Sun 3 Feb 2013
I just attended what’s probably Europe’s largest educational technology trade fair – BETT in London. Amazingly, this event is still free to education folks, since costs are being paid through the exhibitors and sponsor companies including Google, Microsoft, Dell, and many others. Here are a few impressions:
First and foremost, the event showed to me how enormous an industry has grown around educational technology. Thousands of products and even more jobs have developed in this area over just a few years. We in education, mostly concerned with ourselves, our students and the education system, often forget the world “out there”. Education technology is not really driven or developed from inside, neither is its use confined to the formal systems. This is not to say that these companies are out of touch with inside HE, as many of them are spin-offs from education establishments. Rather the opposite is true, that as soon as something great pops up, it’s exiled from HE.
Despite the sheer numbers of exhibitors, the range of products at the show wasn’t overwhelming, and only few things really caught my eye between the masses of smartboards. There was virtual TV studio software from Korea, which, for £10k, you can cram into a cleaning cupboard but gives viewers the impression of a professional large TV studio where you can bring in slide or video presentations of all kinds, but also initiate skype conversations. A cute AI robot that behaved like a wee kid was nice to watch, but made me wonder how long such things keep a learner’s attention, and who actually the learner is. Said this, the French rep told me that the robokid is good for computer science students doing some AI programming. The Lego stand was also quite impressive with its engineering software and gadgets.
However nice or interesting, these things did not establish a trend for me. There were two things though that deserved more closer attention and I’ll deal with them in separate blog posts: 3D printing, and mobile app development.
Areas of learning technology that I found under-served in this huge exhibition were the following: (1) educational toys. There was only one stand showing pre-school and primary school toys for learning. And yet I consider this a real area for growth and creativity in educational technology. (2) sensors. Fair enough, there were one or two stands that displayed some sensors, but they looked more like a hardware store, which isn’t exactly selling it to teachers. What’s needed here are imaginative applications and demo settings that connect it to classrooms, laboratories or field trips. (3) ambient technologies. Contextual learning and immersion are still an area for development as we need to move away from placing students in front of PCs or smartboards.
Finally, it should be mentioned that there were also presentations and talks for school, HE, and work-based learning. But these were highly superficial and did not go into any depth of the matter. A panel discussion on MOOCs with people from Denmark, Finland and Spain confirmed that there is a trend now in universities to offer MOOCs just because everyone does. In the Scandinavian countries, where education is free anyway, they see them as advertising to foreign (fee-paying?) students, as, I am sure, do all others. It’s just depressing to always here this reference to Stanford MOOCs, thus enhancing the media coverage and indirect marketing of the ivy league, when in fact they never offered anything that wasn’t there before.