News and Quick looks.
But the main thrust of this issue is, once again, games-based learning:
Could Co-operation and Collaboration lead to Greater Achievement than Autonomous Learning?
Do we mistakenly evaluate games-based learning from our perspective as adult learners, asks Doug Woods.
In What2Learn: Helping students play their way to exam success, John Rutherford describes a free bank o resources for playing and even creating games for the classroom.
Action research: In Enhancing mental maths in the primary setting through games-based learning, Emma Barker summarises her MA research findings.
Want to make your ICT lessons more interesting? Then Go on, bore ‘em: How to make your ICT lessons excruciatingly dull is just right for you. Find out more about this incredibly low-cost, high value book here.
This is the second of three or four games-based learning issues, in which several experts discuss the use of games in learning. The articles have been written by people from within education and from outside it, and include summaries of research undertaken. I’ve deliberately stepped aside and given this issue over to the guest articles, but if you’re desperate to hear from me on the subject please see The value of games in education: a case study.
Thanks to everyone who responded to my suggestion that we connect on Linked-in. Just to reiterate, Linked-in is a professional social network, like Facebook but with none of the peripheral stuff like games and tagging photos. This is what I recommend:
I’m an independent educational ICT consultant based in England. I’ve been in education since starting work in 1975. I’m a member of the British Computer Society, ex-Chair of Naace and a Fellow of the RSA. To find out more about me and what I do, please visit What I do.
If you enjoy reading this newsletter and find it useful, there are a number of ways you could help to keep it going:
Going to BETT in January? Then why not come along to my seminar, on the opening day? I’ll be giving a no-nonsense talk entitled “20 must-have tools in 45 minutes”. Here’s the blurb:
What are the best free applications, websites and communities for the ICT leader? Terry Freedman gives a personal view of the top 20 must-have tools for the ICT subject leader. These will cover essential tasks such as planning, organising, communicating, and obtaining high quality information. For example, how can you find out what people are saying about an issue without even moving from your desk? Being the Head of ICT or ICT Co-ordinator is often a lonely job; but you don’t have to be alone.
I covered some of them in one of my seminars last year, but I’ve discovered more since then! I’m going to be looking at tools which are handy for leading or managing, rather than from the perspective of the classroom (although some will be applicable to classroom use).
OK, pen handy? Here are the details:
Session code: TD03
Date: Wednesday 12th January 2010
Venue: Gallery 2
Thanks for visiting my new website. Called Writers’ Knowhow, its objective is to point out useful stuff to people who use technology in their writing. As the strap line puts it: Technology for writers made easy. There’s a series running at the moment called 13 Things You Didn’t Know About Word. There’s also other stuff which (I think) is pretty interesting, to do with writing and technology. Take a look, and if you fancy contributing, get in touch (contact details are towards the end of the newsletter).
It’s good to know that in Chicago some schools are acknowledging the fact that youngsters use cell phones in the same way that older generations always carry a notebook or diary and pen. Instead of banning them, outright it makes a lot more sense to incorporate their use into school work. There’s a very interesting article about this in the Chicago Tribune, although I wrote an article back in 2006 (Class, Open Your Phones) on this very theme, drawing on non-education organisations as well as schools. And for a teen’s view, read Ethan Davids’ article, The Importance of Mobile Phones in Education.
I have to say that I have mixed feelings about initiatives such as this, because they can easily become patronising. Having said that, e-Skills UK, which is behind it, is an OK organbisation, and the site has some useful statistics plus videos of women who have made it in the world of technology. Definitely worth a look, and the twitter stream is fairly lively at the moment, with useful links: #girlsinit.
As I wrote recently, I attended a conference on Taming the Wild Web, which was followed by the launch of a new certificated course in safe social networking, called, appropriately enough, Safe. It was developed by DigitalMe with support from partners Childnet International, The I in Online and Radiowaves.
Kate Valentine, a teacher at Buckingham Primary School and ‘Safe’ advisor comments:
‘Safe’ has been created by teachers and the pupils have constantly been at the fore of its development, hence why the programme is so simple to integrate and effective for both the teacher and children to use. It comprises step by step instructions, links to the curriculum, whole class and carousel activities. Offering a self-assessment system, teachers can reward pupils for completing the programme, with certificates and badges plus gaining accreditation for their school.
The programme is free to schools and optional, paid for training, certificates, badges and other resources support the programme further. At the moment it is available only at the primary (elementary) level.
I’ve had a quick look and I’m impressed. There is guidance for teachers and worksheets for pupils. It’s all very friendly, not scary, like the advice on the blogging worksheet:
Remember: Don’t tell people your home address, phone number or email and only write about other people in the way you would like them to write about you!
The certificate for pupils is functional rather than pretty – they ought to get some kids to design it. A competition perhaps?
A school can become a SAFE school, and that would definitely tie in with the Safeguarding part of the Leadership strand of the ICT Mark.
The “Wild Web” conference itself was useful and interesting. A couple of the speakers questioned the continuing use of the analogy between the web and the Wild West. For what it’s worth, my own view is that although, like any metaphor, it may start to look frayed at edges when scrutinised too closely, it is still a very useful one. Why? Because the term “Wild West” is a handy code: most people will have an image appear in their minds as soon as they see or hear the term. You know it stands for potential lawlessness and having to be aware of what’s going on around you, and the need to arm yourself with protective strategies. In fct, the more I think about it, the more excellent a description it becomes.
Nevertheless, like a lot of conferences on the theme of internet safety, it did focus almost exclusively on the sexual dangers facing children and young people online. There are other dangers too, as I listed in an article about financial literacy, which must also be addressed.
I also wonder whether the term “stranger danger” is entirely useful. Although we’re always told, as children, not to trust strangers, it’s a sad fact of life that most sexual abuse is carried out by family members. Even in other fields, such as drug-taking, how it’s so-called friends you have to be wary of. Resisting such offers can be hard because of group pressure.
Which brings me onto a more general point: go to any decent self-defence class and you’ll learn that the best way of looking after yourself is by not having a victim mentality or persona. If the same thing applies in the online world, shouldn’t youngsters be helped to develop a real sense of self-worth that will prevent their being ripped off, fooled by sexual predators or doing silly things that may come back to haunt them? I realise that’s hard, and only applicable above a certain age, but I do think a more rounded and more general approach digital safety is necessary.
Safer Internet Day is on 8th February and the theme is 'Virtual Lives', with the strap line 'It's more than a game, it's your life'. It looks like there is going to be some great content available, including games, for both primary and secondary schools. How will you make it a day to remember in your school?
A Safer Internet centre is being set up. See http://www.saferinternet.org.uk. The site is currently under construction. When it’s up and running it will include resources and maps of activities. I’ll report further in due course.
On Safer Internet Day Childnet International is planning to hold an online radio phone in for parents, young people and others.
Will Garner, CEO of Childnet, says:
We will be bringing 40 older teenagers to a central event in London, where we will hear their experiences, likes, concerns and solutions in relation to their use of new technology, as well as getting them to work towards developing their own content to raise awareness in a Dragons Den style activity.
Contact Childnet for support and further information, or to let them know what activities you’re planning for the day.
There’s an excellent article on reducing bullying and cyberbullying on eSchool News, in which Elizabeth Englander and Kristin Schank suggest ten easy tips for educators can help prevent bullying in schools and online. Have a look here (you have to register for free to view all of it).
As I said in the last issue, there are a few conferences coming up for which a discount is available to Computers in Classrooms subscribers. In the list below, I’ve marked these with an asterisk. I’d like to express my thanks to those who kindly offered a discount, these being Graham Brown-Martin (Learning Without Frontiers), Constantina Christophide (Inside Government), Steve Bunce (Northern Grid Conference) and Richard Curtis (Training Seminar). In addition, the Westminster Forum conferences all offer a 15% discount to teachers and other public sector workers. The RSA talks are free, and usually last only an hour or two. The Teachmeets are free too, but you may need some money for drinks.
Several conferences were included in the last issue too. The following ones are either new or changed slightly. Please refer to last week’s issue for some discounts which are still relevant.
Vital IT Specialist IBM Workshop, Warwick Fri 15 Oct 2010, 10:00 - 15:30 Free conference, but only 25 places. Takes place in Warwick. See the Vital website for other conferences.
London Grid for Learning Conference Focusing on the use of the London Managed Learning Environment, this is aimed at colleagues in primary education, and costs £48 + VAT (including lunch). It takes place on 1st November.
Conference: Vital IT Specialist IBM Workshop, Winchester Fri 12 Nov 2010, 10:00 - 15:30 Free conference, but only 25 places. Takes place in Winchester. See the Vital website for other conferences.
* Learning Without Frontiers Conference 9th-11th January. Formerly known as the Handheld Learning Conference, this promises to be a veritable extravaganza. It takes place just before BETT 2011, from the 9th to the 11th January 2011, so what you may want to do is plan a whole load of professional development for yourself, and your team if you lead one, for that week.
If you book and pay for the LWF conference by 31st October 2010, using the link below, you will get 10% off the price!
I’ve written a bit more about the Handheld Learning Conference here.
To book and pay go here:
and enter the code ictined by clicking on the Discount Code button. Note that the code is case sensitive.
BETT 12th-15th January. This is free (although you have to pay for some seminars to guarantee a place). Always useful, for new product information, interesting seminars (like mine, for instance! see News section above) and meeting people.
What do you think are the most pressing issues facing education technology leaders? Please take part in this very brief survey. I’ll be analysing the results again soon. Thanks to those who have responded since I mentioned this in last week’s issue.
By Doug Woods
This year’s Game Based Learning Conference 1 was the first one I’ve attended and it was well worthwhile not only for the quality of speakers and presentations but also for the insights and ideas it gave.
A presenter who struck me was Massimiliano Andreoletti , part of his work showed the different ways young learners and adults interact and learn from games.
His work appeared to suggest that groups of young learners learn through collaboration when involved in game activities whereas adult groups tend to be more autonomous. In this way, young learners tend to watch or work with peers and learn from observing and interacting with others, whereas adults tend to try out their own ideas or approaches one at a time with little interaction between each other.
This finding would seem to be significant because it suggests the power of co-operation and collaboration in learning. It also suggests that we as adults might tend to evaluate a game by the way in which we, as adults, might use it rather than the way in which young learners might use it. The different way in which adults and young learners approach game-playing appears significant and has not been fully recognised.
Thinking about the presentation afterwards, I was reminded of the work on ‘Success Intelligence’ by Robert Holden 2, in which he argued that greater success could be achieved through co-operation rather than working alone and competing. Taking this a step further, I think the question could be asked ‘could co-operation and collaboration lead to greater achievement than autonomous learning?’
Andreoletti’s work suggested that young learners seemed to take instinctively to an interdependent approach to problem solving. This seems to contrast with most teaching, assessment and examination approaches, which follow a more autonomous route in assessing an individual’s performance. If, however, our assessment were to record an individual’s performance as a result of working in a collaborative team, would that assessment be improved?
Let’s consider the following scenarios. If I work and learn on my own, I only learn the information I come across. If I work as a member of a team, I learn not only what I come across but also what my team mates come across. If I am given a task that involves solving a sequence of four problems and required to do this on my own, I may get stuck at the first problem and then not have the opportunity of learning from the subsequent puzzles. If , however, I am part of a team, if I cannot solve the first problem but other team members can, then I have the opportunity to learn from that and from subsequent problems. In both cases, the individual’s level of achievement is increased by working as part of a team rather than working autonomously.
There cannot be many people who enjoy failing -- even making a simple mistake can deter some people from trying again. I think this was most evident in my work teaching pupils with special educational needs (SEN). Here pupils who had experienced a lot of failure and mistakes in their lives were often reluctant to try learning new skills or ideas. In extreme cases, this might lead to perseveration or ‘failure avoidance’ in which a pupil would persist in performing a task well within their capabilities, simply to avoid moving on to the next level. This problem might be easy to identify in the SEN population but it is likely also to be evident in the mainstream population where ‘failure avoidance’ might manifest itself in disengagement from learning opportunities afforded by schools.
The point is that when we focus upon the individual learning autonomously, then the opportunity to observe failure is increased. Within a collaborative learning environment, however, the opportunity for success would seem to be increased and, with it, the opportunity to improve achievement.
So it would seem that a collaborative and co-operative environment for learning could be more likely to raise achievement levels for young learners. Andreoletti’s study would appear to suggest that games playing or game-based learning could be used to foster such an environment for young learners.
So computer game playing, which is often viewed by adults as singular, idle, time-wasting activity conducted alone, could be viewed as a powerful social and collaborative learning tool. But this can only come about if adults stop looking at game-playing from their own approach and view it from a young person’s approach.
1. The next Games-Based Learning conference has been subsumed into the Learning Without Frontiers conference, and subscribers to this newsletter can obtain a 10% discount on the ticket price until 31st October 2010! Please see News section for details.
2. Robert Holden (2005), Success Intelligence, Mobius, ISBN 978-0340830185.
Doug Woods says:
I'm a former teacher who's always been passionate and enthusiastic about ICT in education. I now style myself as an ICT in Education Consultant and Trainer, a role has afforded me opportunities to work in new areas of educational ICT for both public and commercial sectors. I have a keen interest in ICT for SEN learning, inclusion and for transforming learning. Visit Doug’s daily blog here: http://dougwoods.co.uk/blog
By John Rutherford
What2Learn is the self-funded hobby project of award-winning ICT teacher John Rutherford. Although it may have grown out of a garage in Hemel Hempstead, this online games-based learning system is accessed in over 150 countries each month and this year won national recognition for enabling tangible improvements in examination results.
In the early stages of this project John was working at a very challenging school with examination results (5A*-C) at just 16%. The use of games-based learning and systems to enable students to work more independently on their own revision was immediately apparent and led to a dramatic improvement in examination results. Notably one student scored 195 out of 200 in an external examination! The Becta Award for ICT in Practice followed but What2Learn is the result of five years of development and improvement on these early successes.
The web-based system boasts an unmatched range of interactive learning game engines including hangman, image labeling, multiple-choice, straight Q&A, anagrams, interactive wordsearches, long answer activities, matching games and many more. These provide students with a substantial range of ways in which they can build their understanding and vocabulary. The games, which have been described as ‘quirky’ require students to box zombies, save clownfish from sharks, navigate 3D mazes, fly a UFO on a mission of cattle abduction and much more. With instant feedback and fun game-play, students are keen to replay activities in order to build their knowledge and improve their scores.
The system already contains thousands of activities for use right across the secondary curriculum, with much also suitable for younger students as well. Teachers can quickly and easily use the game engines to create their own interactive quiz games and tests – it is simply a case of supplying the title, questions and answers and a webpage with your game is instantly available online. From this point, the uses of any completed game are highly flexible. At a basic level, students can be directed to the web address of the completed game at What2Learn. Alternatively, teachers can use the embed code provided to add the game to their own website, blog or VLE or Learning Platform.
More advanced use of the system provides even greater rewards. The full What2Learn system (to which access is free and free of adverts), enables teachers to see the scores their students have managed to achieve in the ready-made games or any games they have created. This moves games-based learning on from being a pleasant distraction to something that produces tangible records of student involvement and achievement. As such, use of the system in this way makes games-based learning a viable resource for assessment and home learning. The full system also provides a range of features designed to further enhance student engagement, such as characters they create and develop through spending credits earned by completing games, and the ability to set themselves up in a competitive league with their friends.
John Rutherford is a twice national award-winning teacher (Becta and Microsoft) and former SSAT Lead Practitioner for ICT. Currently Head of ICT at Marlborough School Science College in St Albans, Herts. Passionate about the use of web 2.0 technologies and games-based learning in the classroom.
By Emma Barker
Back in November 2009, I had a little bit of spare cash left in the ICT budget, so I tentatively approached my Headteacher with a view to buying some Nintendo DS Lites. I’d done a bit of research on using the handheld consoles in the classroom and Twittered with a few practitioners already pioneering this type of work. To my delight, I got the green light and bought ten consoles.
At about the same time I was trying to think of a suitable subject to study for my second assignment as part of my MA in Professional Development. A sharp colleague of mine suggested that I combine the two – a piece of action research on whether the Nintendo DSs and Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training had any effect on the children’s mental maths ability. This also fitted perfectly with our OfSTED recommendations following a recent inspection.
The use of ten Nintendo DS Lites with Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training software was trialled at the school with a Year five cohort of thirty-three children ranging from nine to ten years old. As the participants were also my own class, it was more manageable to administer the trial and engage in the spontaneous reactions that often arose during the research. The pupils took a four-minute baseline mental maths test using a traditional pencil and method. The scores were recorded and stored for later comparison. The class used the Nintendo DS Lites from January 2010 to March 2010 in order to help improve their quick mental maths.
When using the consoles for the first time, the children took around forty minutes to complete a carousel-type set up. An initial group of ten children used the Nintendo DS to complete the Quick Test setting, which consists of twenty questions ranging from addition and subtraction to multiplication and division. Once they had completed the test, they recorded their result and passed the DS onto a fellow classmate. Preliminary times ranged from twenty seconds to over four minutes. It was important to make the use of the consoles more manageable, with little flexibility in the primary curriculum; forty-minutes of DS use at least three times a week was impractical.
Subsequently, following the initial use of the console, the children were then grouped according to their times. Ten groups of children were prepared with recording sheets. Children that were punctual were placed at the top of the list and independently picked up a DS when entering the classroom at registration time. The rest of the cohort carried on with a regular morning thinking task whilst the DS work took place. Once a child finished their brain training, they recorded their time and passed the console onto the next person on the list. Within a week, the whole research group of thirty-three could complete the brain training within ten minutes and became totally independent. The brain training was carried out three times a week (a daily test was impossible due to timetabling constraints).
The children were initially excited at the prospect of using the consoles in class, despite the fact that the majority used them in the home environment. There was a clear atmosphere of competitiveness between each other and with themselves. Phrases such as ‘I beat yesterday’s score’; ‘I’m now getting less than a minute’; ‘I’m aiming for less than twenty seconds’ were frequently heard during the sessions. Pupils were keen to share their DS screens with staff and fellow classmates acknowledging that they had gone from ‘walking speed’ to ‘train speed’.
Potential problems with the recording system included the fact that some children are less honest than others. As the pupils were carrying out their own assessment and recording their individual times, it was very easy for them to falsify their results. However, the cohort were extremely vigilant and concerned about ‘fairness’, anyone trying to cheat the system found themselves caught in the cohort’s whistle-blowing system (which organically grew throughout the research period) and subsequently altered their results.
The research period highlighted one particular child’s reluctance to participate. During the morning DS sessions it became apparent through the whistle blowing policy that Child A was not recording some of their results on the recording sheets. This behaviour led to more vigilant teacher observations during regular maths lessons and analysis of assessments. It was clear that Child A had a barrier to learning during numeracy and had self esteem issues. During other mental maths test, the pupil would often copy answers and ‘hide behind’ peers. New intervention sessions were subsequently inaugurated including a one-to-one tuition session.
During the research, an online questionnaire was completed by all of the participants. The aim was to establish whether pupil perception of mental maths ability had changed. Although 85% of children in the sample group had their own Nintendo DS consoles at home, they were still excited to use the consoles in the school setting. Their initial reaction to the project is summarised in the word cloud in figure 1.
Figure 1: Word cloud generated from the sample’s response to the question ‘What did you think/how did you feel when we first got the Nintendo DSs in class?’. Repeated words appear larger in the cloud.
The children felt happy and excited to use the consoles, they were surprised that the school had invested in the ICT equipment, but considered it a fun way to learn; which seems to support Prensky’s (2005) ‘engaged or enrage’ theory. The majority strongly agreed that it was a good idea to have them in the class, those that did not want them in class found maths challenging and others considered the cost implications should the consoles get broken.
The children’s own perceptions of their mental maths ability were positive. They were aware of their personal scores through the recording process and considered that they were getting quicker at the test and receiving less penalties for incorrect answers. Some referred to the training having an effect on other mental maths strategies in class:
Yes I do [think I have improved] because since then I have done better in my daily mental maths tests and because I have been getting better times in brain training so it definitely has!
Confidence in mental maths seemed to change. One participant commented:
I have improved because I keep getting a better time and I also feel it is easier and I feel I am doing better.
Others reported setting themselves personal goals and targets to achieve. Specifically, one child recorded how their mental maths strategies had changed, in order to become quicker:
I think it [mental maths] has [improved] because I used to add with my fingers but I don't any more. Here is an example 9+5 when you add something on to 9 I counted on my fingers but now I add 1 to make it 10 then I take one off 5 then add it on it is very quick for me so I add 1 on then add 4 on the answer is 14.
Following the intervention the base-line maths test was repeated under test conditions. They children had four minutes to complete a series of mental maths questions using pencil and paper. Figures 2, 3 and 4 show the results of the initial base-line test compared to the final results.
Figure 2: Graph showing Cohort 1 baseline test results before and after the Nintendo DS intervention, together with % increase/decrease.
Figure 3: Graph showing Cohort 2 baseline test results before and after the Nintendo DS intervention, together with % increase/decrease.
Figure 4: Graph showing Cohort 3 baseline test results before and after the Nintendo DS intervention, together with % increase/decrease
The figures show a general improvement in the children’s mental maths. However, one child (MW - Child B) showed a percentage decrease in their score. Analysing this participant’s daily scores shows little improvement with times ranging from sixty-eight seconds to one hundred and seventy-four seconds. Figure 5 shows a sample of daily scores from Child B, which clearly indicates no pattern of improvement or consistency with their results. Their questionnaire responses seem to mirror these results with an underlining negativity towards mathematics. When asked whether they thought they had improved, they responded unenthusiastically stating that their daily score showed little improvement. Although the intervention seems to have had no positive effect on Child B, it has highlighted potential weaknesses in their mathematically ability and confidence levels in the area. These problems can now be addressed through the personalised learning agenda, differentiation and other forms of intervention.
Figure 5: Sample of Child B’s daily scores.
A small focus group was set up which included a good ratio of boys to girls and a range of mathematical abilities from Level 2 to Level 5. Child A was also invited into the group to further establish any other feelings towards to the research and their mathematical ability. It is important to note that Child B was absent at the time of the focus group session, but was an intended participant.
At the time of the focus group the second baseline test had been completed, but the group did not formally know their score. I was present, but only participated by settling the group and asking them to talk about their Nintendo DS experiences, I did not enter into the discussion. The respondents were very positive about their experience, stating that the consoles made them quicker, that they had improved their times table knowledge. Child C referred to their daily mental maths quiz noting that they had improved their scores here also, suggesting that they were applying their knowledge in other areas.
Many children agreed that the quick test tried to trick them with questions such as 8 x 0, when they were fully aware that the answer was 0. Child D concurred that this made you read the question properly. Other discussions included that the bright screen was seen as attractive and using the stylus might improve handwriting. Child E referred to the need to become faster, not like the panic felt in a test, but a need to get better. Intriguingly, Child A, who was previously identified as having a barrier to learning, stated that the Nintendos had ‘helped me’, that ‘I’ve not got any better at, doing it faster…but I am better at my times tables’. However, it is hard to conclude whether this was a true reaction or a willingness to fit in with the group, who appeared to have largely positive experiences.
There was an overall percentage increase of 58% improvement in the mental maths scores after the Nintendo DS intervention work. It is impossible to clarify that this was simply due to Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training as other strategies such as times table recitals and daily quick fire mental maths quizzes were also being used by the school.
However, the action research, in line with the original aims and similar studies in the field, had a positive impact on the cohort, their perceptions of their own mental maths and indeed their test results. Pupils were engaged with their learning and aware of their achievements – there was a real buzz and excitement in the classroom whilst using the consoles. If the Nintendos were not out when the children entered the classroom, pupils would ask for them straight away – would they have been so keen to get out pencil and paper for a mental maths test? The research has also highlighted are two children who struggle with mental maths and have not benefited from Nintendo DS use in the classroom. This has been one of the most useful outcomes for myself, as I can now reflect on other strategies to help these children to overcome their barriers to learning.
Prensky, M. (2005). "Engage me or enrage me" What today's learners demand. EDUCAUSE Review. Retrieved January 7, 2010 from: http://www.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/erm0553.pdf
Emma Barker says:
I am a 32 year old class teacher from the north of England, currently teaching in Year 5 (9-10 year-olds). I've only been teaching for two-years after completing the Graduate Teacher Programme. Previously, I was an assistant editor in a publishing house. I am passionate about learning, children and ICT.
Twitter name @emmabarker
Thanks to all of the contributors. This newsletter is (c) 2010 Terry Freedman, but individual contributors retain ownership of their copyright. Please send items of potential interest to me. Please enquire before sending me a complete article.
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