January 12 2009

BETT to the Future

Everyone at Online is looking forward to the BETT conference this week. It is always a great opportunity to catch up with old friends and to see some of the exciting current developments in our industry.

BETT classroom picture



The great success of the event in recent years is testimony to the fact that for educational technology, practical show and tell displays are a great way to convey ideas.




BETT will open in London just as another massive technology event closes: the Las Vegas-based Consumer Electronics Show. The difference between the two is telling. CES was marred this year by hyped up press coverage of the economic downturn, every gadget and gismo now being judged according to whether or not its lifespan will be nipped in the bud by straightened consumer spending. In the light of this grim message, BETT seems much more positive.




The future of learning will be the dominant theme at BETT this year. There is a special exhibition area entitled “Future Schools” in the galleries upstairs. It can also be expected to drive Stephen Crowne’s keynote speech, and has no small connection with the success of the Beyond Current Horizons programme of research and development.




Beyond Current Horizons is a project launched at last year’s BETT and has come a long way since then. With the immediate future looking rather economically stagnant, the government is looking further ahead to sunnier climes, and has therefore been well advised to invest in education. The motivation behind Beyond Current Horizons (a DCSF and Futurelab project) is to make sure that the UK has a workforce equipped to drive the country back into prosperity in the longer term.




What this means right now is that policy makers are attempting to ensure that the teachers of the present and near future are properly equipped to prepare their students for the circumstances of the more distant future. Investment in keeping learning abreast of technological change is not just a matter of seeking better ways to teach the same old lessons. It is a matter of seeking teaching methods for teaching the new kinds of lessons that will be salient in times of new technologies requiring new kinds of skills and work.




Dan Sutch has recently commented to this effect in an article on the BCH blog. In the terms he sets out, in the next few years, educational technology is going to become an even more exciting industry to work within, one of the most optimistic industries possible in the present economic climate.




But while things may look up for this industry as a whole, I can’t help thinking that the optimism for the learners themselves is just as significant and may lie somewhere slightly different. Matt Locke, Channel 4 Education’s Commissioning Editor, has pointed out that the future needn’t be some great monolithic thing, confined to great utopian or dystopian vistas, that “the vernacular is both the wake of detritus that is tidied up to make history, and the tiny atoms of our potential futures”. He is encouraging us toward points of view very different from those of policy-makers and centralized planning.




The optimistic thing for students today is clearly not the provision of tools to build the British economy in the future, but tools to build the future itself, to imagine the future through their own specific vernaculars. With BETT dominating our work this week, we should keep this in mind.

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