Running from January 30th to February 2nd last week was the 29th Bett show, the British education training and technology event. This year was bigger than ever before and to accommodate the increasing demand Bett moved to the Excel arena which meant our journey involved an exciting trip on the DLR. There was a lot of hype around the event this year with #Bett_show trending throughout the week:
New this year was the Bett Arena, a 750 seat amphitheatre to host talks from influential thought leaders in education from around the world, including Vince Cable and Professor Brain Cox. The education sector was shaken up in 2012 - ‘The year of the MOOC’ - so it was exciting to see two MOOC pioneers also attended the show - Shimon Shocken and Daphne Koller of Coursera.
In the opening ceremony Microsoft’s VP for education Anthony Salcito's proclaimed that ‘’Technology will always step up to the challenge we need in our classrooms’’, so let’s take a quick look at what stepped up this year:
Innovation was abundant and it was focused around tablets, apps and cloud technologies. As expected, everywhere you turned to look there was an interactive whiteboard and some were showcasing some impressive improvements - SMART were exhibiting their Short Range Projectors which can be mounted only 50cm away from the board, meaning no more blinding lights for teachers. GloView have launched Any Surface IWB which can be used on any wall to turn it into a touch sensitive interactive whiteboard. 3D projectors like 3D Visualisation by Reach Out Interactives Ltd were another exciting development meaning that students can see objects such as a beating heart in 3D, moving it around to view all angles. Augmented reality apps also featured at the show with Samsung showing an app that scanned codes to show 3D objects that could be moved around on a 2D screen.
The range of interactive learning resources on show was incredible and we particularly enjoyed being shown around the Royal Society of Chemistry’s interactive periodic table:
Big this year was the Cloud; looming and ominous, it looks to be supplying programmers and educators with unlimited possibilities. Google Apps and Microsoft Office 365 were promoting their cloud based applications. Microsoft Office 365 enables you to run Office applications such as Word, PowerPoint and Excel within your web browser – to launch the program all you need to do is log into a website. Integration with SkyDrive cloud storage and the fact that you don’t need the programs installed on your harddrive to run them means that students can access the programs and their files anywhere.
However, whilst there were lots of impressive technologies on show, this does not always translate straightforwardly into improved learning in the classroom. In November NESTA found that “costly digital technology that has the power to transform education often sits in boxes because teachers do not know how best to use it”. Chief executive Geoff Mulgan said: "The emphasis is too often on shiny hardware rather than how it is to be used." The technology available offers so many valuable opportunities to educators and students that it cannot afford to be underutilised. The show opened with the message that technology should follow the needs of teaching and this was a theme ran throughout Bett 2013. The slogan “vision before technology” was used by Janet Hayward (Cadoxton Promary School) and Tom Rees (Simon de Senlis Primary School) as they expressed the "need to take an educational perspective as opposed to a technological approach to digital learning by training our best teachers to talk about how it benefits them and their classes’’. This is where Bett becomes all-important; events like TeachMeets allow teachers to share their experiences, favourite resources and to learn from each other. Resources such as Teachers TV, which we were very happy to see in it’s new form at the show, are vital to share knowledge and helping keep teachers up to date and informed. The countless workshops, meetings, breakout sessions and LearnLive talks that Bett facilitates provide a platform to bring together and encourage discussion between the developers, teachers and content providers. Communication on this level is vital to ensure that the exciting technological advances exhibited at the show are used to their full potential and not left clean and shiny in their boxes.