The annual visit to the BETT exhibition took place on Friday last, a couple of weeks later in the calendar than usual and at a new venue, the ExCel centre in place of dear old Olympia. Bit harder to get at by car, so we went up by train, which made for a rather more relaxing and sociable experience. The traditional lunchtime jaunt to the Persian restaurant or the pub with Thai food were sadly off the menu in these new surroundings, but we did find a fair substitute – might have been The Tavern, but can’t quite remember – which served up a pretty decent pint of bitter and 70s-style scampi and chips.
So what was new this year? Well, I suppose there was no real sense of the next big thing about this year’s exhibition. Rather it was about further development, particularly of mobile devices and resources designed for that format. So lots of tablets and hybrids everywhere, many inspired by the recent arrival of the new Windows 8 OS. I especially liked the look of the sleek and shiny Samsung Ativ Smart PC Pro, which sports its own stylus in the style of the Galaxy Note, making for a much better writing experience than with the more usual fat-tipped capacitive pens. But, as I suspect you could need a small mortgage to buy one, it might be better to settle for one of the other more affordable – but still sleek and shiny – alternatives.
In the afternoon I thought I should check out where the book publishers are up to in terms of developing e-book (horrible word!) alternatives to the school textbook. The much trumpeted RM Bookshelf has finally actually arrived but has a long way to go to before it becomes the one-stop shop it sets out to be. Hodder’s Dynamic Learning is kind of getting there but is still a bit stuck in the ‘let’s pdf the printed book and call it an e-book’ mode. The best progress, I think, is being made by Pearson whose Active Teach is much more like it, offering something truly interactive and flexible which could see the textbook heading for the recycling bin. We linguists already enjoy the interactive resources that go with the Expo and Logo courses, for example, and Active Teach takes these the next logical step forwards.
I was encouraged by the responses to my questions about pricing for these resources which indicate that there will be definite cost savings as the e-book (can we please stop calling it that?) replaces the traditional textbook. On the other hand, it was a tad depressing to think that, at this critical moment in the development of such resources, Mr Gove and his back-to-the-future reforms threaten to hold the whole thing up because of the need for publishers to adapt to new, hastily cobbled together specifications.
So, there we are for another year. Big, buzzy, captivating and confusing, BETT remains the definitive day out for the technophile within us, and its new location hasn’t changed anything about that.