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News and views from the BETT educational technology show

by Terry Freedman

Today was the first day of the BETT show here in London. In case you haven’t heard of it -- or even if you have -- here’s the lowdown.BETT is a huge educational technology show/conference/exhibition. In fact, it’s the single most important event in the British ed tech calendar.

The words that the acronym “BETT” actually stands for are lost in the midst of time. Starting 27 years ago as a microprocessor trade show, it now has nearly 700 exhibitors and 30,000 visitors, of whom around a quarter are from overseas. In fact, just today I was delighted to meet, albeit briefly, Helen Padget of ISTE, and be introduced to three of her colleagues.

So what’s the buzz? Well, before getting to that, we need to pause for a second and reflect on the fact that there actually is a buzz: many people I know were predicting poor attendance and lacklustre products. They could not have been more wrong.

OK, back to specifics. A short while ago I asked if this was the year of the whiteboard. Judging from what people have been saying, the answer is a resounding “yes”. I met today with Nancy Knowlton, CEO of SMART, and being a Brit I was delighted to hear her say that more UK- and Europe-focused content is being developed. The new SMARTBoard 800 series is wonderful, being dual touch and with clever technology which “knows” whether each person is using a pen or not. Thus, it’s possible for two students to write on the board at the same time, one using a pen, the other using her finger. Nice!

Moving beyond SMART, whiteboards are in evidence everywhere, with relatively new vendors looking to part schools from their money. Given that funding has been cut, budgets tight and the future uncertain, this has to be a positive indication that reports of the industry's death has, to borrow from Mark Twain, been exaggerated.

However, as alway the question “What do we want to achieve? must come way before the question, “What’s the hot new stuff?