BETT 2014….all about the teacher

The BETT event held in January 2014 was one of the busiest BETT events we have attended and one of the most interesting.

Like the smaller corporate e-learning event Learning Technologies BETT gave off the aura of fast growing excitement and interest in how technology can support learning and development. A principle difference is BETT is about 3 times bigger than Learning Technologies with a much different focus.

While in recent years BETT has added a workplace learning offer and we have in the past pointed to similarities and cross overs (education could indeed learn from the corporate market and vice –versa) this year BETT was more about supporting the teacher than ever before.

A cynic would say Learning Technologies is about “disintermediating the trainer” and BETT is about bringing many teachers up to date with how technology can “keep them relevant” in the eyes of the increasingly tech savvy student!

BETT more than LTs seems prone to adopt great themes…in years gone past it has focused on Personalisation or in 2012 it was dominated by 3d content and TVs in 2013 it was all about Apps and the Cloud with a strong focus on student management systems. However BETT 2014 saw a much greater fusion or joining up of these themes with teachers and learning content and technologies to support teachers to the fore.

BETT is still a show-ring for the battle for global dominance of education providers….it is Google and team versus Microsoft and team versus the ever present but not participating Apple. It is a shame that the opening address from Michael Gove gave so much attention to these players and to the US MOOCs and so little attention to the innovative and exciting UK vendors, a quick word count of the speech transcript for mentions is as follows: US companies/organisations mentioned: 16, UK 9, Malaysian/UK 1.

Indeed many of the US organisations name checked were not at the event. Where was a name check for Pearson or RM two existing UK champions? Where were some name checks  of the great UK up and coming success stories such as just2easy who were really busy with an exciting new way of learning? Or Webanywhere were likewise not mentioned though they are an aspiring global education technology provider doing some very exciting things? Or eSchools is another excellent example of a UK company well set on the international stage for success? Planet Sherston deserves a mention as a UK success story providing great content for teachers as does DB Primary. TLC live with another great learning library. These are just a very few examples of great British education content that will sell world-wide and a sector in which the UK leads the world.

So what was big at BETT, the stands that attracted the crowds were the 3D printer vendors….fascinating to watch, but I found the Boxford CNC machines equally fascinating and both have great potential to play in supporting real design skills in education.

Apps were ever present….no surprises, and whiteboard vendors are making determined efforts to keep the market moving forward and compete for the education £ with TV monitors…..all being positioned to deliver the 21st century classroom.

The use of Microsoft Kinect by vendors attracted a lot of interest especially Mission Explore where using Kinect you became a pigeon flying over the roof tops of London which I am reliably informed was considered to have the most innovative of all offers at BETT by non- other than a senior BBC delegate. You can find out more about this really exciting project at the Internet of School Things site.

There was a lot of talk of Flipped classrooms and STEAM learning….that’s STEM with an added A for Arts. We will leave this for the pedagogists.

We noted some Adaptive Learning with Newton having a small presence but we expected more in years to come as Big Data and learning analytics develop. We noted early adopted of Infomentor (an award winner at last year’s edtech awards) had a strong presence and attracted lots on interest.

What we found interesting however there was surprisingly little mention of MOOCs and an equally surprisingly low level of Open Source offerings, a trend highlighted to us by several international delegates.

However we noted a change in licensing models being offered with vendors now realising that schools are reluctant to enter into expensive and inflexible license agreements…..they have done that and learnt the lesson…..instead there now appears to be a move towards pay as you go cloud hosted solutions with schools quite simply buying credits as they require them…. for all manner of usages from maths support to assessment technologies.

The other trend of note….the growing role of the parents £….school payment systems are not new, but it will not just be schools that will pay for all this technology. This is not surprising and a trend alluded to by Christensen in his work “Disrupting Class”.