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A sure BETT? Why the Absent Punner’s 'snap and sneer' stunts digital exam adoption, and ignores learner impact.

The long-running UK exhibition BETT is a nexus for global ed-tech folk. There are plenty of visitors and booth workers, usually away from family and friends for best part of a week. There’s plenty of social media action.

One active ed-tech pundit, ambling across the floorspace, took two sneaky pictures of a booth, and belittled the booth workers on the socials. I’ll call him The Absent Punner.

The Punner’s social comments on the page with the pic were incredibly sneery, akin to, “No visitors to this stand, I can’t imagine why”. I’ve never met the Absent Punner – they’ve never attended or spoken about assessment or exams at a conference. A short trawl through his social output suggests someone with a lot of time on their hands; plenty of puns, but zero assessment insights.

It was a well-known remote proctoring company. Maybe he had a bad experience with the company? Or the Absent Punner doesn’t like remote proctoring on a cellular level? Maybe he’s unaware that remote proctoring has already been used for GCSE exam delivery?

During the pandemic, remote proctoring companies bore the sharp brunt of universities, colleges, and exam owners sharp-pivoting to a brand new service. From turn-up-and-sit-down exams, overnight individual learners had to prep their own exam room and deal with a career professional invigilator over the internet. A completely different service encounter.

Schools and their exam boards had to move to TAGs, and get on with asynchronous and online teaching. Teachers showed resilience and adaptability in the face of an unprecedented situation.

A week at BETT is a long time away from family and home

Perhaps the Absent Punner has already forgotten those sacrifices. Or paid no mind that those same booth workers were working flat out during the pandemic on operational delivery? And a week at BETT is a long time away from family and home.

It’s unfortunate, as it reads as narrow-minded, and patronising. The Punner’s narrow and musty lens means their vista is limited only to personal experiences/ anecdotes, or mainstream England school exams. They are poorly informed.

Booth workers are real people, trying to do a job

Booth workers are real people, trying to do a job. Their organisations are trying to get better outcomes for learners and educators. Yes, some are for-profit. Yes, some defend themselves more robustly than others. But sniffy and sneery innuendoes does our sector a disservice, and regresses the debate.

If the Absent Punner paused for a moment and actually spoke to the exhibitors, he (it’s always a he) would be stunned to realise how off the pace he has become. Rather than moan that ‘this session could’ve been given 20 years ago’, consider the progress made through the pandemic-era. In fact, didn’t most of the school exam boards just announce their digital exam roadmap? One of them had a booth and was speaking at BETT!

Supposed 'big voices' are obfuscating oven-ready evidence on digital exams

If supposed ed-tech ‘legends’ are clueless on digital exams, then it’s reasonable to suggest this is a reason why the implementation is taking so long. Those with a large ed-tech voice and profile are often disingenuous about assessment; obfuscating when oven-ready evidence on digital exams is available from over three decades.

At BETT, there were over a dozen digital exam exhibitors from Austria, France, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, USA, and UK. Some of them have already delivered summative exams in schools. One is doing the whole lot for its native country. I’d not heard of them, and was delighted to meet their team.

So next time you think about a snap and sneer, go and say hello to that booth worker. Have a chat, ask what they’re working on, and what’s worked over the last year or two. And you might learn something.

I wonder if the Absent Punner paid for his BETT ticket?


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