Andrew Pinder on Handheld Learning PDF Print E-mail
Written by Andrew Pinder, CBE, Chairman - Becta on Thursday, 04 December 2008
andrew pinder Becta is looking to transform education in the UK, through use of innovative and creative technology. This year some of the world’s most important players in the field of handheld learning and mobile technologies got together at the Handheld Learning Conference in London to discuss the way forward.

Here Andrew Pinder, Chairman of Becta, the UK government’s education technology agency, reports on this year’s Handheld Learning Conference.

Technology has the power to transform education and learning in the UK. Indeed, the Government has already announced that technology should no longer be treated as an optional extra but as a necessity.

Liberation TechnologyThis message came home loud and clear to those who attended the two day Handheld Learning Conference, which took place in London during October this year.  The theme of the conference was "Innovation in Learning and Teaching Practice" and there were plenty of inspiring examples about what can happen when schools and other learning providers fully embrace technology as an educational tool.

Becta wholeheartedly supported this event as it is crucial that all aspects of the industry - including mobile and ubiquitous technologies - are actively involved in the debate about how to transform education and learning. We encourage and welcome innovation and creativity to achieve our ultimate goal of creating a more exciting, rewarding and successful experience for learners of all ages and abilities, enabling them to achieve their potential.

danahMore than 30 per cent of the 1,000 delegates came from outside the UK, reinforcing the leadership position that the UK has in this rapidly developing field. It is encouraging to attend an event where the main players from the consumer electronics and entertainment software industries engage in discussions with senior education professionals and leaders on this scale. Senior executives from companies such Nintendo, Sony Computer Entertainment, Disney, T-Mobile and Codemasters were networking and presenting alongside leading educational practitioners and innovators including Danah Boyd, Stephen Heppell, Keri Facer, Mike Sharples, Derek Robertson and Lord David Puttnam.

A recurring theme throughout the event was the need for those working in the education system to recognise the technology already embedded within the lives of many learners, especially young people. These technologies include gaming consoles, mp3 players, mobile phones, online multi-user collaborative spaces and social and media sharing networks.

nintendoOne trend explored in the conference was “game based learning”. We saw examples of inexpensive gaming devices being used in classrooms with popular games such as Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training or Guitar Hero used to enable rich cross-curriculum learning experiences. Using these in an educational context has to be carefully managed, but when successfully employed by teachers they can engage and motivate young learners in inspiring and, possibly, surprising ways.

One primary school demonstrated how they were using a popular computer game Nintendogs to encourage team work within the game itself and then further project work, including a design project to make actual kennels for their virtual pets. It was also used by teachers to teach arithmetic through the handling of money in a classroom pet shop and to develop ICT skills by creating a blog to update readers (including parents) about their virtual pet and much more. The benefit for teachers in this case is that the device is a “low skills threshold” technology, requiring very little by way of technical training before they could use it. It’s a good example of technology supporting, but not getting in the way of, teaching.

y factorBecta’s support enabled the organisers to admit the public for free on the opening day. The Next Generation Learning day included a showcase of innovation presented by Becta and the “Learners Y Factor” hosted by Becta’s ambassador for Next Generation Learning, Johnny Ball.  The Y Factor was a chance to find out about the innovative ways that schools are using mobile technology across the curriculum – directly from the learners who are using it.  The final was won by an all girl team from Radstock Primary School.

derek awardThis year also heralded the first Handheld Learning for Innovation Awards, celebrating innovative practitioners and organisations. The winners were selected by public vote with SMS messaging.

Another key point made at the conference was the universal acknowledgement of how important is to close the gap between those learners who have access to internet and broadband at home and those who do not. This is a pressing concern for all those involved in this field who are able to see the vast benefits - both social and educational - that having access to technology at home can bring.

The week following the conference saw the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) announce the next steps in its Home Access programme to help one million school children who are currently missing out on internet access at home. Becta is helping to deliver this programme and we hope it will go some way to bridging the digital divide that currently exists and encourage greater use of technology at home to enhance the whole learning experience.

Home Access is important but we know it is only one part of the technology jigsaw. If we are really going to allow technology to transform education for this generation of learners, then events like this one are vital. They help educationalists connect with commercial industries far beyond the traditional sphere of education. I believe this to be a positive step in supporting our learners and understanding the world in which they inhabit and in which they will grow.


Videos of main conference sessions can be found online at:

The online digital proceedings from Handheld Learning 2008 can be found at:

Pre-registration for Handheld Learning 2009 can be found at:

Pre-registration for Game Based Learning 2009 can be found at:

The Next Generation Learning website is at www.nextgenerationlearning.org.uk

This article originally appeared in IQ Magazine

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Last Updated ( Thursday, 04 December 2008 )
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