The first few weeks of January are always conference season for me. I start with the Association for Science Education (ASE) Conference and then its BETT, the ICT conference. It’s very interesting to compare the two different approaches.

At the ASE the main focus is on the free workshops and seminars running over the few days. It’s held at a university and there are hundreds of different talks going on every day. Anyone can give a talk – you just need to sign up in advance to get put into the conference guide. You can sign up for some courses, but on the whole you just look through the booklet on the morning of the conference, see who’s on, and just turn up and listen.

There is also a trade tent where companies exhibit – but the main focus of the conference is to go and listen/take part in the lectures and seminars. I learn some great stuff every year that I pass on to my students and colleagues.

When I worked at Cornwallis School, we used to take the whole Science dept to the ASE as our main CPD fix for the year. We’d fund it through running an INSET day for teachers in other schools – and use the money to fund Friday cover (and give up our Saturday) so we could attend. We’d hit as many workshops as we could and then share everything back to each other at the next staff meeting. It was great.

BETT2010

At BETT the main focus is on the trade fair, (or at least it has been up to now). There are a few “keynote” seminars and talks going on – but I have never been compelled to attend any of them. There are also talks going on at many of the big stands – with salespeople talking about X or Y that their product can do. I tended to go to BETT to see what was new – to network with old friends who work on various stands and to try and get demo disks of useful software.

The focus of the ASE was really about learning and sharing. The focus of BETT is about selling. Now I don’t blame them for that – the companies attending BETT are charged an arm and a leg for attending. Even the tiny stands cost thousands, and extra if you want things such as power or internet.. So yes they have to maximise their bang for their buck. But there are some expensive things on show, that aren’t really what’s needed right now. Yes it looks flashy – but do we really need a 3D screen?

TeachMeet Takeover

But there’s a shift happening. The Teachmeet model has begun to change what BETT was all about for me and with the three big fringe events on the evenings of BETT plus Teachmeet Takeover, there was a real shift of focus. It felt a little more like a conference, and less like a trade fair.

Teachmeet Takeover was a brilliant idea. Companies would agree to give up part of their stand time to teachers and educators to share some of the excellent things that were going on actually in their classrooms. Totally unrelated to the product on sale on that particular stand (most of the time). I caught a few of the talks going on through Thursday and Friday, and it was great to see how well-attended they were, despite the difficulty in promoting it to the masses – most of which had no idea these events were taking place.

The speakers at TEDxOrenda were inspiring. The talk that went on at AmplifiED was excellent. And the evening Teachmeet event on the Friday was amazing as always. I nagged a couple of friends to make the time to attend and they were amazed at the buzz in the room. It was packed with over 200 people. And the vibe of educators teaching educators, sharing what they’ve done and getting new ideas from others, was excellent. There wasn’t a sales pitch all night – the sponsors logos were there (and many thanks to them for supporting the three nights) but there was no hard sell.

It was all about what any education show should be about – Teaching and Learning.

Teachmeet @ Bett 2010

This year, the Fringe was where it’s at. They were something I looked forward to attending – and I learnt stuff too. Thanks to everyone who took part in organising it – Tom Barrett, Drew Buddie, Leon Cych amongst many others. To the sponsors such as EMAP and others (see list here) for funding it – and to everyone who spoke and attended. It was a blast.

Here’s hoping for more of the same next year – maybe bigger and better!

On similar lines, also read :

BrainPopUK made a great video which explains what a TeachMeet is: