Some thoughts on BETT

Jan 19, 2011

Miles Berry

My responses to a few questions from Terry Freedman, researching a piece on BETT 2011 for the Guardian:

1. Did you see any products (or anything else) at BETT that you thought was really brilliant?</div> </div> </blockquote> </div>

Products: not really; I heard encouraging things about integrations of existing products (eg SIF, Moople, Life, Office 365), and was quite taken by some of the robotics kit on view. A bit disappointed by the number of products which seem to exist to monitor, control and restrict what children can do, and by how much educational software seems to be  underpinned by a narrow understanding of the learning process, although there are many, many counter-examples. Display technology featured heavily, although I’m skeptical about 3D; some nice interactive interfaces around, although the Wii-based whiteboard hack still has the edge on most, and I’d love to see what might be done with a Kinnect in the wrong hands.

More importantly, there were some great people around, on seminar programmes and teachmeets, around Naace’s stand and elsewhere in the show – even with all the changes in the ed-tech ecosystem, it’s really encouraging that the expertise, enthusiasm and generosity of spirit remain undiminished.

2. What did you think were the main trends (current and future) being indicated?</div> </div> </blockquote> </div>

The almost complete withdrawal of central government and its agencies from the sector is unlikely to change for the next four BETTs, but that doesn’t (yet) seem to have had too much impact on the industry and community.

Consumer electronics leads the way – clever interfaces, 3D displays and hand-held tech all started outside of the education sphere, but have been enthusiastically greeted by suppliers, and more than a few teachers. To get a taste of next year’s BETT hardware, look at this year’s CES.

For software, the picture is different again, with, I think, an ever-widening gap between the cutting edge of Web 2.0 and the desktop applications which still seem to characterise so much of BETT; there’s still a place for these latter, but I wonder for how many more years this will be the case.

A number of suppliers continued the trend started by Microsoft last year of arguing that their products will save schools money in the short or long term; hardly surprising given the present circumstances and indicative of a desire now for schools to obtain the maximum benefit from the lowest cost; no bad thing, but perhaps those responsible for procuring systems and services need to look beyond the trade stands to make this a reality.

3. Did you see any interesting uses of Web 2.0? (I was unable to make the Teachmeet)</div> </div> </blockquote> </div>

There’s a tension between the Web 2.0 world of user generated content and open collaboration and the teacher led delivery, or at least teacher controlled, model implicit in many web based products marketed to schools, and it’s interesting to see how different suppliers have ‘integrated’ basic Web 2.0 style tools into their products.

4. Do you have any advice for schools about managing with a smaller budget (at least for the time being, given the ending of the Harnessing Technology grant)?</div> </div> </blockquote> </div>

I spoke on this as part of a panel at the UK Education Leaders event, as well as in the Open Source Schools seminar. Put simply, I’d recommend that schools make as much use as they can of the expertise of all their community, empowering them to do all that they want to with all the tech that they have: this includes letting folk install open source software, access web 2.0 tools, use their own computers and smart phones and developing resources in-house. In Ernest Rutherford’s words, “Gentlemen, we have no money, therefore we must think.”.