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« Digital literacy and Computer Science | Main | Bloggers and consultants: ever feel we’re being got at? »

Education Technology and ICT at BETT: Big changes for 2013

Er, excuse me. Um, I just wondered…, er could I just squeeze past…, oops, sorry…

How many times have you found yourself stuck behind a couple of people walking at such a snail-like pace that one suspects they started out the day before? That’s just one of the problems experienced at BETT at Olympia: so much squeezed into a space which has long been too small, resulting in aisles that are far too narrow for the volume of traffic and a stand numbering systems which seems to owe more to random number generation than logic. Well, hopefully this is all now a thing of the past, a soon-to-be distant memory of a venue we can reminisce about but not miss.

In 2013 BETT will be held at the Excel centre in east London. Purpose-built, having had an investment of £35m, with good transport links, this will be large enough to house the entire show on one floor, with excellent wi-fi facilities and conference facilities as well. Indeed, EMAP, the company which manages the show, is encouraging organisations to hold their annual conferences at the same time as the BETT show. It makes sense to an extent: delegates can spill out onto the BETT floor between sessions, and the conference organisers enjoy the benefits of good wi-fi and even some back office facilities. Mind you, co-location (as it’s being referred to) won’t be an unmixed blessing for organisations, and they will have to carefully weigh the advantages and disadvantages of such a decision.

Change of date

Before I go any further, and before I forget, make a note of the new dates for BETT: 30th January to 2nd February 2013. The traditional date of the second week of January has never really suited anyone in education, coming virtually at the start of term and after a two week break. Apparently, it has been immovable for years because of other bookings at Olympia. So, new venue, new date.

Bigger area, better set out

BETT plan for 2013: A non-artist's impression (Not drawn to scale)There will be four main entrances. The aisles will be 3 metres wide, which should be more than enough to cope with the volume of traffic. Another issue with Olympia is that it’s quite hard sometimes to arrange to meet people. The last time I tried to do so, the instruction I received by text was “We’re at the café at the back of the Grand Hall near the Uniservity stand.” In the new layout, as you can see from the accompanying illustration, each “avenue” will lead to an identifiable feature, such as the Heppell.Net stand. Even better, there will be a YouBETT community area. Now, the idea of this is that it’s a place where you will be able to arrange to meet people relatively easily. You’ll still have to identify them, of course, if you’ve never met them before, but at least it will be easy enough to find the actual location.

I do hope EMAP take a leaf out of the ISTE conference book. There you will find a Bloggers’ Cafe that has become a de facto hub for many people. When I last went to the conference this area was well-equipped, with lots of sockets in which to plug laptops – although, strangely, no sign of refreshments. It very rapidly became a place where you went in order to either find someone in particular but who, for whatever reason, you were unable to get hold of, or just to see who was “hanging out”. There was always someone you wanted to chat with, even if you hadn’t known that beforehand!

Different kinds of spaces

There are going to be a few innovations at BETT 2013. For example, as well as lots of content on the floor there will a huge arena in the centre in the style of an amphitheatre, for talks “in the round”, such as an address by well-known inspirational speakers from around the world. (Speaking personally, this would be an area to avoid: I much prefer to listen to people who actually do things as opposed to having visions. But each to their own.) We have been reassured that the vast investment in this venue means that hearing the speaker will not be a problem.

There are also going to be a number of “hot” areas, such as a Computer Science section and a Mobile Computing section. I’d have thought this is quite risky: who knows what tomorrow’s hot topic is going to be, let alone next year’s? I suppose the two examples given are reasonably safe bets though.

There are a number of hands-on learning areas planned. These will allow people to have a go at something, whilst others watch and, hopefully, learn, whilst yet others are walking by and casually glancing over to see what’s happening. It sounds fine, although the areas initially suggested would, I suspect, be too small to cope with the likely amount of interest.

A better digital offering

The online experience of BETT is to be enhanced, starting with the ease of navigating the BETT website which is (how can I put this?) challenging. There was a good start made this year, I thought, with the BETT blog and the facility for commenting on it. A couple of suggestions for improvement next year would be as follows, in my opinion.

First, do not make it necessary to register in order to comment. That seemed to be necessary at first this time, although the requirement seemed to disappear after a while. I may be wrong, but these days you have to register for so many things that I’m not sure a lot of people will bother unless there is a perceived long-term benefit. For example, if you subscribe to the brilliant, incisive and free Computers in Classrooms newsletter, you will enjoy a free newsletter for the foreseeable future. If you wish to comment on articles on the ICT in Education website, you can do without registering. As far as I can see, registering benefits me in some way, but not you, so why would you do it?

Second, I think a trick was missed. The website features the #bett_show Twitter feed, which keeps the site alive and vibrant, but there is confusion about which hashtag to use. Is it #bettchat, which the BETT website also promotes? Is it #bett2012, which many people have been using? I think one thing the EMAP people should do right now is to establish what the official tag for 2013 will be. That won’t stop people making up their own, but at least it might minimise that tendency and make it easier for all of us to keep up with the conversation.

Third, I think another trick was missed, although this one would be riskier. How about having an area where the articles pertaining to BETT are curated? As far as I know, all it needs is a code to draw in articles tagged with a particular keyword, eg “BETT2013”. It would be riskier, because it would pull in articles criticising BETT too, but then that can happen with the Twitter feed too.

The vision

One of the interesting aspects of BETT 2012 was the absence of the traditional big players like the Department for Education, BECTA, the SSAT and others, as commented on to me by Miles Berry and Thomas Ng (whom I’ve known for many years and who has been active in the British Computer Society). Plus, of course, the presence of Google in a much more high profile way than previously. The vision is that next year’s BETT will take all this to a logical conclusion, namely that the educational technology community, through BETT, will inform the DfE’s views and pronouncements rather than the other way round.

Quite an ambition, but let’s hope that BETT itself doesn’t fall into the classic trap of listening only to those with the loudest voices. A lot of sense and good practice is to be found in the work of relatively unknown people doing marvellous things in their own classrooms or in their own spaces  on the web. A big challenge for EMAP, should it wish to accept it, is to find a way of making sure such people can be heard at BETT 2013.

Did you attend BETT this year?

Education Technology and ICT at BETT 2012

If so, please contribute to a review I’d like to compile about what was good, trends, etc. This will be made available free of charge once it’s done. Please complete a very short online survey.


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Reader Comments (13)

Hi Terry
Thanks for this, very useful. I couldn't agree more with you about the digital offering. That website.... Be great if one could actually book seminars for a tech show online...
In case it's useful for your review we've included a roundup of some of the best BETT follow up blog posts we've found at the bottom here:
January 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSophie Bessemer
Thanks, Sophie. Very useful, that round-up of blogs. I'm intending to do something similar myself, as well as write my own round-up, so I will include yours too. Thanks!
The thing I was most missing at BETT is Open Source or Open Educational Resources - would there be a way for BETT to provide a free/cheap space for some key projects to exhibit and also more space for discussions on these topics. Particularly if this could spark collaborative efforts.

I elaborated some of my thoughts on this in a bit more detail in this blog post:
January 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDominik Lukes
Great blog, Terry.

To give the perspective of an exhibitor at the show, we don't have a massive stand (50sq m) but it costs us a small fortune to attend BETT. We do it for three reasons:

1) To sell stuff to teachers (not necessarily at the show)
2) To get international distributors on board
3) To maintain our profile within the industry

With regards to 1, over the last five years the number of teachers from UK schools has declined significantly. In addition, you always used to get a good show from LA consultants - some of whom had purchasing power and some who would invite you to meetings. With the end of the National Strategies, the latter is largely extinct. With regard to the former, they too were a rare breed. In fact, we collected twice as many leads from Nordic teachers as English teachers.

With regards to 2, this has become the primary reason we go to the show. One good distributor and you've paid for the stand. However, BETT 2013 does not bode well on this front since it clashes with the ISE in Amsterdam. Although a generic AV show, the ISE is not only bigger (seven halls last time I went) but the floor rate is half that of BETT (now at £470 per sq metre).

So then there is that great intangible - the 'marketing' benefit. In a time of public sector belt tightening, something has to give. Most of the major players in the educational ICT space are shedding staff. Many of them are looking for an excuse to spend less on BETT.

By moving BETT to ExCel and making it clash with ISE, I think they've been given that excuse. I doubt many of us will miss it. While visiting BETT can be fun if you're a teacher, spending four days on a stand can be rather soul destroying. Especially when it's costing you £1000 an hour to be there.
January 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJ.
Thanks, Dominik, a very interesting perspective, and blog post. I know a few years ago some Moodle people managed to raise money to pay for a stand at BETT. I'm not sure I agree with you about free stands, however. What would there be to stop a huge corporation getting a free stand for its open source software offering? I think there would be potential for a lot of anomalies.

Thx for the exhibitor's perspective, J. Would there not be a cost of NOT being at BETT, albeit perhaps an intangible one?
Interesting to read about the potential changes. As a visitor I've definitely modified my behaviour over the years as I found my first ever visit crowded and overwhelming. Too many supliers assuming that everyone is a teacher and jumping out at them. I now visit with a list of about 20 suppliers and software developers that I recommend through my work as a disability needs assessor. That takes up about half of the day and then I just browse (and always avoid Fridays). I know 1-2 suppliers who've realised that they would do better by spending the money on holding a private CPD event where they ask along a few dozen people who are most likely to send business their way and I'm surprised more haven't done this. I now have a few friends who work on the stands and it must be incredibly hard to keep standing, smiling and professional for the four days.

As a first time presenter at Learn Live this year the lack of reliable wi-fi was pretty embarrassing. I had to ditch or modify about a third of my presentation.

I'm hoping to go to SETT in Stockholm this April so it will be interesting to see how it compares. Upto 3000 Swedes supposedly visit BETT each year so it's not surprising that someone is finally trying a Scandinavian equivalent. They seem to be trying a slightly different model as there's a £100 option to go to all of the seminars over the two days as well as the free exhibition.
January 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKevin
Thanks, Kevin
The EMAP people seem very definite about the brilliance of the wi-fi at the ExCel centre, so hopefully the awfulness you experienced won't be repeated. Will be interesting to hear more about SETT on your return, if you feel so inclined.
To be frank with you, we may go with a reduced presence at BETT 2013 or maybe not go at all. Of course, not going is a risk, because you don't know what opportunities it will throw up. In addition we have regular customers who we meet there ever year.

Suffice to say that BETT is the last in a list of exhibitions we have attended - ASE, Education Show, TES and various LA affairs. Our products really suit an exhibition environment, but the fact is that to spend thousands of pounds to meet a handful of school budget holders just simply isn't worth it. Ironically, cold calling is significantly cheaper (albeit hiring effective telesales people is difficult...)

I was speaking to a couple of other exhibitors last week and the general feeling was that scaling back on BETT 2013 made sense, with a view to then expanding our presence in 2014, if the show seemed better than expected.
January 31, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJ.
Terry, I understand the issues around giving exhibitors free access equitably. But I wasn't thinking that the "free" space would go to companies selling services around Open Source but rather the projects themselves. You could even stipulate that it would be free only to projects run by non-profit associations/foundations with under #100 in annual revenue. That would make organizations like MoodleHQ, Drupal Association or Wordpress Foundation who have enough money ineligible for free (even though, they should probably get a discount). But smaller but valuable projects like Xerte or Audacity or NVDA could send a representative for free. They wouldn't even need a booth - just a table.

But more importantly, I think it's important to make BETT attractive to these projects by making sure that they don't get overlooked. I would suggest establishing something like an Open Source Lounge where all these projects would be together and benefit from each others' traffic would be great. It would also make it easier for visitors to get a sense of the Open Source offering. Another thing that could be included is OERs.
February 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDominik Lukes
@J I suppose it's all a matter of balancing costs and (perceived) benefits. For me, not going would be a cost in terms of the foregone opportunity to meet new people and catch up with 'old' friends and acquaintances. It is not costless: some foregone earnings + travel and accommodation, but so far I've found it to be worthwhile.
@Dominik good idea. I contributed a campaign a few years ago called "Help us get to BETT", so that a Moodle stand could be afforded by a bunch of ordinary people. I'll draw this suggestion to the organisers' attention. Thx!
With only two weeks to go, are you ready for #BETT2013?
January 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMike Lane
Cheers, Mike. am! See
for infrmation about BUMPER guide (unofficial) to BETT 2013!

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