I still can’t believe it. For 25 years I have visited the annual BETT exhibition, and for every one of those years it has been deemed “the biggest one ever”. Dedicated follower of ICT fashion? No, I go to be inspired and to take my own knowledge and understanding of technology-assisted learning several steps forward.
This year Building Schools for the Future (BSF) was a major theme of BETT 2009 . After three-and-a-half days of foot slogging it became clear that the wise senior leadership teams were the ones that encouraged their staff to attend BETT 2009 as part of their professional development. Especially if their schools are to become academies in the near future as so many will.
BETT is the place for teachers, their leaders, and other education professionals to see the latest resources, debate ideas and continue their professional development. I doubt whether any teacher would have left BETT 2009 and not felt inspired in one way or another. And they can use that inspiration to create, shape, mould their learning spaces of tomorrow.
Having an educational vision of how, what and where youngsters will learn, and how ICT can enable and support that, is one of the biggest challenges facing schools. And they can tap into a wealth of ideas at the NCSL's new Future website, created to support school leaders, and those working with them on BSF and the Primary Capital Partnership.
RM was one company that really took BSF on board and its Learning Spaces feature (below) in Olympia 2 was equipped with ranges of furniture and technology for the 21st Century learning environment. Different settings, and children to demonstrate them in a wide open space, provided a great way to get inspiration for that new school of the future or academy.
I listened to schools minister Jim Knight’s speech and noted that, apart from the emphasis on home access to stimulate parental engagement with learning, this year was not going to have any major specific procurement projects for ICT. I had quietly hoped we might just see a “visualiser in every classroom” initiative that would probably have had a more effective uptake than the whiteboards programme (check out the Visualiser Forum). But sadly, no initiatives directed to helping teachers were forthcoming.
Still, over its quarter-century life BETT has witnessed plateaus of development as well as the milestone technologies of procurement projects - like interactive whiteboards. BETT 2009 had two new contenders: the 3D projection system from Reachout Interactives and the table-top technologies developed by Microsoft and SMART.
Three-dimensional representation in the classroom is still some way off as the current technology is ‘clunky’, usually relying on twin data projectors, special expensive glasses and the like. However, after experiencing Reachout’s stunning software-created animation of the circulatory system and the heart, it looks as if 3D will eventually become part of the classroom learning experience.
Similarly, with the Microsoft Surface and the SMART Table, the former in a ‘consumer’ state but nevertheless with enough demonstration software to show its potential for collaborative learning. The SMART Table (full review here soon) however, is designed for 4 to 8-year-old children with appropriate software to boot. As I overheard one head of key stage 1 exclaim, “We’ve just got have that in our school.” And her colleague simply exclaimed “Wow!”. These are the shape of things to come.
There were many new and improved products on show. From Intel’s wonderful little Classmate PC in all its guises (I do like the Classmate Convertible model) to Crick Software’s impressive Write Online and 2Simple’s fantastic 2Do it Yourself (review soon), almost every exhibitor was showing that it had listened to its users, made the necessary changes or improvements and was putting in a huge effort to ‘get it right’. Perhaps the biggest surprise for me at BETT 2009 was the discovery of those who was not exhibiting there this year. Like Apple. What message does that send to its educational aficionados?
In the weeks after BETT 2009 I was asked many times if I had seen anything ‘revolutionary’. What I saw was ‘evolutionary’, with companies developing, improving and enhancing existing products. If BETT 2009 did anything this year it confirmed what all of us involved in using ICT knew already: that the UK is still leading the world with outstanding educational ICT resources.