This week I went along to the BETT show at London’s Olympia.  Unlike CES in Las Vegas, I was on my aching feet for seven hours, and only the sensible suggestion of one brilliant assessment software developer ( “Fancy a pint of Brakspears at the Hand and Flowers on the other side of the road?”) sustained my analytical efforts throughout the day.  And this great trade show for British educational technology fully repays analysis.  The show is 26 years old, has 750 exhibitors, covers the best part of 14000 square metres, and will by the time it ends on Saturday have entertained some 30,000 teachers as it did me.  It is still growing, with Google, YouTube and LG joining for the first time this year.  Panasonic, Intel, Microsoft, Dell and NCC were amongst those launching new products at the fair.  In the related conference, the UK government, part sponsor of BETT, welcomed 72 ministers of education speaking for the interests of over a billion students.  The UK Prime Minister announced the Home Access scheme at this meeting, in order to fund laptops in needy families to support access to a digital revolution following successful trials in Oldham and Suffolk  …. Hosannas, let choirs sing, glory to politicians and educational administrators in the highest  ….

My apologies for breaking off into Carol Form (seasonal hangover), but attending the opening press conference at conferences like this brings out the worst in me.  EMAP, the organizer, does a great job (but the show does need a real all-year web presence).  BESA, the UK trade body, likewise.  But, really, when is this 26 year old revolution going to change anything?

So, at the press conference moment for open questions, I asked Professor Steven Heppel, apostle of new learning, when the red hot heat generated at BETT was going to thaw the cold and indifferent heart of average British teaching, and was delighted when he agreed that for 70% of British teachers what IT in schools accomplished was putting a modernist gloss on teaching approaches that had not fundamentally changed since the nineteenth century.  For the rest, for the centres of excellence, for the teachers as leaders, something different was happening.  He spoke of the post-appropriation model – a place where learners are finally in control, where engagement was largely (in the widest sense) play-based.  He thought that Home Access was important because half the nation’s children are brought up by their grandparents while parents are out at work, because you were more likely to learn on Facebook than from an eTextbook, that the network (as in extended family) was the learning place, and (my words) the classroom had to compete in the network for learning space.

If you walk round BETT with your head afire with the idea that kids don’t learn from teachers  but from play, from other pupils, and from the range of formal and informal material available on the web, it quickly becomes easy to categorize what is on show.  Most products and services are for sale to teachers and schools.  They buy them because they persuade parents, governors, regulators, inspectors  and their ilk that standards are rising, modernity is being treated with respect and that newly graduated teachers can be safely employed at schools which have VLEs, LMS, blended learning packages , online and self-marking continuous assessment, a digital whiteboard on every flat surface  and a networked school timetable that emailed and texted every parent with an update for each inch of falling snow.

But if the Professor is right, and he has my bet (pun intended), then the real revolution is yet to come.  It follows from learners being tracked in the network and their learning journeys and exploratory pathways being recorded and imitated by their peers.  Like apprentices in a Victorian factory, we will learn from each other how to survive and how to use learning for self-advancement and competitive benefit.  And our best teachers will guide and influence these processes. Once we learn how to learn it will be a lifelong practise.  And the rest of our teachers, those who teach by rote in the eTextbook?  They will go the same way as the Librarians…


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1 Comment so far

  1. Peter McKay on January 15, 2010 08:16

    After a good few years of not attending BETT I found my visit to the exhibition close to inspiring. I recognise all of the comments you make as being part of my response to the event. And all of this in stark contrast to the moribund feel of the London Online Information event in December.

    I am sure there is still a trek through the foothills of “technology” to be done but already this world is ready for community and interaction. since it is a world that is largely peopled (the pupils) by digital natives and even pre-schoolers who have never known a world without the iPhone, the revolutionary turn of the wheel of change is a welcome inevitability. (Tortuous pun fully intended)