Technology in Focus as Pearson hosts education policymakers

3rd International Conference on EducationThe use of technology in education was the theme in London for more than 30 senior education policymakers from the U.S. and around the world, the third in a three-year series of conferences sponsored by the Pearson Foundation and the U.S.-based Council of Chief State School Officers.

The 15-18 June conference – “Digital Innovation: Effective Approaches to Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century” – included presentations by leading educational thinkers and visits to several schools to examine how digital technology can help raise achievement for learners. Educators from countries ranging from Brazil to Zambia to China were among the delegates.

The London conference followed a 2008 conference in Singapore that looked at mathematics and science education, and a 2009 conference in Helsinki that focused on teacher quality.

“Technology does now exist to ascertain what students are learning,” said Gene Wilhoit, executive director of the CCSSO, summing up the conference on the final day. “Technology can be a tremendous resource in harnessing student engagement, but it’s going to take some significant management” on the part of educators. Echoing those remarks, Pearson Foundation President Mark Nieker said of the conference theme: “Though it’s about technology, it always comes back to being about people.”

Technology helps personalise learning

Kicking off the conference, Charles Leadbeater, an author and adviser on innovation issues, argued that education policy had often fallen into a trap of hitting targets but failing to produce resilient, adaptive and creative learners. He also emphasized the importance to learning of factors outside the classroom, including the involvement of parents and local communities.

Technology, said Mr. Leadbeater, can help to personalise learning, and personalised learning motivates students by turning them into “protagonists for their own learning” rather than passive recipients of instruction.

Lessons from Britain were shared in presentations from Ofsted (the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills), the London Grid for Learning, and Becta (the U.K. government body that promotes technology in learning).

Brian Durrant, chief executive of the London Grid for Learning, highlighted the negotiations required to secure collaboration among 33 local authorities so that economies of broadband access may be harnessed. His organisation has used Pearson’s Fronter learning platform, which has helped forge greater collaboration among students, teachers, schools and parents.

School visits show technology at work

Delegates also gained first-hand exposure of the role played by information and communications technologies by visiting three contrasting schools: the older Compton School and the newer East Barnet School in North London, and The Milton Keynes Academy, located about 50 miles north of London and sponsored by the Edge Academy, a charity.

Compton headteacher Teresa Tunnadine illustrated the practical steps being taken to track each student’s progress, and said that many barriers had been overcome by monitoring student performance through technology and then offering personalised support. East Barnet headteacher Nick Christou showed how learning in science was made interesting and accessible by bringing science museum-type exhibits into the school – including an early model of a computer, illustrating recent advances in processing power.

Housed in a brand new building, the Milton Keynes Academy has discreetly embedded technology into all classrooms and other facilities. For example, delegates visited a dance studio in which music was altered electronically through a state-of-the-art digital mixing desk. Pearson has a multi-year contract with the Milton Keynes Academy to provide a range of educational services to help raise educational achievement.

Bridging the ‘expectations gap’

Milton Keynes Principal Lorna Caldicott spoke of the school’s role in challenging a local culture of low expectations based on generational unemployment – a theme of bridging the “expectations gap” that was also raised at another conference session.

“The most difficult kids to reach are those who are more scared to succeed than to fail,” said Russ Quaglia, president of the Quaglia Institute for Student Aspirations, based in Portland, Maine. “When I work with kids in schools, I don’t ask them what they want to be, I ask them who they are.”

Gene Wilhoit   Mark Neiker
Gene Wilhoit, Executive Director, CCSSO
  Mark Nieker (right), President of the Pearson Foundation, with Steven Paine, State Superintendent of Schools, West Virginia Department of Education, and Patricia Wright, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Virginia Department of Education