Let’s get digital  

In the week that Ink Pellet went to press, the great and the good attended the first e-G8 Forum. The what? I said, the e-G8 Forum, the first conference to deal solely with the Internet’s impact on our society and the economy. It was launched by French president Nicolas Sarkozy and was attended by a host of luminaries including Mark Zuckerberg, (Facebook), Eric Schmidt, (Google), Jeffrey Bezos, (Amazon) and Rupert Murdoch.
The e-G8 Forum also included discussion on the transformation of traditional professions (yours!) and how we can encourage innovation in the digital economy in education, training and finance. In his address, Mr Murdoch made typically forthright comments about the modern classroom: ‘Digital advances are creating jobs that did not exist only a few years ago, This is true in every area except one – education. In every other part of life, someone waking up from a 50-year nap would find the world had changed beyond recognition ‘… not in education where our schools remain the last holdout from the digital revolution. A teacher waking up from a 50-year nap would find a classroom looks almost exactly the same as it did in the Victorian era.’
Now, a businessman who had made a multi-million pound investment in a company supplying computers to schools in America would say that. But he does have a point. We can no longer ignore the march of technology. In the words of Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, ‘The internet has become part of our DNA.’
Mobile technology is like an extension to the hand for any teenager today. As teacher Allison Johnstone said: ‘I refuse to make mobile phones an issue in the classroom so I encourage pupils to use their phones to record each other, take photos and communicate. A geography teacher on a local field trip encouraged her pupils to use their phones to record rock formations. It was great because they then used the work back in the classroom.’
Enlightened teachers know this and are making the most of the mind-boggling array of software and equipment now available to schools. While the cost of ‘kit’ can sometimes be prohibitive, especially in straitened times, software is becoming increasingly within reach and of course, you can get the most of programmes by using them in a different way, to suit classroom needs.
The Artists in Creative Education Project is a partnership of 25 experienced artists and schools across the UK and Europe working in deprived areas to work together through workshops and an exchange programme.
Artist Mike McGrother is working in primary schools in Stockton on Tees to link up with artists in Vienna by using Skype, the free internet telephone service for which you only need a subscription to get going. In April musicians from Austria joined a live musical performance that involved a promenade performance within classrooms transformed by pupils who have taken part in workshops with the artist. It featured a ‘Skyp’d’ live performance from Vienna involving musicians who had worked with the children during a UK visit in March. He told Ink Pellet: ‘This was so easy to set up and can be used across the age range. All you need to do is set up a Skype account, and you’re away. The benefits are enormous and ‘tick boxes’ across the curriculum, including use of ICT and encouraging global awareness.’
The Labour government policy of giving specialist status to schools allowed money to be poured in to new technology, whatever the specialism. While the Coalition government has abandoned the policy, schools are now reaping the benefits in excellent work. ‘The additional money has been immensely valuable, says Dick Kempson, the deputy head of Heathfield Community College in East Sussex. ‘It has enabled us to invest in the arts so there are fantastic opportunities for students who want to pursue their interests in this area. We have been able to move into the vocational and digital aspects of arts so there are Mac laptops and computers all over the school so students can do media, photography, radio, film-making and animation. The impact of digital learning and vocational elements is that they are practising skills that will apply in the world of work.’
Practical use of software is important and allowing students to express themselves in ways with which they are familiar. Moviestorm is a film making software that allows students to create animation which will remind them of the Sims, the virtual world computer game. Originally conceived for a commercial market, it is now being increasingly used in schools in many applications from supporting cross-curricular learning and to bringing alive set texts.
Moviestorm was founded in 2003 by Cambridge entrepreneurs Matt Kelland and Dave Lloyd. They began researching into emerging forms of media, and in particular, innovative ways in which game technology could be applied to non-game environments and media. In summer 2004, they began to focus on the field of Machinima. Their debut demo film, No Licence, received critical acclaim, and has been regularly shown at film festivals, game conferences, art installations and on television worldwide ever since.
Film-making encourages pupils to use a range of skills including writing scripts, staging and editing. But if you don’t have the time or the resources, animation is a way of honing those skills. Moviestorm Education allows students to design sets, create characters, direct, and edit. There is a host of films you can see – I particular enjoyed ‘Poulet Noir’s take on the opening scene of Macbeth. But you might be inspired by the work of the Wan Smolbag Theatre in Papua New Guinea. The theatre uses drama, film and radio to communicate with residents on a range of issues and is using Moviestorm as a tool to help them, for example young women have made a film to promote women’s education while another film maker won a job as a cameraman on a soap opera, having gained his film-making experience using Moviestorm. Now that’s an inspiring story to pass on.
Happy geeking!