Douglas Blane joins teachers and pupils trying to take in what technology and the Internet means to education
Teachers have been adept at performing several jobs at once - multitasking - for far longer than any computer. But taking part in nine simultaneous seminars every hour at different locations around the sprawling Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre in Glasgow is beyond even the best of them. Fortunately, much of Fusion 2000 could be found on the Learning and Teaching Scotland website.
The first day of the conference was specifically for classroom teachers and 1,456 came from all over Scotland, many accompanied by pupils. A quarter of Glasgow schools had an inservice day to attend and some schools sent all of their staff, others just a few.
A class from Ardeer Primary school in Ayrshire with teacher Patricia Taylor was taking particular interest in the visual centrepiece of the exhibition, the Millennium Tapestry, a stunning composite of colourful squares a metre across, each with its own theme, designed and woven by pupils at 1,700 schools across the UK.
"This is the first time we've seen our bit with the others," the children explained, inspecting the components of the enormous work of art with discerning eight-year-old eyes. "It's the view from our school. See, you've got the grass at the bottom with flowers, then sand and sea, then the mountains of Arran and the sky."
One of the features of the exhibition the Ardeer children particularly liked was the smart boards being demonstrated by three companies: Elonex, Time Education and Viglen. The high-tech screens connect directly to a computer and have huge advantages over a blackboard, being able to display lessons stored on a computer, give sophisticated responses at the touch of a finger, and retain in memory for future use any writing or drawings. "I can think of lots of ways to use it in lessons," said physics teacher Susan Khan.
Kirkwall Grammar School was presented with a national award by BECTA, the Government's lead agency for ICT in education, for the quality and creativity of its website. Doon Acdemy in Dalmellington was one of 17 successful applicants to the Innovation Fund, set up by the Scottish Executive to support small-scale learning projects, which received awards from pound;1,000 to pound;5,000 from Peter Peacock, deputy minister for children and education.
Doon won pound;5,000 for a project in which upper primary pupils will devise a storyline to be animated using hand-made models and a digital camera by first-year secondary children. "The project will introduce children from a deprived background to technology they wouldn't otherwise get their hands on," said assistant headteacher Joan McCue.
Many of the exhibitors at Fusion 2000 took the opportunity to unveil products. Learning and Teaching Scotland demonstrated its early years website (www.svtc.org.ukearlyyears) and its Streetwise CD-Rom, which supports learning of social skills by teenagers in a variety of contexts - staying safe, choices about sex, drugs and alcohol and interviews.
RM launched its Scottish Curriculum Window Box which maps to the strands in the ICT 5-14 curriculum guidelines, and supports searches for specifically Scottish material in its online collection of resources (www.wbol.co.uk).
Pisys presented a pupil monitoring system that can communicate with external agencies and cut the amount of time devoted to the collection and collation of homework and exam results.
Tiny Computers reported that 500 schools - 30 in Scotland - have so far registered for its PCs campaign with its target of giving pound;12 million of computers to schools.
Teachers visiting the exhibition went away with new ideas and insights of the future, but Richard Pietrasik, executive director of Learning and Teaching Scotland, had a reassuring message: "Teachers are indispensable," his keynote speech concluded.
The Millennium Tapestry can be seen online (www.millennium-tapestry.co.uk) but for the full impact see it at an exhibition: details are on the website
www.online-fusion.LTScotland.comSmart boards: Time Education www.timeeducation.comElonex www.elonex.co.ukViglen www.viglen.comTiny Computers www.tiny.com