When Tony Blair famously pinned the hopes and future of the nation, back in 2001, on “education, education, education”, I don’t suspect he had any inkling of how things would look, 16 years or so later, at BETT, the foremost education technology trade show in the UK.
It was a genuine eye-opener for me too, not having had much in-depth experience of this sector since I was at school myself. Several things struck me as a BETT exhibitor this year.
Firstly, to borrow a phrase from the commercial world, “line of business owners” are now just as interested as the conventional IT guys in the advantages that technology offers. By the latter, I mean the people tasked with keeping the computer infrastructure running. By the former, I am referring to the people on the front line: teachers, lecturers etc.
Unlike some other technology shows, BETT encourages non-techies such as students, parents, children, teachers, governors and so on, to come along and marvel at the latest trends in the tech world. They obviously mightn’t understand the implications of hyper-convergence on a university’s data storage requirements but they can certainly appreciate the benefits of virtual reality headsets that take kids through a visual representation of the Battle of Hastings.
The dichotomy for vendors such as ourselves, however, is that they don’t always hold budget strings. In the commercial sector, a department head or remote office manager can often sign off the purchase of a productivity application. As a supplier, this opens up our addressable market. In education, though, the procurement routes generally work differently and we still typically need to target the IT guys.
The most I had at my school – an extremely eminent, hugely expensive public school, I hasten to add – was a pokey computer room with half a dozen dusty BBC Micros dotted
The second thing that amazed me was the standard of advanced technology now available, both to teachers and to those being taught, to assist learning and aid development. The most I had at my school – an extremely eminent, hugely expensive public school, I hasten to add – was a pokey computer room with half a dozen dusty BBC Micros dotted about. We didn’t even have any specific technology education classes, so the purpose of the computers was a mystery to me back then and still is now. Nowadays, with the explosion of dedicated educational software applications and futuristic hardware devices, I would venture the assumption that most teachers over a certain age spend as much time learning as the children do!
Interactive whiteboards – the replacement for overhead projectors and celluloid acetate foils – are now pretty much old hat; the vendors have moved on to much more advanced systems. However, whiteboards sparked a huge revolution in how children memorise, visualise and learn new concepts. I strongly prefer a visual learning style myself and the cynic in me wonders if this could ostensibly be why children are achieving much higher exam grades these days.
I wonder whether my A Level results (2 x B, 2 x C) would have been a notch or two higher, had I had the relevant information presented to me in this fun way. It would certainly have increased my notoriously poor attention span, of that I’m sure. Not to mention the reduced risk of personal injury, due to the absence of fast-moving, airborne, chalk-ridden blackboard dusters aimed at my head by exasperated teachers!
And finally, I was also blown away by the sheer size of the show and the huge investments made by suppliers to be at Excel that week. Vendors and learning establishments alike are taking technology in education incredibly seriously.
This is music to our ears, as an infrastructure monitoring company. I am reliably informed that, if a teacher loses the attention of the class in the first 5 or 10 minutes, it’s almost impossible to get it back. Monitoring ensures all the classroom based technology is performing well, so that no time is wasted getting things up and running. Unruly pupils now have to find different ways of ruining lessons!
By Rupert Collier, Paessler