My experiences at #Bett2016

On 21st January 2016, I traveled to the ExCeL Centre, London to attend the Bett Show 2016. Bett is the world’s leading learning technology event and has brought innovation and inspiration to educators around the world for over 30 years!
Following my experiences in 2015, I visited on both Thursday and Friday. The sheer amount of hands on workshops and keynote speakers is overwhelming: there would still be many things I hadn’t seen, even after a 2 day visit! Once again, the exhibition hall was a hive of activity with a vast array of different stands from a range of educational technology companies. This post is a summary of my highlights from this years show.

Day 1

Day 1 started with a look at the BBC micro:bit: a small, programmable device which is being issued to Year 7 students across the country. The micro:bit is a successor to the original BBC Micro which was released in the 1980’s. First, there was a workshop presented by Kevin Sait which focused on coding the micro:bit and illustrating what the device is capable of. The team demoed the web based programming tool and illustrated how to compile the code and build it on the device through a USB cable. One of the really cool features of the code builder is the simulator, which allows the user to test the code on a virtual device before compiling it. There are a range of different coding editors for students to use including JavaScript, Block Editor, Touch Develop and Python (coming soon). The demonstration took advantage of many of the features of the device, including the input buttons, LED display, gyroscope and pins to create a range of simple projects. It seems however that there is a large scope for students to be creative with their devices. In a bid to make it easier for students to code their devices when they want, they can use a range of devices to do so, including smartphones, tablets and desktop/laptop computers. 

Following this, there was a session held in the Bett Arena which aimed to give more context to the micro:bit project. Cerys Griffiths, Executive Producer of BBC Learning, said that the project aimed to get students interested in creating technology rather than just consuming it. In addition, there was a demonstration of some of the more advanced projects students can embark on with their micro:bit, including the creation of a table football game where the micro:bit keeps score, a steady hand toy where the micro:bit buzzes if the player touches the wire with the controller and finally, a tool which acts as a Bluetooth camera controller. It was revealed that the devices should be going out to students around the end of this academic term, with teachers receiving their devices earlier, to get a chance to get hands on with the device before their students.

Next up was a presentation from the guys at Blippar, focusing on how their technology is aiming to turn the world into an interactive learning environment. I’ve previously blogged about Blippar and some of the fantastic classroom resources they have for teachers which use augmented reality (check it out here). They started by demonstrating some of the Blipps they have created, including the solar system, sunflower and volcano. It was great to see the reaction of those at the workshop when they scanned the trigger and saw a volcano erupt before their eyes! They also demonstrated their Blippbuilder tool: a web based program which allows users to create their own blippable experiences. Although this comes at a cost for business users, Blippar have decided to make it free to access for those using it within education.

In the Bett Futures arena, I attended a Q&A session with Jamal Edwards. Jamal is the founder of SBTV, one of the UK’s most prominent youth media channels. Whilst initially it focused heavily on the urban music scene in London, it has diversified its content and has racked up millions of hits on YouTube. Jamal said that he first became interested in this when he received a camera for his 15th birthday and began recording things around him in his local environment before focusing on local, urban music artists. He said that initially he was branded a “geek” by friends who had no interest in film making. In addition he spoke about the fact that he was largely self taught as the skills he needed were not taught at his school, which almost prompted him to drop out as filming began to clash with classes. He spoke of great respect to his form tutor and how they were able to negotiate a way to ensure his studies did not impact on his film making and vice versa, since he saw education as a “backup if things didn’t work out”. Jamal stated that he wished that he had access to the range of technologies that students have today, when he was in school. eSafety was something he spoke passionately about, focusing on its importance and citing the case of a young person who lost their job because of postings made on social media as a teen. Finally, a member of the audience asked what he felt his biggest mistake was and how he learned from it. Jamal said that initially he found it difficult to break away from his peer group and advised the young people in attendance not to necessarily feel they have to follow the crowd, but instead follow their own path. 

To round the day off, I paid a visit to Apple Europe HQ in London for ADE Meet. This was an informal meeting between ADE’s, both Alumni and the Class of 2015, from the EMEIA region and Apple’s education team. It was a great chance to catch up with people I met at Institute in Summer 2015 and to discuss some of the things they’d been involved in since.

Day 2

Another hectic day at Bett 2016 started with a visit to the team behind the hugely popular app, Explain Everything. They introduced me to some of the new features in their new Collaborative Whiteboard app and I was blown away! This is a new product but it is all very familiar: the new features, as the name suggests, focus on facilitating collaboration. The app itself is free (here), but requires a subscription to access the new, premium features. However, you can try them out thanks to a free 30-day trial. They really have made what was a fantastic app, even better!

Next, I met up with Blippar’s Head of Education, Colum Elliot-Kelly. We discussed the use of augmented reality in education and the range of products Blippar has to offer. Ultimately for me, the main benefit of augmented reality is the engagement factor: it enables students to access experiences which they may not be able to otherwise, can create a sense of awe and wonder and bring abstract or difficult to understand concepts to life! Whilst many of the other AR platforms also do this very well, the education team at Blippar aim to focus on creating products that benefit student learning and not just as a gimmick. They have managed to achieve this by adding features including assessment, which can be fed directly back to the teachers device. I gave feedback about some of the features I think would be great inclusions and told them about one of the Blipps I’m currently working on. It’s great to see a company listen to and take on board feedback from their users.

The afternoon started in the Bett Arena with a session focusing on using Digital Leaders to support staff and students. Presenters were all from the #DLChat community, including Chris Sharples (@gr8ict), Louise Stone (@L_S_Stone) and Rachel Jones (@rlj1981). The session included Digital Leaders from both Primary and Secondary schools and gave an insight into some of the amazing projects they’ve been involved in. I was particularly interested in the use of technologies like Sphero’s, drones and Raspberry Pi’s to develop students coding skills for. This certainly seems to be the most engaging way to teach what is going to be an important skill in the future! 

The final session I attended featured fellow ADE Catherine Jessey, demonstrating how she uses tools like animation to enable students to demonstrate their understanding. Catherine provided practical example of how she has used these in her own science lessons to help students understand key concepts and to help her identify any misconceptions they have in their learning at the earliest possible opportunity. This included using the built in camera app to record learning or using stop motion apps which allow to create short, animated videos. Catherine explained how this benefits her students: they have to sound understand of a concept to be able to verbalise it for their recording and also since they have something personal to refer back to when it comes to revision. There was even a Geography example featured, which earns bonus points from me! 

So after a manic couple of days, it’s goodbye to Bett 2016. See you again next year!

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