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Taking a bet on BETT 2016

EasyPeasy 21 January 2016

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Yesterday morning I headed East from Hackney Central, instead of the usual South West-ish into centre town. I hopped on the DLR (front of the driverless carriage, beautfiul and eerie way to experience London) and got off at the Excel centre to BETT 2016 — the world’s largest edtech conference.

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I wanted to check out the scene, particularly with an eye to seeing if there was an early years/preschool presence at the conference. And while I couldn’t find much I was pointed in the direction of a sesssion on ‘integrative technology for 3–8 year olds’ which was…something? It featured an innovative tablet + integrated physical shapes product from a cool looking team from the US called Tiggly. I liked their evidence based approach and the way they managed to integrate technology with physical, real world objects. That said, for the largest conference of edtech in the world, it’s disappointing, if not exactly surprising, that there wasn’t more aimed at this most crucial time in children’s development.

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The best bit of the conference had to be the BETT Futures area, where lots of the newest and most innovative companies were camping out in tiny wooden hut stalls, a world away from the sci-fi/dystopian vibe of the huge constructions on the far side of the building hosting the likes of Microsoft, Google, and Intel. Here, I hooked up with my new pals and colleagues at Emerge Educationwho introduced me to some of their awesome alumni (Doodle Maths— now the UK’s best selling Maths app, and Pi Top— a computer that integrates with Raspberry Pi).

The combination of home grown innovations and passionate individuals or small teams behind them really sets this area apart from the rest of the conference, where stalls primarily prided themselves on the amount of free stuff they could afford to give away.

Overall, I’m not sure what I think of massive trade conferences like this. I’m not convinced there were that many teachers or parents there (and certainly not children). It was useful as a start up to see what the pipeline looks like and the shape of the market, but it felt a whole world away from where real learning is taking place: the playground, the school gates, or the family living room. So, so long BETT, maybe see you next year — I do like an occassional trip out to the docks.

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