Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Why I Don't BETT

That's me presenting at BETT in 2014
"Why I don't BETT" ... its not totally true ... I've been 4 times 1985, 1993, 2013 and 2014 .... but its only the first one in 1985 when it was called the “Hi Technology and Computers in Education Exhibition” at the Barbican Centre that I really chose to go to.

Back in 1985 microcomputers were new and young and so was I and so was BETT. The 1980s were exciting times in computing - microcomputers revolutionised computing - where once computers were the size of a room and cost millions of pounds now they could sit on your desk and cost just hundreds of pounds .... £125 in the case of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum. 1985 ... this was way before we had access to the Internet and we had to rely on a few computer magazines and papers for our IT news and I used to soak it up like a sponge. I remember going to the Barbican to see first hand and get hands on with some of the new stuff all in one place. The BETT show in 1985 was like the microcomputer scene at the time - hobbyist in nature and full of DIY type electronics interfaces and programming ... it was less about solutions and more about DIY and potential. 

In 1993 the BETT show moved to Olympia - it was just 10 minutes walk from where I worked so it wouldn't take too much of my time to just drop in and take a look. Almost 10 years on from my first and last visit to BETT I can remember how much bigger and more professional the whole thing had become ... it had become a trade show and Microsoft had a big presence. I remember visiting the Microsoft stand with its classroom of computers and trainers and being shown Windows For Workgroups .... it was all very slick and I even got a T-shirt ... something that did come in useful as a rag for DIY jobs later.

Even though BETT was just 10 minutes walk from where I worked I only went there once in10 years ... it had become a trade show peddling solutions ... it was all about business ... BETT might as well stand for the  Business Education Technology Trade show and I was no longer interested.

The size and weight of BETT distorts reality and as an IT manager I used to brace myself as staff returned from BETT with requests for the latest must have tech solutions for their teaching ... usually just tech equivalents for what they were already doing ... like students putting their hands up to answer a question. I remember having to buy, setup, support and maintain costly and complicated voting systems that literally never got used in a real classroom ... stuff like this seemed like a dream at BETT but were a nightmare in real life. 

After 1993 the Internet arrived and I could find the information and discussions about tech I wanted on-line - I had always preferred to use real world technology rather than the edtech stuff that was specially designed for education ... its seemed better to me for people to use the things they would find in the real world rather. 

And so it went on the gravity created a monster and BETT couldn't fit into Olympia anymore - in 2013 it had to move to the industrial warehouse of the Excel centre and that's when Google asked me to present about my work with the Cloud.

So, 20 years after last visiting BETT at its first show in Olympia I went to its first show in Excel to present in 2013 and 2014.

A slide from my presentation at BETT in 2014

I spoke about the problem with education technology ... that it is costly, complicated, scary and frustrating. Sometime during the naugties I remember attending a presentation by Microsoft at their Reading centre about the latest version of Sharepoint ... the salesman said told us that it was complicated but not to worry as they had an ecosystem of support partners and consultants. This summed the whole thing up for me .. edtech was a gravy train for the industry ...  a complicated thing that locked you in, put you on a treadmill and made you dependent - its enough to make you want to pull your hair out. Compare edtech to consumer tech like Facebook or Whatsapp today .. its designed to be simple and easy to use .. consumer tech isn't designed to need consultants and support. It's as if edtech is stuck in the last century .. the glory days of the late 90s before digital tech became common place and everyone carried a super computer in their pocket - edtech still hasn't got its head around mobile tech and that students can do so much more with their own tech than schools and colleges can do with theirs.

I spoke about Bring Your Own .. where students and teachers could use whatever tech they felt comfortable with - not just hardware but software and applications as well ... as an IT manager I didn't want to control what could or could not be used - I wanted to facilitate people making use of the stuff they felt comfortable with .. and most of it could be had free or Ad supported and was much better than the education sector had to offer.

Education is a huge sector ... its no wonder that technology capitalists are trying to capture it. Next to BETT 2013 was a huge amusement trade show with a load of "one armed bandits" (slot machines ) at the entrance ... it could almost have been the BETT show itself and I talked about this at my presentation. I spoke about tech dependency and how the edtech capitalists are like drug pushers .. "get em while they are young" and "get em hooked" by giving it away at first. "Get em dependent" and "get em on to the hard stuff" by pushing samples and trials that lead to needing more and more.  

Edtech is a business of self interest ... a complicit gravy train ecosystem of news, conferences, awards and trade shows pulling and pushing those in education to hop onto the platform for a good milking and even some fleecing on the treadmill. Its good business, the edtech fanboys love it, make a living from it and aren't going to bite the hand that feeds them and teachers can walk away with the latest tech charms, talismans and snake oil solutions.

Ultimately BETT is a good day off for most people and when they get back to work they will need to justify the time away in some way - BETT is so large you must be able to find something there, anything will do. 

BETT reminds me of some sort of religious pilgrimage .. an annual edtech journey to listen to the profits (I mean prophets), partake in the rituals, find meaning and significance and confirm your faith in the edtech for solutions. I used to be an edtech fanboy but even I have only been to BETT 4 times in 33 years - I'm not a believer.

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