January 28 2009

What's to like about BETT?

So.  The BETT show is over.  Online CC spent a great deal of time at the event, which for the second year in a row struck me as an unholy marriage of a livestock pen and a telesales call.  I only spent a day at Olympia, but the experience sapped my strength so much that it felt like a week.

I don't have much of a problem admitting that I didn't like BETT - it seems to be pretty much unanimously agreed by everyone I spoke to there that time at a show like BETT takes its toll; which isn't to say that the whole thing is pointless or uninteresting of course.  It's a very good thing for people in the industry to get together like this, and every year some real gems come up, which  make the over-priced refreshments and crawling through Learning Management Software stands worth it.

Take Rafi.ki, for example. Rafi.ki is an online learning community which builds partnerships between schools all over the world.  Pupils exchange information with one another, embark on projects together, and make friends.  Simple?  Yes.  Worthwhile?  Undoubtedly.  Successful?  It seems so.  The gent on the stand (one John Macnutt, lovely guy) pointed out that on facebook, most children simply collect people who are already their friends and remain in those groups.  Here was something that allowed children to make new friends, and work together on projects that can be extremely valuable.

Or Roar Educate's  "Us Online", an 'online learning module' which allows children to learn about what exactly you can do on the internet, via the experience of a set of fictional characters.  I saw a demonstrator show how a learner can help a girl set up a myspace page, from choosing her screen name and picture to making friends; and it's only once you've set up a profile picture of the character in her underwear and befriended a suspicious individual called fluffybunny73 who says he 'likes to play' that the program takes you step by step through what you've done that might have gotten you into such a situation.  This kind of digital literacy is working its way up the agenda as people accept that things like Myspace are now a fact of life, and learning through experience and simulation is a great way to get across the idea that your actions in the digital realm are not without consequences.

Or Pixton, a really fun site that allows people to (fairly) easily create and share their own webcomics.  I don't know a great deal about 'Pixton for Schools', but there's been a lot of talk about video games' ability to present content to children.  Comics, as another staple of my youth, show real potential to do the same.

Rambling around the upper levels I stumbled across some charming gents from Rolling Sound, who run multimedia courses for schools, community groups and young people 'at risk'.  Roll 7 is a recent expansion of Rolling Sound, and are a company making socially responsible video games, actively recruiting from the young people that complete courses at Rolling Sound.  Their flagship piece is a game called 'Dead Ends', which managed to make it onto Channel 4 News in its treatment of knife crime.  It's even got Jon Snow in it.   I also almost tripped over Serious Games Interactive's very small stall; these guys make a series of games called 'Global Conflicts', which aim to inform on the (extremely complex) issues behind some of the most intractable and damaging conflicts in the world.  As ever, I'm a sucker for video games and so must admit to taking a disproportionate amount of interest in stalls like this...

Finally, I did a double take at the back of Olympia Grand Hall when I walked a stand where grown men and women seemed to be playing Dance Dance Revolution on the kind of wet-pour rubber surface that you get on playground floors.  It turned out to be Smartus by Lappset, an intriguing hybrid of digital game based learning and physical exercise - whether it's stepping on marked tiles in the right order, or running round posts as quickly as you can, Smartus has developed installations for playgrounds or indoor halls which have children taking orders from weather friendly consoles.  Though I didn't partake myself, I imagine it to be like performing mental arithmetic whilst playing 'tag'.

I'm not sure I like the sound of that.

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