I love trade fairs. The manager in me is looking to the future – what’s feasible and what’s desirable, and of course what the competition is doing. The teacher in me is a bit more prosaic – I get a buzz from hanging out with like-minded people, but ultimately I’m looking for a quick fix. Trade fairs are a great place for finding neat little widgets that solve daily problems. In the education world, BETT at the Excel Centre in London fulfils all these needs.
I’ve been going to BETT for the best part of ten years now. It involves travelling from Germany, but it’s worth it and is a key element in my annual planning. As a teacher (and even as an education manager) it’s easy to get obsessed with the tiny bit of the world that is your classroom or your school. Every visit to the show has yielded at least one product or solution which has become a permanent element in my school. For a small organisation that’s an extraordinary return on investment.
Entry to BETT is free. You just need to register, so it’s just a question of time and getting there. This year there are something like 850 exhibitors ranging from the global players, like Google and Microsoft, to small businesses providing a single niche product. Complementing the exhibition is a lecture and workshop programme with representatives from politics, internationally-known speakers and teacher from the front line sharing their knowledge and experience. So at one end of the spectrum you the likes of the UK Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan; the chief scientist at NASA, Ellen Stofan; and The founder of the Khan Academy, Salman Khan. And at the other end of the spectrum you have, well… me, talking about IT on a zero budget. In between there is a something for everyone.
Visitors interested in where education is heading should certainly spend some time checking out the BETT Futures area which focuses on start-ups in the education sector. This is an ongoing programme which showcases selected companies over a period of time. The exhibitors here have the potential to become the major players of tomorrow, so if you want to know who your suppliers will be in five years it’s worth making some contacts in this section.
On Friday evening there’s a Teachmeet, which is something you really should check out. A huge group of teachers get together to share ideas in the from of short presentations. Again it’s free, but you need a ticket. At the moment, there are still some available here.
Any participant can offer to do a presentation which is either 7 minutes or 2 minutes long. The presentations always focus on something that is doable. There are no talks about theory – just things that actually work in practice. It’s a great place for rebooting your classroom activities.
People who haven’t yet attended BETT often think that the focus is on the STEM subjects, and while there is a strong presence in this area the key focus is on technology which supports all subjects. As a language teacher there is more than enough to keep my attention for a couple of days. Given that the event is during term time, that means that teachers need to organise time off work. Those who are in the lucky position of being able to make their own decisions really should be making plans to come. If your management is not so open, then your best option is to go on Saturday, but you should also start to think that a school which doesn’t consider this show important enough for you to attend should be relegated to a previous place of employment at the earliest opportunity.