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.