BETT: technology in the classroom

Now that the razzmatazz of the Consumer Electronics Show has ended, attention turns to a tech conference that is much more modest, but equally as important.

The BETT show, formerly known as the British Educational Training and Technology, has been showcasing the role of technology in education going back to 1985. I was 13 years old back then and technology in education was limited to a computer lab that we had access to for about an hour a week.

It was full of technology – mainly BBC Micros, Commodore PETs, and later we would take delivery of some IBM PS2 machines. Technology was very much a peripheral part of my formal education. I had a computer at home, a Dragon 32, one of the many micro computers that had invaded British homes.

And how did we use the computers? We were taught some basic programming, played educational “games” and that was it. There was no world wide web, remember, no Wikipedia, no e-mail, no Google.

Dr John Spencer, a veteran teacher of IT, has written a fascinating blog post ahead of BETT.

He writes: “The week, after Facebook got a $50bn valuation and its server count approached 1000,000, I asked my students (18 year olds) who amongst them carried a mobile device with a permanent net connection? … All of them, even me.

Next, who had a Facebook account? …all of them, but not me (too paranoid and no friends). Finally, I asked them how many of these wonders of the 21st Century are used in education? … None of them … Ooops I had forgotten, they’re banned in class. We slyly returned them to our pockets and checked they were on vibrate.”

He highlights the crucial problem at the heart of IT in education – how can the technology in the classroom, and the teaching of technology, keep pace with the relentless innovation of this industry?

The spending rounds of education authorities are not aligned with Moore’s Law or the dizzying development of the web, of which social networking services like Facebook and Twitter are the acme.

For a long time educational technology, at least in terms of hardware, pursued a path that seemed at odds with the development of wider technology.

There was a thinking that educational technology should somehow be different from the technology children (and teachers) are actually using in their homes, their bedrooms, in the playground etc.

Thankfully, that’s changed – certainly in hardware. And at BETT this week the presence of companies such as Intel, HP, Dell, Samsung, Asus, RM and Viglen shows just how much that has changed.

KVM, virtualisation, video conferencing, high definition video, HTML 5 – the demands in education mirror the demands in the “real world”.

That’s why the computers in the classroom or in the lab need the same kind of advanced processing that you’ll find at home or in the enterprise.

Matthew Stibbe is writer-in-chief at Articulate Marketing. He is also an avid blogger, closet geek and HP fanatic.