I am just returning from a day at the BETT show and reflecting on a day of contrasts. I went to BETT last year as a student and found it a really valuable way to get an overview of the state of the field in educational technology.
This year I found it much less worthwhile. Everything had moved on a little; screens had got bigger, gadgets had got flashier, and student response systems had become even more ubiquitous. However I found there was a real lack of ideas, and found the more I walked round the more I found companies trying to flog expensive solutions to problems which could be solved with free tools. The huge amount of companies playing on esafety fears by marketing solutions to lock down and stifle creative use of the web to practitioners they obviously believe are too ignorant to properly engage with the issues was very worrying.
As Jasmine Renold and others on twitter have stated, there is a debate to be had about teachers expecting tools to be free. However I really think the commercial vendors that deserve to thrive are those that place educators needs and ideas at the center stage and develop ways to support those, as it is those things that are worth paying for.
I did see a couple of interesting things. Firstly the work the SSAT are doing on using Augmented Reality in the classroom is a nascent idea, but could have some potential. There were a few companies demoing augmented reality as a concept, but I felt the SSAT stand was the only one showing any useful ideas as to how it could be used.
The real flashes of what I wanted from the show came in the form of the TeachMeet takeovers– moments when vendors had opened up their stands to allow teachers to talk about real classroom ideas, mostly using free tools. In a commercial setting it was very brave of these vendors to buck the trend by doing this, as the teachers I saw made no attempt to plug the wares of the stand they were speaking on (which is as it should be). I believe it was Scholastic who actually suggested this so respect for them for concentrating on what teachers really need,
I attended two takeover talks, both presented by Tom Barrett, with the first presented with Ian Yorston. All three presentations were full of great ideas directly for classroom practice, using free tools. Tom presented his excellent Maths Maps, and work with Voicethread, and Ian presented a great quick way of organizing lesson plans or resources using linkbun.ch. There was far too little focus on this sharing of ideas in the main show, and although I recognize such a shows always going to be focused on sales, I hope that even more vendors pick up on this great idea for next year.
As the main show drew to a close, I made my way to the Apex room for TeachMeet. For anyone who has not come across these before, TeachMeets are informal conferences where teachers share ideas and examples directly related to the classroom, usually with a technology focus. Just as with the Takeover events, I feel it is in here that the real value of a trip to BETT lies. In the present ICT landscape it is ideas that matter more than kit; and there was no shortage of those at TeachMeet.
I saw lots of inspiring presentations, but the ones that stuck out for me, either because I strongly agreed with their ideas or really wanted to try them myself, are:
Miles Berry (@mberry) – Creating an interactive Scratch game in 7 minutes. Astounding in that he showed it was easily achievable. Also loved the fact he is obviously conversant with ‘real’ programming and can link Scratch to the learning in this field- which is such a strength of Scratch compared to other ‘Games Factory’ packages.
Ian Usher (@iusher) – A great project encouraging English teachers to be writers. Chimed with my love of authentic learning.
Helen Myers (@helenmyers) – Showing the real value of Second Life in language learning. She has diminished my scepticism of the educational usefulness of Second Life quite considerably.
David Phillips (@ictcoverlessons) – A fantastic final presentation of Wii based interactive whiteboards.The impressive part was the hacking and experimentation he has done to make this fun concept a useable IWB replacement across his school.
You can view a flashmeeting recording of the presentations here.
I also presented on my development of blogging with my year 4 class, which I have blogged about previously (listen online here). I am glad lots of people seemed to find my ideas useful and interesting, thanks to everyone who spoke/tweeted to me to let me know.
I met quite a few people I know from twitter, met several new people, and started the idea of a network of teachers using netbooks in the classroom with Mattias Davidsson.
In the end my disillusion at the Educational Technology industry only served to highlight even further how great the movement for democratic ideas sharing in ICT is, epitomized by the crowdsourcing of ideas that takes place around TeachMeet. There has been a lot of ideas sharing in our school this year based around our MA in New Technologies, but this experience has made me consider other ways we could encourage this to happen even more, and in ideas beyond the focus of technology.
Bill Lord makes a great point on his blog where he describes the ‘disconnect between the corporate sector and the educationalists they are trying to sell to’. It seems to me what we need is not more slightly updated technology being flogged, but the ideas to use the huge amount that we have in UK schools in ways which are innovative and provide genuine learning for our pupils.