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« M is for … Marginal Cost | Main | BYOD Case Study: Invicta Grammar School »
Sunday
Feb102013

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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Reader Comments (9)

I for one was slightly disappointed by BETT this year. After wallking around talking to lots of different companies I came away feeling that most of them were all essentially selling the same thing but in slightly different ways. Those who know me know that I am not an advocate of the one size fits all solution as you always end up with a best fit solution that "mostly works."... Never thought that was a cost effective way of running, even in the good ol' ITASS days.

Even the seminars I felt were to evangelistic! Enthusiasm was high on the demonstrations - well most of them - but important details, such as integration, were glossed over.... Maybe I am becoming too cynical in my old age!

Personally, my approach to investigation/developing solutions in my school starts with the question "What do you want to be able to do?" and then runs from there!

Still, if one good thing has come out of BETT it is that it has inspired me to create my own website showing how solutions can be developed in school (and still not cost the earth). Maybe this is a project we can work together on in the future!

Lee

p.s.Loved the article.... The comment about "Only takes 14 minutes to walk" made me laugh out loud at my desk and got a few strange stairs.
February 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLee Allen
Thanks, Lee. Yes, I agree with you on all counts, except that I can't say much about the seminars. I attended only two, and walked out of both of them after 5 minutes. Your approach is similar to mine, which is "What do you want T & L to look like, what are you trying to achieve?" rather than "What tech do you want?".

Re: 14 minutes: I was going to put in a comment about "only if you're the bionic man or woman" but thought that might simply reflect on my own unfitness!
Great review Terry. I visited this year for the first time in ten - as for the last ten years I was exhibiting. You picked out one of the things that struck me - exhibitors standing in groups talking, or on their phones/blackberries. I know BETT is a tough show to exhibit at, but there is no excuse for this at all. You can be certain that most of the companies that you and I saw do this will be the ones complaining that "BETT wasn't busy", or "it was tough to get people onto the stand". One of the large 'traditional' publishers stands was empty every time I went by, with the staff sitting on the seats and gossiping or looking down at gadgets. I very nearly went over and told them to buck up their ideas...

I did hear some visitors complain that BETT is a trade show. And they are right. It is, and should be. You explained why very eloquently :-)
February 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterChris Ratcliffe
Thanks, Chris. sorry to have taken a long time to respond, but for some reason your comment was marked as spam, so I didn't see it.

I think that when exhibiting staff gossip with each other etc, it indicates that (a) they have lost sight of the fact that their income depends on selling stuff at some point, and/or (b)really bad training or supervision. It's pretty short-sighted in today's economic climate.
Excellent article. From my perspective BETT was very different this year. I spent my time working on RM's stand as a customer which was a totally different experience to how I normally see/experience BETT. It was also very useful doing this from a personal perspective for my own CPD but also good for customers, as they could talk with someone outside of RM and with my own experiences. Some other exhibitors would take note to try something similiar!

I didn't get to see much of the stands and some of the bug bears and good points you mention above but I will say, one of the negatives I found was eating! We were very busy on the RM stand showcasing RM Unify (and other things!) once you finally got round to going for lunch about 3pm, there were still no seats or tables available to eat at, even if I was happy to share (which I was!) I also felt most of the food stands were pretty sub standard over priced rubbish.

Wed - Fri I had to sit on the floor for my afternoon lunch! Sort it out ExCel!

In response to the exhibitors using their phones/not engaging with customers, that most certainly wasn't the case on RM's stand. Wed - Fridays footfall grew day by day where by Friday we were mobbed on the RM Unify/RM Books part of the stand. We engaged with customers where we could and they were happy to accept an approach.

Sometimes, coming from the exhibitor point of view, you need to achieve a balance - you don't want to mob a customer walking by, shoehorning them in to seeing a product/service to make a vital sale, but you do want to feel inviting and allow them to come and discuss a product/service/compaint with you. I think we achieved that pretty well but I did see a number of stands that weren't so busy doing exactly what you mention - very disengaging!

All in all a good BETT but very different for me from last year!
February 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRichard Saunders
Cheers, Richard. You'd think with all those eateries around there would have been enough space, but obviously not. I think on average there were around 9,000 people per day, so it's not surprising I suppose. I seem to recall it was always the same at Olympia too, but at least there you could nip out to Tescos and grab a sandwich. Still nowhere to sit though.

I think the stand issue is a vicious circle in a way (or a virtuous one). If exhibitors seem disengaged, then few people will bother to talk to them, in which case they will probably become even less engaged. I don't like it when people suddenly leap on me or thrust a load of bumph into my hand, but I do like to feel that if I did want to talk to someone they'd be interested in having a conversation!
Hi Terry, thanks for emailing the link to this review yesterday. I've been digesting a number of Bett 2013 reviews and yours will certainly inform my thoughts now I've finally caught sight of it! As ever, you've been even-handed and, as ever, you continue to provide useful guidance to Bett visitors.

Let me respond to some of the specific points you raise.

1. WI-FI

Providing 100% robust Wi-Fi coverage across the entire show in an environment like Bett is extremely challenging. Bordering on impossible, in fact. I spent years working in telecoms sector events and have visited the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona several times. This is where the telecoms/mobile/broadband world comes to do business. 60,000 visitors, all paying to attend, and all coming from workplaces in which perfect wireless connectivity is the norm. Not once have I experienced faultless Wi-Fi at that event. Why not? Firstly, serving thousands of visitors' devices simultaneously in a relatively compact environment really tests the limits of the in-building tech when it comes to capacity. I don't know if you've ever tried to get online via Wi-Fi in a sports stadium whose owners/operators claim to provide good in-stadium coverage. I have. Even in a smaller (lower echelons of the Football League) stadium, serving a four-figure number of highly active users (e.g. everyone trying to check scores etc. at half-time) rapidly erodes the quality of service for all. Secondly, the wireless devices being used on hundreds of exhibitors' stands create a VERY 'busy' radio environment. I won't claim deep expertise here. But the contractors we've worked with at Olympia and ExCeL have shown us how the many, many devices really interfere with each other's performance. So until we all have 4G mobile (and perhaps not even then), I truly believe getting online wirelessly at events the scale of Bett will continue to present challenges, however much money is thrown at the issue - and we DO throw a fair sum of money at it.

That said, I was stationed for much of the show in the Bett Arena and even during very busy sessions (e.g. the Brian Cox talk), I was able to tweet and otherwise operate online via the free Wi-Fi pretty reliably for most of the time over the four days. Further, the coverage we provided in Learn Live theatres seemed, by and large, to work pretty well.

If anyone reading this can point us towards some combination of suppliers, contractors and kit that REALLY offer us the ability to blanket the halls with brilliant Wi-Fi coverage and work around the incredibly congested radio environment there - PLEASE DO SO :)

2. LEARN LIVE (SEMINARS)

Delighted you are among those praising the variety of talks. The programme offered getting on for twice the number of sessions we ran the year before. Huge thanks for our friends at Naace for curating three of the tracks and for populating the theatres with knowledgeable, punctual session moderators who kept everything going smoothly. As far as I know, we had just one cancelled session across a 4-day progamme of about 180 workshops. This really took some organising and the Naace team really rose to the challenge. The same goes for the Nasen involvement in the SEN track.

I accept that programme was not perfect in terms of scheduling sessions such that someone with very particular interests would have been physically able to attend all sessions catering to those interests. But we did what we could. If you have guidance on how we can avoid this issue altogether then do please get in touch via email and we can chat. I believe our team are now tireless when it comes to working to improve Bett. But we also know we don't have all the answers.

Evaluation of sessions? YES!!! I also believe a simple feedback mechanism needs to be set up for Bett 2014. I'm working to make it happen. With all the other tasks involved in moving the show, overhauling the website, rebooting the marketing and doubling the amount of free content on offer, a feedback system was simply something we did not get around to. It's as simple as that. That said, we DID monitor Twitter throughout the show and collected a lot of pretty rich feedback about the content programme overall and about individual sessions. Terry, if you want to name and shame (in confidence of course) presenters who did not stick to their session titles or who offered stale material - well, you know how to reach me.

3. TRANSPORT

The DLR, Jubliee Line and buses are, of course, imperfect. But that's true of every other part of London's transport network. But I do not believe that the passenger capacity of the DLR is inferior to the (worsening!) tube connection to Olympia. I think the DLR usually does pretty well in terms of reliability too. We've been back and forth to ExCeL a LOT over the last year, and we find the links to be pretty good.

In terms of the Saturday engineering works, let me assure you that i2i Events Group AND the ExCeL team combined to lobby both TFL and the Mayor's Office to find a way of avoiding the disruption. We tried hard, mindful of the Mayor's comments about the economic important of the events sector for London. But we did not prevail on this occasion. I wonder if thousands of London-based Bett visitors (i.e. voters) writing to the Mayor might help to ensure we don't get any disruptions in 2014. Perhaps we can organise a petition well ahead of next year's show. You know what - I'm only half joking. Maybe we should do it :)

4. EXHIBITORS

I daresay your Friday frustrations were not unique. But this really is the first feedback I've read which mentions exhibitors failing to make visitors feel properly welcome. My reading of Twitter and other blogs, and my personal observation on site combined to tell me that many/most exhibitors this year were doing a great job of welcoming and informing visitors. I asked Stephen Heppell for his impressions of the show and one remark of his stuck in my memory. Stephen spoke about the stands looking much busier, with people spending longer on the stands and less time in the aisles than he had observed at Olympia. I believe our analysis of visitor footfall will bear this out.

You asked what sort of communications pass between the Bett organisers and the exhibitors. Short answer: there is masses of it! Of particular relevance here, I should mention our multiple exhibitor open days throughout the year during which we share best practice ideas about how best to make visitors feel welcome. For 2014, I reckon we'll be STRONGLY recommending that more exhibitors get involved in grassroots stuff like TeachMeet Takeover. For our part, we will be working to publicise that sort of activity much more actively. I want to see good things happening on stands being visible via the Bett app, for example.

I hope all of this answers some of your questions. Anything we can improve - we will work hard to do so. As ever, do reach out if you want to offer us more detailed suggestions by email or face-to-face. Now is the time - i.e. before too much is set in stone!

Thanks

Joe Willcox
Product Strategy Director,i2i Events Group (who currently spends 80% of his time on Bett!)
February 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoe Willcox
Thanks, Joe

Really good of you to write such a detailed response. So, to respond to your responses...

1. Wi-fi: I'm not a technical expert, but I can appreciate all you're saying. Maybe a brilliant and uninterupted wi-fi connection is impossible for all I know, but you'd think with all those technical companies there who specialise in wi-fi, between them they could come up with a solution! I'm probably being very naive. From a 'perception' point of view, I don't think it looks very good. Maybe it would be better, in the places where it says what the wi-fi details are, to make clear that for technical reasons it can't always be guaranteed. I dn't know.

2. Learn Live seminars. Thanks. appreciate the difficulty of fitting in 400 seminars in a way that pleases everyone. I've done that sort of thing on a smaller scale (around 100 seminars), and can email my suggestions to you if you like.

3. Transport. I thought you might have already been in discussions with Boris et al! I find the DLR excellent once the train has actually arrived. The wait between trains beyond hubs like Poplar is often long as a general rule, an during BETT it really was awful, no getting away from it. I'd be happy to help draft a letter/petition to send to Boris et al, and feature it/publicise it on website. Let's correspond by email. Maybe other readers of this have suggestions and/or could help?

4. One of the other commenters expressed frustration too though. I daresay both perspectives are true. More grassroots involvement would be good.

Overall, I thought there was a good buzz, and it was very enjoyable, so you and your team definitely did a great job. My comments were intended as being from a critical friend, and I hope they came across that way.
Yes, Terry - your comments are always very fair and friendly. Do please write in and continue to reach out with any more detailed suggestions.
March 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoe Willcox

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