “how to” guides that practical workshops can provide but rather in the shared consideration by an assembled group of educators of the ramifications for publishing that now exist. The generation that is growing up listening to Ed Sheeran (who famously broke himself through skilful use of SB.TV and YouTube rather than via the traditional promoter route) will surely recognise and exploit the opportunities offered by self-publishing.
Less widely anticipated is the return of computer programming to the wanted list. We’ll be running workshops on Scratch (perhaps with version 2.0 which is due to be released in beta on 28th January 2013), and possibly also hosting some sessions with Raspberry Pi. Programming is back on the UK education agenda after the government’s (belated) recognition of its importance in early 2012. This followed what some have seen as condemnatory comments by Google chairman Eric Schmidt when he observed in his MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh International Television Festival in 2011 that computer science was not part of the British National Curriculum (Schmidt’s Scottish hosts were perhaps too polite to point out to him that computer science isn’t part of the US Common Core either). Either way, Raspberry Pi (a British initiative which originated in 2006) has benefited from a huge amount of interest in the wake of this debate and we think its presence at the conference will complement the Scratch workshops already planned.
So what of the humble iPad? Well, the title of the conference is Learning to Love the iGeneration, and it is therefore fitting that a substantial part of what is on offer is presented by those very same iGenerationists. Student work will be featured on iPads and there will be classroom visits during the pre-conference that coincides with a working school day that will afford visitors a chance to see how our elementary, middle and high school one-to-one iPad-to-student classes are working. The iPad at ACS is fast on its way to becoming simply the tool used to achieve learning – along the inspirational “Digital Pencil Case” work being pioneered by our friends at Hurstpierpoint College. If the iPad can make the jump from being the shiny new must-have tech toy on a million Christmas lists to being the classroom equivalent of the Swiss Army Knife, we will have made a lot of progress as educators.
More information about the ECIS Technology Conference at ACS Cobham International School can be found at http://www.ecis.org/page.cfm?p=570