Thursday, December 23, 2010

Teachmeet @BETT 2011

Teachmeet at BETT 2010
For the past few years, Teachmeet has been a highlight of the BETT Show for many people – with many even choosing to come on the Friday of the show as they know that they’ll get something new, innovative, fun - or all three - to take away. People have previously even timed their journeys from the other side of the world to attend a Teachmeet. Teachmeets aren’t only for big conferences or exhibitions of course – a cursory look at the Teachmeet site shows them appearing in all sorts of contexts, all over the UK and even abroad.

Lost in Space / School of Duty

FPP - derived from dsc_0113.jpg by metacheetr under a Creative Commons license.
After Duke Nukem.
Due to the nature of BETT - a four day exhibition/trade fair with 700 exhibitors, its more than 30,000 attendees making it more than twice the size of NECC /ISTE in the US, there's a sense of enormous cabin fever or Lost In Space which arises from being there for more than a few hours. Such an environment means that there are more than a few issues faced by a Teachmeet set at BETT. For a start, a Teachmeet is about sharing practice – classroom practice, work being done with learners now – rather than theoretical “in the future there will be robots” presentations or sales pitches. BETT is by and large like an immersive first person pitch-em-up game (FPP?) – you’re dropped into an alien environment, populated mainly by people you don’t understand, with a mission that you’re not clear on, with a cast of characters who don’t always behave or communicate in ways you’re familiar with as a teacher – unless you are on the receiving end of a lot of sales phone calls I guess.
BETT 2009 Tiltshifted
This are accentuated by the current cloud of issues around the role of ICT in education – the confiscation of Harnessing Technology funding to support the controversial Free Schools programme, the closure of Becta and the apparent absence of a role for ICT in the Education White Paper - all of which make for an extremely rarefied atmosphere in which schools attempting to use technology to support learning, school improvement and engaging with their school community might find the DfE unsympathetic with their aims. 
TeachMeet at BETT 2010
What this could mean for Teachmeet is fewer teachers attending BETT – even though entrance to the exhibition is free, it's easy to imagine many school leaders being less willing to release staff to browse an exhibition whose lifeblood of dedicated funding has been stemmed. So could this mean a Teachmeet devolved of practice and practitioners? Well I for one hope not-TeachMeets aren't about sales pitches, and there are enough of those on the floor of Olympia for the four days of BETT. Of course, if you're more than a little cunning you could see some real practice by attending one of the TeachMeet Takeover sessions...
In order to mitigate against that we're proposing a slightly different method of registering for the Friday evening Teachmeet at BETT 2011. We'll be using the Eventbrite service (which fits with the TeachMeet ethos, as it's a free service to those organising free events), and releasing the tickets in three batches:
  • teachers/LA/RBC consultants (those who are employed and work directly in schools on a full-time basis);
  • independent consultants (those who work in schools subject to contracts etc);
  • exhibitors (those who'll be at BETT and are salaried by a commercial company).
Eventbrite will mean that we will be able to communicate with ticket holders, match our numbers to the capacity of Olympia's Apex Room and release tickets in a way to try and ensure that as many teachers as possible get first chance to attend and share practice.
As ever, we'll be looking for sponsors (beyond EMAP's sponsorship of the room and AV/ICT support) to cover wifi access for attendees, an extra half hour of security so we don't all get booted out at the end, and some refreshments... so if you're interested in helping the event with a small amount of sponsorship then please get in touch by emailing teachmeetbett2011 [at] gmail [dot] com or follow the instructions on the wiki.
In the meantime you can...
  • read the TeachMeet @BETT 2011 page on the TeachMeet wiki;
  • sign up now if you're a teacher or LA/RBC consultant - and soon if you're an independent consultant or exhibitor - via the Eventbrite page;
  • consider presenting - either a seven minute micropresentation or a two minute nanopresentation.
Whatever your involvement - get stuck in if you can. TeachMeet is about sharing practice and, in the current climate, it must be more relevant than ever. Right?


  1. Hi Ian

    Firstly – Props for the Duke Nukem reference! Love that game and looking forward to the new version! Onto my comments.

    Firstly, I totally applaud the refocusing of the TeachMeet at BETT towards encouraging more practitioners to attend. TeachMeets are about teachers, after all.
    The reasons exhibitors have made up so many of the numbers in previous years are simple:

    1 – Lots of ‘exhibitors’ at BETT are ex-teachers – who are passionate about education and technology! It reminds us (as I include myself in this group) of why we do what we do.

    2 - After a day of being on a stand, there are lots of us who want to have more meaningful conversations with teachers. Thursday night at BETT will see Collabor8 4 Change - an attempt to bring some of these ideas to fruition.

    3 - I agree that TeachMeets should not allow ‘sales pitches’ - of course! However, this needs to be fairly applied. Google is not charity - they are a very smart organisation who sell information about your use of the web to advertisers (and others!). Almost all the ‘free tools’ that are talked about end up moving to a commercial model, or fold (viz delicious).
    Unsurprisingly, lots of teachers come to love resources that are there for them over time and deliver what they need at a high quality - and sometimes even pay for that! If a teacher gets up and waxes lyrical about how BrainPOP UK or 2Simple resources have enabled them to do something cool in their class - and transform learning - why can’t they share that experience? What about talking about Apple devices, or Nintendo? How do you make this fair?

    4 - We come, give sponsorship money, time and hard work - despite the often dismissive comments about commercial organisations because we believe this could be/is an important shift in the education space. We want it to change - so those who make out as though we are all out to ‘rip teachers off’ and to imply that ‘selling’ is somehow ‘evil’ does not help support colleagues in schools, especially in this current political climate. As the Coalition / Tory agenda in education plays out (as you say in your post) schools are going to need to be much smarter at making decisions about how they spend their money. The ‘buffer’ of LA advisors as experts to support this sort of procurement is going to disappear for many schools. Of course teachers should be wary - and should be tough negotiators (I learned to haggle as an ICT coordinator dealing with RM!) - but a sales opportunity can only work if the person with a product to sell can have a proper conversation with potential customers and understand their needs.

    I believe that BrainPOP UK has done a decent job at demonstrating that it is possible to be ‘real’ with teachers and still make sales (but others can judge this better than me). We do this because we believe in it. Other companies (nameless of course) might be more cynical but if you want to change this - then help to show them that there are other ways of doing business. You should remember that an impact of BETT last year is that more and more companies are trying new ways to engage and work with (not sell at) teachers using technology (and I mean more than just emarketing!) TeachMeets are changing the whole eduction space - not just classroom practice.

    5 - The biggest reason that so many exhibitors come is that, unlike many teachers, who go home after a day at BETT - we are stuck at Olympia for the week - and are loath to spend a night in our hotel rooms, or in the bar with the people we work with day after day....
    Anyway - enough. Merry Xmas - and see you in the New Year.
    Eylan Ezekiel
    Head of BrainPOP UK

  2. Hi Eylan...

    Absolutely - for what it's worth I think the thing about sales pitches is that simply getting up and Telling A Room Full Of People About A Product is what counts as a sales pitch. Talking about What We've Done In The Classroom is different - if it involves a tool, either commercial, freeemium or free then that's more along the lines of what a TeachMeet is about.

    One of the first presentations I ever saw at my first TeachMeet (at BETT) was someone standing up and talking about the features of a product. No "real world" application, just how cool it was and how interesting it was... my reaction then was "Meh" and it would still be today.

    Also, it's not pitching "free vs. paid-for" - I wouldn't be happy with anyone getting up and simply extolling the virtues of a Moodle module they loved without devoting most of their seven (or two) minutes explaining about how it's been used in their classroom and what their experiences have been. That, I believe, is what the spirit of a TeachMeet is about, and that works well with any tool, product, or service.

    In Bucks we ran a mini TeachMeet style event, where we invited school users of our Moodle VLEs to share what they were doing in a TM-style. Alongside this was a mini-exhibition where companies offering things that would work well within a VLE were demonstrating to attendees - we invited them to take part in the TM-style presentations as long as they spoke about real-world classroom practice, rather than potential classroom practice - and I'll never forget one of the vendors standing at the front and visibly struggling not to do a regular sales pitch - and even saying "I'm finding it really hard not to sell you something" in front of the room.

    As you point out that's not to say that everyone does that - but focusing on practice does immediately mark a TeachMeet out as being different from the rest of the show. Yes, there are many ex-teachers there as exhibitors - but I'd say that makes it even more important that they focus on practice rather than product.

    I think in the case of BETT it's important to ensure that there are as many teachers/practitioners as possible - I'm hoping that EMAP will allow more than 150 people in the Apex Room, as I'm sure there were more last year... in which case we'll be able to up the numbers. Of course, if the teacher/practitioner tickets don't go then we'll have another look...

    Looking forward to it, even though I'm concerned about the stress levels it will engender...