Me and my colleague Nick went on our annual trek down to the Excel Centre in London today to visit BETT, the British Educational Technology and Training show. It’s a chance for companies to promote various devices and technologies that can be used in schools and a chance for us to get a feel for the current trends in technology and to see if there’s anything worth purchasing in the near future. We’re always interested to see how things like smartboards and mobile devices are developing as they are a big part of our centre.
There’s a lot to see there but also a lot to ignore (and be ignored by!). Our focus is higher ed but about fifty percent of the booths there are dedicated to primary and secondary education. Also, you get a real sense of your place in the pecking order. Everyone has a lanyard with their name and title on it and as you pass the various booths, you can see their eyes glance down and if they see that you are not a big player, they very subtly glance away as if to discourage you from stopping They’re clearly looking for those with spending power for whole districts, counties or even countries. When they see or learn that we’re not their target sector or learn that we’re likely only to buy 20 or 30 units of whatever they’re selling, they quickly lose interest.
Regardless, it’s great to be around lots of flashy toys and there’s lots of weird stuff to see and play with as you walk around the tradeshow floor.
There was nothing groundbreaking at the show, though you do get a sense of where technology is going based on the stands there. Mobile is clearly just getting bigger and bigger, every company or publisher were pushing either mobile apps of their existing products or mobile integration in some form.
There seemed to be a lot of companies such as Dell, Acer, Lenovo demonstrating these hybrid devices that combine both tablet and laptop. The success of the Microsoft Surface and the release of the iPad Pro has clearly convinced these companies that this is the way forward. I wouldn’t disagree, we currently use a lot of chromebooks (laptops only running a browser) at our centre, we think they offer more convenience and practical use in the EAP classroom than tablets. But we looked at some hybrid chromebooks where the keyboard could either be detached or folded back over the keyboard and they would be incredibly convenient in class where space is limited or for ease of sharing in groups. And they are not particularly expensive, Acer were selling one for £200, and that could probably come down even further if bought in bulk.
We also stopped by the Smartboard stand to see if there was anything new in the Interactive Whiteboard space. We really liked these mini virtual dry-wipe boards (see pic below), you can write on the glass with a traditional marker but what’s written on it can be saved as a PDF or as a small recorded video – presumably if you need to show the workings of a problem – via a link on your mobile phone. In the EAP classroom, these would work really well for getting students to brainstorm vocabulary or ideas for an essay. What I really like is that if you already have a smartboard in the room, the two devices can be hooked up and anything written on the dry-wipe board can be sent to the main board. They aren’t too expensive, they quoted about £600, but again that might come down if you buy in bulk.
We also dropped by the Google stand as we use their Classroom VLE for a lot of our groups, we had a chance to speak to one of their top developers, Jonathan Rochelle, and he patiently listened to us outline our plusses and minusses of the virtual system. We also attended a short demo of their upcoming Expeditions app, which controls 3D VR photographs that students access through very cheap but effective VR headsets made of cardboard. Teachers can control what pictures students see and direct them through arrows to various things in the scene. Not sure of its relevance to EAP, but fascinating nonetheless.
And then there was the weird and wacky. A company selling evocative smells in a can to enhance the learning experience. You can buy the smell of chocolate cake or sweets if you’re studying food in class or the smell of a factory if you’re studying the industrial revolution. There was also a woman walking around with various lights attached to her, but I never quite worked out what she was promoting.
No particular new trend emerged from walking around the exhibition floor, clearly mobile is the way forward, every publisher was showing mobile versions of their coursebooks and virtual reality seems to be something that’s in its infancy but companies can clearly see a place for it in education.