This is a series of occasional blogs by BESA members and is part of their paid membership service. These views are not necessarily those of BESA and a published blog does not constitute an endorsement.
Not to get all Mary Poppins about it, but there is something in the air this January. I feel differently about Bett this year, maybe about the EdTech industry as a whole.
Last year I was overwhelmed. Huge stands, branding boarding as far as the eye could see, stand teams doing a haka before the doors opening. It had all the glorious technicolour wonder that you’d expect from a prestigious show like Bett and an industry built by technical wizards. But if I’m honest, it also felt a little salesy.
I found a quiet corner and ended up sitting next to an education magazine journalist. We got talking, mainly about the best place to pick up free food, but also how Bett had changed over the years. The journalist remembered a smaller show but with fiery debates and exciting new ideas. I’m sure they were both still happening, but we were somewhat lost in the miles of sales real estate, dodging glossy freebie bags that threatened to turn us into human billboards for products offering pie crust promises (“Easily made, easily broken!”)
But this year feels different. I’ve been working with the BETT team for our Arena Talk (check Tony Cann CBE 4.30pm Thursday 24th) and the programme they’re putting together, the questions the hosts are asking, the questions they’re encouraging visitors to ask exhibitors, suggest that the winds of change are indeed blowing.
This year there’s a tangible shift in the industry. Have we been putting the technology ahead of the education, when the technology should be serving the educators? Just because we CAN do something in 12D with supersonic time travel vision, doesn’t mean that we SHOULD. If it doesn’t serve the day-to-day classroom, all we’re doing is adding to the huge pressure teachers are already under.
Engagement is a sexy word in our industry. But I fear it is also overused and overvalued. Engagement is low-hanging-fruit. Kite flying is (mildly) engaging but does that mean pupils could learn from it or that teachers benefit from it every day? Don’t get me wrong, engagement is important, as Mary Poppins says: “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun!”. But when we promote our products purely on engagement, we forget the fact that there is an absolutely killer engagement provider in every classroom. They’re called the teacher.
That’s why at BETT this year we have awards for Impact and Collaboration with a School, because BETT recognise that our role as technologists is not to tell teachers what they need, but to listen to them and give them what they ask for. To create products that deliver value, not OUR values as excitable technologists and inventors, but THEIR values as educators.
As I write this, I’m still packing my carpet bag and thinking of the rooftops of London, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this BETT is going to be a return to something exciting, something less sales orientated, something… supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!
Heather Abela is a Public Relations Consultant working with BESA member Learning by Questions whose classroom app is the single most nominated product at the BETT Awards this year. Shortlisted for Classroom Aid for Teaching, Learning & Assessment, Impact Award, Collaboration with a School Award and has been nominated as Innovator of the Year for the last two years. www.lbq.org Stand F160.