The BETT Show plays a big part in my annual CPD. I always try to attend two or three days to tank up on new ideas and play with some shiny new kit. What I see there has a big influence on the direction of my thinking for the coming year. This year was no exception, and after wading through the avalanche of ideas and stimuli, I’ve come out with the things that really impressed me. I waited a couple of weeks before getting down to writing this to see what really stuck in my mind. Here are my highlights…
The big hitters
Although the range of products is is both intimidating and distracting, it’s always good to know what the big players are doing. Microsoft is a key sponsor of the show and has a big presence, Google is there, HP, Intel and a few others. Apple obviously isn’t. They make a lot of noise about their efforts in education, but don’t seem to like events where they are not the sole attraction. But anyway…
Google itself was pushing Chromebooks – no big surprise there, but the more I see of them, the more attractive they become. As more and more software migrates to the browser the reasons for not going down the Chromebook route shrink daily. Sadly, when I popped over to the Lenovo stand to look at their rather impressive classroom-proof models, I was told by a rep that they weren’t showing them because they had an agreement with Microsoft only to show Windows products. (Which kind of makes you wonder why they bother producing them!)
In addition they ran a comprehensive program of presentations, based largely on their Google Apps for Education. Anyone who ignored them on those grounds however, missed out on some gems, as many of the apps presented function as a standalone. In addition, it was great to see the attitude shown in the case studies whereby teachers actively sought solutions rather than looking back at what went wrong. All in all, a very positive experience.
Soundtrap particularly impressed me with a product which allows easy collaboration in the production of music and podcasts. Clearly the focus of the presentation was on collaborative music making, but this looks like a very interesting product for language teachers looking for a way to allow their learners to put together dialogues. Everything takes place in the browser and even if you are not using it collaboratively, it looks like a really good way of bringing music production into the HTML5 era.
It integrates well with Google Classroom and really lowers the bar when it comes to producing music. The video here is very slick (and the song is gorgeous), but it gives you a good idea of how it all fits together.
The BETT Arena
I don’t know any trade show which offers such a great platform for keynote speakers. The UK Secretary of State for Education seems to be an inked in permanent fixture which is no bad thing, Unfortunately I missed Salman Khan, the founder of the Khan Academy as the online concept which he’s largely responsible for creating is something which is only going to get bigger.
I caught Angela Lee Duckworth by chance, and I’m really glad I did. She was talking about grit and how perseverance plays a role in success. Taking example from sporting success is not really new, but Duckworth’s focus on the perseverance aspect is something that should particularly interest teachers of weaker learners – the example of Usain Bolt training his weakest aspect (his start) is good advice for any learner at any level. Also the maxim that achievement = talent x effort (remembering that multiplying anything by zero gets you zero) is something that many lazy but talented learners would benefit from understanding. You can check out her TED Talk on the subject here.
Sam Aaron‘s talk on Sonic Pi started off as entertaining and in the end just blew me away. Described as live coding, he uses a Raspberry Pi based synthesiser to create music on the fly. The software is available for Windows and Mac also and has that wow-effect which is essential for getting young people interested in coding. Music is in many ways a nice side-effect here, as the coding skills that are playfully learned here are what really comes to the fore. If you want to see what can be done with just a few lines of code, download the software here (or fire up your Raspberry Pi where it is pre-installed) and check out Rerezzed in the examples – 23 lines of code for a Daft Punk base line!
Teachmeet is simply a cool concept! Teachers get together and share their experiences on what works in the classroom in mini presentations. Anyone can put their name down to present either a seven-minute or a two-minute talk. The time limit is strict and the only restriction is that the presentations should be experiential rather than theoretical. Teachmeets take place all over the world and you can find more information in this Wikipedia article, their Teachmeet Listing and this Facebook page. With so many ideas being thrown at you in such a short space of time it’s hard not to pick up some useful ideas that will save the busy teacher some time, or improve the quality of their lessons.
This year was the 10th anniversary of Teachmeet at BETT and resulted in something like 500 teachers getting together on a Friday evening to learn from each other. In a deserved diversion from the normal rules that speakers are chosen at random, the evening was opened up by Nathalie Scott, who has given up her job to teach English in the refugee camps in northern France.
— goodatenglish.com (@goodatenglish) January 22, 2016
Real world applications
As always at these type of shows, there is plenty of stuff which only appeals to regional authorities, but the BETT organisers know their customers well and get plenty of exhibitors onboard who offer teachers a here and now solution. Big ticket items obviously garner a lot of attention, but the wealth of smaller products and services is what the teacher on the front line really appreciates.
Some of the things that particularly caught my eye were:
- Micro:Bit – this initiative, backed by the BBC, looks like it’s going to be huge.
- Symbaloo – Their tailorable desktop links system is a tried and trusted product but the new lesson planning application looks like it could be every bit as useful.
- Kaplan Digital English – This is a book publisher that seems to understand the needs of the digital consumer and how to bring and extend books into the 21st century. Picaro looks like a very good product.
- Magic Whiteboard – A whiteboard on a roll. You might not need it every day, but good to have around!
- F1 in Schools – The barriers to entry used to be a bit to high for my liking, but the organisers have worked hard on this, and it now seems to be much more accessible.
- I Can Present – A neat way of green-screening to let learners create their own reports “on location.”
In the coming months, I’m sure there will be more that come back to me, but those made it to the top of my list for further consideration.
Looking to the future
BETT Futures is a relatively new feature at the show. It offers the chance to selected startups to showcase their product. This allows young companies who are working at the bleeding edge of class tech thinking to get off to a flying start. In some cases, you can see that the product isn’t quite perfect yet, but if you think you are working in a perfect classroom, then you’re certainly not reading this.
Ohbot made a particularly graphic impression here with their talking head robot kit. Coming off the back of a successful Kickstarter campaign, they were showing off the Ohbot2 – an incredibly cute (if you’re a techie) programmable bot, complete with fluttering eyelids and red rubber lips. Like many other products on show, it’s programming language is based on Scratch, though according to the people on the stand it had to be heavily rewritten to accommodate the necessary libraries for speech output. Quite apart from the programming skills that can be learned here, I can quite imagine this being a hit with young (and maybe not so young!) language learners.
See you next year
This is a bit of a no-brainer, but really you’ve got nothing to lose by attending. Free entry, thousands of positively-minded teachers who are looking for ideas (rather than free pens), and hundreds of exhibitors with ideas to share with you. Why wouldn’t you want to be there.
To end on a personal note, I got an enormous kick out of doing a presentation in the secondary theatre on “Classroom Technology on a Zero Budget.” I was gratified to see a full theatre with standing room only, and it was fantastic meeting people afterwards and sharing experiences with them. Proof, if more were needed, that BETT visitors aren’t just purchasers and decision-makers, but real teachers dealing with real issues on a daily basis who want to do something about it. It’s inspiring being able to network with people like that, I’ll be doing the same next year!