Each Year I Spend A little Less Time At BETT


For the best part of a decade the coming of a new year meant only one thing work wise: the BETT trade show for education technology.

It was by far the most significant marketing event in the company’s year and you could be guaranteed to find all of the major players in assistive technologies gathered at the show. It marked an opportunity to catch up with industry colleagues, have meetings with people that you had been meaning to have since last BETT and a chance to gossip and size up the competition. Not only that but you would also be able to find all sorts of exciting gadgets and interesting ideas for making education more engaging and fun.

Or at least it used to be like that. Certainly during the last couple of years of working at iansyst Ltd we were questioning the value of spending such a large slice of our yearly budget on this one show. Building stands and coordinating marketing materials, personnel and the attendant travel and hotels all costs significant amounts of money. It is very difficult to track whether or not the investment in such trade shows is really worthwhile. But the Assistive Technology industry keeps coming back year after year.

This January was the second time that I had attended BETT as a visitor and not as an exhibitor. I had made two short visits the previous January to catch up with former colleagues and has a nose around to see what was new. The relief of not having to man the stand was palpable, I could freely wander around and do my business as I chose.

However this year I spent a total of 2 1/2 hours at the biggest education technology show in the world. In fact I probably spent half an hour too long.

Why is that?

Aside from catching up with colleagues there was very little innovation on show. Yes there were new versions of most of the familiar assistive technology software, yes Microsoft and all the big technology players had flashy stands and Google was notable for the increased presence but there was very little of interest.

Most of my colleagues were too flustered or tired to be able to have a sensible conversation, and finding somewhere comfortable to have that conversation was nigh on impossible. The real innovation is elsewhere, if you want to understand what really ignites interest in young learners and what the really important technology trends are you should not be going to BETT.

Why not check out events that really focus on innovation and engagement in the technologies that will be shaping our lives in the coming decades? Next year I have resolved not to go to BETT and spend the time at more focused events like Learning without Frontiers and the fantastic mobile conference run every November by Tomi Ahonen and Ajit Joakar.

The BETT show like the CES show in America has seen its glory days in years gone by, whilst these shows are still very large they are growing less significant year by year. CES used to be the most important trade show in the electronics world every year, it has been supplanted by Mobile World Congress. Everything is mobile, everything is personal and these old shows don’t reflect that.

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7 thoughts on “Each Year I Spend A little Less Time At BETT

  1. I was lucky I had at least 15 minutes of that 21/2 hours over a cup of coffee! I fear you may be right in what you say! I saw lots of large screens, tablets galore and updates to many products, but rarely the sight of a WOW factor that would send one home inspired. So when it comes to working in the accessibility/assistive technology (AT) field; how can we link up with those innovators you mention? How can we stop hanging onto the coat tails of those starting the trends and get in there early on, so retro-fitting becomes unnecessary? I would love to learn about new ideas that come from users as well as developers (www.realisepotential.org has some examples) and get them space at Bett without it costing a fortune.

  2. I agree that the SEN corner lacked many new ideas (although I loved the mouse scanner even if it was a bit gimmicky). The lack of reliable wi-fi was an embarrassment for a show that’s meant to be at the forefront of technology (and yes I am bitter as it completely messed up my presentation). On the plus side I still think that some of the stuff out on the main floor could end up improving the inclusivity of general teaching. Some of the 3D science teaching software seemed to be building on software that dyslexic students have been telling me that they’d like to see more of e.g. Gaia 3D and Grays Anatomy for the iPad. I won’t give up just yet – let’s hope the move to Excel in 2013 freshens things up a bit.

    • Hi Kevin,

      Thanks for the comments. I posted this before I know that the show is moving to excel. I don’t know if a change of venue will make a difference or not I think that is dependent on the exhibitors.

      It might resolve the wifi issues though.

  3. A bit pessimistic Neil — we found it quite a good show. But it was also the off-stand discussions,often about the new technologies and developments, where it has value.

    Sorry to have missed you, as I would like to have taken up 15 minutes more of your time. Maybe that would have made it all worth while 😉 !

    • Hi Ian,

      I think that the off stand discussions are always interesting and valuable but these could easily take place elsewhere.

      The main benefit is that everyone is in the same place which makes it easier I guess. I still think that there was very little innovation on display though.

      I am happy to meet any time you venture down to London, so let me know…

  4. I had my first visit to BETT this year despite a lifetime of working in the field of AT. My impression was that it lived up to expectations. I have been to a lot worse in the states and the smaller ones in the UK have always been disappointing. I enjoyed meeting up with folks I have not seen for ages although I did find it hard to get close to some of the stands for the volume of people waiting to talk to the staff on duty, my apologies to those who I missed. I always say if I come away from an event like this with at least one new idea then it was worth my time; I came away with half a dozen.

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