Another year whizzes by and it’s ExCel and London docklands again – the setting for Bett 2015, the Las Vegas-styled world’s largest education technology trade show.
More than 38,000 visitors were expected to fly, drive, Tube or DLR into the venue last week – with no natural light and a floor guide and circulation plan predicated on the Las Vegas principles of keeping you in the casino!
Don’t get me wrong, this is a must-not-miss event for anyone involved in the leadership, governance policy-making or delivery of teaching and learning in all sectors – but every year we must prepare ourselves for a binge of freebies, goodie bags, constant eye contact, bright and flashing lights, disorientation, elation, a long day meeting lots and lots of people to share with and learn from – and lots of sales people (many who you can instantly forget). Oh and falling asleep on the Tube or train home.
The big players are always there and definitely worth a visit – but keep your hand on your wallet. Must-sees were global players Google, Microsoft, Intel, Toshiba, Samsung and some new faces this year from the far east.
Even Apple fell down from the garden of eden this year and had a bite of Bett.
These global big-hitters were complemented and counterbalanced by grassroots organisations such as NAACE, the Association for Learning Technology, SSAT and MirandaNet who, in the past, have been given space to provide impartial advice and guidance. This year they were restricted to “a pod” to dance around as they had to pay the going rate, which is expensive even for the big players, never mind charitable trusts, voluntary and membership organisations.
And while the big boys did grab the attention, a couple of stands worth the visit were Nasen, the national association for SEN professionals, which was offering some great links and free resources. The National STEM Centre was also packed with free resources and Iris Connect had a nice little video tool for helping teachers to reflect to on their practice.
Bett guru, renowned education technology expert and chair of Education and Technology Action Group (ETAG), Professor Stephen Heppell, was the usual enthusiastic if somewhat hoarse host of the “answers, answers, answers” stand, which was as busy as all the corporates with teachers seeking guidance from a constant pool of experts.
The real value of Bett for teachers is the seminar programme and workshops across all sectors of early years, primary, secondary, further, higher, SEN/assistive technology and leadership, where practitioners and thought-leaders compete with the background Bett buzz and hum to be heard by a constant audience churn of 10,000 people a day.
It is a big place and a computer and a synchronised scheduling software package would be useful just to make sure you do not miss anything or anyone.
The ministers turned up as usual (is there an election soon or something?) and acted out their scripted monologues, faking interest and passion at the appropriate cue points – but not fooling any of the audience that their minds are firmly in their constituencies and the margin of a majority. Purdah next!
At least education secretary Nicky Morgan mentioned the ETAG report, with its range of recommendations for the future of educational and learning technology, which was launched on the opening day of Bett (see my report here for SecEd on ETAG's recommendations).
It was great to see so many pupils this year, playing, creating, communicating, collaborating, co-designing – and not just downloading – content. At the Bett Awards 2015, it was nice to see Charles Clarke, the minister who gave us interactive whiteboards and laptops for teachers, win the Lifetime Achievement Award (alumni include Prof Heppell and Merlin John – Jim Knight next year?).
The rest of the award-winners are listed online (go to www.bettawards.com) and feature some great products and services that are worth checking out.
So another Bett year flies by and 90 overseas ministers and their groupies fly back to warmer and colder climates. The organisers have started planning Bett 2016 and are hoping to make it more inclusive (they like big numbers), so expect further education and skills to get a higher profile next year.
As for the technology? Well it’s brighter, lighter, faster, thinner, cheaper, bigger screens, cashless, higher resolution and more sophisticated in its use of data for pupil-tracking and monitoring. Will it have a positive impact on learning outcomes? The computer says no – technology does not teach pupils, teachers teach pupils. But technology can and (if used effectively) will help considerably.
So another Bett gone and always the same question? Should teachers go to Bett 2016? You would be mad to miss it!
Bob Harrison is a school and college governor and education advisor for Toshiba Northern Europe. You can follow him on Twitter @bobharrsonset