[Bett Show 2016] What We Learned at the U.K.’s Premier Edtech Event

Monday, February 1, 2016 -- Kristie Lindell

Last week, I was lucky enough to take a trip across the pond to check out the Bett Show 2016. Bett is one of the world’s leading education technology conferences and is hosted every year in London (think of a U.K. version of ISTE, with a touch more international flavor). This year’s conference drew thousands of educators and edtech professionals from around the world and featured over 500 sessions, four keynote speakers, and nearly 900 exhibitors. Needless to say, it was a full four days!

My time at the Bett Show 2016 was also a great reminder of the global nature of education. In our tech-savvy, Internet-surfing world, the degrees of separation between us all are consistently declining, and the education field is no exception. As I wandered the sessions and exhibits and spoke with attendees at the conference, I was struck by how many of the issues and topics that are top of mind here in the U.S. were also being discussed by U.K. and other foreign educators. It inspired me to think globally when considering ways to keep improving Edmentum’s solutions. After all, we all have the same end goal—to provide students with the best education possible. So, to recap my experience at Bett, I want to highlight three topics in education that are just as relevant abroad as they are here at home.

1. Optimizing Assessments

Between Common Core controversy, the opt-out movement, NCLB waivers, and authorization of ESSA legislation, we’ve heard plenty about student assessment here in the U.S. over the past couple of years. This is a difficult issue; how can we find the balance between effectively measuring students’ skills and making a school a place where deep, organic learning occurs? Countries around the world are grappling with the same questions. At Bett 2016, I heard a lot of talk about England’s new national curriculum, which represents a move away from assessing students based on defined “levels”. Instead, the new curriculum defines key student skills and outcomes, and leaves decisions about how to assess students’ mastery of these competencies to individual schools. To develop the new curriculum, the U.K.’s Department for Education widely consulted with subject matter experts, and special interest groups, as well as looking to high-achieving countries including Singapore, the United States, and Finland. Now, the challenge for U.K. schools lies in how to implement the new programs of study and create effective assessment methods to measure student progress—a process which we can certainly learn from.

2. Making the Transition from STEM to STEAM

Science, technology, math, and engineering (STEM) education has been seen as the key to continued innovation and valuable career skills for some time now, and it has received plenty of focus in the classroom. However, as technology continues to evolve and impact daily life, the need for innovation and creativity is being recognized more and more. Enter STEAM, or science, technology, engineering, art, and math education. By refocusing learning to include the arts and humanities, students can develop a more design-thinking approach that fosters new ideas, strong communication, and passion. This transition from STEM to STEAM mindset is taking place in classrooms around the world.

Some countries are considerably further ahead of the U.S. in formalizing this focus on STEAM education and putting standards in place to teach it. The U.K. is a great example with the requirement for computer science and coding to be taught beginning in elementary school. Pairing technical curriculum like that alongside traditional foundational learning like reading, writing, and math is a great way to foster the STEAM mindset. More tools are being developed to help make computer science more accessible not only to students but also to teachers. Our EducationCity Computing module is one great example. It helps in teaching students how to solve problems like programmers while also emphasizing overall digital literacy.

3. Focusing on Higher Education

It’s common knowledge that more and more jobs here are requiring postsecondary education, training, and certification, and the same is true overseas. This year’s Bett conference even featured a “Technology in Higher Education Summit” for presentations dedicated to postsecondary teaching and learning. This emphasized to me how the need for primary and secondary education to prepare students not only for college but also for fast-growing, 21st century careers is a truly global concern. And, as the economy continues to globalize, more individuals will find themselves with coworkers, clients, or projects located across countries and continents. As a result, coordinating education efforts across countries will become more important.

Bett 2016 was a great experience—and a great reminder of the huge pool of experience and knowledge that there is to gain from the international community. Education is an issue and industry with a huge impact on all of us. Discussing challenges, sharing solutions, and embracing new approaches are keys to making meaningful progress.

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