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5th March 2004 at 00:00
Regional ICT showcases are springing up like mini SETT shows, taking the technology to teachers, Douglas Blane reports

The keynote speaker at the Renfrewshire ICT Showcase is barely 10 minutes into his talk when some of the audience gets restive. Groups of teachers start talking loudly among themselves, oblivious to the nature of the videolink that lets the speaker in Wolverhampton see and hear see them clearly in Paisley Town Hall.

The lack of awareness about the technology is perhaps not surprising since the audience contains a substantial number of conscripts to the show, but it is an unpromising start to Renfrewshire's effort to refresh the parts other information and communications technology initiatives have not reached.

"Shows like SETT (Scottish Education and Teaching with Technology) tend to attract the usual suspects," says education adviser Robert Naylor. "Because it is difficult to find class cover, you tend to get two people from any one school going, and they're the enthusiasts, the ICT co-ordinators, the Masterclass participants.

"Renfrewshire has made this an in-service training day, so well over half of those attending never have had a chance to go to SETT.

"We made a point, too, of inviting headteachers to nominate staff who had previously been reluctant to use ICT."

After the keynote speeches, the delegates disperse to the seminars they have selected from the 30 that are running throughout the day. The problem, as always, is how to be in two places - or three, or four - at once. How do you choose, for instance, between learning about Live Channel (broadcasting software for Macs), online CPD, early years ICT and ICT in enterprise and science, all on at one time?

A few seminars are repeated, including a set of brief but interesting presentations on schools' varied use of a toolbox to assess the effectiveness of ICT which has been compiled by a partnership of Scottish education authorities and teacher education institutes called MIICE (Measurement of the Impact of ICT on Children's Education).

Also repeated is a Learning and Teaching Scotland seminar on the large collection of resources, information and support available from the National Grid for Learning. These include awards to help teachers extend ICT in the classroom, the online magazine Connected, with lots of practical advice, and online services with resources for all stages and areas of the curriculum. Early years education has been a particular focus of recent NGfL work.

"We also have new resources in the pipeline for Gaelic, health, citizenship and enterprise in education," says Patricia Kemp.

Next year, ICT in education is expected to take another huge leap forward when the Scottish Schools Digital Network - the name Spark has been dropped - is up and running. "Imagine live video conferences with schools anywhere in the country," Ian Graham invites his audience, "not to mention geography studies in the rainforests and science experiments with astronauts in space."

As well as keynote speakers, seminars and workshops, more than a dozen exhibitors are displaying a variety of educational products and resources.

They include Media Matters, Granada Learning, Scotsys, Data Harvest, Kudlian Soft and Don Johnston Special Needs.

The initial aim of the event, says Renfrewshire's ICT staff tutor, Ann Crawford, was to showcase the achievements of the authority's Masterclass participants, but its scope grew in the planning, as did its scale. "We've got 600 people here, which is great," she says.

"Mostly it's about classroom practitioners sharing good practice and talking about things other teachers can readily do themselves. But we've also brought along some 'Wow!' people. We've got Andy Pendry from Apple talking about Live Channel, which turns your computer into a television studio that can broadcast to pupils around the school. That's got huge educational potential. We also have the film-maker Oscar Stringer showing us how to do digital animation."

After that seminar, Janet Collins, the ICT co-ordinator at East Fulton Primary in Paisley, shares her thoughts. "That was really interesting and so were the other seminars I've been to.

"One of the earlier speakers talked about the gap between those who are comfortable using ICT and those who aren't. What is happening now, I think, is that a lot of teachers in the second group, who believed ICT would pass them by and so they wouldn't have to learn about it, are realising that isn't true. They are now keen to catch up."

These late starters will get there in the end, believes Ms Crawford.

"Today's event has shown what we can do to reach every teacher, not just the enthusiasts. We have to be patient though and to keep working at it. It will take time."

In recognition of the need to inform more classroom practitioners about the technology available, NGfL is co-sponsor of this local showcase as well as a series of "mini SETTs" from West Lothian to Shetland later in the year.

LT Scotland's hope is that these events will encourage an exchange of good practice across each authority at grassroots level, while the national event will allow a similar exchange across the country.

Learning and Teaching Scotland, www.ltscotland.org.ukNational Grid for Learning, www.ltscotland.org.ukngflscotlandScottish Schools Digital Network, www.ltscotland.org.ukssdnMeasurement of the Impact of ICT on Children's Education (MIICE), www.miice.org.ukLive Channel information from Andy Pendry, pendry.a@euro.apple.comwww.apple.comeducationContact Oscar Stringer for details of animation courses for teachers, southstreet@easynet.co.ukwww.southstreetproductions.co.uk

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