On the 27th of January, 2017, I finally got around to going to the Bett Show. For those not in the know, Bett is an annual trade show dedicated to technology in education, from early years to higher education. It’s pretty great, and I also only just found out that Bett’s no longer an acronym. Here’s some thoughts from both during the show (I needed a sit down) and after.
The robots are coming. If I had to guess I’d say that I passed at least 10 robotics stands in the day I was there, showcasing their own personal adorable robot that will probably one day enslave humanity. I, for one, welcome our new robotic overlords, but the trend itself is rather interesting. They make the perfect vehicle for building programming further into STEM in schools, as it immediately delivers fun and interesting results for kids, but more importantly due to almost all of them using a modification of Scratch, those skills are easily transferable into more advanced applications, such as the Arduino.
STEM and Languages steal the show as usual in the technological arena. I’m always amused by this – STEM is understandable, but Language studies have always randomly jumped ahead of the curve when it comes to embracing technology, and I’m not really sure why. Perhaps it’s just the more immediate and obvious application or the startlingly similar minds that programming and languages seem to attract (because actually they’re very similar at an integral level). Either way, it’d be nice to see more from other subject areas, rather than the show being 50% general vendors, 40% STEM vendors, 4% languages and 1% people shoved into the corner who aren’t even sure they should really be there.
Sadly, knowledge and implementation of accessibility is still weirdly under-developed. I know not everyone takes it as seriously as we try to at the OU, but it’s not hard! When talking to an ebook provider about their concept of making ebooks for digital use, I asked about whether it works with screen readers and got a blank look in return. When I clarified further (assistive software that reads words on the screen for people who can’t see) he panicked for a second before collecting himself and telling me that we could embed an audio recording into the page. The sad part is I had this conversation more than once. Education is the one sector where you’d expect this to be a given, and yet even at the biggest ed tech trade show, they’re still not getting it right.
Otherwise, though, BETT was well worth the trip, and I didn’t even attend any seminars. The show floor showed a commitment to trying new things to teach students at all levels that integrated technology into the teaching at a fundamental level, rather than just slapping it on in the background. There were the usual assortment of dull attendance trackers and misguided small VLEs (note to self, write a blog about small VLEs later). Here’s some of the technologies that I thought were the most interesting.
I obviously don’t have the time or memory to detail every stand I’ve visited, but here’s some that caught my attention:
Scientific Literacy Tool – LiteracyTool.com
I’m really excited about this. It’s a free browser extension with a social mission to improve scientific literacy for everyone, and it’s got tons of uses for both beginner science students and more experienced scientists. Highlight terms, find definitions, related papers, journals, websites, pin topics to a board for later notes… it essentially makes online research super easy. I wish there was one of these for every subject area, because right now it only does science, but the concept is super solid. Give it a shot!
EdDIO – EdDIO.Brainstorm3d.com
If you were to ask a sci-fi writer to come up with the classroom of the future, EdDIO is probably what they’d come up with. It used mixed reality to put a lecturer in a virtual space and allows them to interact easily with that environment through hand gestures to give their talk augmented by 3D models, diagrams and other virtual tools that couldn’t exist in a real set. It’s very Minority Report, except with education rather than the horrifying concept of pre-crime. It uses templates to make assembling a virtual environment extremely easy, recognising that academics don’t have the time and often the expertise to set up 3D interactive objects, allowing them to be set up in advance by specialists and then dropped into the environment on demand (or in advance). It doesn’t need a huge hardware setup, just a moderately advanced webcam and a laptop. It has a few quirks to it right now, but it’s incredibly interesting. There’s not a huge amount about it online right now, but Brainstorm have a history of similar products targeted outside of the education space, and they’re coming at it from the right angle of minimal requirements and minimal effort. One to watch.
Writing retreats for students
I’m hoping they get in touch with me soon so that I can find out who on Earth I was actually talking to. I stumbled across them tucked away in the “We couldn’t afford a proper booth” section and was grabbed by the stacks of books they had on their little table. Turns out they run writing retreats for groups of 10 students. For a week they work together to produce a short novel, which is then published on Amazon. It’s primarily aimed at school kids and colleges, but there’s no reason I can think of that it wouldn’t work with higher level creative writing students. Sure it’s not going to produce as cohesive a plot as you might like, but it sounds like a great, creative experience that really gives value for those students. Unfortunately they didn’t have any cards or leaflets, or even a sign that I can remember seeing. They have my card, so hopefully they’ll get in touch and I’ll be able to update this with who they were! It is, if nothing else, an extremely interesting and useful concept.
Century – Century.tech
Century Intelligent Learning have an adaptive learning platform that seems pretty neat. It’s not hugely different on the surface from other similar platforms, but it’s a good example of how adaptive, AI-driven learning can be used. They’ve clearly spent a lot of time working with teachers in a secondary and FE context, and rather gratifyingly a lot of the platform is set up in response to their teaching, rather than expecting them to fit their teaching to the platform. As per usual though, it uses rapid formative assessment to try and form a picture of the student’s proficiency in certain areas, which can be a difficult and inaccurate thing to build into higher education, particularly in subjects without as many solid answers. It would be nice to make more use of things like dwell time, how many times they’ve re-read content etc. rather than trying to base everything on multiple choice, but that’s just the way it’s done right now it seems. Perhaps this’ll change in the future. Sadly, it’s an entire LMS/VLE/CMS, which limits options for adoption at scale in most institutions.
National Theatre – Free, on-demand performances of plays at the National Theatre for schools. Wonderful concept, great way to get students engaged with source material and the theatre in general (which I secretly love).
Arduino – Arduino have fully embraced the potential their kits can have in education, and they’re producing some exciting results and kids with the skills they’ll need in the future. Neat.
Wand.Education – In all honesty I’ve not had a chance to check these out much yet, but I like the concept. A range of easily authored, web-based tools and activities that aren’t tied into any specific platform. I’m going to check this out at some point and see if it’s at all suitable for HE students or if it’s purely a school thing. Bonus points for securing a .education TLD.
Airblock – A modular, programmable drone. Dear Santa…
There were obviously many other interesting things at Bett, but those are my favourites. Catch me in a hallway or drop me a line if you’d like to hear more!