On a cold and wintery (a little snow here and there) morning in January we set out for London docklands. The journey was typical of the UK in January, everything was grey – roads, paths, sky, river all painted in various shades of the January grey with flickerings of white snow here and there.
In stark contrast, the brightly lit archway entrance to the Excel building was proudly announcing that BETT had started. Once inside and away from the cold drafts of the doors as people poured in, the vibe was upbeat, you really could have been anywhere. There was live music, with lots of activity and some really fun things to learn about and explore. Now we should point out that we’re not actually in education, so why did we attend BETT I hear you cry! Well we love tech and we’re passionate about innovation, and nowhere is this more important than within education. This is the source of what’s going to happen next, how we’re going to overcome our current challenges and the ways in which tech can facilitate that is a constant source of fascination for us.
This blog post covers lots of different aspects of the show, from the fun and informative to the innovative and it includes a section about what we’ve learnt from a session that we attended on Cognition and AI.
Ok lets go.
First we need to point out that this is by no means completely exhaustive, there’s loads to see and investigate at BETT, this is just our personal highlights.
It wouldn’t be a tech show without bots and they were everywhere, doing all kinds of things, from sycronised dancing to drawing. Some large scale but most of them were desktop cuteies, explorative project fodder, ideal to engage young minds in the possibilities of the future.
Over the past few years the surfaces onto which projections can be applied has taken a massive step forward, across the concourse there was everything from spinning blades and fans to entire glass walls. The depth of colour and movement within these is quite incredible and like moths to the flame, people flocked to the stands with the coolest projections.
There was a lot of 3D printing displayed at BETT, the complexities and subtle nature of which continues to develop. The perfect tool for young minds to explore what’s possible and the mechanics of making stuff work.
VR and AR
This tech is always popular, people genuinely want it to work and be really immersive, and it’s getting there. Class VR was without a doubt the stand out attraction in the VR sector.
They clearly know their audience, using a Delorean from the 80’s classic, Back to the Future. Here Doc Brown takes you for a spin in the car, flux capacitor fully operable and you arrive in a pre-historic sea, after a quick dip with the dino’s it’s off to ancient Egypt and a look around a pyramid, then WWII where you’re in the trenches and the sky is a light with bullets and you finish with a blast into the future, with floating housing colonies and a lot of the things we’ve seen in countless movies over the years.
All very theatrical and pretty smooth to be honest, but the tech still struggles to keep up with the human ability to change direction, with a little lag and blur before returning to the sharp if somewhat fractaled images.
Classrooms like we’ve never seen
Not sure whether these are visions for the future or just someone’s idea of what an education space looks like. No-one on our team has ever been to any school, college or university that looked as hip as these café style classrooms, but here’s hoping that this is on the radar for the future.
This remains a big buzzword with all manner of machine learning being promoted to help us, the people, deliver more and be more productive. We were drawn to the Microsoft AI juice bar. Something a little different that was worth exploring we felt.
How’s it work? Well, you stand in front of a camera, there’s a screen that shows you a dozen or so images and at the end you are told what kind of drink suits you. This is based on your reactions, your age, gender and mood. We got an empowerer which could be taken either way – are we an empowerer or did the AI think that our batteries are running low?
Keeping with the AI theme, we attended a talk about cognition and AI. Something dear to our hearts, as we love the new tech and appreciate that we all need to be cognitively prepared and capable to work with this technology.
The session was split into 3 sections, following a brief introduction we were introduced to Shagun, a 15 year old student who has been studying maths in the U.S. She is fascinated by data and in particular genomic data, using AI to wade through mountains of data looking for correlations and indicators of cancer. An amazing project and an amazing 15 year old, to stand there, in front of around 300 people at a global event and deliver a 10 minute session.
Next it was Barbara Holzapfel, GM at Microsoft Education, and she gave an empowered talk about the importance of personal emotional intelligence, the way in which this supports the use of AI and the alarming stats about the lack of emotional personal support within many of the worlds education systems.
Rounding off the session was Dr Mark Brackett, his interactive session about emotional wellbeing was fun (more so than he intended as the audio failed mid session) and insightful. The stats he quoted about teen emotions in the US today was pretty frightening TBH and the equivalent figures for those who are trying to do the educating, it made for pretty grim reading.
Technology has opened the doors to incredible learning, but we’re not all emotionally prepared for that bombardment of information, we need to realise where we are on the spectrum, address the elephants in the room and ensure that we’re emotionally strong enough to take the technical innovations and build with them, not be driven by them.
That’s just some of the things that we saw in 1 day at BETT, there’s loads more we could include, be sure to check our social feeds where we share more about what we’ve seen and what’s inspiring us. We will be at ISE in early February and will report back in a similar way.