My top 5 thoughts from BETT 2016

Another year, another BETT show out of the way. After last year's show I posted my key takeaways from the show (which you can read in full here). In this blog I want to revisit each to see what has panned out in the last 12 months adding my own comments, and also put a new set forward for the coming year. 

Last year's top thoughts:

1. LEARNPAD SHOULD BE ON EVERYONE'S RADAR

Last year I was quite surprised by the £99 tablet offering from LearnPad as it looks a very capable piece of tech for the primary classroom, but it's gained almost no traction across UK schools that I've come across. The continuing success of iPad, and the explosion in popularity of Google's Chromebooks will certainly have been a factor in this, and I without a developed curriculum in place for LearnPad and struggle to see where it will fit in between those 2 tech giants.

2. APPLE MISSED A BIG OPPORTUNITY

This year Apple upped their game for BETT 2016, and they had a great lineup of speakers in the Apple Village from schools who've achieved huge success with iPad. ESSA Academy, The de Ferrers Academy, Hove Park School and Lever House Primary all had project leaders sharing their success story and secrets.

3. GOOGLE WILL SEE HUGE GROWTH IN EDUCATION

Chromebook is the product that education has been waiting for and it's not surprising that it's outselling iPads into education in the USA now. 

4. THE NEW BATTLEGROUND IS IN DATA

No surprise that there's countless companies jumping into this market and big data becomes more prevalent in schools week by week. Whether or not this is a good thing only time will tell, but if schools are going to start committing funds into products and services to improve data capture they also need to start committing to ensuring they have the right staff who can analyse and action what the data flags up.  

5. SCHOOLS NEED TO EVIDENCE RESULTS

I would still like to see more in this area as too much tech evangelism isn't backed by sound evidence. This led to almost every school in the country buying into the Interactive Whiteboard dream despite there being no real impact in the classroom. For the advancement of UK education I wouldn't want to see a similar situation happen again.


This year's top thoughts:

1. APPLE FINALLY HAVE A CHALLENGER, AND THIS WILL BENEFIT SCHOOLS

Google's Chromebook should be on the top of every schools wishlist because it packs one hell of a punch in a sub £200 laptop. The iPad, for all it's amazing educational uses has always been hamstrung by it's lack of a keyboard. Chromebooks solve the keyboard issue easy, and more importantly cheaply, but their biggest features are the yet hugely untapped Google Apps for Education for UK schools. We started playing with Chromebooks about a year ago and I can tell you we're seriously impressed.  In the American market Chromebooks have been outselling iPads for sometime now and this will likely have factored into Apple's decision to completely flip what the iPad should be. In their upcoming update the iPad will no longer be a single user device, instead offering multiple sign on as well as a host of long overdue education features. You can see them all here

2. THE MAGIC IS IN THE IMPLEMENTATION, NOT THE PRODUCT

I've been going to BETT for the last 4 years and it never fails to surprise me how some technologies refuse to die. I'm specifically thinking about Interactive Whiteboards (IWBs) here. You'll notice this is a recurring theme in my writing and that's because it serves as the perfect analogy for why you should prioritise implementation over product. The heavy hitters in the IWB market are back with new products with more features at hugely inflated prices. Where is the pedagogy underpinning this technology? Where is the evidence showcasing it's success? How is it impact on a child's learning? We've recently been working with a few schools to manage their IT vision while they go through a new build process, and the first thing we did was ditch the IWBs. The teachers in these schools will walk into their new classrooms that will be equipped with a 55" flatscreen LED TV that their iPad and Chromebook wirelessly mirror to. Equipping every classroom with a 55" TV, a iPad and a Chromebook was less than half the price of the latest IWB. That 50% saving will go towards training staff and developing their curriculum. Think about the implementation before you sign off the cheque!

3. SCHOOLS CAN BEGIN TEACHING BEYOND THEIR PHYSICAL BORDERS

Apps such as Showbie and Show My Homework have done a lot of work over the past year to incorporate parental engagement aspects into their programs, and with the rise of MOOCs such as iTunes U (Apple only) and FutureLearn (online) it's clear that learning is no longer confined inside the school's gates. If schools can prioritise their development into these 2 key areas I think we'll see big educational gains being made.

4. THE RISE OF THE TEACHER-PRENEUR 

The BETT Futures zone is a great additional to a event that was becoming crowded with big names. It gives small startup companies the chance to exhibit to that very same audience without the huge overheads of being at a trade show. The great thing is that many of these companies have been set up by former teachers, offering products or services into the very profession they've served in. I can't tell you how much of a good thing this is. I taught for 4 years in total and there's a huge gulf between what works in the classroom, and what someone thinks will work in the classroom while sitting in an office somewhere. The more 'teacher-preneurs' (as the media has dubbed them) we see coming through, the better this is for UK education overall.

5. SCHOOL INFRASTRUCTURE IS BECOMING MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER

My final takeaway from this year's show was that people need to start talking about the dirty little secret most schools harbour... their infrastructure. It's clear that the big developments in education are moving into the digital world, and for a school that means good WiFi, something that alludes many still. Trade shows don't often attract infrastructure companies, and in many cases it's a conversation that happens too late for a school (eg they find out they need better WiFi after taking delivery of 200 new devices!). Having worked for the past few months on a few new build school projects there's still a prevalence to around WiFi in schools to cut corners. Don't! This will be the single biggest mistake you will make because it will be decades before you'll have the finances to really fix the problems. Prioritise your infrastructure before you prioritise your frontline teaching tech, because without a good infrastructure in place your frontline tech simply won't impact.

There were many more takeaways from BETT this year but that's just my top 5. If you attended the show write a comment below and let me know what stuck out most for you.

Jay Ashcroft

Entrepreneur. Author. Speaker. Cofounder of LearnMaker