With advancements in technology, FE has moved on, too – not that you’d be too aware of that if you were a visitor to this year’s Bett show, argues Bob Harrison.

It was a promising start to my 12th Bett (formerly British Educational Training and Technology) conference.

Following Business Secretary Vince Cable opening the show at Excel, in London, and FE Minister Matthew Hancock’s attendance and personal interest in digital technologies, there is a unique combination of factors that suggests the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) will be taking a serious look at how technology-enhanced learning could support the government’s aims for the FE and skills sector.

This is particularly true of the massive open online course (MOOC) phenomenon which is gaining momentum in the USA and the UK.

As well as 100 ministers of education from around the globe being joined by the BIS ministers at the end-of-January event, the official Bett guide was entitled Schools and FE show guide 2013 and not only that, but there was a nominated FE day, too.

Sadly, the promise was not fulfilled from an FE perspective and what promised so much for FE veterans like me was short-lived and didn’t materialise.

Yes, the shiny gizmos, tablets, touch surface screens, high speed broadband Wi-Fi systems, sophisticated software, 3D printing and much more turned me into a rabbit in the digital future’s headlights, but where were all my FE friends and colleagues?

Perhaps they were down the road at Olympia at the mis-timed (or perhaps Bett was mistimed) Learning and Technologies UK show which features the best in the world of work-based learning?

Credit to the Association for Learning Technology who, encouragingly, are now official Bett partners for the first time, but even on the designated FE day the post-16 footprint was negligible.

I was disappointed, but not surprised as a Bett and FE veteran as it is what I have come
to expect”

I scoured the seminar programme and all the learning theatres for a sniff of FE providers who were “ahead of the curve” to learn from and perhaps share, but I was as disappointed with my non findings as I was with the lack of authenticity in Mr Cable’s words when saying things like “MOOCs, haptics, and cloud-computing”.

The words came out in the right order, but somehow you got the feeling that the real meaning didn’t really get communicated and got lost?

So I was disappointed, but not surprised as a Bett and FE veteran as it is what I have come to expect.

Since the demise of Becta (formerly British Educational Communications and Technology Agency) more than two years ago and with Jisc’s (formerly Joint Information Systems Committee) main eye being on the HE ball, compounded by the impending closure of the Learning and Skills Improvement Service, who frankly never “got it,” there has been no real strategic leadership of technology in FE.

This has to change, as does the mindset of the funding, audit and inspection regimes which are stuck in an industrial mindset when we need to be preparing students for a digital future. Most occupations now have digital literacy at their heart.

The schools are radically changing the information and communications technology curriculum and the digital expectations of my grandchildren, who will leave school in the late 2020s, will not be met by FE colleges with a creaky technological infrastructure and a skills set which needs major investment and refreshment.

The perfect storm of cheap mobile devices, high-speed always on broadband wifi, open source, virtual and blended learning is sweeping across the Atlantic and it is time those responsible for FE woke up and felt the breeze.

Perhaps then next year FE will be on the inside of the Bett show guide and not just a name on the cover? I live in hope and look forward to seeing many more FE friends and colleagues next year.

Bob Harrison, education adviser at Toshiba Information Systems (UK) and chair of the Teaching Schools Technology Advisory Board

For more on education technology, check out FE Week’s guide to FE learning tech here