Monday, January 19, 2009

Reflections on BETT 1 of 2: Sell, sell, sell...

Today I received an email which contained the words

Getting on with the day job, a bit of a shock after last week...
Clearly, the author had been to BETT - which describes itself as the world's largest educational technology event. Just as with any event which has the phrase world's largest attached to it there's bound to be a certain sense of detachment from what's "really" going on - whether it be World's Largest Gathering Of People Dressed As Gorillas, World's Largest Human Chain or World's Largest Custard Pie Fight. For what it's worth, that last one was also the World's Largest Air Guitar Ensemble and the World's Largest Game Of Dodgeball.
Never mind the size. Here's an idea of the show. Note that this is the smaller hall...

Anyway, the scale of BETT leads to a regular routine - wandering around, looking for a cheap cup of tea, then somewhere to sit, wondering what all that rubbish is you've collected in your bag, wondering what all those other bags are within the biggest bag you have found so far, meeting people you know and both asking the same question: have you seen anything good? Most of the time the answer is No, not really... I'm never sure if this is down to my increasing levels of cynicism or the decreasing levels of innovation or interest... however, occasionally things stand out.
Again, the scale can be overwhelming and exhausting, no matter how many massages might be offered to tired visitors. Those who came on a mission - with a small number of definite tasks to do, or suppliers to visit / harangue / blag from - probably got more than those who wandered around
With over 600 exhibitors and an expected 29,000 visitors, companies know they have to stand out in and grab people's attention in some way - either during the show or beforehand. My late December and early January post at work is full of mailings from companies appearing at BETT - and some of the maillings are either unintentionally hilarious or concerning - maybe both. Here's the text from one which put my eyebrows through the roof:
Dear [insert mail merge field here]
Are you coming to BETT? [insert guff about how we're going to be at BETT on stand Z999 and will be excited to see you].
Did you know that E-Learning Credits have been replaced by the Harnessing Technology Grant? [follow with strong inference that your HT Grant should be spent on our product]
Lots of love [etc]
I genuinely can't decide if that makes me want to laugh or cry. It's true that the Harnessing Technology grant does include the money for digital content (see Becta's FAQ on this) - but it's a far bigger, more important grant which isn't supposed to be spent in the same way ELCs were - i.e. with little auditing, vague guidelines and often negligible impact.
Anyway, BETT seemed more subdued this year - Apple weren't there, the BBC were only couch surfing on the Pearson stand, and for the life of me I didn't see the Dell robot, controlled by a guy who stands behind a wall on the Dell stand looking through a slit, with a view of the world that must look like Boba Fett's.
Interesting things included:
  • bumping into a guy from Microsoft on the Synergy Learning stand and talking about the work a tiny Open Source lab in Redmond is doing with Moodle / PHP / etc. - mainly to try and get MS servers to perform as well with the technology as other platforms. If you're wondering, the word Linux didn't pass his lips once...
  • sitting in the Gaia Technologies dome looking at their immersive 3D display. Is this practical? I asked the guy in the dome. Possibly as a bookable lab was his reply;
  • the fact that (as far as I could see) those 10 BETT Learning Platform providers didn't proudly display their Becta badges this year. Maybe that was just a funding gong last year and its effect has gone...
  • the number of smaller non-custom stands in the main halls;
  • that about half a dozen people, most of whom I'd never met in person before, commented on how I hadn't blogged in a while. Oops, point taken...
  • the fact that EMAP still seem not to realise that not giving out wifi access to registered visitors is insane - it's a technology trade show for goodness sake. Is it that they can't, or that the number of thousands of pounds paid by exhibitors for their internet access is a cash cow which can't be slaughtered?
And how did the exhibitors feel about the end of the show? Have a listen:

Til next year...
(and if you're wondering, then anything TeachMeet-related will appear in a subsequent post).


  1. It certainly was a busy Bett 2009. I've never seen that many suppliers before, especially ICT furniture suppliers. Is there really a 'credit crunch' or will it by-pass education?
    I also didn't see the Dell robot but I did find someone who photographed it.

  2. 3D stuff - Gaia stand was hugely expensive setup - comments of "around £50k" for the 3D projector, screen and PC combo (not the fibreglass dome mind) - wow!!

    Later found NVIDIA stand - buy a 3D graphics card with shutter glasses for just under £200 - that sounds more like what I found out when researching Nov 08 TechNews. (Archive from )

    Also new Minoru 3D webcam - around £50 (no "k" there) with 5 pairs of glasses - yeah, it's mediocre anaglyphic, but could be fun in classroom. (Make sure you add 3D to URL...)