Three trends at BETT

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Well worth the shoe leather!

Well worth the shoe leather!

My first impressions of BETT? 1) It’s huge.  Given the fact that it’s billed as the ‘world’s largest education technology event’, this should not have come as a surprise, but the sheer number of new educational technology products and startup companies present was astounding.  2) Unlike ELT-specific conferences such as IATEFL, there’s very little actual product on display.  It’s all on the cloud or on a device.  So, I actually had to talk to lots of people, which meant that it took me an entire four hours to travel down one aisle.  The below, then, should perhaps be viewed as a sample of the trends I observed at the conference, rather than a representation of the big picture of BETT.

User generated content and interactivity

Promethean

It was difficult to ignore this stand–banners advertising Promethean stretched all along the arrival corridor.  The product itself seemed to live up to all the hype, however.  Most teachers will be familiar with Promethean interactive whiteboards, but Promethean is now offering Classflow: cloud-based software which allows the teacher to interact with her students via their hand-held device.  For example, the teacher can send a multiple choice question out to students to check their opinion of something, their comprehension of a listening task or a piece of vocabulary.  She can then view the response on a whiteboard, either in the form of a graph or broken down by student.  There’s also scope for the teacher to set a test for students and for granular results to be sent back to the teacher.  The whole thing looked very slick when demonstrated and I can see how it would be advantageous for large classes in particular.  It even links up with Google Drive so that you can upload your students’ work.  One major advantage of the product is that it’s FREE to use … for now.   One disadvantage?  This depends on your perspective.  The interactive exercises are provided by Promethean, but the content is entirely generated by teachers, for other teachers.  For now, at least, there doesn’t seem to be quality control of content in the form of an editor, or an expert author.  It seems that Promethean are trying to cut out the middle-man, or the publisher.  Teachers can make their own decisions whether to use others’ content.

MUV Interactive Bird

The basic premise of this product is that it makes any content interactive.  The product is a small ‘bird’-like device that sits on a teacher’s or student’s finger and brings to life print and digital products so that they can be projected onto any surface and manipulated.  I can imagine it having a real ‘wow’ factor in the classroom but whether schools would see it being useful enough to justify the cost is another matter.

Assessment and granular feedback

BKSB

Winner of the BETT 2016 award for ICT company of the year, BKSB offers a complete testing package for schools.  Their products include Diagnostic adaptive assessments that identify gaps in students’ knowledge, learning resources that help to fill the aforementioned gaps and exam practice.  Interestingly for ELT specialists, they also provide IELTS tests.

There were countless other stands with products devoted to providing adaptive, individualised tests for students.  Most also offered teacher-friendly ways of collating and analysing the granular feedback from tests.  I can see why this sort of product would sell well into secondary schools, where there is continuous formal monitoring of students’ progress.  I plan to investigate whether it provides a sufficient level of detailed feedback in order to work as a formative assessment tool.

Accelerated Reader

Those of you who have read my blog posts on extensive reading will know that I’ve been trying to get my students motivated to read graded readers.  One obstacle to this has been the limited range of fictional titles available on graded readers and another issue is the fact that graded readers just don’t have the same relevance or appeal of titles written specifically for the teenage native speaker reader.  What if, then, there was a tool that could measure an international student’s reading level and recommend ANY fictional book written at a suitable level (regardless of whether the student’s first language is English or not) and for a particular age?  Renaissance Learning Star Reading assessment tool does just this.  The Accelerated Reader then provides quizzes on 28,000 titles to check a student’s comprehension.  I’m hoping to trial this with my students over the next few weeks.

Self-access and differentiated learning materials

With so much content to cover in a school year and limited time for revision in class, it’s not surprising that there was a wealth of self-study tools on display at BETT.  There were also tools which aimed to provide differentiated learning for students who might need more help.

Essay writer

One step up from mind-mapping tools, Essay Writer allows students to put their initial ideas on a mind map, to add substantial amounts of text to each section of the map and then to put these ideas into sequence, so that they form paragraphs of an essay.  It’s then easy to transfer these paragraphs into a word document.  Hey presto – the student has written a well-organised essay!

Texthelp

Once a book or text is uploaded onto Texthelp, the student can choose from a range of different voices to listen to.  They they listen and read at the same time, pausing the voice if they don’t recognise a word and clicking on it if they need a definition.

GCSEpod

This provides curriculum content in manageable, interesting chunks.  The content is mainly presented via animated video, with accompanying voice overs and is created by expert teachers.

As you may have gathered by now, the products available were almost exclusively geared towards the UK schools market.  There was little that was immediately and obviously relevant to the ELT specialist and only a couple of ELT publishers were evident.  On closer inspection, however, I could envisage many of the products on display being useful in an English language teaching environment.  It would be great to see more partnerships between the technology companies and ELT publishers taking place.

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