To the great BETT show in London on Friday, now the largest educational technology show in the world. Packed and lively as ever, and its sisal carpets as tiring on the feet as some mini-Frankfurt. So it was not surprizing that I suddenly decided to sit down on a stand in the Innovation Corridor and listen like a good kid to whatever that stand chose to tell me. That stand was featuring a guest appearance by Jan Webb, and after 20 minutes I was as keenly attentive as any tribal elder of the Lilongwe being addressed by David Livingstone, or some rude Saul on the road up to Damascus from Tarsus. For here, in twenty slides, was a convincing demo of K-6 self made learning, all using software generally and freely available, content supplied by class and teacher, and the whole lot referenced via the Resources section of the TES, for whom, I learnt afterwards, Ms Webb now works. Having gratefully put myself in the hands of Teacher, what did I learn? Simply that there are more than enough free or cheap ways to manipulate content into lesson plans and lessons to revolutionize the primary school curriculum. That while teachers will be providing the pedagogy, learners can explore collaboratively or individually and the toolset provides the spine of the activity. We started by making some posters. came into its own there, allowing us to integrate text, music and video into our work, and just when I wished we had a wall to put them on, Ms Webb produced for that very purpose. I noticed incidentally that some of these sites are beginning to add their own content for education: look at in conjunction with this poster background site. Want to add some sticky post-its – turn to Get the kids collaborating around these activities – you can go to But really collaboration is all over the place: Ms Webb pointed to for team whiteboarding, as well as www.123.whiteboard.c0m and Finally and joyfully, under this tutelage, I have been improving my drawing skills on and, very happily, creating my own comics on

And there are some real lessons in all of this. As a result, and almost freely (dumpr cost me $20) I now appreciate exactly why I have been saying for two years that the school textbook is a dodo. The richness of the tools and the potential in the screen-based learning experience bear real witness to this. Schools themselves can put together effective learning experiences very cheaply both to energize learners in every subject and level, and to support less able or confident teachers. TES Resources has led the way by creating a national signposting system to great teacher-produced lessons, effectively peer-reviewed by teachers. So lets stop producing textbooks, digital or otherwise, and start producing improved learning experiences? Is that the message? Well, in many ways it is. Just as teachers are moving into new roles, so are publishers. The best work that I have seen in education in the last year comes not from the great and the good of textbook publishing in the 1960s, when I practised it myself with more energy than effectiveness, but from services like Alfiesoft (supporting teachers in testing and marking and reporting: and innovators like, pushing out the boundaries around testing proficiency in a spoken language.

As I wandered away from the inspiring Jan Webb, a young woman stopped me in the crowded aisles and pressed into my hands a free…. newspaper. I was so shocked that I gulped and grasped it, and then said “thank-you”, before enquiring whether the schoolchildren who were about to receive it free as a result of a special offer would recognize it for what it was. After all most of them come from homes unvisited by such a thing. However, she said helpfully that kids knew they were the things you found in bins outside of petrol stations, so I thought it OK to take a copy of First News home and examine it. It certainly is a tabloid newspaper all right. Very little content and no learning. After Ms Webb I baulked at paying £875 per year for a class set of 32 copies of a non-collaborative, uncreative, non-experience. Then I did a little research. The paper is edited by a former BBC magazine publisher and its Editorial Director is Piers Morgan, erstwhile tabloid editor of the Daily Mirror and now the delight of US chat shows. His dark arts are everywhere evident, from the claim to a million readers every week (small print: Source – First News Readership Survey) to the picture of the Queen, the Union Jack – and David Cameron – on the front page. No ads and no topless girls, however. This whole confection is financed by Steve and Sarah Jane Thomson, who successfully sold their advertising monitoring bureau, Thomson Intermedia, to the eBiquity Group  and now run Addictive Interactive, a “bespoke social loyalty platform”.

So how can we blame the textbook publishers for not changing their ways when someone thinks there is still a business selling newspapers to schoolchildren? I don’t think Ms Webb would have one in her classroom – unless the pupils had made it themselves.


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