BETT 2012

I am back from London after spending two amazing days at the BETT conference.  BETT is the biggest educational technology show in the world and is held every January.  Educators from all over the world, 30,000 of them, come together to spend time learning all about the latest ways to help children learn.  Apart from the exhibition, which has over 650 stalls, there are seminars and events spread over the few days.
This year, my aim was to attend as many of the fringe events as possible, including the famous BETT Teachmeet on the Friday night.
The exhibition hall is the place to find out what the big “thing” in education is going to be.  Last year, it was 3D projectors.  The year before that it seemed to be services and software to run on Interactive Whiteboards.  This year, it was animation.  Every row of exhibits appeared to have at least one stand offering children the opportunity to create animations, either stop-motion, claymation or cartoons.  The best of the bunch, for me, is “I can animate“, and is well worth checking out.
The other thing that struck me was the number of assessment programs for schools out there.  This isn’t something, thankfully, that has reached Ireland.  My understanding of assessment would be finding out if children had learned what I was teaching so I could follow up with future lessons to continue this learning. These packages attempt to assess schools, in general, using highly complex ways of analysing Ofsted (the British version of the Inspectorate) targets and turning them into all sorts of complicated graphs.  From these graphs, the program outputted strategies for people who could understand the squiggles, bubbles and 3D representations.  I felt this represented the over-obsession with data and quantitative measuring in British schools.
There were a handful of Irish companies exhibiting at BETT.  It was great to see my friends in Edware and Aladdin there for the first time.  Shakespeare in Bits was also around and it was nice to meet their team for the first time.
A surprise for me was the lack of mobile phone app developments and programming language for kids out there.  I was sure there would be loads of stands offering ways to create apps for schools.  I found one tucked in a corner upstairs, with two guys from Belfast behind the desk.  I only found three companies dealing in programming.  One was YouSRC, which is a free language to make programming easy.  The Heppel stand also had information about programming.  Finally Microsoft were showing off Kodu, which I guess is a programming language too.  I was also surprised that Interactive Whiteboards were quite muted this time around and although there were a lot fo companies selling them, only Smart and Promethean seemed to have much buzz going on this year.
All the big players were there: HP, Asus, Microsoft, some Apple distributors, Promethean, Smart, RM and Google.  Google had a super stand, where they gave visitors shots of “Google Juice”, test tubes full of smoothies!  They had a number of their Chromebook on show as well as their certified teachers.
Friday, for me, was both the busiest and most fun day.  It started off in a pub at 8:30am, which sounds ominous but it was a Wetherspoon’s pub and it was hosting a BETT breakfast.  BETT visitors were encouraged to join each other for some food before taking on the exhibition that morning.  I met some familiar faces that morning and it was good to put faces to some names that would be well known on Twitter.
However, 10 hours later, the highlight of my BETT experience started – the BETT Teachmeet.
For those of you who have never been to a Teachmeet, it is an informal event where teachers get together in a room to give short presentations to each other about something that interests them in the classroom.  Teachers who attend can put their name down to speak at the event and, if picked, they have 7 minutes to talk about their chosen subject.  Because they are short presentations, there’s usually time for quite a lot of them.  As well as that, if someone is speaking about something that doesn’t interest you, at least it’s only a few minutes long.
The Computers in Education Society of Ireland, CESI, host a similar event in Ireland a couple of times a year and it’s great fun.  I believe there are lots of them around the UK too but the one at BETT is the biggest.  It has all the glam and glitter of a big event – the bright colours, the pumping music, the big stage – it’s intimidating stuff for anyone foolhardy enough to put their name down to talk; which is exactly what I did.  And, yes, I got picked to talk.  I gave a small presentation on the SmartPhone app I developed and was really happy that, A) I didn’t fall off the stage, and B) the crowd seemed to like it.  To be honest, it felt like speaking at an Irish wedding – the crowd willed everyone on and it was a lovely atmosphere.  Other speakers told us all about blogging for kids, the 29th February project, Facebook fan pages for teachers and lots more.  The evening finished with pizza and networking.  It was a great opportunity to bump into and meet old friends and colleagues, including Mary Farmer, Joe Dale and John Hefferan, as well as some new ones too.
All in all, BETT 2012 was a super event.  I believe it will be moving venue next year so I hope to get to it then.  I would encourage as many Irish teachers to try and get to the conference at least once.  You don’t have to be a geek and there’s something for everyone.  BETT is also a great precursor to some of the conferences coming up over the next few months in Ireland, including the IPPN and the CESI conferences.  I think the organisers are already starting to plan for BETT 2013, so my advice is to plan a visit yourself.

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