Thursday, 14 January 2010

A visit to BETT 2010

Well, was it worth the trek through snow and ice to get to BETT 2010? I was meant to come down on the Wednesday for the BETT awards dinner and then do the show, but weather chaos meant I could only manage a flying one day trip.

Overall yes, it was good, but not an amazing day. It was a pleasure to do a little 'unplugged gig' on the Open Source Schools stand (L20) and Miles Berry there is the nicest bloke you’ll ever meet- go check their little haven of common sense out among the madness, they can tell you about free downloadable tools that will knock other tools in the show costing £thousands into a cocked hat. My presentation was about our IT set up blending open source tools (Joomla, Moodle, Mahara to mention a few) with commercial tools (Windows, Serco Facility, Outlook etc), and they recorded it so it will be available online soon. Here's an interview I did on you tube after my presentation and here is the case study I was presenting.

Also, it is the ICT Education community’s annual get together so it was great to catch up with the Parental Engagement team from Becta- Simon Shaw, Lorna Thompson etc, always good to see old friends from SSAT including the legend that is Tony Parkin and see the team of Glyn Barrett, Pam Winn and John Wordsworth and always a pleasure to see what ICT guru Paul Hynes has been up to (this time bringing augmented reality to education, it will be 'normal' 10 years from now to explain difficult concepts with augmented reality software), great to see SSAT not just reporting good practice in schools today but instigating new practice themselves. And, best of all, I finally met my editor; the wonderful Jenny Lee ( from who I have written 1 and half books with (‘Social Network Websites- their benefits and risks to schools’ out now ) and only ever having had email and twitter contact with her after she found me on Twitter and commissioned two books. Nearly all these contacts have pencilled me in for speaking at events this year so that's efficient networking for you.

But what of the show itself? It's not for me. I was very depressed to see so many Interactive Whiteboards for sale, you'd think Smart and Promethean had the market sewn up and the boards aren’t breaking down so sales have slowed and newer, more important technologies would be taking over, not so if you base it on the number of stands showing IWBs. Don't get me wrong, I like my Activ Board, but it hasn't changed the world (or, nationally, have they had a noticeable impact on level of achievement despite being in every school in the country). They tie the teacher to the front of the class, makes them teach in an old fashioned way (electronic chalk and talk)- albeit with some nice ICT presentation and tools but stop kids having to work independently when they are all listening to the teacher, there's a time and place for that but I know I spend too much time in my lessons talking to the class and doing Q+A because it’s easy to engage them with web sites like youtube but really I need to get away from the front and circulate my classroom while they work independently and in groups using mobile devices to tap into ICT resources as and when they need them. They aren’t interactive most of the time anyway, give me a wireless mouse or a blue tooth slate to control my PC and projector any time over an IWB and I’ll be dancing round my classroom and getting the students interacting with the screen at a fraction of the cost and with far better learning outcomes.

There were also a lot of student response systems from the excellent Promethean tool to some more than a decade old and are frankly rubbish (there’s one big firm who seem to think they can flog 10 year old kit with a really big stand and a hard sell, I hope none on you gave them your email and phone number; they’ve even got put through to me at work saying ‘it’s a sensitive personal call’- they will be hassling you for the rest of your life, I wonder how many of you know who I’m referring to!)

Parental text/ email tools were quite rightly doing well, the current weather a real blessing to their sales- every school should have one, Keep Kids Safe seemed the best one to me with voice/ email/ text and it collated responses, tracked dead email addresses, monitored message uptake and didn't sell SMS messages in stupid bundles that decayed if not used. And they are a Sheffield company, so even better!

One little gem, the Rap-Man 3D printer that at around £800 brings real CADCAM work to any D+T department and Technology Colleges could even buy a few to share with Primaries- a tool that turns a design a child has made on screen into an object they can hold and evaluate is something all schools should have and they were a worthy winner of a BETT award (even if they were a little jaded this morning when I went to congratulate them- a late night and I'm kind of glad I couldn't make it, I have no self control and would have been up till 4am like the mates I chatted to today who all looked far better on it than I would have!)

I think it should be on the PGCE and BEd curriculum to go to BETT and quickly find out what is available in the world of ICT, if I were a PGCE tutor I can see a great 2 day team building trip to London with a day at BETT and a day raging round London art galleries and museums finding out what resources the great London institutions have for schools with a bit of team bonding and plenary on the over night. Also, anyone newly promoted to making strategic decisions in a school will find it’s a good way of getting up to speed but I just felt like I was walking round mentally ticking off stalls; 'got that' 'that's rubbish' 'done that ourselves' but perhaps that's just because I work with the ICT stuff day in day out and we've achieved a lot already. I was glad to find and outdoor display screen to get electronic notices to students, but I think I'd have found that on Google if I'd tried.

It was fun, the weather allowed me to get there and the buses, trains and tubes all worked like clockwork so no regrets and I love a trip to the big smoke, I'll go next year if I'm booked to speak otherwise I'll give it a miss.