A BETT Retrospective

So, BETT’s over for another year. What was it like? Let’s start with a few facts and figures. According to the latest statistics, a record number of people attended this time: 30,372 in fact. If that level of precision makes you slightly uneasy, you’re probably right to feel that – not least because the final figure still has to be confirmed. Even so, that represents a small increase (just under 4%) on last year’s attendance.

One thing which struck me, even more so than last year, was the number of exhibitors from overseas displaying their wares. I saw stands from Singapore, Brazil, Norway, China and Africa. And, of course, the United States, particularly in the form of Google, who had a stand for, as far as I am aware, the first time in BETT’s history.
Add to that the large number of visitors from outside the UK – I met people from the USA, Canada, The Czech Republic and Zanzibar – and I think what we can say with some certainty is that a lot of people regard the BETT show as important. It’s the place to go to see not just what the Brits and the Americans are doing with technology, but what a lot of other nations are up to as well.

So what was on offer? As last year, there seemed to be three main areas of activity: whiteboards, 3D display and cloud computing. So far so ordinary, as I personally saw very little in those areas which made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

I saw a couple of things I really liked, however. One was a product called Oddizzy, which I think can best be described as Google Earth made ready for the elementary classroom. Children can click on a photo of a place and the map will change to display that location. They can also apply to be partners with other schools from around the world in order to allow the children to engage in penpal activity in a safe way. It has other handy features too which I hope to cover in a review very soon.

This product won a BETT Award, which is a great accolade, especially as the company concerned is a relative newcomer to the educational technology scene.

One of the products it trumped in the Awards was Purple Mash, an online repository of application and resources that are both innovatory and engaging. For example, there’s a module that allows you design a game in two dimensions, click a button, and have it instantly rendered into 3D.

A seminar I attended highlighted some brilliant work going on in a field known as “Somantics”. This comprises a number of applications that enable autistic children to control what happens on a display by moving, making noises or clapping their hands. Apparently it has even caused some non-speaking autists to start speaking for the first time.
That’s the thing about BETT: if you look beyond the obvious, you can find some real gems.

Next year it should be even better, as it moves to a state-of-the-art conference center in the east of London. And if you’re thinking of going, note the change in dates: the show now runs from 30th January to 2nd February. See you there?

Terry Freedman is an independent educational ICT consultant. He publishes the ICT in Education website at http://www.ictineducation.org and the Computers in Classrooms newsletter at http://www.ictineducation.org/newsletter. To find out more about BETT 2013, please see http://bit.ly/bett2013