Overwhelmed and Underwhelmed: Web Summit
I was delighted to get the opportunity to go along to the Web Summit in Dublin for my first time to check out what sort of educational technology is doing the rounds around the world. If you’ve never been to the Web Summit, the main thing to account for is its sheer size: it is massive! It took me almost 45 minutes to locate the Microsoft stand from where I started, which involved crossing a footbridge built especially for the summit and going to a completely separate building. It is completely overwhelming and unless you have a plan before you go of who you want to see, there is no way you will cover everything you want to do. Thousands of small companies sit side by side trying to sell their ideas and the big companies have massive stands dotted around the place as if to say to the small guys: one day, this could be you!
From all the thousands of stands, the education section was very small with about 30 stands in total. I have to admit I was deeply underwhelmed by what I found. 80% of the stands focused on higher education so this was of little interest to me and the ones that were left, left me feeling that there isn’t really a lot of innovation going on. I’ll focus on four stands that caught my eye.
The first not only underwhelmed me, it completely horrified me. It was a company who are trying to create a website like TripAdvisor except aimed at schools. As if schools don’t have enough to worry about, they are going to be rated against each other to battle it out to be the best school in their area according to public perception. One thing Ireland has avoided in primary schools so far is the concept of league tables as it ruins all creativity and creates an atmosphere of mistrust and hothousing. I also had a look at an American startup that uses crowdfunding for schools. Its innovation is that it pays into a school bank account instead of a personal bank account. The most promising stand that I saw was a UK company who offer after school coding classes and already have one Irish primary school under their wing. While not the most innovative thing in the world, it was probably the only highlight.
With so little to look at in the education section, I browsed around the various other sections in this hall, which included philanthropy and fashion businesses – (one was called “Date my Wardrobe” – I daren’t ask!) – and landed in the games section where I saw a lovely looking stand selling virtual pop up books for children. I spoke to a lady at the stand and asked her about the possibilities of creating apps that teach aspects of the Irish primary curriculum. Her response was the same as the next 2-3 stands I visited where I asked the same question. The Irish education market is too small for it to be worth their while.
One of the biggest problems that the Irish education system already has and one that is going to get much worse, is the lack of technology resources available to support the curriculum. It doesn’t seem like businesses are in any way interested in a small market so where does that leave us? I don’t expect the government will come to the rescue. This is a deeply worrying scenario. Are we going to have to rely on out US and UK counterparts for almost good quality resources for the foreseeable future?
I’m not sure if the Web Summit is aimed at people in education. for me, it seems like it’s a business person’s equivalent of what the ploughing championships are to people involved in agriculture. It’s fairly clear the main focus of all the little stands was to find someone from a bigger stand to invest lots of money into them and, ultimately, they aren’t interested in anything else. I think I’ll stick to events where the main focus is education.