Have to say I enjoyed my day at BETT this year. I made a couple of changes to my approach which helped:
- limited session attendance
- limited myself to one piece of A4 for notes – rather than streams of content on OneNote [yes, ironically a ‘detech’ move but it meant I was more focused]
Some particular thoughts…
As predicted in my preview post, ‘reality’ jumped out as the big theme from a number of vendors and sessions (be it virtual, augmented or mixed). The argument given by Avantis in one of the BETT Arena sessions being that this is something “fundamentally different” due to emotive immersion.
As well as a variety of headsets and software providers there were what, I guess, we can call “supportive” tech. I would categorize in here things such as 360 degree cameras for creating content. The Arena talk I attended also pointed a lot of content is available on YouTube – indeed the BBC have got involved recently.
Alas I didn’t get a chance to see a Hololens as hoped – but there was an “invitation only” ‘lens lounge and some talks (which I missed). There were plenty of other examples including paragliding with Intel, Avantis (£2000 for 8 units) and more. In terms of healthcare, it was interesting to see a few different stalls have similar 3d model of the heart VR content (presumably as it is in the biology curriculum). The Arena talked of other possible scenarios from day trips to Mars to work that has been done to give school children and understanding of the refugee crisis through VR experiences of Syria.
Whilst I didn’t see a Hololens there were opportunities to see a range of Surface devices (including Hubs) in action. There seemed a lack of much innovation in the devices I saw though (away from Microsoft) and tablets/phones seemed underrepresented in face of Chromebooks and laptops.
Perhaps the hybrid nature of the dock-able Surface-like devices are the future? Alternatively its a battle between that style and Chromebooks? Indeed a talk I saw on Chromebooks stressed their key advantage over tablets for schools – a physical keyboard. The presentation stressing demonstrable data of student improvement and they had some good tips for maintaining handwriting as well as typing skills. I particularly liked their ban on immediate use of spellchecker correction: instead pupils have to retry the spelling, then check and write it down, then delete it and type it correctly. This is effectively a hybrid approach to the old spelling books my school had when I was a nipper!
A lot of the show is now Microsoft – as the main sponsor they seem to be slowly drowning out a lot of the Apple and other players. It was particularly interesting to see the focus on Office365 with a lot of people offering additional functionality – including different takes on LMS/VLE functionality.
An email received on the same day from the Digital Workforce Group (DWG) highlighted the growing importance of Office365:
“Office 365 is reportedly Microsoft’s fastest growing commercial product ever...Up to 40% of DWG members are planning to introduce Office 365 in the next 18 months…Office 365 isn’t just SharePoint, and the digital workplace isn’t just the intranet.“
Now those points are very DWG membership focused but it highlights an issue that is common with schools – Office365 has the potential to be the single platform that then combines with other things.
A talk I attended from Microsoft (“Enhance your classroom with the latest intelligent business applications across CRM and ERP form Microsoft”) stressed that digital transformation can be driven by Microsoft’s combining of CRM, ERP and productivity suites in the cloud (via the new Dynamics365). Unfortunately the talk then just focused on how education can pick up licenses for Dynamics to use in the curriculum (such as for accountancy, HR, etc courses) rather than anything more strategic about the organization or the academic really enhancing strategy [as the presenter mentioned, D365 is breaking organizational silos so perhaps there are bigger cross-subject area opportunities that could have been talked about: as they said it offers “holistic” views of business]. Instead the message really was just that you would be enhancing your curriculum by training students in sought after skills [although of course technology changes rapidly] and to do that best is to join the Dynamics Academic Alliance (1436 members worldwide).
Of course technology is a complex picture, recently described well by the Fosway Group (looking at it from the eLearning market perspective):
“Providers now offer broader and broader solutions that include much more than e-learning alone. The impact of the growth in workplace, social and collaborative learning and focus on learner engagement mean that more and more buyers are looking for a complete digital learning experience.”
One outcome of this is that they will now look to research, review and compare “learning systems” – thankfully dropping the “m” word which, as we all know, has been a misnomer. You can support, facilitate and scaffold learning – you can not manage (all of) it.
Google were also presenting on how their Classroom product combines with Apps, etc .and it will be interesting to see how this all continues to develop – devices in part driving software choices and vice-versa between the big ecosystems of Apple, Google and Microsoft.
Elsewhere, in relation to Microsoft, it was interesting to see Slomer who, among other things, are the first to offer SIMS on Azure. Pottering past the Microsoft stall to see Delve and a few other pieces being highlighted showed quite how much they are doing but also how it is a moveable feast and almost feels like – if you are to go ‘all in’ with Microsoft you would have to be very systematic in saying what people should be using and how. For example, as last year, there were sessions on running your classroom through OneNote and how Minecraft can be used – whilst you could easily run Microsoft platforms and tech but ignore such software altogether.
Where were the crowds?
Unusually there was only one part of the day (around 12ish) when I got stuck among a throng of people. I’m presuming this may well be a sign of the challenges schools are facing with budgets. Talking to a couple of stalls about it they clearly felt it was quiet for the Thursday and were hoping Friday would pick up and be its usual mass of people.
That said, perhaps such a big tradeshow (with everything from beanbags to servers) is just too much?
A talk from South Denmark University, in the Higher Ed section, showed that eAssessment remains a challenge. They’ve developed what sounds a very comprehensive solution. A monitoring application to check BYODs during exam situations – with screenshots taken regularly throughout the period, capturing of open applications and other functionality. I liked the approach of not blocking certain sites but instead flagging them in the logs as possible issues – for example if a student access Dropbox you can then check the screenshot log that their essay hasn’t suddenly grown in length – which would indicate copy and paste of prepared content. The responsibility for device management is with the students but other policies and considerations need to be place as well as clarity over how they should be setup within Blackboard – with papers still going through to SafeAssign for plagiarism checking. The impact on pedagogy is clear though – it makes exams more like coursework in needing questions that test how the student thinks rather than just what they know (as that can be easily searched for).
Digiexam also looked like an innovative eAssessment platform.
Elsewhere it was interesting to see BKSB have a big stall considering the looming importance of apprenticeships and, perhaps, one solution for struggling schools is to cut teachers for more off-the-shelf functional skills and GCSE content?
The SEN section of the show is always intriguing, not least as it is an area I have limited experience in, and there seems to be a growth in looking at some of the issues from a ‘health’ perspective. Indeed it felt like some of this was comparable to ‘wellness’ in the corporate world – what can we do to help people for whom the normal environment (Schools in BETT’s case or offices/workplace in employee programmes) is challenging.
Products/stalls of interest in this area included:
- http://www.mycognition.com/ who do have a business focused product that “specializes in identifying the cognitive health of your entire workforce”. This CQ being very interesting compared to the more traditional IQ and EQ.
- There were, as in previous years, sensory booths for assisting with different issues. Presumably an example of far too much cost for a single school and the kind of thing that the old buying powers of LEAs were helpful with and are, in part, replaced by the academy ‘chains’.
- Atmybest.com – a positive psychology platform seemingly similar to Strengthscope.
Other stand out points
iTrent and other software that can be used in education and corporate environments were in attendance.
Open Campus and other tools combined learning elements with admin features, their corporate offer being to combine: “a constantly growing number of standard business applications such as corporate health programs, internal surveys, compliance training and more”.
There were of course plenty of other tools in place for different solutions, such as: video conferencing, publishing/ebooks, iPad equipment for video recording, Nuance Dragon was present and it was perhaps a little surprising to not see more on voice control and recognition and also some nice ideas like Modern Muse for inspiring the next generation.
Finally, another product to catch the eye were iStay backpacks – and I’ve in fact ordered one since the show!