Taking a 'cam do' attitude to Russia
It was a memorable half-term in Russia for Jonathan Boyle. He went down into Stalin's bunker, learned how to toast his hosts Russian style, stood in the middle of an ice-covered River Volga, played snooker with a Russian senator and had to unstick his frozen glasses from his nose.
But Mr Boyle had not flown to the edge of the Russian Steppes to go sight- seeing. He was there at the request of the regional government to demonstrate an approach to teaching that is being recognised as having potential to transform learning.
Mr Boyle, deputy headteacher at Madeley Academy in Telford, Shropshire, has been winning plaudits in the UK for some time. He is a former recipient of the ICT in Practice award from Becta, the now- defunct education technology agency, and was given a fellowship in technology by the charitable Gatsby Foundation.
Part of his work revolves around the use of two programs, Camtasia and ArtCAM. As a design and technology teacher, Mr Boyle frequently has to explain processes and skills to his pupils. He realised that it would be more efficient to video a process once and place it on the school's network. The result is that pupils can pause, rewind and play the tutorials at their own pace.
Camtasia works by recording the teacher's voice and everything on the teacher's screen or whiteboard during the lesson. Teachers can edit the resulting video, adding titles, credits, zooming, panning, quizzes and additional audio tracks. It can be replayed by pupils, used by those who missed the class or accessed by pupils on another site. The time Mr Boyle saves on explaining concepts can be used to work with pupils who are experiencing difficulties.
ArtCAM 7 Educational is a CAD (computer aided design) software program, free to schools, that allows teachers and students to produce high-quality free-form 3D products from their 2D designs.
But Mr Boyle is not content to work just with Madeley Academy students. He also wants to share his experience and distribute his learning materials for free. So far, 13,000 copies of his videos have been sent to other schools.
His willingness to share his work led to his visit to Russia. Mr Boyle's videos attracted interest from Russian schools, who have visited Madeley to see how it works in practice. Last October, the party included the minister of education from the Samara region in the south-east of European Russia, leading to an invitation for Mr Boyle to make the return journey.
In February, Mr Boyle flew to Samara via Moscow to talk about his work. His first presentation was just outside Samara city, at School Number Seven in the town of Novokuybyshevsk.
"Every day was a different presentation - seven in six days," he says. "I was not really prepared for the range of presentations that I would have to give: teachers one day, then small children and then college and university students."
Nor was he prepared for the level of interest in his work. After putting together a short presentation, his hosts asked if he would be able to speak for two-and-a-half hours.
His talk covered his techniques and stressed the importance of designing for manufacture. But he realised that he would have to adapt his approach to take account of the differences in technology available to the schools.
"Some of the designs I saw from the Russian children were exquisite," he says. "But it struck me that they are where we were about 20 years back."
Although the gap in technologies meant the designs had to change, he says recording their own tutorials was a significant step. He also had to get used to his celebrity status: his picture featured in magazines, he was interviewed on radio and TV, and he was asked for photographs and autographs wherever he went.
"I was described as an emotional teacher," he says. "I think that was because in my lessons there are lots of jokes, singing, running around the room, jumping up and down, moments of hilarity."
He found a very different education system in Russia, with pupils showing deep respect for teachers. "Patriotism was at the heart of what they did," he says. "Students would come up to me to speak in admiring tones about their teacher." This had an impact on Mr Boyle himself. Whenever he gave presentations to pupils, he was heard with respectful attention.
He also encountered a few widely held myths about the UK. One man told him he had a book on British culture that assured him that London was blanketed in smog, everyone had afternoon tea at 5pm with cake and sandwiches and in the evening everyone ate veal.
More of a shock was the cold - temperatures of minus 30 were difficult to endure. He was given a driver to take him between presentations, and often found his journeys were entirely on solid ice, through snow-lined corridors where the drift was twice the height of the car.
The cold notwithstanding, he has come back from Russia invigorated and determined to keep pushing the boundaries. "This has given me a new direction, a new beginning; I have something to give," he says. "I have had more significant experiences in that one week than I have had previously in my professional life."
Jonathan Boyle's design and technology videos: www.cadcamcookies.co.uk
ArtCam 7: www.cadinschools.org
Camtasia 7: www.techsmith.comcamtasia.