OK so a year has passed and once again I find myself back at the GESS/GEF Conference in Dubai. Again I have taken a wander around the event and the various hardware, software and service vendors with stands at the event. My hope was that something would stand out or at least I would see progression from the stands available last year (You can see my post resulting from last years GESS/GEF conference here).
Walking around I saw some very interesting stands providing quite specialist engineering equipment such as pneumatics equipment for students studying technology, or robotics equipment. There were also specialist stands for those seeking furniture, uniform or manipulatives for use with younger children. Now I suspect last year these stands were at the conference however I myself failed to notice or pay much attention to them. This year I paid a little more attention.
So, to the more common stands……..and yes, once again Interactive Whiteboards were very predominant. There were a mixture of fixed boards and datashows, datashows with integrated IWB capabilities, as well as touch screen displays. Vendors demonstrated the various “unique” features of their software; One vendor showed how the display could be split into 4, so that 4 students could interact with the display at once, with each students contributions individually coloured. Despite all the “unique” features of each vendors offering I could not help but see an IWB as being nothing more than an IWB; a technology created over 20 years ago, which is fixed in place almost always at the “front” (Why does a learning space have to have a front? Does the teacher really need a desk as the centre of classroom attention? Should an IWB be the focus of attention? Or should the space be about learners and learning, changing as required?) of the class and can be interacted with by only a small number of students at a time. Also, after over 20 years, these devices still remain relatively expensive. Why is this technology still so popular and why isn’t it seen as old technology?
The other thing that was quite common at the conference was media rich content. A number of companies were providing their answer to where schools can find content to engage learners. Now some of this seemed ok especially where the content was designed for younger students and as such was very graphical and simple in nature in order to appeal to younger children. I could see this content working across most schools assuming it is multilingual or in the language of the school it is aimed at. However I questioned the materials available for older age students; Why would I pay for content when I can easily find content on the web through YouTube and a multitude of other websites. I can have students develop their own content using a number of applications or can even develop my own materials as the teacher, such as where I intend to use the flipped classroom model. How often am I going to use the content I purchase and is it worth the cost given this?
Now you may be reading this and thinking I have a very negative view of GESS/GEF; I don’t. The conference had some very good presentations, and I only visited on day 1. I am sure this will continue to be the case of days 2 and 3. The fact that vendors at the show seem to focus on IWBs and also generic content meant to fit all schools, is a concern. So what is the solution…….I am not sure at this point, although I suspect it will be different for each school. I think it relies on dynamic content created by teachers and students to match the needs of students and learning, as they/it changes from day to day, week to week and year to year.
Maybe GESS/GEF 2015 will include a vendor with a solution. We will need to wait and see!