What do you get when you fill Olympia Hall, Earls Court with companies trying to sell technology to teachers? The BETT Show is possibly the largest exhibition of it’s sort in the world and certainly Europe.
What don’t you get? You probably don’t get much learning as a delegate.
I attended earlier shows in 2006/07 as part of Futurelab but as with all exhibitions the cost-benefit is sometimes hard to justify. Certainly now, as an independent consultant and working with start-ups, the exhibition is of minimal value. Leaving aside the cost of an actual stand, there’s travel and accommodation and most of a week out of the office. From memory Olympia has poor phone coverage inside (plus concentration breaking levels of noise) and no free WiFi.
I say from memory because I didn’t go to BETT. I did go to BETTr, one of a growing number of unconferences that are springing up alongside their glitzier cousins. The benefits are multiple, being a smaller gathering you actually get to talk to people.
BETTr was mostly developers and smaller companies that supply innovative technologies to schools and universities. I advise growing companies on how best to plan for the future and have a couple of interests in the education sector so that was a perfect match. There was only one teacher, but that in itself was a topic of discussion in a break out session.
I really like the unconference model. In particular we had a detailed discussion on how to engage teachers in the development process far earlier than is currently the case. People shared experiences, ideas, thoughts, barriers, solutions. Challenges included their limited time, curriculum constraints and the usual challenges of getting beyond the early adopters to mainstream. The most popular solution was to take teachers to the pub!
The demands of modern teaching are that for most teachers its more than a 5-day a week 9-5 job, but a way of life. INSET days were commented upon (not just at BETTr but also the twitter backchannel where I was posting along with others in the room and from all over the educational globe).
There wasn’t an action plan or formal report, but it sparked off lots of new ideas, rekindled some old ones, and put a few to rest. It also brought together folks I’ve been reading online so we could meet up, though the Friday night TeachMeetBETT09 was the main event for that.
A big thanks to Jukesie for organising and to all the supporters for making it happen.
Update: Looks like I’m not the only one recognising the difficulty of engaging teachers. Today’s Guardian is reporting on BSF still not getting sufficient engagement despite a new drive from the Government.