By Ufi Trustee Bob Harrison.
People sometimes forget Bett is a technology trade show - probably the biggest and most successful education technology gathering worldwide. How else could you explain the arrival of almost one hundred education ministers and policymakers from around the world jetting in to London for three days to the Education World Forum deliberately organised to coincide with Bett. They are attracted by technology big hitters such as Google and Microsoft with their mega stands staffed with hundreds of bright and energised smiley faces but more interestingly hundreds of smaller, perhaps more interesting, innovative start-ups and technologically creative solutions for teaching, learning and assessment who are looking to scale up from their initial pilots. From my attendance over twenty years I find the better value is in the smaller workshops and seminars usually run by teachers and educators whose only vested interest is trying to share what works.
The organisers must be doing something right to scan hundreds of thousands of punters over the four days of bright lights, loud presentations and of course the infamous freebies which become ever more creative every year. However, it takes more than a bucket of sweets and a stress ball to get people to step on to your stand these days.
But lets not forget this is not an educational conference - it is a showcase to promote goods and services which will allegedly help improve teaching, learning, and assessment. Mindful of the need for teachers to increase their knowledge and skills in the use of the newest and shiniest gadgets and gizmos the organisers do however provide a wide and varied programme of keynotes.
One of most beneficial bits of Bett are the fringe events and the opportunity for networking and just catching up with old friends and colleagues and learn from them whether the latest product launch has some benefit and value to teachers and learners or just another puff piece with built in obsolescence. I have always felt it was more reliable to listen to colleagues recommendations than rely on the megaphone marketing and hordes of t-shirted troubadors.
You will need stamina, resilience, and careful planning to make the best of your investment of time and travel. Most days are busy but things slow down late afternoon and later in the week. Register online before to beat the queues and if there are a few of you share and spread yourselves before reconvening to reflect.The online programme is usually excellent and there are hard copies by the lorry load inside ExCel.
There will of course be the mega stands of the usual suspects but watch out for some interesting innovations in the use of augmented and virtual reality, artificial intelligence, robotics and machine learning and always check out the developments in adaptive and assistive technologies for SEND learners.
I imagine the footfall from UK teachers may suffer this year as budget cuts means many providers cannot even afford to replace aged and degraded kit. Many teachers do attend on the Saturday morning in their own time disregarding work life balance challenges. But if you can afford to spend some time, if not money, then a day at Bett is worth it just for the conversations with other teachers and educators about what really can help improve education or those flash-in-the-pan gimmicks that are here today and gone tomorrow.
So I hope you can get to ExCel this year, come say hello, as I am there all week hosting the Post-16 Theatre, or find me on Twitter @bobharrisonedu, and let me know what excites you and what you think is rubbish and I will use it in my next Epale blog when I review my twentieth Bett in 2019.
One final note of caution honed from twenty years Bett experience - be aware that there is no evidence of a causal link between any technology and improved learning outcomes. However there is evidence of a correlation between those teachers and learners who use technologies effectively and improved learning outcomes. So, if a vendor says “buy this product or service and your students learning outcomes will improve” move on quickly. If you ask a vendor “ if I buy your product/service will my students learning outcomes improve?” and the vendor says “it depends, its complex because of a number of factors” it might be worth a chat but keep your purchase order in your bag for now.
Bob Harrison, Ufi Trustee.