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Influencing Policy Part 2: Becta-X: Old Conversations, New Connections, Bright Future?

I was honoured to be invited to Becta-X (the x stands for exchange) during the Easter break.  The conference brought together 75 leading educators and 75 leading people from the Media sector.  Thanks to @TomBarrett for getting me the invite – truly much appreciated.

The aims of the day were:

The way the digital media industry influences young people is both a threat and a real opportunity to education. As part of its “Fit for the Future” programme Becta has asked Just-b. Productions to independently bring together thinkers and doers from both these two worlds

We hope this participatory and distributed forum will break down walls between these two sectors, between big and small, between speaker and delegate, between real and remote participants and create fresh thinking on all sides.

I’ll not describe the entire order of events, if you want the details or indeed just the perspectives of others then please have a skim through some of these posts from other educators who were in attendance:

Fred GarnettTom BarrettDoug BelshawDai Barnes / Kristian StillNicola McNee / Ewan McIntosh

As you will see from those posts there was some discussion and reflection afterwards as to how much of a success the event was.  My 2-cents worth:

Yes we have been discussing filtering, social networking, wifi etc repeatedly for the past few years.  But this shows what a hindrance they still are in many schools.  Slowly we are making progress in this area, the recent Ofsted report on filtering & AUPs being a prime example.  Should BectaOfsted go further on this issue – perhaps, although whether policy is needed I’m not so sure.  Everything is in place for schools to open up their filters and manage this problem with sensibly written AUPs, it is a matter of educating LAs and Head Teachers that this is the right thing to do.  But remember the other 75 people in the room, many from the Media sector were surprised at the variety of filtering issues we had, I’m sure some went away with an understanding that they cannot just assume that their innocuous seeming website won’t be blocked for some educators.  This can but help.

Yes we could have taken more input from the children, their wire-framing of a new website on the fly via a Skype video call was inspirational.  Unfortunately and ironically technology seemed to be against that link up on that day.  Perhaps next time they should be invited in person?

The biggest positive that I took from the event was the interest and connections built with the Media professionals who were present.  I think that Ewan, Katz & the team really succeeded in their aim to bring together these two industries and to give us the opportunity to build these connections.  It may seem like we’ve been having the conversations about filtering etc repeatedly, but isn’t that partly to do with the relatively small and dare I say it, cliquey Ed-Tech community?  The majority of the Media professionals that were there were genuinely interested in finding out what was going on in schools and how we could work together in the future.  Only a few were there on sales duties.

The afternoon sessions where we worked together on the 5 key questions that had been identified was probably the highlight, some great and varied minds putting their heads together was exciting stuff.  Much comment has been made that 4 of the solutions were very similar.  Focussing on a central, tagged, Delicious style repository of teaching ideas (credit to Kristian Still for getting this ball rolling).

I’d just like to expand on our particular question and solution about collaborating between industry and education.  The question:

“What kind of partnerships between schools, digital industries and content creators (including brands) can be mutually beneficial?”

We had an entertaining discussion about educators benefiting from the skills and expertise of industry working with their pupils, of industry inspiring youngsters into their profession.  I emphasised that for these partnerships to pay dividends they do have to be based around a part of the curriculum.  My Head has repeatedly reminded me to make sure that our Digital Leaders project should ultimately benefit our pupils and help them towards improving their qualifications.  For better or worse that is the key driver in our schools and an easy way to get projects and collaborations high level support in your school.

We finally came up with a ‘solution’.  A website something akin to a ‘clearing house’ where businesses from across the country could ‘advertise’ their willingness to work with schools.  I think this would be an invaluable resource.  At present forging those links with businesses to develop meaningful collaborations is incredibly time-consuming and needs a very dedicated member of staff to initiate it.  Yet my conversations with professionals at Becta-X showed me just how many companies are eager to forge these links.

So where now?  Kristian has shown how the participants can take some of these ideas and run just as Ewan hoped.  However do we need the likes of Becta to also do this?  I think for any of these web-based hubs of content to succeed on a national level then it will need their support and promotion.  And with an election imminent, who knows if they’ll even be around to do this?

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