A showcase for innovation and technology
Douglas Blane previews this year's Scottish Learning Festival at the SECC in September
There is no excuse for getting lost nowadays, since modern technology can pinpoint a position almost anywhere on Earth. But it can still happen, especially at sprawling locations such as the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre in Glasgow, where the annual Scottish Learning Festival, sponsored by The TESS, is held each September.
So much is packed into the two days of this main event in the educational calendar - the programme for which has just been published - that delegates once needed advanced map-reading skills to get to everything that appealed.
The organisers have made it easier this year. They've hired a bigger hall. "It's twice the size, so everything will now be in one place, including all the new features," says Erin Field, events manager at Learning and Teaching Scotland.
A major theme running through the whole festival is A Curriculum for Excellence, with a focus on the draft outcomes, experiential learning and innovation. Underpinning this main theme is Glow, the national schools intranet, currently being rolled out across the country.
"There will be seminars for every set of draft outcomes as well as two spotlight sessions on A Curriculum for Excellence," says Erin. "Besides seminars and workshops on Glow, there'll be a section within it about the festival, to get debate going, before, during and after the event."
One of the new features is topic surgeries, in which delegates can take part in small-scale discussions throughout each day. "These will be intimate, informal conversations with presenters," says Erin.
They will also be intentionally short, with a new presenter taking the chair every 15 minutes, and while topics are timetabled, allowing delegates to choose presenters they want to hear more from, sessions do not have to be booked.
Another new feature is the education showcase, which offers resource launches, performances, hands-on demonstrations and fresh slants on learning and teaching. "It will be firmly practical," Erin says. "The FunMaths roadshow, for instance, will bring kids along to demonstrate problem-solving in action."
There will also be showcases from schools and Scottish cultural bodies; a session on the top 10 new technologies or pedagogies that further the aims of A Curriculum for Excellence; and the Consolarium Challenge, where visitors can test the latest consoles and find out more about games-based learning.
"Computer games are often viewed with suspicion," says LTS's Derek Robertson. "But use of resources that have cultural resonance can enhance learning. Games are worth serious consideration."
One festival presenter who rarely gets lost is Musselburgh Grammar's depute head Ollie Bray. The geography teacher's passion for the great outdoors is matched by his enthusiasm for ICT in education, and he will be delivering two seminars and an education village session on the latest version of Google Earth.
"Nice new features include city views at street level, better 3D buildings and a sunlight layer. If you combine those, you can watch the sun coming up in a city - great for teaching time zones," he says.
A seminar on child safety on the Internet, aimed at teachers and parents, will also show new resources from the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre. "Then I've got a seminar on interactive voting systems, the latest versions of which allow children to send text and not just answer multiple-choice questions. That can be really powerful to encourage the students' voice in the classroom," he adds.
Modern languages teacher and ICT expert Ewan McIntosh recently visited Delhi, where he took time off from collaborating with Indian teachers, using a software tool called eLanguages, to talk about the Scottish Learning Festival.
"I'll be delivering a seminar based on work with language teachers from Scotland to New Zealand, Delhi to Boston. We'll explore how free online and cheap CD-Rom games can stimulate creative writing," he says.
A second seminar from Ewan will be a beginner's guide to technologies such as eLanguages that teachers can use to create an international professional network.
"Finally, TeachMeet will be huge this year. It will feature seven-minute micro-presentations, two-minute nano-presentations, and opportunities to learn informally from colleagues doing interesting things. Anyone can come along and speak," he says.
It's a comprehensive philosophy wholly absent from the selective spotlights and keynotes, with educational experts from around the world invited to share their insights. Education Secretary Fiona Hyslop sets the tone on the first morning with a keynote speech on making Scotland smarter.
Richard Teese, from the University of Melbourne, discusses vocational and academic learning in the context of A Curriculum for Excellence, using international policies and experiences for comparison.
Innovation and creativity guru Charles Leadbeater explores 21st-century alternatives to traditional ways of learning, while Ellen Moir outlines elements of the mentoring model for new teachers developed at the University of California.
Eight spotlight sessions, delivered by Scottish experts and one professor from Sweden, examine inclusion, motivation, inspection, assessment, psychology, professional development, Glow and A Curriculum for Excellence. The sessions will feature feedback from the trials of the draft outcomes, as well as the "latest advice on assembling the curriculum as a whole".
To gain maximum benefit from the festival, every delegate must plot a personal path through the 150 seminars on offer. Just a few that catch the eye are Glow Learn and digital content; smooth transitions; Confucius classrooms; research-based insights into curriculum change; international art and Hawaiian-style philosophy for children.
There are sessions on secondary eco-schools; tackling emotional barriers to learning; using wikis to develop the four capacities; and, from a secondary headteacher, the one thing everyone wants: a strategy for changing the curriculum.
Highlights at the Scottish education village include cross-curricular learning with virtual pets, and animated characters to enhance listening and talking, while the local authority, international and cultural villages - which once had to be assiduously tracked down - will be hard to miss in the huge, main hall.
HOW TO FIND OUT MORE
Scottish Learning Festival, September 24 and 25
For details of the festival and 150 stands at the accompanying exhibition, organised by Emap Education, visit www.scottishlearningfestival.com
Ollie Bray: http:edubuzz.orgblogsolliebray
Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre: www.ceop.gov.uk
Ewan McIntosh: http:edu.blogs.comedublogs