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The changing nature of BETT

Tony Parkin, an educational consultant and former Head of ICT Development at SSAT (and, as he describes himself, a disruptive nostalgist), ponders the many reasons why people go to BETT.

So we are into the autumn term, with weather to match, and thoughts turn towards Christmas, and its immediate follower… the BETT show. Which means time for the annual debate about this show, its role, purpose and value to school leaders and practitioners. In fact Ray Barker’s first entry on this blog was undoubtedly the starting pistol for this discussion, as he extolls BETT’s virtues as free CPD… one of its many dimensions.

I have been going to BETT since its inception… one of the exhibitors erecting a stand in that first year, bumping his head on the amazingly low roof of the original Barbican exhibition space (only amazing until you realised it was originally designed to be a car park). I have been almost every year since – and admit to welcoming each opportunity and seeing it as a high point of the education technology year. I even attended when not working in education, and met others doing exactly the same!

Current BETT attendees who see it as an ICT showcase would be surprised at the number of furniture and fittings suppliers, training providers, stationery manufacturers and book publishers that were there at the early events. BETT has been changing and developing annually since those early days, and these changes have invariably been accompanied by a background mix of approving and disapproving comments. The BETT show represents so many different things to many different people. For every teacher seeking free CPD there is a supplier seeing BETT as their opportunity to get a carefully-nurtured educational product in front of the eyes of potential purchasers. For every politician and government agency keen to get an opportunity to extol and promote their current policy, there has been a practitioner keen to meet up with and exchange ideas with other practitioners without having their ears bent or wallet raided. Given these different expectations and needs it is hardly surprising that there is this annual debate.

Trade show? National conference with an exhibition attached? International showcase and exhibition with a conference attached? BETT is expected to be all these things and more – and problems only arise when people expect it to be focussed solely upon one, rather than catering to all. The debate, often heated, is nonetheless often useful and constructive… and can be a useful catalyst for new developments. Everyone now welcomes and benefits from the new season of practitioner events, such as Teachmeet BETT, Teachmeet Takeovers and Collabor8te4Change that grew out of practitioner criticisms.

For me BETT is a wonderful opportunity for an annual coming together of a wider community, where teacher meets manufacturer, supplier meets consultant, and bureaucrat actually gets to see some (albeit sadly too few) children using technology. Our shared faith in the value of learning technologies is reinforced. Old friendships are renewed and new ones made. New technologies are encountered for the first time – even during one of those apocryphal ‘nothing new at BETT this year’ years. Perhaps most importantly, UK plc gets to show the world it is a leader in the development and use of learning technologies, and an amazingly large number of international leaders and practitioners come to learn, admire and buy into that vision. And the buying matters…

You can follow Tony Parkin on Twitter @tonyparkin

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