Being greeted by a beggar at the entrance to Bett’s first ExCel show was perhaps not the most promising introduction to the world’s largest education tech event. However, the real greeters, wearing warm smiles, soon appeared and the show itself seemed brighter and more upbeat than in recent years.
The 700 exhibitors and 30,000 visitors appeared to thoroughly enjoy the chance to spread out and get creative in the larger East London space.
Channel players were present in their usual numbers, chancing their arm at enticing visitors on the stand and gleaning leads to follow up or even signing new business.
Andy Ingham, head of sales at B2B reseller Equanet (pictured, below right), told CRN the choice of new location was fantastic. “Everything is now on one floor, and there is a lot more space here. There is much better flow through the stands,” he said.
“Year on year, there has been a lot more conversation about mobile devices and excitement about using them in the classroom.”
Equanet itself displayed a range of tablets and the like on its stand, which attracted considerable interest and engagement from visitors.
Highlights from the four-day show, opened on 29 January by secretary of state for business innovation and skills Vince Cable, included the Learn Live seminar programme; a school leaders summit; a conference on new tech in higher education; and Learning at Work, a forum for practitioners and blue-chip firms to talk about related projects.
Online learning expert Professor Stephen Heppell, who for years now has been a “face” of Bett, hosted a new Learning Together feature where children explored some of the freshest thinking and best practice happening in schools at all levels, as well as through collaboration in the workplace. This follows last year’s New Worlds of Learning showcase.
Toby Newbatt, security and networking specialist at Softcat, there as a guest of UK firewall vendor Smoothwall, said the event had been “pretty good” for the reseller. “We have recieved a lot of good feedback, and current issues coming up in relation to product and what we can give them,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of leads – a couple of hundred.”
Thinking outside the Cox
Did someone mention Professor Brian Cox? The new Bett Arena seats 1,000, but was not big enough to host the hundreds more exhibitors, delegates, press and others who tried to crowd in on the Friday to hear the celebrity physicist from CERN and the University of Manchester talk about the role of technology in science education.
Hopefuls had been queuing (pictured, right) since 11am for the 12:30am seminar, which like all the Bett talks was held on a first-come, first-served basis. Latecomers listened outside and craned their necks for a glimpse or a photo, and one executive tried to argue the toss with security – claiming he had flown all the way from Japan primarily to attend the Cox presentation, to no avail.
So what did the star of Wonders of the Solar System have to say, and does it mean anything for the channel? Cox confirmed that science, technology, engineering and maths education is vital for Britain, and that one key to success here is getting children and young people more excited about these subjects. The right IT can help teachers achieve this, he said – something he has confirmed in his own teaching practice.
His presentation was so engaging that we ourselves (stuck outside the door with the huddled masses) forgot to nail a direct quote. The message is clear, though: tech remains important – and that is good for all IT sellers.
A new dimension
Other world-class speakers during the week included popular scientist and broadcaster Baroness Susan Greenfield, computing professor Daphne Koller, geneticist Michael Levine, computer scientist Shimon Schocken and mathematician Markus Hohenwarter.
Central positions were taken by RM and by IT mammoth Samsung, with the latter offering engaging live demos of everything from tablets (pictured, left) to visualisers, underpinned by a Smart Schools theme.
Samsung hosted a showcase from the British Museum as well, which showed how QR codes can be used to inspire learning through quizzes and games.
This year too, 3D printing (TriTech3D, BEETEG) was one of the less-familiar technologies on display – but as at CES, moving beyond big-budget applications or simple fabrication of injection-moulded plastics to creating a range of products anywhere on demand, or via a service provider, appears to be a long way away.
Of more interest, perhaps, were offerings such as AppShed, which helps younger pupils create their own mobile applications, as well as forums that support education-focused IT professionals such as Edugeek.com and the MirandaNet fellowship launch hosted by Sir Bob Geldof on the Wednesday.
As usual there was an extensive foreign contingent, with tech giants China and Taiwan much in evidence among UK firms such as Oakford, with its remote backup and security offerings for schools. Vericool for Schools was present, whose software helps schools move from manual to cashless payments and admin for catering and enrolments, harnessing a choice of biometrics, PINs, barcodes or card identification.
Taking a tangential approach to the usual theme – attracting more business – was the spectacular stand of the United Arab Emirates’ Ministry of Education, with a stand promoting its Smart Learning Programme, an initiative to bring IWBs and mobile devices to students across the nation.
Fatima Ali Al-Khajah, management information system director at the UAE Ministry of Education, said the aim was purely to showcase what the country was achieving in education. “It is about one-to-one computing,” she said. “The pilot started in April, with grade seven (aged 11 to 12), and from next year will include grades six, seven and eight.”
Food for thought
This year Cisco Live! was held concurrently with Bett in nearby halls at ExCel, meaning IT visitors could kill two birds with one stone as well as making the whole event a generally livelier affair.
Refreshment options were an improvement on Olympia, with more choices and a wider range of prices. One of the more unusual was the stand taken by Gaucho’s Argentine steak restaurants, offering discounts on up to three courses with champagne to promote its sponsorship of the indoor polo at the adjacent O2 – complete with mechanical horse. Polo of course is very popular in Argentina.
One issue perhaps was the Docklands Light Railway. Not only were the trains rammed sardine-like at peak hours, but the line suffered from engin-eering works all the way between Canning Town and Beckton on the Saturday. It is hard to say whether that ultimately represented an improvement for the thousands lugging heavy bags to and from Bett.
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