Opinion

BETT 2014 report – must do BETTer!

The venue has changed, but you can tell you’re at the British Education and Training Technology (BETT) show by all the knots of stationary gossips packing out all the aisles. What is it about teachers and blocking corridors? If we did that in their school they’d soon start moving us on. Oh, but come to an IT industry place and it’s suddenly different. They’re quite happy to stand around chatting all day while some of us are trying to get to our next briefing lesson.

As a result of all these corridor blocking, duffle-coated militants, I didn’t get to see as many of the vendors as I’d have liked at the BETT show. But here’s some of the homework I did manage to do before the dog ate it.

Question: Can you spot what was missing from the BETT show?

Answer: There seems to be a reality gap. There are thousands of creative tools that promise to make lessons more fun. Everyone is lecturing students on how to bring down the barriers to creativity, whether they’re flogging Language Training, Lego or Literacy systems.

Is the lack of technology really the biggest blockage to creativity in schools today? There’s never been so many options available. Every kid now has a portable film studio-cum-IT system-cum-communications device in their pocket, with access to billions of apps and more computing power than NASA had to put a man on the moon. Surely the lack of technology isn’t blocking anyone’s creativity. If anything, there’s too much technology. The devices are there – teachers and kids need to start bringing their own apps to school. Or learning to write them.

Many teachers say that 90% of their job is crowd control. This is where the IT industry is missing a trick. There are automated surveillance systems that the channel can take to market – top vendor D-Link says it sells entirely through partners – and automated systems for recording lectures – Korean vendor Baro is looking for UK resellers – and USB plug-in cameras that allow you to project any object onto any screen – from another Korean newcomer seeking UK resellers, Earzone). But surely there’s scope to take this technology further, and automate classroom management.

Why doesn’t some clever reseller create some algorithms that can analyse the patterns of class room behavior being reported on those D-Link Cameras? Then, if any pupil is deemed by the system to be getting out of order (after the system has checked with historical data stored on some silo in a ShareCenter storage box) the artificially intelligent RoboMaster can spring into action. By tweaking the D-View management software a response could be graded according to the severity of the crime. It could fire a blackboard duster at anyone talking out of turn. A water cannon could be turned on any kid that gets their mobile phone out during the lesson. (Apple won’t replace your phone if there’s corrosion on the charging slot, as I discovered recently). If the system detects REM sleep patterns in any pupil, the system could auto-respond with a giant electronic cattle prod.

Now that’s what I call a creative use of educational technology.

Still, I’m probably in a minority of one. Meanwhile, the most practical creative system, by a long shot, was the ZU3D animation kit. For fifty quid, anyone can get the tools to make an animated film. Most technology vendors and resellers could use this because, let’s face it, the average corporate video is high on budget but low on impact, as a consequence of being so crushingly dull. Maybe we could all learn from this animation reseller, who at least seems to have something original to say. She’s not interested in doing corporate work though.

Oh, there’s the bell. Hang on, don’t rush off! Before you go, for your homework, I’d like to look at this new invention – the Book Sterilizer – and discuss: have they possibly come to this market a bit late?

This was first published in January 2014

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