Notes from a sinfully brief tour of a leading trade show in education

The sky seems to be the only limit to what ICT can do to nurture a learning-friendly environment

Following the gracious invitation of one of the members of DIGITALEUROPE, I, together with a European Commission official, spent a couple of hours on November 26th 2014 at Educatec/Educatice. This was admittedly way too short given the magnitude of a trade show that comes only second to BETT. But at least you cannot get away from an event dedicated to education without learning a few things. The following impressions may be worth your consideration.

The purpose of this outrageously brief field trip to Paris was to meet with the people behind EduCloud06. They come from three different streams:

– governments – both local and national – provided this bold initiative with a much needed legitimacy along with a formal gateway to the target constituency, i.e. learners and teachers.

–  schools in the Antibes/Nice area have been contributing the content from the outset. Indeed ‘Athena’s Mysteries’ delves into the particularly rich cultural legacy left by Greek and Roman times in this part of France. It allows students to design their own narrative of what happened then and thus to appropriate this most valuable piece of educational knowledge under continuing, tailor-made supervision from their teachers (French speakers can read more here).

– industry, or more precisely a team made up of a global player, Nvidia – an household name among online gamers – and local SMEs operating at the cutting edge of ICT, mainly clustered in the Sophia-Antipolis ‘technopole’, developed the platform and attendant software that power this project.

While not, luckily for our kids, an isolated case, this experiment affords us the perfect example of what can be achieved to improve learning when these three constituencies join forces: learners cannot feel happier on donning the gear of Greek navigators and traders or that of Julius Caesar in order to create their own content; authorities in charge of schooling – and more widely of meeting the educational needs of a region or a country – are most excited to see the effectiveness of professional educators multiplied by several orders of magnitude; industry enjoys supporting a public policy priority while keeping or creating jobs locally.

We couldn’t leave the grounds of the Educatec/Educatice show without calling in at the huge booth of the French ministry of Education. There we were shown the latest initiatives aimed to: enhance the performance and reach of individual teachers while relieving them from less exciting parts of their burden; ride the wave of Big Data, including as regards students’ instant and detailed evaluation; or introduce learners to the complexity of infrastructure-related decisions in real life. In this particular respect, I was dumbfounded by a teaching tool – another serious game? – that crunches the numbers fast enough to display instantly the cost impact of each and every twist given to the next high-speed track expected to reach out to your place as you tweak a set of key parameters: a new, more educative version of the toy trains that kept my generation riveted for hours on end.

Disclosure: at this point I have to confess that being a faithful partner of TISP from the outset may have washed my brain into thinking that book publishers are betting on transforming education through a carefully considered, well-reasoned use of ICT. At the root of the business case for this game-changer of a strategic move lies this certainty: empowering the ‘users’ of education services invariably pays off. If in doubt, just ask the teachers and students that have created and appropriated EduCloud06: they can’t get enough of it! Should you actually ask, be prepared to be invited to join their next plan: as nobody would want to keep a success for him or herself, likewise they are working at growing EduCloud06 into a cross-region or downright pan-European endeavour.

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