How do you balance a top tech education with advertising in schools?

How do you balance a top tech education with advertising in schools?
Alex Kidman Technology and Games 6 Jun 2011
What’s more important: kids getting access to equipment that they wouldn’t otherwise have? Or not being exposed to school advertising?Credit: Troy McClure teaches with Pepsi (The Simpsons)

Panasonic’s recent launch of a “Global Classroom” initiative was, it’s got to be said, a little different to most of the technology launches I’ve attended previously. Held at Cromer Public School (population circa 860 students), it was an opportunity for Panasonic to show off its latest education technology – but then, product launches are always about showing off your latest technology.

In this case, the technology was suitably slick, from high definition videoconferencing to 3D games development via projectors. Nothing utterly groundbreaking in terms of the underlying technology concepts, but its implementation brings forward some interesting concepts and challenges for the twenty-first century classroom.

First and foremost is the challenge of using the technology on offer in ways that actively supplement the existing curriculum and its objectives. Here, the technology demonstrations were well balanced against the needs of a teaching curriculum. Demonstrations included looking over games that the students had developed – which isn’t just about jumping from point A to point B, but giving consideration to ideas such as narrative development, literacy interpretation (the game was based on a book the students were reading), user engagement and interaction via an interesting

WordPress-based metagame itself – and a live hookup lesson to the partner Kansai University Elementary School in Osaka where the children co-operatively played guessing games surrounding future careers with their Japanese counterparts.

A Cromer School class has a live link-up lesson with another class in Osaka Japan. On a Panasonic-donated video-conferencing device.
While the technology on show itself wasn’t exactly conceptually-brand new, the delivery was very good. Most notably the microphones which picked up even relatively timid children in a busy classroom. Then again, thinking back to my own childhood years, the prospect of having my classroom invaded by journalists and then being asked to chat to other children in Japan across both language and cultural boundaries might just be a little bit daunting. From a quick glance at the upcoming agenda for the once-weekly 30 minute teleconferences, the microphones may get a bit of a workout on the 12th, when the Japanese students will “enjoy” a first-time Vegemite tasting. The teachers may wish to turn the microphone pickup down a little for that one.

The kids learn 3D game design on a Panasonic interactive whiteboard.
So what does all this have to do with tying into a curriculum? Aside from the more obvious curriculum areas such as literacy and language, there are potential other areas of benefit from other syllabus areas. As an example, if you look over the NSW Board Of Studies curriculum for Human Society & Its Environment (HSIE) or Personal Development, Health and Physical Education (PDHPE), there’s a raft of factors and outcomes that this kind of technology-based interaction makes possible in a way that simply wasn’t possible a generation ago. There’s also cross-country curriculum pollination between Japanese and Australian education departments as part of the project that may bear fruit.
Cromer principal Mr Greg Jones was keen to point out on multiple opportunities during the launch that the basis of all this teaching wasn’t specifically the technology, but the quality of the teachers themselves. In front of a room full of journalists he was hardly unlikely to chide his staff, but I still reckon he’s right.

Cromer School’s Principal talks to press at the showcase of its Panasonic-sponsored learning facilities.
I should pause here and admit my own bias; I’m from a family of teachers, and my wife’s currently studying early childhood education at Macquarie University, one of the key partners in the Cromer School trial. Anyone talking up teachers is OK by me on principle alone.

More learning with the interactive whiteboard.
We’re a fair way away from the robot classroom, and that’s not really all that desirable in any case, but it does bring to light one of the core challenges of this kind of technological implementation.
Who’s going to pay for it, and what do they expect in return?
Technology has its cost. The equipment itself comes at a price, and then there’s the question of training teachers to the kind of quality standard that Principal Jones espouses.
In the case at Cromer, that payment’s been covered via patronage from the Panasonic Education Foundation. The 18-month research trial at Cromer has, by Panasonic’s own estimates, cost “around $100,000”, and aided in the development of classroom-tough durable whiteboard solution. There’s a direct return for Panasonic right there, but the patronage goes a fair bit further than that.

There were almost 20 fixed Panasonic signs in the school library.
The non-classroom sections of the launch were held in the Cromer School Library, which was awash with Panasonic signs that rather overwhelm the place. The open area in the library? That’d be the “Panasonic Interactive Learning Common”. A quiet study rooms next to the common area? That’d be a “Panasonic Study Room”. The signed and advertised patronage extends to the school’s Web site, which carries a Panasonic banner on all pages. Fair enough perhaps for the technology-heavy library, but extending out to the dance troupe?

More than a study room?
There’s a challenge for public schools to adopt new technologies where they can genuinely aid in student learning and growth, and managing the cost of same. With my parent hat on, I’m happy to see schools like Cromer leading the way in terms of the way technology is implemented in classrooms when it’s this closely tied into educational objectives. I’m significantly less comfortable with the amount of advertising it carries along the way.
Alex Kidman is a technology writer, parent to primary school kids and married to a primary education teacher-in-training. Dinner conversations are thus often rather heated. Find him on Twitter @alexkidman.

Editor’s note: When @ABCtech live-tweeted this event, debate was fierce. There were those who saw us heading into a nightmare world similar to The Simpson’s portrayal of a future, nationwide, school system which rewarded students for the mentioning of the sponsor, ‘Pepsi’. But there were also many who recognized that without Panasonic, Cromer school wouldn’t have these facilities and that the children would lose out. Would you make an effort to send your kids to Cromer if you lived nearby? Or would you make an effort not to? Let us know below.