Impressions of BETT 2014

The BETT Show is one of the largest educational technology events in the UK and for me it is fast becoming an annual ‘must-attend’ event. Having enjoyed last year’s BETT with the change in format to include more presentations and workshops, I was keen to attend this year’s event. BETT 2014 took place at ExCeL in London from 22-24 January. Every year my time at BETT seems to be different, last year I spent most of my time in the Learn Live stages and this year I found myself focussing on the presentations in the Technology in Higher Education summit.

I attended BETT on the opening day of the conference and chose to avoid the crowds at Michael Gove’s ministerial, in favour of Steve Ryan’s session on the impact of technology in higher education. Steve reported back on research undertaken with the European Commission (EC) which provided case studies of key stakeholders from Europe and the US. For example, Olin College of Engineering was a new College set up to investigate better ways of teaching engineering and to encourage interdisciplinarity, with a strong emphasis on the social context of engineering. Steve noted that new technologies impact on two parts of the innovation process – 1. doing existing things better and 2. doing new things. New technologies support a shift from an institutional to a student-centred vision and can be enablers of innovative practice. For example MOOCs have enabled institutions to develop innovative partnerships, have extended the reach of an institution to unprecedented levels and have developed a wide variety and diversity of approaches. The EC’s report recommends the following:

  • Identify the needs of learners and provide appropriate support
  • Develop a culture of innovation
  • Make changes to systems and processes
  • Consider the evolving relationships between groups of staff, e.g. the relationship of academics with others in university.

The report is due to be published on the EC website shortly. Steve finished by highlighting the funding opportunities available from the EC in the form of Erasmus+ and Horizon 2020.

Professor Gavin Brooks from the University of Reading provided an insight into the development of a Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) strategy for the institution as part of the Changing Learning Landscape programme. He noted that whilst there has been significant advances in the use and availability of technology in schools, Higher Education hasn’t necessarily kept pace with the changes. He presented a familiar story whereby TEL at the University of Reading was not previously a top-level institutional priority, despite pockets of excellence. This has now changed with the introduction of a TEL strategy group on January 2013 lead by Senior Management with the intention of embedding TEL within the University’s teaching and learning strategy and the overall University strategy. The group have developed six strategic priorities for TEL:

  • Engendering a culture of TEL, through the appointment of a new Head of TEL.
  • Wifi – a need to ensure broad bandwidth across all University spaces.
  • VLE – continuing to use Blackboard, but its use needs to use more effective. In addition, there is a need to ensure that the delivery mechanism meets the needs of each group, e.g. should there be different systems for campus based and online students.
  • E-submission, e-marking and e-feedback to become more consistent across the institution.
  • Lecture capture – looking at institutional rollout.
  • MOOCs – via FutureLearn. The main reasons were related to profile and reputation, but also for extending Reading’s global reach. There is a need to look at how to monetize MOOCs, perhaps via SPOCs (small private online courses).

Finally, I attended Steve Wheeler’s session about students driving change and it was great to see that Steve not only had videos of students talking, but also had a real live student on the stage with him. Steve emphasised the importance of understanding students’ use of technology and that they learn better when they take control and become more autonomous, e.g. through the development of personal learning networks. He mentioned that students often shun the institutional VLE in favour of tools they find easier to use. Student use of devices in lectures is not necessarily about personal use of Facebook or Twitter, but enables them to carry out activities in relation to the lecture itself, such as googling concepts being taught and amplifying the ideas from the classroom through discussion on backchannels and additional resources.

The BETT exhibition was as large as ever with a plethora of stands to visit. It was great to see schoolchildren assisting on the Microsoft stand and the variety of tools and technologies aimed at the schools market. Coming from an HE perspective, I find it can be difficult to fully engage with the exhibition, but it’s useful to see what the students of the future will be experiencing at schools and how those experiences and technologies will impact on what we need to consider in HE.

Julie Voce
E-learning Services Manager
Imperial College London

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