The business of exhibitions for education customers has grown rapidly during the past decade, driven to a great extent by the momentum of ICT integration and the need for hardware, software and content. Yet, time and again, teachers say that the greatest agent for change in the classroom is seeing what another teacher has done successfully with a real class, working under conditions that reflect the realities of ICT provision.
A model for future events is epitomised in SETT: The Scottish Learning Festival. Open the web page promoting the event (www.ltscotland.org.uksett) and the keynote speakers leading the seminar programme appear front and centre. Probe deeper and you'll find 130 sessions, all dedicated to good practice and innovation, and geared to helping teachers address the objectives set for Scottish education.
Supporting this is an exhibition where teachers try new technologies and compare competing brands. The approval rating for the whole event is unprecedented.
SurveyDigital, an independent education research company, was commissioned to evaluate the impact of SETT on teaching and learning, eight months after the 2004 event. The rosy glow of expo enthusiasm had had time to fade and the routine of teaching had once more been allowed to take centre stage.
Had their views changed? Was their practice improved?
The survey found that 78 per cent of respondents said that as a result of SETT they had incorporated new ideas, skills or resources into their professional development; 68 per cent believed that their pupils had benefited directly and 52 per cent believed that they were more motivated and confident as teachers. SETT changes professional practice, inspires teachers with new ideas, introduces them to new techniques and technologies and keeps them coming back - 62 per cent said they would attend the next event.
When the findings from the research undertaken immediately after the event were compared with the research in 2005 with the same respondents, 76 per cent had maintained the same view about the event's impact. Almost a quarter of those who had originally felt the event was quite supportive of their professional practice, had upgraded their opinion to "very supportive". Time was allowing people to integrate their new skills or resources into their practice and develop the opportunities for their pupils.
In subsequent telephone focus groups, teachers related how they had gone back to school invigorated and with a mission for change. Ideas that had lain dormant or unproven in their minds had been snapped into sharp focus by presentations in seminars from practising teachers.
So where does this leave other events? Could it just be that the future lies in classroom practice, more teachers showing their innovation and ideas, more practitioners demonstrating the benefits of a new approach or technology? Scottish teachers know the answer and they flock to Glasgow's SECC from all parts of the country. What about BETT? Most Scottish teachers are not interested - they say it is too big, too focused on exhibitor priorities, too driven by the need to show ever more goods and services.
Learning and Teaching Scotland - the government agency which organises the conference - has developed, in SETT, an event that leads with CPD, underpins it with high quality motivational keynote speakers, majors on teacher-run seminars and tops it off with a quality exhibition.
Nick Evans is a partner in SurveyDigital