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Review of BETT 2013

The BETT Show is, I’m reliably informed, the biggest education technology show in the world. It takes place in London, England, every January. This year it was slightly later, but I’ll come to that in a moment. The first thing I’ll say is that even if you didn’t attend you may find this article interesting, as I suspect that several comments will apply to any education technology conference.

Preamble

BETT 2013Just on a personal note, it has taken me a week to get to this review for several reasons.

First, as always I like to mull things over, and give a considered opinion rather than an initial reaction. I admire those people for whom those two responses are not mutually exclusive options, but I’m afraid I prefer to cogitate for a while before, as it were, putting pen to paper.

Second, there has been a lot to cogitate on. Before attending BETT I attended the Education World Forum, about which I’ll write separately. While at BETT I attended a round table discussion with Sir Michael Barber and others. Again, I’ll be writing a separate article about that. Since BETT came and went, I’ve been working.

Third, in addition to working and conference-going I have been trying to catch up on sleep. The week before BETT saw me attending the local hospital with a close relative, and during the whole of that week I had the equivalent of one night’s sleep. Last night, as part of my daily commitment to enriching my cultural and intellectual well-being, I listened to a disco song from the 70s telling everyone to “shake your rump to the funk”. Frankly, dragging my carcass upstairs to go to bed is about as much as I could manage! You will understand why, in the total scheme of things, I elected to put the writing of a longish review near the bottom of my to-do list, after sleeping and earning a living.

But, here we are. As I say, this will be a longish article -- certainly longer than my usual 5 or 600 words. You may wish to go and make yourself a cup of tea and slip into your slippers. Don’t worry, I’ll still be here when you return.

Some general notes

I’ve been reading a few tweets and blogs about the BETT Show, and as always there are some who dismiss it as being a trade show. I think it’s more than that. Trade shows tend not to have many, if any, seminars for a start. But what’s the problem anyway? Trade shows may be full of people trying to sell you stuff, but you don’t have to buy it. In any case, where better to look at products and services from a range of suppliers to help you make up your mind?

When I want to buy a product like a radio or camera, I go to a shop or shops and have a look around. Yes, I read reviews online and that sort of thing, but I also look in person. If BETT is a trade show that lets you do that, we ought to be pleased.

BETT, like other ICT events, seems to bring out all the usual platitudes, or at least concentrates them into one place over a short period of time. For example, one person asked “Why should schools be organised by age? Why not have kids of different ages in the same group, progressing according to how much they learn?”

Well, I suppose one answer is that age-grouping works. The idea proposed may be great for the 5 year old genius who sits in a class full of 16 year-olds, but what about the 16 year-old forced to sit in a class mainly full of 5 year-olds? Boy. Wouldn’t that do wonders for their self-esteem?

I know someone will tell me that there’s a school in the Far East, or Eastbourne, designed in the shape of an inverted pyramid, where non-age grouping is the order of the day, but you’ll forgive me if I remain sceptical.

But my main objection to this (as with flipped learning, digital leaders, etc ad nauseum) is that it’s not even original: my mum went to a school that was not organised by age, and she left school in 1934!

But enough persiflage! On with the review.


What did you think about the BETT Show? Please take a couple of minutes to fill out the online questionnaire. This is unofficial, and you don’t even have to be quoted if you don’t wish to be. The responses all get collated into a seminal document which will be made available free later in the year.


10 things I liked

The first thing is that it took place later than usual. Coming at the end of January/beginning of February, rather than in the second week of January, was much better. It meant everyone was much fresher, in theory at least.

The second thing was the move to Excel. I was looking forward to this for two main reasons. First, it’s closer to where I live, second I thought it would be good to have everything in one hall, rather than the two halls we became used to in Olympia.

As it turned out, my optimism was, perhaps, not entirely justified. For a start, the transport links were dreadful, thanks to the Dockland Light Rail. I’ll come back to this later.

Also, I did find it hard to judge distance in Excel. I don’t know whether it’s because I am used to the scale of Olympia, or the sheer vastness of Excel, or a combination of the two, but whenever I had to go anywhere I invariably misjudged how long it would take me.

Third, I have to mention Mango Marketing, which runs the Press Office. The ladies there seem never to get flustered, and are immensely helpful and knowledgeable. They are a real asset to BETT.

Fourth, I have to mention the Press Office itself. I’m not sure I liked it as much as the old one in Olympia, because it didn’t seem as big, or as quiet. But it’s a good place to pick up literature and meet fellow journalists.

Fifth, and back to the venue. Excel was definitely better for navigating. There were a few bottlenecks, but Olympia was one big bottleneck. This felt much better, despite the vastly increased number of people who pre-registered and who, I suppose must have come along.

Sixth, it was good that there were clearly demarcated innovations, like the BETT Arena, and the BETT Library.

Seventh, as always |I enjoyed meeting people, and talking to old friends. BETT is always worth attending for that alone. I interviewed a few of the people I bumped into, so look out for them. (The first one was included in Impressions of BETT 2013)

Eighth, there was a good variety of talks to attend...

… and, Ninth, they were free. Well done for that.

Tenth, and finally, I have to mention Rising Stars. They publish Switched On ICT, which has received rave reviews, and with which I am proud to have been involved.  The Key Stage 1 version received a ‘Highly Commended’ Award at the BETT Awards. I missed the presentations on their stand, and the launch of ICT Essentials (I was chairing a seminar on mobile learning at the time), but I have a copy of the book and I hope to review it.


What did you like about the BETT Show? Please take a couple of minutes to fill out the online questionnaire. This is unofficial, and you don’t even have to be quoted if you don’t wish to be. The responses all get collated into a seminal document which will be made available free later in the year.


5 things i did NOT like

First, I think it would be good if there had been a decent wi-fi connection. I couldn’t get onto the official BETT wireless system for the whole time I was there, and I know I wasn’t the only one. I overheard someone explaining that it was teething problems. Well, I was not impressed, and all I can say is that you can only use the ‘teething problem’ excuse once. And, as a rhetorical question, do you think an Ofsted inspector would accept ‘teething problems’ as an excuse for a poor experience?

Second, while it was good to have a variety of seminars, it would have been better if they had been organised by theme/subject rather than intended audience. It was infuriating to find, for example, that talks on mobile learning and Bring Your Own Device were either going on so close together in time that it was impossible to get from one to the other, or that they overlapped. I wasn’t the only person to think this either.

Third, I would have liked there to have been some way of providing an evaluation on the seminars. I attended two whose subject matter bore no relation to their titles. In one case, I had already heard the talk two years ago, under a different title. People who do that should, in my opinion, be blacklisted from giving future talks, because it just wastes people’s time.

Fourth, the Docklands Light Rail (DLR). It is unbelievable that the trains were running according to their usual ridiculously spaced out schedule, and not running at all on the Saturday. One helpful official comment from BETT was that walking to Excel from Canning Town takes only 14 minutes. Really? Only if you know where you’re going. To be fair, there was a replacement bus service, but I still don’t think that’s good enough.

Now, I know that I can’t blame the BETT organisers for the DLR’s mistakes, but surely, with 42,000 pre-registrations, and a Cisco event going on at the same time, they have a bit of clout? I hope someone in the organisers’ office has demanded a meeting with Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, to obtain reassurances that this won’t happen again.

Fifth, I don’t know what sort of communications pass between the BETT organisers and the exhibitors, but one useful thing might be a reminder that the people visiting are potential buyers of, or  potential advocates for, their products. I found it both disappointing and infuriating that many stands on the Friday afternoon were full of exhibitor staff talking to each other and showing no interest in talking to me or other people. One notable exception was the young lady who showed me stuff on the Samsung stand. I should have asked her for her name, so I could give her a ‘shout-out’.


What did you dislike about the BETT Show? Please take a couple of minutes to fill out the online questionnaire. This is unofficial, and you don’t even have to be quoted if you don’t wish to be. The responses all get collated into a seminal document which will be made available free later in the year.


6 things I saw

Please note, these are not reviews. I haven’t played with the products intensively enough to be able to be able to evaluate them properly. So this section is to give you some idea of a few interesting things that were around, and which you may like to investigate for yourself.

9ine Consulting

This is a company of techies. Rather than simply outsource your technical support or go for a managed service, you can go to 9ine and they will help you find the best company and solution for your needs. It sounds like a really good idea. www.9ine.co.uk

European Electronique

This company has a product called Freedom which is about a server-less approach to schools. Basically, if a school is considering having everything in the cloud, or a mixture of cloud-based and server-based data, it might want to talk to EE. www.euroele.com

Google

I had a good chat with someone from Google, who impressed me with his understanding of education. I don't mean that in a patronising way: it made a pleasant change to discuss issues with someone who knew about more than just their product! I am currently putting a Chromebook through its paces, so I’ll report more on this at a later date. https://www.google.co.uk/webhp

Samsung’s Smart Classroom Solution

This consists of Samsung tablets, a server, and software running on Android OS. Teachers can interact with students directly and manage their devices in the classroom. It seemed pretty interesting as an all-in-one approach. www.samsung.com/uk

Smart

I liked the Smart webcam/visualiser, although it seemed a bit pricey. It enables you to create HD videos. The nice thing about Smart is that all its products integrate with each other. Plus they’re pretty good products, and there’s a good user base. http://smarttech.com/gb

Sonocent

This company makes audio software. It records a talk in blocks which you can then colour-code and move around. It seemed like it might be useful in some circumstances, although I think it could be quite time-consuming. http://www.sonocent.com/


What did you see  at the BETT Show? Please take a couple of minutes to fill out the online questionnaire. This is unofficial, and you don’t even have to be quoted if you don’t wish to be. The responses all get collated into a seminal document which will be made available free later in the year.


What trends were in evidence this year?

I have no idea. I couldn’t discern any. It seemed like tablets again, but maybe sleeker and a few more integrated solutions. Other than that, nothing leaps out to me.


What did you think were the main trends at BETT this year? Please take a couple of minutes to fill out the online questionnaire. This is unofficial, and you don’t even have to be quoted if you don’t wish to be. The responses all get collated into a seminal document which will be made available free later in the year.


And finally...

I recorded a few one or two minute interviews with people I met around BETT. I’ll be posting them here as I process them, so look out for them in the near future!

Oh, I am not sure if I have mentioned this before, but if you would like to share your views about this year’s BETT Show, please take a few minutes to complete the online questionnaire!


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