We’ve just launched a virtual reality resource for schools, so it made sense to be at BETT ‘… the global community for education technology’ last week at London’s Excel centre. BETT ‘…spark[s] ideas, create connections and accelerate[s] trade, driving impact and improving outcomes for teachers and learners.’
The event certainly stimulates new ideas and new connections and is definitely useful for those who attend. I met businesses with whom 360 might be able to work collaboratively including providers of the screens and hardware on which Skill City will run. I also chatted to a number of organisations working in skills for life topic areas we want to cover such as digital safety and security, healthier use of social media, the climate emergency and independent travel, alcohol and safeguarding (which our Phase 1 already addresses).
But I was also struck by how sometimes we assume that because we can do something with technology, we should, and that technology is the answer to every problem. For instance, there seemed to be a lot of enthusiasm for what we might call ‘digital PE’, games using floor as well as wall screens to get children active. There was a lot of Maths-on-a-screen which I am not convinced is a better technique cognitively, especially for young children, than with physical objects or paper. This kit is not cheap, and the thought crossed my mind that schools may be spending thousands of pounds on this kind of thing for children who come to school without breakfast, having already had 3 hours screen time. The health consequences of digital addiction are rapidly be shown to be horrendous – a time bomb of unhappiness in plain sight. Why not just get them outside, or doing something physical and practical? Would this make for happier children who can concentrate?
As with so many issues these days, we seem to divide into tribes. On the one hand are perhaps edutech evangelists (in many ways I am one) – both individual and organisational – often working with the best of intentions for children’s learning, but sometimes in partnership with large tech corporations and their inbuilt profit motive. On the other, we have those working to get children active, learning practically, and outside as often as possible, away from screens, and redesigning cities to make them child-friendly. Increasing numbers have abandoned social media (or certain platforms) and try to get their children to do the same – it is telling that leaders of big tech companies don’t let their children use it.
360 is keen to help bridge this divide and focus on the best interests of our young people. We’re using the latest VR technology to create a virtual environment so we can present real life dilemmas to young people in a realistic setting. This platform enables us to reach a much wider national – and potentially global – audience. But we are not thinking that we can stick a headset on a young person and ‘re-programme’ them. In fact, it’s not designed for headsets at all. Skill City is a teaching tool for shared classroom screens to encourage discussion, decision making and doing, both in school and outdoors.
Technology should be our servant, not our master. We’ll be encouraging our learners to question its control and influence on our lives, both good and bad – and to get away from it and into the great outdoors too – with only positive implications for school budgets and mental health.
- Do watch The Social Dilemma if you haven’t yet!
- What do you think? (I could be wrong!)