Open Thinkering


Tag: BectaX

Some reflections on the organization of #BectaX


I don’t often post about conferences at which I’m not a presenter or workshop leader. Whilst it’s useful to share the resources I produce for such events, reporting the content or organization of a conference as a mere participant can be, well… a bit boring.

I’m making an exception, though, with #BectaX for three reasons:

  1. I was fortunate enough to be one of the 150 people invited to attend.
  2. There were massively high hopes regarding the outcomes of the conference.
  3. It was a very ‘open’ event.

Some caveats:

  • My experience is likely to have been shifted towards the positive due to the fact that many of the people I interact with regularly on Twitter.
  • I had to leave an hour early to catch a flight back from Stansted to Newcastle and so missed the feedback session.
  • I’m can be a bit over-analytical (and critical) at times, especially when the opening session was on the subject of my Ed.D. thesis.

The Good

The conference was set up expertly by a team including Ewan McIntosh and Josie Fraser. As you’d expect from such finger-on-the-pulse luminaries, there was as much – if not more – stuff happening in the ether as there was physically in front of us. The ‘speed networking’ event, whilst ultimately a bit frustrating due to the length of time allocated and the resultant din, was a fun way to meet new folks with similar interests.

There was also an attempt to get students involved. In fact, 14 schools were invited to take part via a video link (not live two-way, unfortunately) and Twitter hashtag (#BectaX). There was a cool Flash-powered map that appeared on the screen every so often showing tweets from the schools.

The Bad

It’s difficult organizing a conference. Not that I’ve ever tried to (yet!) but I can imagine that there’s no way you can please everyone. Here’s the things that I thought could have been better:

  1. A clear announcement at the start about the potential self-censorship of tweets. It’s hard to put something damning – or even slightly negative on Twitter – when you know it’s going to be flashed on the screen in a few seconds’ time. As it is Ewan cleared it up nicely, but it could have gone the other way.
  2. A more engaging first session. I found that the presentation on digital literacy conflated several issues, wasn’t very interesting, and was by someone who either doesn’t present very often or doesn’t present well very often (lots of text on-screen and bumbling)
  3. Hands-on activities in the morning session. Something to get your teeth into before lunch and the desire to nap kicks in.
  4. Power sockets available at seats. If you expect people to be tweeting, provide them with some power – especially if we’re going to sit there on-and-off for 3 hours or so.
  5. Find a way to get students more involved – perhaps by them actually being there?

The Ugly

Whilst I’m willing to hear from all parties involved in education, I really do take exception to representatives of companies mentioning their products in every breath. I also had no sympathy for said man from Sony when he complained that there was no mechanism to sell to all UK schools at once. He moaned that Sony would have to “literally go and knock on every school’s door”. Boo hoo.


#BectaX was by far the most unconferencey conference I’ve ever been to. The digital and physical really were blended and it was great to see the debate ranging across international boundaries, never mind leaking out of the hall. Ewan and Josie prompted and probed participants in the discussion sessions and led the event well.

But… will it change anything? The cynic in me noted that it was organized on the last day of the financial year by a government organization that is, by all accounts, under threat after the next election. However, I’d like to think it will mix things up a bit. If nothing else, just getting some of the finest educators and grassroots educational thinkers in the country together in one place can’t help but spark something… :-p

All photos CC BY-NC-SA Mr Ush

Things I Learned This Week – #14

CC BY Sister72

Happy Easter! I started a new job this week, which immediately gave me some perspective on how easy it is to assume that the education system is one way when it’s actually completely different. I also attended #BectaX (about which I’ll be blogging in more detail) and met with an educational publisher about the ways the Apple iPad can revolutionize the textbook. Exciting times! 😀



  • Hello and welcome back to those who have been living under a rock for the past few weeks/months. There’s this new device called the Apple iPad and everyone’s a bit excited about it – especially as it’s been launched in the USA this week to rave reviews. If the outside of it’s not enough, have a look at the inside as well. It might be enough to change the dominance of Flash on the intertubes. Seth Godin thinks that if you’re a journalist or magazine that is average, the iPad means you’re screwed. I’m more excited about things like Mixr, ‘a DJ app done right’. 🙂
  • auto-adds links you post on Twitter to Delicious (with advanced options including hashtag conversion) Awesome!

  • The above says it all, really. But seriously, for most people there’s a dip between being a child/young adult and then having children that manifests itself as a ‘dip’ in technology adoption and understanding. That’s my theory, anyway…
  • I’ve moved from using Google Apps Education Edition at the Academy to Microsoft Outlook at JISC infoNet. Gah! At least the Xobni add-on for Outlook makes it a bit more bearable… :-p
  • In the future we could be using gestures and our skin to interact with machines. Wow.

Productivity & Inspiration

  • Zen Habits has some useful advice on 13 small things to simplify your workday. Number 2 is über-important in the long-term!
  • Ever wanted to gaze at the wonder of the Sistine Chapel? Now you can immerse yourself in it in 3D. (N.B. If you go and see it for real, there’s no way you’d be able to see the walls – there’d be too many people in the way! Trust me.)

  • GMail for iPad has an awesome two-pane view. Here’s how to use that interface on your regular machine (N.B. this didn’t work for me so I used this advice to set up Safari to achieve the same result!)
  • Need to free up some space in your wardrobe? Here’s a simple hanger trick for weeding out the stuff you don’t wear often.
  • Stammy shared a great tip on Twitter about email productivity: “when someone sends me an important email but has little text, i reply to it to myself to add keywords, so i can search for it easily later.” Great idea!

Education & Academic

  • The trouble is when you see things like Reading in the Digital Age is that, unless you know the background of the author, you take his opinions seriously. I happen to have read Sven Birkerts’ The Gutenberg Elegies which is a few hours of my life I’ll not get back. File under ‘people with some status who just don’t get it’.
  • Ofcom have published a report about UK children’s ‘media literacy’. It includes interesting stats such as “Seven in ten (70%) 12-15s with the internet at home have a social networking site profile, compared to 52% in 2008.”
  • GPS-based educational games? Whatever next?! Good stuff from Wönky, who presented at #BectaX

Data, Design & Infographics

  • Want to create an infographic but haven’t got an ‘angle’ on some data? Try this post Themes For A Good Infographic!
  • Need to make a large number or statistic more tangible to your audience? NumberQuotes is good for that. For example, I’m 29 which is same wage, in dollars per hour, as instructional coordinators make in the US.
  • For all those wondering how to spot if someone’s wearing a handgun, here’s a useful infographic
  • Open Educational Resources are huge. Don’t believe me? Check this out:


  • I was at Stansted airport on Wednesday when someone official-looking tried to stop me to “ask me two questions”. As is usual, I said a polite “No, thank you” and walked on. She proceeded to follow me, asking me what I was doing walking past her. I explained I wasn’t interested, at which point she said “I’m from the government”. I asked (admittedly, sarcastically) if she was going to lock me up. She looked bewildered that the “I work for the government” line didn’t work on me and stood in front of me. I still didn’t answer her question and walked around her. And no wonder when the ‘representatives of the people’ (that I didn’t vote for) are going to push through an unwanted Digital Economy Bill and change the law to be able to open people’s mail without them being present. Democracy? Pah!
  • Taberinos is a very addictive, simple snooker-like geometric Flash game. And I can’t believe that nobody told me about the amazing Angry Birds iPhone game!
  • Tom Barrett shared some hopes he has for his son as he enters the UK education system. I have similar ones for Ben (who starts school nursery in September)
  • Need to collaboratively browse and chat online? (who doesn’t?!) Try Nurph!
  • Wikipedia a bit too bland for you? Try VisWiki!


People who work sitting down get paid more than people who work standing up. (Ogden Nash)

We must never forget that the ultimate purpose of an explosive is to explode. (Petri Pihko)

One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time. (Anon.)

When nothing looks like it’s working, Everything is working. (Ryan Biddulph)

It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for something you are not. (Andre Gide)