Five Takeaways From England's Largest Education Technology Show

The annual Bett Show in London drew more than 35,000 visitors from 113 countries

23 March 2016

Each year the Bett Show (formerly the British Education Training and Technology Show) brings together educators to explore the latest technologies for the classroom. This year’s event, held in January in London, attracted some 35,000 visitors from more than 100 countries. More than 700 companies exhibited their products, including Apple, Google, Microsoft, and a variety of startups. Leading experts from education and technology gave speeches and held forums and seminars. Here are some highlights from this year’s event:

1. Want to get kids interested in engineering? Let them play with robots.

Technology companies in the United Kingdom often share concerns that preuniversity students aren’t learning the necessary STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) skills. A 12-week course created by VEX Robotics, in Greenville, Texas, and Fanuc, an automation company in Oshino, Japan, aims to change this. It’s the first robotics certification course for high school students in the U.K.

The course is designed to teach students ages 14 to 16 how to build, program, and maintain robots. They will work with robotic arms similar to those used in factories. Students will learn theoretical and practical skills, and the course will hopefully encourage them to pursue engineering as a career, said Paul McKnight, head of operations at VEX, during a session on the new program.

2. Teachers should encourage all students to consider careers in tech—not just girls.

Speaker Sue Black said that she disagreed with the idea that more effort was needed to get girls involved in STEM subjects. She is founder of Techmums, a developer of free hands-on and online tech workshops for women.

Black argued that more should be done to get all kids into STEM. “We should move away from gender roles,” she said. “What’s key is instilling a passion for technology and showing what opportunities are out there in this field for everyone.”

3. Technology can help teachers spend more time educating and less time doing administrative work.

U.K. Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, called for the creation of technology that can help teachers do their jobs better. For example, a program to capture and analyze data can assist educators with keeping track of student attendance and creating progress reports, and will eliminate unnecessary paperwork that can be time-consuming. And online and computerized testing would mean fewer boxes to check, papers to grade, and scores to calculate.

Morgan said that data-analysis software would be invaluable to teachers because they would give them more time to focus on educating students. Based on test scores, the program could also inform them which parts of the curriculum students are grasping and where there is room for improvement.

4. Teachers need help with technology, too.

Many educators did not grow up with the technology they use or teach in the classroom, so it’s just as important for them to develop computer skills as it is for their students to learn.

Deb Millar, head of e-learning at Blackburn College, in Carlinville, Ill., wants to help bridge the gap. She’s developed a free set of online lesson plans created by teachers to help other teachers learn how to use programs such as Skype and Google Docs. Millar ran a session at the show and asked participants to suggest ways of using other programs so these could be incorporated in the new Bett Show learning wheel [above]. The learning wheel illustrates a number of technologies to help teachers develop content, facilitate communication and collaboration in the classroom and with other teachers, and handle administrative work.

5. Highly skilled computer teachers raise standards in the classroom, but the U.K. needs more of them.

In the U.K., master teachers specialize in a certain area, such as computer science and mathematics. Once they’re certified in these areas, they go to other schools to train teachers and help them write lesson plans to improve that specific curriculum.

In 2014, the U.K. government said that this year, there would be 400 master computing teachers working in its schools but that hasn’t transpired. More master teachers are needed because of changes to the country’s curriculum, which places greater emphasis on computer science and less on basic computer skills such as word processing. According to government statistics, 56,000 teachers have benefited from the expertise of a master computing teacher.

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