Monday, January 19, 2009

Reflections on BETT 2 of 2: Don't sell, sell... camel!

During the week of BETT it felt like something was looming over me.
I had presentations to do on the Adobe stand which could be subject to the usual show problems of lost internet connection, there was the usual challenges which face any BETT visitor or exhibitor - finding satisfying food for less than a tenner for each meal, finding somewhere to sit (other than the floor), and finding a food vendor where the staff could operate the coffee machine (for me, Crussh was the answer to the last problem). However, these were all surmountable. Then it hit me: like a fool, I'd become involved with the organisation of TeachMeet, the highlight of BETT 2008 for me (and many others) and one which was anticipated to grow for BETT 2009.
Well, the headline from TeachMeet was fairly simple: it happened (and - I think - no-one got hurt).
I've been reflecting on it a lot over the past few weeks, and have lots of positive things which I think came from it - and quite a few negatives too. So here are some...

  • Image used under CC licence from cloudberrynine+ve - we nearly filled the room! The Apex Room at Olympia has a capacity of 250 for an event like TeachMeet and, combining the numbers of organisers/helpers, presenters and enthusiastic lurkers, we just about reached that number. Not bad for something for which people signed up for themselves and no paperwork was sent out.
  • -ve - not enough classroom practice. Tom Barrett's open comment of his presentation about there not being enough classroom practice so far in the evening was spot on. Aside from one sales pitch, there were a few abstract ideas, a bit of research and some other things which didn't quite reach the door of the classroom. I think that research etc. can fit in to a brief TeachMeet-style presentation, but only if it's contextualised firmly and clearly within classroom practice.
  • +ve - people were positive, enthusiastic, and keen to get involved. It got to the point where we had so many people willing to help out that they didn't all get involved, so if you want a look at a list of people who really made TeachMeet happen (rather than the numpty up the front) then look at the list of helpers & organisers, all of whom deserve much thanks. Also, the sponsors who between them paid for everything - from security and wifi access, to a meal afterwards.
  • -ve - not enough teachers. This is of course related to the negative point above - the nature of BETT means that it's difficult to get out of the classroom for a Friday, and few teachers outside of London would make the effort to come in to Olympia in the evening.
There are plenty of others, but rather than expand on them here I've contributed to the TeachMeet Feedback page - and in the future hope to get involved in some small, chair moving capacity at TeachMeet Midlands which is being run by the capable and Google-blogging Tom Barrett.
Oh, and to some extent, the camel worked...

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).