So the BETT awards for educational technology have been announced and from looking at the winners we can only conclude that standards have been raised. The winning products are bright, original and versatile resources that fulfil the needs of teachers and pupils alike. Upon assessing the winners, I found the most attractive products were those that encouraged creative user experimentation. Critics have always accused educational software of stunting the scope of a child’s imagination. Perhaps in the early days this was a legitimate concern. But the winners of the BETT awards are a testament to how educational technology has moved away from its prescriptive confines. These resources invite a complex response from children, encouraging them to learn abstract concepts through creative play. Check out the winners at www.bettawards.co.uk
Screenshot from Focus on Beebot.
Focus on Beebot by Focus Education Ltd is a surprising product. It consists of a 3D sequencing programme where students can experiment with sequencing tasks to map out a route for Beebot, a bee coloured robot with a permanent smile. Students can guide Beebot through virtual worlds, but they can also programme their sequences into the Beebot floor robot in the actual classroom. This is a wonderful feature as it allows children to apply the abstract principles they have learnt from the software onto a physical piece of machinery. Children can feel satisfied about what they’ve learnt , enjoying the end result of their work by watching Beebot zoom around the classroom.
The sense of a fulfilling learning experience explains the success of 2Simple’s 2paintapicture. This is an art package that allows students to play with a range of artistic techniques. Children can see the results of their efforts attractively displayed on the screen. What gives this product the edge over other art packages is the ability to recreate the styles of well known artists. A child can learn the technical secrets behind great art at the same time as painting their own masterpieces. Noisy things by Q & D Multimedia won the Early Learning Solutions award because of its innovative approach to introducing young children to musical concepts such as rhythm, pitch and tone. Children play around with a variety of colourful, mischievous characters that make different sounds at the click of a mouse. The genius of Noisy Things is its intuitive design. There is no text to disrupt the experience, the children simply learn instinctively through interacting with the characters on screen. This is perfect for early learning because it allows children to learn about music through independent experimentation.
Screenshot from Noisy Things.
Another aspect of the winners was a new emphasis on software that allows for easy assessment and profiling. Bluewaveswift won Supporting Institutional Leadership and Management Solutions award. It was built on a lot of research done by head teachers in Leeds and is designed to provide a comprehensive profile of the state of a school’s development. Testimonials by head teachers all over the country tell of how Bluewaveswift saves hours of work.
Smartcat Profiling by Screen Learning is a selection of thirteen games that assess children’s reading, spelling, mental arithmetic, motor control, language skills and even emotional recognition. This allows teachers of children at the foundation stage to keep an eye on how each child is developing and ensure that they fulfil the needs of each child as an individual. The world of education is currently anxious about low levels of literacy and numeracy skills. Often this is a result of children not keeping up with the rest of the class. Smartcat Profiling has come at the right time, since it ensures that teachers know exactly which children need more help, ensuring everyone learns at the right pace. But what makes it really work is that each exercise is a game that the child can enjoy. This is a refreshing approach to assessment , making it feel less scary and more fun.
Screenshot from SimVenture.
Learning through games is the secret to the popularity of SimVenture. Venture Simulations Ltd have created a programme that allows students to set up a virtual business. Liam Godfrey, lecturer in business studies, has come from a background in banking and has a wide experience of simulation programmes used for professional training. He says that SimVenture is the most comprehensive software of its kind. Students are getting hooked on the game. The more competitive they get about scores the more clued up they are about the real dynamics of the business world. This is the beauty of these winning programmes: they draw children into a genuine passion for a subject. Technology isn’t there to make boring subjects interesting but to make fascinating subjects accessible. When you get sucked into a subject you love, learning is always fun. These products are taking full advantage of this phenomenon, taking us out of the Victorian austerity of the three r’s and into a future of varied and enjoyable learning.