BETT – a lot of muck and very little brass

I spent Saturday at Bett, which used to be the British Educational Training and Technology show.  Bett is about technology in education, which is a serious interest of mine.

My overall impression was of a lot of muck and very little brass. While there were some really nice surprises – generally small companies doing creative things, my overall impression was that teachers would be better served by spending a couple of days settling in with a few hours worth of YouTube tutorials in various aspects of IT.

Trust me, I’m a sales rep, and I know that you’ve never opened the throttle on your own machine…

I saw company after company selling software that clearly duplicated functionality already on school computers (the man selling an iPad app that turned out to be a PDF reader deserves the special ‘bare-faced cheek’ award). The fact that such companies can turn profits speaks volumes for the need to get teaching staff up to speed on IT issues.

And the lying, oh the lying! The is a hidden camera stunt waiting to happen by asking salespeople why their software won’t run on a mac. Really try it – the range of bizarre, made-up, technical restrictions is astonishing. It’s not hard, it’s not even like you must have a coder present (although some companies did and that was great), if you don’t know the answer a simple ‘I don’t know’ is very satisfying. I was talking to people for a good five hours today and in that time I heard “I don’t know” maybe five times. An astonishing amount of people were clearly guessing.

Big Screens! Look at our big screens!   

One of the big themes of Bett was touchscreens and visual arrangements of information – and pretty much all the stands selling such things had utterly no answer to questions like ‘so if there is a VI student in the classroom, is there an accessible way of accessing this?’ (full marks to the Royal Society for Chemistry for going into great detail about the audit they just did with the RNiB).

However there was a lot of ‘this technology is still too expensive to sell into homes, let’s see if we can flog some of it into schools’ so if you want a TV screen taller than you for the same price as a minibus, then there were people willing to service your need.

AAC and general accessibility…

There were some highlights – a good proportion, maybe about half, of the same companies that go to, say communication matters, were in attendance, although I’m not sure if this counts as in attendance:

photo 1

So given that bett is free to attend – it’s probably a nice way for people in London to get a look at some kit. We were missing the large manufactures like Toby Churchill and Liberator of course, but if they turned up then we’d be looking at one of the largest concentrations of AAC companies of the year, even if they would still be a tiny percentage of the stalls.

There were some really good little stands, many of which I’d like to discuss in separate posts. But I was particularly impressed with EduKey, and 80sclassroom. 80sclassroom in particular managed to lampoon the entirely of bett without really trying – they are a small group that teaches kids the basics of programming by bringing a stack of BBC micros in and letting kids have a go with BASIC. It’s a simple and beautiful idea and managed to make pretty much all the other ‘teach programming to kids’ solutions look as patronising and tacky as they are.

Freebies…

There are confusing aspects of the trades shows. Fairly regularly I would be talking to someone on a stand and a punter would sneak up, grab one of the free pens or badges and then dash off trying not to make eye-contact with the stands.  While I’m not a man to turn down free stuff in general, I do think it’s worth, you know, actually finding out what’s going on on the stand. Also, given that the majority of the attendees are teachers, it raises the worrying question – are UK schools so hard up that teachers are reduced to scavenging pens one by one? Do they not have a stationary cupboard?

While on the subject of freebies. I have literally no idea what this is for, how it helps, or what possessed people to think ‘it would make our bag of catalogues and leaflets amazing if we put a squishy thing in it. ‘

photo 3

 

One stand did much better with the squishy, and decided that teddy bears are the way forward…

photo 2

 

(I like that the bear appears equally mystified by the squishy round thing…) 

Best thing about the bear is that the t-shirt is detachable, thus meaning that the next godchild I see is likely to get a free cuddly toy.

As we move into the more useful freebie stakes, a cup is pretty dependable, cups are always useful.

photo 5 (1)

 

(It’s entirely possible that this bear is going to be in all future photos)

So while I am grateful for cups, bears, USB sticks (can’t have too many), iPad cases (turns out you can have too many), and a USB battery pack (winning my personal ‘best freebie of 2014’ award) – I will say that the stands with freebies were not the ones that I thought were doing interesting and good work, and vice versa (the Royal Chemistry Society guy even refused me a poster because I didn’t work in a school).   There were maybe half a dosen stalls that I found really interesting and I hope to talk about their work in the near future.

(some erroneous content removed at the request of @MartinLittler – thank you for pointing it out)

One thought on “BETT – a lot of muck and very little brass

  1. Hi Joe

    An interesting read on BETT – and in many ways reflects my personal experiences (see http://www.glengilchrist.co.uk/my-bett2014-critique/).

    I think the core reason that BETT has ceased to be a platform for innovation is three fold:

    1) Education is no longer the cash cow it used to be, especially for technology related purchases
    2) ICT used to be “easy” – you either had some or not (or had the Mac / PC debate). You had interactive whiteboards or not etc. Now we’re talking outcomes and linking purchasing to attainment – a much more nuanced debate. So people play safer and dont innovate
    3) There is so much replication that people give up – I counted 11 variants on Learning Platforms and 24 vendors offering “content” of some form or other.

    Sometimes I feel that education technology is a solution waiting for a problem.

    As to the PC / Mac dilema and vendors not being truthful – that’s the problem when you combine uninformed / non technical sales people with an audience of mostly non technical users.

    Interestingly I was brought to your site by my observation that EduKey was one of the few innovations I was aware of.

    Now, off to investigate the 80sclassroom!!

    Cheers
    Glen

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