Hang Ups

24th March 1995 at 00:00
Managing Change or How To Get People to Adapt to New Ideas" is the beguiling title of one of the workshops to be held at Aston University from July 21 to 23. There are dozens of others in which participants can, for instance, learn how to create multimedia courseware, find out more about the educational implications of neural networks, and pick up enough new ideas to boggle even the most adaptable.

But the weekend is a mere hors d'oeuvre, intended to whet appetites in readiness for the frenetic week that follows when Birmingham will play host to the sixth World Conference on Computers in Education (WCCE). With over 2,000 delegates making the pilgrimage to the International Convention Centre, it will undoubtedly be the biggest jamboree of its kind ever held, or that is ever likely to be held, in the UK.

An army of pundits software designers, computer scientists, educational researchers and even teachers will present 250 learned papers on the role IT can play in "liberating the learner". There will be poster displays, lunch-time lectures, working breakfasts, discussion panels and an exhibition laid on by all the major manufacturers which promises to be almost as impressive as the annual BETT technology show at Olympia.

The Convention Centre will have its own "drop-in classroom". Here, schoolchildren from around the UK will use the new technology to get on with lessons as normal or as normally as they can with 2,000 earnest delegates peering over their shoulders. There will also be a simulation of the ultimate high-tech school where everything from balancing the budget to tracking down truants is handled by an integrated information management system.

The problem with this sort of conference is that it tends to attract the sort of people who are attracted to this sort of conference. They lead strange, nomadic, expenses-paid lives, flitting from one prestigious international shindig to the next. They are well practised in the art of snatching 40 winks during a lecture, and getting to the front of the queue for coffee. They wouldn't do any harm, if it weren't for the fact that they also feel a deep inner need to dominate seminars, discussion groups and working parties. But the WCCE will only be genuinely useful, and its deliberations, which are to be published, will only be worth reading if enough teachers with real experience of using computers in classrooms attend and make their presence felt. Of course, it will mean spending the first precious week of their summer holidays in sunny Birmingham.

The prospect of attending a "world conference" might seem intimidating, but the organisers have gone to some lengths to appeal to people who wouldn't normally consider attending such an event. For instance, there is no entrance qualification other than the capacity to withstand a week of relentless IT. Those who are new to the bizarre world of conferences are assigned a mentor who will introduce them to new chums, guide them through the programme and probably advise them on which restaurants to avoid. Participants are also encouraged to bring along a friend or partner who won't have to go near a computer but will be allowed to participate in a crowded programme of excursions, pub crawls, bun fights, medieval banquets, concerts and posh dinners.

It only costs Pounds 40 to register as a social guest, but fully-accredited delegates are going to have to cough up Pounds 200 and, of course, the price of their meals and accommodation. Since WCCE offers teachers a unique opportunity for in-service training, it's manifestly obvious that it's their schools or LEAs who should foot the bill. But probably that's one of those troublesome new ideas to which penny-pinching administrators will have the greatest difficulty adapting.

For further details of the conference (July 23-28) and the pre-conference workshops at Aston University: WCCE 95, Margaret Street, Birmingham.Tel: 0121-428 1258.

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