BETT 2013 – the good, the bad and the …

“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” — Friedrich Nietzsche

Thanks to Tricia for this quotation

These comments are meant to be biased and opinionated and are not meant to be taken as a fair sample of BETT 2013. They are the things I fell over as I spent Friday wandering around.

This year was the first time for 21 years that I was not on a stand at BETT talking to people and explaining my take on technologies and education. It came as a shock on Tuesday to realise that I was not getting ready for four days of excitement, learning, friendship, boredom, sore feet, frustration and apathy.

Friday found me on the early train out of Loughborough heading for Excel … the new home of BETT. The high speed train from St Pancras to Stratford International and then the DLR brought me to the gates on nirvana. Was I impressed with this windowless aircraft hanger with its ‘mall-like’ eateries? Well no … I wasn’t. Efficient though the systems were I longed for the wonderful high Victorian ceiling of Olympia with its glimpses of daylight. And I longed to climb the blue carpet and wander around the balcony looking down on the corporate flagships below. All gone … and for many not known to forget. But for me it is in the soul and BETT is really no more.

What is left is a ‘trade show’, and a growing International Trade Show (with capital letters to indicate importance), in ranks with perfect right angles but side paths that leave you disorientated. I used to love to browse the smaller stands away from the corporates where, just sometimes, a gem of innovation could be found poking its digital head up through the sward of ordinariness. There’s nothing wrong in having a custom show booth to help present your ideas and hopefully gain potential customers. Were there such things at BETT 2013 … I don’t know? The ‘innovation area’ had spark and passion but was there real innovation there? I did not find it and people I asked did not seem to find it either. What we did find was Interactive Whiteboards breeding and strewn with content claiming to be finest and the most complete, some of dubious educational worth. I must say, despite the lack of inspired content, the production values on some of the displays were stunning (you can find some for your own at something like Exponents custom trade show displays if you want your display to stand out from the crowd). We found Apps by the container load in every shape, colour and subject orientation. New VLEs for old, new VLEs for old could easily have been the cry. And there were so many people wanting to manage your system for you money could have easily been made by managing them.

But there were really good things too … some great.

I loved the way that the system has stopped charging for people to go to the seminars and that there were lots and lots of them … enough for most tastes and interests and led by enthusiasts who were passionate about what they were doing. Stars of the show for me were the students from Plymouth University and their explanation of the ideas underpinning ‘becoming a digitally literate teacher’ … with training teachers like these education clearly can move on.

The Learn Live idea should live on but the theatres need to be cushioned from the noise of the hall to give the speakers a chance to be heard and so that the audience are not continually distracted by cheering over-loud microphone pollution from adjacent stands.

I missed Brian Cox in the main Arena, as did the many people who were hanging out of the sides of an overpacked area (pity about the throw-away line concerning technology and blackboards!) …but the idea was right, invite world class speakers … would have loved to stay for Saturday to listen to Sugata Mitra.

Many more stands this year had ‘live action’ rather than just sales staff. There were children demonstrating and explaining (following in the earlier footsteps of Stephen Heppell) and the ‘teachmeet-takeover’ idea seemed to have spread like flames in a tinder-dry forest.

I liked the way that RM had opened up their stand and were there to talk and explain rather than heavily sell and I liked the way some of the hardware stands had education experts demonstrating what they do rather than just people there showing the kit.

As far as awards and software goes for me, in my biased way, J2E have triumphed yet again taking their basic ideas and moving them forward with time and trends without throwing the good ideas away. Chapeau to the team. Similarly Cricksoft with the ‘Clicker’ Apps … always a super idea translated onto today’s digital platform.

I know I did not see all and, in fact, recognise I left out lots but I saw, hugged, kissed, shook many hands and talked to many friends and feel better for having done so. The highlight of the day for me was being recognised on the Sherston stand as ‘Magic Grandad’ – sign of the times.

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