SETT keeps getting better
What schools want from information and communications technology is changing, say the teachers who were at last week's Scottish Education and Teaching with Technology show in Glasgow. Their needs are no longer so much about hardware.
"I love new toys like this Apple G5," says Lee Carson, with a gleam in his eye. "They say it's the fastest personal computer in the world. But Queensferry Primary (in Edinburgh) is well-equipped now. If we get any more hardware it'll be hard to find time to learn how to use it. So we are looking for software and ideas we can use with the equipment we have."
It is a message the organisers of SETT 2003 seemed to have anticipated.
Teachers and classroom practice featured strongly in seminars, software was prominent on stands and schoolchildren were more in evidence than ever before, delivering presentations, walking around with "Special Guest" badges pinned to their school uniforms and putting pertinent questions to articulate exhibitors.
"Our fourth-year boys are here to give a presentation," says Claire Wiseman, a first-year pupil at St Luke's High, Barrhead. "So we've come to watch them, look at the technology, then go back to school and tell them all about it.
"The stands I like are the ones about websites because they show how you can learn by yourself, rather than listening to a teacher."
Centre stage at the SETT show was the National Grid for Learning in Action stand, with five varied programmes of presentations and events, featuring pupils, teachers and new educational products. Different areas of the spacious stand provided showcases for video-conferencing, resources from Masterclass and new web services and software on topics from early years to assessment, creativity to climate change, with guidance given by their Learning and Teaching Scotland creators.
Two of the NGfL areas featured pupil presentations. Their quality and the relaxed way the children interacted with the sophisticated technology were a striking testimony to its impact on learning.
"Leaving TVs and videos on standby wastes pound;163 million a year in the UK," Colin Millar told a group watching a presentation by Campbeltown Grammar. "If we all boiled just enough water to make a cup of tea instead of filling the kettle, we could save enough electricity to run practically all the streetlighting in the country."
As the second-year pupil talked, his words were professionally synchronised with colour images on a large screen beside him.
"I was a bit nervous," he confessed later. "But I'd practised it all at school and that made it easier."
Teacher Harry Campbell, who has been seconded to the SchoolsoutGlasgow project that uses technology to help interrupted learners, remarked on improvements in the SETT show this year.
"The resource providers have been doing their research," he says. "The quality and relevance of what is on show are much better. They have made big strides in mapping their learning resources to the curriculum - 5-14, Standard grade and Higher Still - and there is a lot of useful, off-the-shelf material this year.
"It is easier now to find your way around. Generally the whole show is much more geared to teachers and the uses of ICT in the classroom than to trying to sell us computers. I think it's great."
He says he particularly likes Think.com and companies such as Plato Learning and Edict who are "beginning to provide just the resources that teachers need".
Susan Wainwright, another teacher at Queensferry Primary, liked what Softease was showing. "It was child-friendly and colourful. The kids go into a studio that has everything - word processing, spreadsheets, databases - so they only need to learn how to use one package."
Linda Donnelly, Masterclass participant and headteacher of Carleton Primary in Fife, says: "I liked the packages Vektor showed us to support the teaching of modern languages. Also, Picasso, the personal learning programme, looks very useful. It lets pupils plan their own learning, set targets and check their progress. We have just got it for our school."
Chloe Haggerty, an S1 pupil at St Luke's High in East Renfrewshire, saw teachers being told how they can help pupils with dyslexia. "That's really good, because we have three people with dyslexia and a lady comes in and uses a special computer to help them."
Products launched by Learning and Teaching Scotland at the show include Creativity in Education Online, Assess The Herald (a CD-Rom that gives virtual work experience on a national newspaper) and The Serf's Quest, a role-playing game with 3D graphics which lets children explore life in a medieval Scottish burgh.