Friday, 14 January 2011

Thoughts on BETT 2011

I won’t even talk about the exhibition, I hate it and I wish I’d been at the London bike show- thronging masses, pushy sales people and stall after stall of the same stuff (Like Interactive Whiteboards) that makes little impact on learning or we already have. Some real gems are out there but I prefer to find them via Google and read reviews from users than running the sweaty gauntlet of the show floor and squeezing through crowds. It’s like going to Meadowhall (which is something I avoid) but the shop keepers chase you down the malls- ‘are you a teacher?’ they enquire.

But as the annual get together of the ed-tech community is was another classic. So great to meet so many tweeters face to face for the first time (like @iusher @grumbledook @terryfreedman who has blogged his BETT thoughts here ), but that all happens on the fringes- the talks, the seminars, the conferences and nowadays the TeachMeets. That’s what makes it good, the stall holders just pay the bill that gets us all there to meet. The press/speakers lounge is where the best conversations were had, but it’s not an easy place to get in to!

I was speaking to a packed room about Open Source (which is novel at a trade show, we had nothing to see and gave every attendee a free operating system on a disc!) with my friends @mberry @dwilmot20 and @alanbelltolc from Open Source Schools. My talk can be seen here and there will be a national school leaders' conference on this topic on April 5th in London- see Open Source Schools website for details. I also managed to unofficially launch my new book The ICT Handbook For Schools with a flyer arriving from the printers just in time (pre order from or )

First observation was there was a great deal of interest on Open Source school tools like Moodle & Mahara, and more general tools like Joomla! Inkscape Gimp etc. Second observation was the vast majority of our audience were overseas visitors. It’s great that the world comes to BETT to learn about Educational Technology, we have a global reputation obviously. It’s a shame that so few UK schools were there in our seminar, is this a lack of understanding of the potential of Open Source? Are they staying away because there’s no point going to a trade show when there are cuts on the way? I think not, the trade show had plenty of English voices and terry blog (see link above) had the attendance figures to prove it. Perhaps overseas visitors are more likely to come for a few days and get stuck into the seminar programme and UK day visitors spend a flying day visit on the show floor, shame- they miss the bit you can’t get surfing the web: the people.

It was an unusual BETT not to have Becta there, but many familiar faces from Becta were there getting new spin off organisations off the ground like Mike Briscoe’s new venture.

There was some sign of ‘an encouraging tone’ from Tim Loughton MP, Childrens’ minister in his speech to the BETT Education Leaders’ Conference:

"The future of education in this country depends on how well we equip young
people to go on and succeed in their lives. And all of us know that if we
are serious about achieving that ambition, it has to include giving them
access to the very best that technology has to offer.

The time has come to take advantage of that opportunity by encouraging
school leaders to come along to exhibitions like this, and decide for
themselves what pupils need.

The time has come to ensure that children and young people are able to take
advantage of the wonders that technology brings – without the dangers.

The time has come to place technology at the absolute centre of our
aspirations for a world class education sector."

Good sounding words but they don’t really join up with the cut in Harnessing Technology, closure of Becta and general lack of acknowledgement of E-learning’s importance. Michael Gove wasn’t there to speak, he was too busy this week justifying his drive towards a 1950s curriculum with the English Baccalaureate results published this week. If the Tories think ICT doesn't need support and guidance because it's already embedded that's like a government saying after Flemming invented Penicillin we don't need any more medicine we've cracked it.