Evaluation of the BETT Show

After 3 gruelling – but energising – days at the BETT show, and some time to recover (well, partly, at least), I’ve had a chance to reflect on the experience. As a general rule, I think it’s vitally important to think about what you’ve seen and heard at a conference, or the experience can be wasted.

An interesting, though bizarre, comment that I heard several times was that BETT has become “too commercial”. Well, it began as a trade show, and that’s what it is still is, at heart. The unconference elements, such as Teachmeet, Collaborate for Change and TEDx Orenda were only possible to be run at all, let alone for free, because (I presume) everything has been paid for by the fees charged to exhibitors. I think there is a real danger of thinking that we all have a right to free stuff in all circumstances. Even if that were an OK position to take, I’m not sure how it could be possible: everything has to be paid for eventually. As the famous observation has it:

There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

What was energising about the show was the same as is energising at any gathering of educators: the chance to meet and chat with old friends and new acquaintances about the issues which tax us. Top of the worry list in the UK at the moment are budgets and the demise of a number of quangos, especially Becta. To put you in the picture, the Harnessing Technology grant which was given to schools each year for a number of years, for spending on educational technology, has been axed. Also, Becta, which provided impartial advice on educational technology spending, has also been axed.

The outlook is not necessarily all doom and gloom: there’s a chance that the money saved by not having to fund Becta and other organisations will (partially) find its way into school budgets in the future. Also, Becta’s reports will be kept in the National Archives, so it’s not like all that good stuff is simply going to disappear. Even so, it’s a depressing time, especially when you hear real stories (as opposed to merely statistical ones), of schools having to forego the installation of a wi-fi network or the purchase of a new set of iPads.

On the positive side, the ed tech sector is, judging by the crowds of people and the products on display, alive and kicking. The big trends that seemed to be in evidence was iPad-like devices, touch screen technology, and developments in whiteboards. Over and above all, I think, are the following:

  • Being connected, as I’ve said before.
  • The kids: all the best teachers and schools, in my opinion, are the ones who leverage (I hate that word, but it works in this context) the talents, knowledge and risk-taking attitude of young people.
  • Keep smiling. We’ve all been through tough times, so rather than sit around feeling depressed, think of creative ways of making more out of less.

Any good conference will help you not only find out about what’s new, but also give you the opportunity to discuss and reflect on key issues with other’s in the same game. On those criteria, BETT for me was a resounding success.

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