RM Seminars – a return visit

The RM Seminars are now in their 25th year. That’s quite an achievement. I can even remember some of the early ones…

Back then, I was an English teacher also running a Windows NT network, having just migrated the school from a BBC/Acorn Econet system (apologies to younger folk for the references to the Stone Age). In those days, the Internet was just a distant rumour and not the potent force it is today. And if, like me, you were untrained in the ways of Microsoft, the only way to learn and share new skills, information and resources was to physically meet up with others. That’s why attending an RM Technical Seminar was so important.

Today though, the Internet has become a dominant and central part of our personal, social and professional lives. We can email, Google, Tweet, Skype, Hangout, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram… and the list goes on. There are so many ways to find out information, to share skills, to learn from/with others, to share resources…

So given the ease, speed and knowledge-richness of the Information Age, why are RM’s seminars still going strong? Aren’t they a bit of an anachronism in today’s connected world?

Ironically, I think it’s this wealth of information that makes a conference setting even more relevant. The amount of information may have increased but the time available to us to access this has not. Many of us have become knowledge-rich but time-poor. Search engines themselves are amazingly powerful tools but we all know how difficult it can be to find relevant results.

I think that’s one possible reason why so many technicians, teachers and senior leaders had turned out to the Birmingham seminar I attended in November this year. It was a good opportunity to take time out of school to have up-to-date, concise, and relevant presentations of key ICT issues facing schools. What RM had put together was an exhibition area, networking opportunities, presentations and discussion groups to meet the needs of technical and educational staff. The seminars provide a very efficient use of time.

RM, of course, is a business organisation. However altruistic it might like to be, there is, no doubt, a solid business case for RM Education to run these. Venues such as the National Conference Centre in Birmingham don’t come cheap and the associated costs of staffing, marketing and preparation must be significant. So, for RM itself, this must be an equally good opportunity to meet existing and prospective customers.

It’s a good opportunity too for RM to launch new products such as RM Buzz, RM Inform and RM Connect. For schools, that’s another good reason to attend – to keep up-to-date with the latest developments in technology. In particular, how technology is designed and engineered specifically to meet the needs of education. Of course, there’s still that focus on helping schools to make the technology work as effectively and efficiently as possible. The two technical streams help meet that need for a schools’ technical team to learn from sessions such as “How to make the best use of PowerShell with Office 365 and Windows Server” or “Navigating the route to the cloud.” But this focus, over recent years, has widened to help schools ensure the technology creates educational impact. That’s why the ‘Educational Stream’ has become as important a part of the seminar programme as the “Technical Stream.” It’s something that wasn’t there all those years ago when I first attended.

The educational content this year concentrated on practical implementation in the classroom. In these sessions teachers were given the chance to program robotic devices using the BBC microbit, learn how to use Apple devices for greater productivity and efficiency, and really get inside G Suite for Education.

RM is a Google Premier Partner. The strength of that partnership could be seen in an engaging, practical and informative session run by RM’s Mark House and Google’s Jason Leonard. Here, in less than an hour, small groups of teachers used Chromebooks, G Suite and Google Cardboard to work collaboratively to produce a class website. All with lots of laughter, handy classroom tips, and much learning.

The seminars seem to be developing in other ways too. At Birmingham, and two other venues, an interesting addition was a whole-day online safety event: “Sexting in schools and colleges”. In attending the main seminar, I missed the morning presentations from the police and members of the child protection community but I was lucky enough to catch some of the concluding discussions led by online safety expert Charlotte Aynsley. Given the technology temptations and issues facing our young people – and the challenges this presents schools – this additional stream seems to me to a very welcome development from RM.

So, a thoroughly worthwhile and informative day. Coffee and lunch breaks provided further opportunity to network, visit exhibition stands or, in my case, bump into and chat with a former ‘A’ Level student of twenty years ago – now working for Apple Education! It was a nice reminder of the past and a reminder too of how far the RM Seminars have developed in those twenty years since I first visited.

The RM Seminars continue through November and return in spring, 2017. Find out at www.rm.com/seminars