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What in the world's going on?

Every five years a global conference on educational technology is held to exchange views and information.

Mark Sealey joined delegates in Birmingham last week to find enlightenment.

A good way to learn about technology is to watch pupils using it. This was certainly the case in a series of four "Activity Classrooms", presented at the World Conference Computers in Education by NCET (the National Council for Educational Technology) and its Scottish counterpart, SCET.

With pupils of all ages from schools in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, and a variety of hardware from Apple and Research Machines, these Activity Classrooms were designed to give delegates an insight into the characteristics of the education systems within the United Kingdom.

Each morning throughout the week a different group of students worked for about two hours coping well with the attentions of television cameras as well as the delegates. Teachers, administrators and academics were also on hand to explain the work, not all of which was planned specifically for the conference.

Sessions attracted several dozen delegates, with intense conversations developing between the participants and the observers. From the broad discussions that followed each session, certain common themes emerged: classroom management, the question of what was being learned and, in particular, the issue of resourcing.

The "classroom" presented by schools from Cambridge and Hertfordshire was based on their participation in an NCET project into the use of portable computers in education. The issues that this exploration of the potential of portability raised included how resources should be managed, assessment, how to ensure that there is continuity and progression in developing skills and how portable computers can help make scientific and mathematical investigation more meaningful for students.

The advantages brought to literacy by computers were illustrated by pupils from Carolside primary school, Glasgow, who put theory into practice by producing a newspaper about their experience of being at the conference.

The pupils used the latest version of The Writer's Toolkit, software from SCET which is designed to support the writing process on just such an occasion. The emphasis was on the process of writing and the various ways in which technology can encourage reflective and collaborative thinking, while under the pressure of deadlines.

Pupils from Northern Ireland were at the conference showing how they had used technology to discover what others schools around the world (in Japan and Europe in particular) had been doing in 1995, with a view to predicting how education might have changed in 50 years time. From their experience of this project, the pupils were anxious to keep their teachers as well as the computer ("You can't hug a computer", one sixth-former commented) and to specialise less early.

An interactive contribution in the Welsh language was made by Cardiff pupils, who used multi-media authoring tools to tell the story of Math, from the folk tale, The Mabinogion, with the end result due to be pressed onto disc.

Mark Sealey is editor of InteracTive magazine.

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