Meetups and Teachmeets, cures for the winter blues!

EduTech Developers Meetup

Now stop and think about the folk who graft away actually creating those wonderful apps and websites and software that teachers talk about at Teachmeets. Huddled away in cold attics or startup labs in depressingly unfashionable but cheaper parts of town, full of a burning desire to create the next educational success that will help change learning for the better and desperate to talk to teachers and others who can help make their dream come one step closer. The good news is that they too now are creating their own equivalents to Teachmeets, and they are equally as uplifting to attend for both developers and teachers alike.

For some months, whenever possible, I have been getting along to the London Educational Games Meetup – or #LEGup in hashtag parlance – where a wonderful mix of educational developers, teachers, entrepreneurs and the odd (and I do mean odd) investor rub shoulders. Put together and hosted by Kirsten Campbell-Howes and Martha Henson and held at UKIE, the spiritual home of the country’s thriving videogame industry, we typically hear three short inputs around a given topic before heading to the pub and networking away for the rest of the evening. And a finer, more positive and receptive bunch of folk you couldn’t wish to meet.

London Educational Games Meetup

Similarly, I recently headed to Camden, North London for a new Meetup following a similar model. The Edutech Developers Meetup, hosted by Charles Wiles of startup Zzish, focussed on the topic ‘Selling to Schools’ which was addressed by three folk well versed in doing just that. Andrew Carrick, Marketing Director for EdComs, one of the major agencies in the field, shared a huge amount of his in-depth experience of getting information to the right people in schools at the right time. In contrast, the second speaker, Justin Smith, Founder and CEO of Educational App Store, shared the pain of the mistakes he had made along the way, and made the key learning point that developing relationships with educators was just as important as developing the applications of which the audience were so proud. Third up was Naimish Gohil, former assistant head and now CEO of ShowMyHomework, his own creation that is now selling well into schools.

By the time these three had finished it felt like a wonder that anyone ever managed to sell anything to schools ever, so great were the challenges outlined. But there was again a wonderful upbeat buzz to the whole occasion and the audience were in no way put off by this; happy to know that others shared their experiences of difficulty, and were so generous in sharing their hard-won expertise.

The buzz in the pub afterwards was identical to that which follows a successful Teachmeet. Many of those in attendance were teachers too, or ex-teachers, so there was as much pedagogy as technology talked, details were exchanged, concepts were debated and we all emerged happier and wiser.

EduTech Developers Meetup

Now as I write, Bett is approaching, the world’s biggest education technology shindig. Huge companies will attend, large budgets will be spent, awards will be given and it will all seem on the surface to be quite lavish. It is not unusual for there to be an outbreak of scathing tweets and blogs as educators lash out at what they see to be big bucks and waste. But maybe, as well as roaming the main aisles with huge stands with well-known names, you should duck round to the unfashionable and cheaper parts of Bett that are home to the tiny stands and aspirational folk, the type who go to Meetups. These one and two person startups have great ideas for educational products and, like you, have spent more time and money than they can afford to be there and share them with you. They may even have managed to piggy-back on one of the larger stands if they are really creative and very lucky.

Instead of ignoring or being disparaging about these little companies, why not stop and talk to a few and find out what they have to offer. I remember doing that with a guy I saw every year on a tiny stand in the SEN Village at the old Bett in Olympia. He had an idea that he had started in the 1980’s, and was niche for many years, but those who knew him, and more importantly, he believed in his educational dream. A couple of Bett Awards followed, success increased and now John Crick of Crick Software and his popular Clicker literacy tool occupy one of the largest stands on the main drag, yet he remembers paying his dues for many years on the fringes of the big event.

Teachmeets and Meetups are the lifeblood of the innovators, the dreamers and the real educational change agents who will make a difference to the future of learning. It is much more about the passion than the patter. As Oliver Quinlan has pointed out recently in a Nesta blog, many of the new educational change makers developing new business models are just as likely to be teachers in schools as business folk in offices.

So why not find out if there are such events near you? Teachmeets happen all over the country, and Meetups occur in many major cities. Make the effort, even after a hard day’s graft at school, to get along and join in. I guarantee that you will emerge with a happier heart and a more positive view of the future of education, and goodness, do we all need that at the moment. You may just find that you and your school are part of a pilot for the ‘next big thing’!

Bett 2015 takes place from 21 to 24 January at ExCeL London. Find out more here.

Former head of ICT Development at SSAT, Tony Parkin is now a freelance educationalist, lecturer and writer. Follow Tony on Twitter here.