What can EdTech offer schools?: A visit to the British Educational Training and Technology Show London 2023
From the 29th to the 31st of March, the BETT show took place at the ExCel Centre in London. I had the pleasure of heading to the event for one day to check out all the new and exciting things happening in the EdTech world.
BETT has been running since 1985, and every year it seems to inch closer to the educational mainstream. This year, most of the tools and companies featured were already household names, mostly thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic’s forced closure of schools a few years ago. Despite recognition of the major players in EdTech, there were still new technologies to discover and insights to be gleaned from the show.
All around the world
On the day I attended, the ExCel Centre was filled to the brim with company stalls, exhibition pavilions, international attendees, and even an arena which showcased the headlining events.
In the north hall, there was a Global Showcase which included the United Arab Emirates Ministry of Education. Their large display area was essentially a showcase of the direction of education in the UAE, but they weren’t the only country represented. There were also stalls from Poland, Germany, Hungary, South Korea, France, and the UK, with most of them featuring certain EdTech companies originating in their respective countries.
Clearly, EdTech is a global phenomenon, with countries all over the world innovating in this space.
Improvement over innovation
Beside this was a gigantic area for equipment and hardware, in which you could find all sorts of robotics, display screens, augmented reality equipment, and gaming stations.
All day, these stalls featured demos of their technology, and you could find attendees trailing VR goggles, looking through digital curriculum on interactive touchscreens, and even playing tech-augmented sports. I spent a while checking out robotic dogs doing complex tricks and saw a pair of PE teachers failing miserably at hitting targets with a basketball on a wall-length screen – all very entertaining.
What I didn’t see in this area was anything brand new.
While the tech was impressive, most of it has been around for a while, so companies that produce it appear to be in the improvement phase, rather than developing something completely novel. This was disappointing (because it would’ve been great to see a brand-new prototype), but also understandable, as schools’ capacity to adopt new technologies can be limited (by time, training, and budgets, for example), and much of even the older technology is not found in mainstream classrooms.
An education in EdTech
Walking into the south hall presented attendees with a plethora of familiar names. Microsoft’s stall was front and centre and they had a very animated presenter showing people how to fully take advantage of the suite of software built into Office 365. For example, did you know that you can get instant data insights from your classes on Microsoft Teams? In fact, did you even know you could do class management on Teams?
Many of the software giants that we are most familiar with, such as Google and Apple, appeared to be interested in making sure their customers knew about all the features that were built into their tech. Those included a lot of features that I didn’t know about, such as instantaneous analytics, embedded AI assistants, and cybersecurity features.
These companies clearly want to become one stop shops for educators, and are expanding the functions of the tools with which many people are already comfortable.
The app-space – from tutoring to cybersecurity
Alongside the giants were other notable companies, like Canva, Intel, SMART, ClassIn, and Pearson. All of them had stalls with helpful attending staff, and some of the more international congregations had clearly travelled quite far to get to BETT. I walked around this hall for quite a while, learning about different apps, programs, and tools that varied in function.
Canva was showcasing designs and had a place for young children to demo their tools. SMART had huge high-definition monitors that it clearly wanted placed in classrooms. ClassIn had a booth with a tech demo, showing off a class about cell biology and all the features of the interactive classroom that could be used to augment teaching about mitochondria.
Cybersecurity was a big theme, and I spent time with one company that offered a cyber safeguarding service for schools that notified the school staff if children ended up in questionable online situations while using school computers.
There were also tutoring agencies that used technology to help match up verified tutors with pupils online. Still other tech was targeted at students only, such as Glean, a note-taking app that advertised with a huge waste bin and a slogan of “No more learning waste.”
Young people and esports in the limelight
Throughout the day, it was great to see that the voices of young people weren’t absent from the show.
I saw one presentation about women in tech in which two secondary school students shared their experience of creating a text-to-speech program for students with reading difficulties. It was amazing to see how young people’s interests in coding turned, with the right support from teachers and school leaders, into a profitable business venture.
Another presentation at the Arena featured several secondary school and college students participating in newly implemented programmes and degrees about esports. This tapped into another overarching BETT theme – esports are on the rise.
With video games attracting a 2-billion strong audience globally, educators are seeking to take advantage of this interest on behalf of young people and tap it to create educational resources and pathways into productive roles in society. This rang true at BETT, with some areas of the ExCel Centre looking more like arcades and esports tournaments than educational showcases.
It appears that video games, under the more romanticised guise of ‘esports’, are finally having their potential as educational tools realised.
Mainstreaming educational technology
Overall, BETT was a very worthwhile overview of what’s going on in the EdTech world. That world is no longer a fringe realm – it is encroaching upon mainstream education, especially as technological industries see the opportunity to capitalise both on young people’s interest in technology, and governments’ need to ensure education is preparing young people for the modern world.