BETT 2017

A review of this year's educational technology show

Part of the role of a learning technologist is to venture out beyond campus in order to keep abreast of emerging technological advances and the pedagogic uses they are being put to within the HE sector. That said, we sent Steve Ganfield on the annual pilgrimage to BETT 2017 at the ExCel centre in London to be our eyes and ears…

Learning Technologist stands outside BETT 2017 at ExCeL Centre in London
Waiting outside BETT 2017 at ExCeL and yes it was cold!
Image of entrance to the Higher Education Leaders Summit at BETT 2017
My second home while at BETT 2017

Anyone who has attended BETT (previously known as the British Educational Training and Technology Show) knows that the place is HUGE and is a heady mix of technology trade show coupled with the opportunity to network with like-minded colleagues from all levels of the education system.

I must admit that it is useful to see the latest innovations in interactive technology, audience response systems and plagiarism detection software, but squirrelled away amongst the whiteboards and mobile device storage solutions is the Higher Education Leaders summit – a forum for colleagues to share thoughts and practice of using technology in their teaching. Perhaps unsurprisingly this is where I spent most of my time as the presentation schedule included many themes of interest.

The continued importance of the student voice

Many presenters agreed that Higher Education needs to be more student centred. On the one hand, Ryan Taylor (Head of Digital, City, University of London) argued that students need to be much more involved in University processes than just representing their peers on Faculty committees. Some of the ways they seek to achieve this are to:

  • Engage with students to promote the University by providing peer reviews for the website and social media output (content that prospective students increasingly value).
  • Enlist international student ambassadors to oversee the social media channels in their country of origin to utilise their native language skills in order to convey the institution’s consistent advertising message to emerging international markets.

On the other, Steve Wheeler (Associate Professor in Information & Computer Technology, University of Plymouth) argued in his session that the development of mobile devices and social media has enabled students to connect with peers and form personal learning networks like never before. This has then fed into new student-centred pedagogy that has seen students develop from consumers to more producers/curators of knowledge and stakeholders in their own learning.

Picture of yellow American School bus in the BETT tradeshow
You never know what you will see at BETT!

Rise of the machines

Most in attendance seemed to agree that the use of technology had to be driven by lecturers’ pedagogical aims and enhance their everyday teaching as opposed to being used just because ‘it’s the next big thing’. Use of virtual and augmented reality in teaching appeared to be all the rage at this year’s show and I am happy to say that lecturers in the Kent School of Architecture already put this technology to effective use!

In their respective sessions, Rebecca Ferguson (Open University and Learning Analytics Community Exchange (LACE)) and Anthony Salcito (Vice President Worldwide Education, Microsoft) both highlighted the increasing importance of using technology (specifically learning analytics and data) from across all areas of institutions to engage students; empower lecturers; optimise institutions; and ultimately transform teaching and learning in a much more proactive way (e.g. by facilitating timely interventions to improve the student experience). The latter also expected development in artificial intelligence (AI) personal assistants such as Siri, Alexa and Cortana to continue to increasingly enable students to search online sources more effectively as these systems seek to utilise users’ personal preferences to a greater degree to make searches more relevant to them and/or the context being investigated.

Tradition stifling innovation?

Learning Technologist selfie with company mascot
You never know who you are going to meet at BETT!

Given that technology evolves at a faster rate than university processes, there was much debate of how traditional methods of assessment may now be increasingly at odds with new pedagogy made possible through the use of technology. For example, Miles Berry (Principal lecturer, University of Roehampton) presented on how a skills audit into students’ digital technology skills in the 1st year of the primary education teacher training course saw a traditional 3,500-word essay submission replaced by a video essay submission (4 minutes of narrated, reflective video) in the 3rd year.

The assignment demonstrated no less academic rigour but helped students develop skills (video production) that would be of increasing benefit to them in their future career. Similarly, the resulting panel discussion questioned whether higher education still perhaps concentrates a little too much on the recall of facts through the writing of theoretical essays when it comes to assessment particularly of practical subjects where students might be better served to be set a problem to solve and build a solution as this is more aligned to what they would be doing in their work context on a day-to-day basis.

There were so many sessions of interest and the above is just a flavour of what was on offer, but it just demonstrates that BETT has evolved and is now far more than a learning technology trade show. Next year’s event is already being planned for 24-27 January 2018, so better get it in the diary!

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