Last week at BETT 2008

Last week I was very quiet on the blog - mainly because it was BETT week, when 29,000 of the UK's most enthusiastic educational ICT people gather at Olympia for a few days. Most visitors only come for a day, but those manning stands are there for the whole week, including Saturday. Perhaps next year, I'll get the chance to blog more while I'm there, because there were so many interesting things that came out of it. On our stand - which attracts more visitors than any other at the show - it was a busy week with lots of talking!

We had two stands - one completely dedicated to a presentation theatre, with teachers and others telling their stories about how Microsoft products and services were making a difference in their schools and local authorities. We had staff presenting from Hillcrest School in Birmingham, Shireland Collegiate Academy in Sandwell, City of Lincoln Community College, Philip Morant School in Essex, New Line Learning in Kent, Warwickshire local authority, as well as representatives from Becta, FutureLab and TDA talking about some projects we have running with them. And we even had teachers from Spain and France presenting - telling their stories of pan-European collaboration projects. I think we surprised some people, who think that Microsoft are all about technology - not only do we support education, but we have a deeper understanding than many people think. (I'm always surprised when I meet people socially outside of work, and they only think of Microsoft within their lives - work and social - and don't appreciate the work that we are doing in education and other parts of the public services, whether it's health, government security or local authority services.)

A little later, I'll share some of the school stories, and give you further references where you can find out more, but for the moment, some of the headlines from the week:

Highlight - the Ministerial opening address

Jim Knight, Minister for Schools, opened the show, and in his speech talked about Universal Home Access, and widening information available to parents about their children's progress at school. Inevitably, that was dumbed down by some of the media into "the end of the school report" and "big brother for schools". But headlines aside, the announcements were pretty important. Universal Home Access is being designed currently, building on the Computers for Pupils programme, to widen access to PCs and broadband for pupils at home, especially in deprived households (who are less likely to have a PC at home)
The focus on parental information was a repetition - and focus on - the target for secondary schools to make real-time attendance and assessment information available for parents by September 2010.

As part of Jim Knight's speech, he did a short demonstration of the Shireland Learning Gateway - an implementation of the Microsoft Learning Gateway - showing how it raised school to home communication and engagement. Listening to Sir Mark Grundy, Executive Principal of Shireland Collegiate Academy, is always inspiring - his stories of what has been done, and the impact on pupils and parents/carers in their school community, are very definitely examples of best practice. You can read more about Shireland's Learning Gateway, and the impact they have seen, on our global case studies website. (I've also written on this blog about Shireland - look it up using their tag)

Highlight - New, small laptops

There was a buzz at the show, and a lot of interest in, lower cost, smaller, lighter laptops. RM (and a number of others) were showing the ASUS Minibook, which is a very small laptop with a 7" 800x480 screen. It doesn't have a hard disk, just 2GB, 4GB or 8GB of solid state memory acting as a hard disk, and 512MB or 1GB of RAM. Which means you can run it with Windows XP and Office 2007. It's being promoted as a device to put into the hands of students, as a personal device, so that they can use it within school, and then connect using WiFi to their home broadband - and on to the school learning platform. Although most of the devices were showing Linux, a Windows version is due in April, and likely to be a better fit to most schools ICT resources, as well as being more familiar for students.
I'd never consider putting a full size laptop into my daughter's school bag - they are just too heavy and unwieldy to carry everywhere - but as soon as I looked at this, I considered changing my views. At about £250 for the fully specified one (WIndows, 8GB storage and 1GB RAM) it beats low-cost laptops on price, and is easier to carry around all day (it weighs under 900g). More about the Minibook on the RM website.

There were other low cost, lightweight laptops in evidence on other stands at the show too. Stone Computers had one too - but I can't see anything about it on their website yet. Perhaps 2008 will become the year of putting a computer into the hands of every student (the national average is 3.6 students for every PC in school - at £250 for a device, does 1:1 become possible for many?)

Lowlight - Becta

For the second BETT in a row, Becta issued a report which was quite negative about Windows Vista and Office 2007. There's two perspectives - Becta have a view that there's little value to education - and there's an opposite view, which I hear from schools, about how these new products are helping them enhance learning (in the case of Office 2007) and make their ICT management easier (in the case of Windows Vista). You only have to watch the video from Long Eaton School in Derbyshire to see how it is helping them.
It seems an oddity to me that the agency which re-branded itself last week as "Becta - leading next generation learning", and is responsible for the Harnessing Technology agenda, should seek to discourage schools from providing the latest technology to their students. One of the themes that I often hear - and talk with education audiences - is the growing dissonance in the use of ICT in school, and students' experiences at home. In a nutshell, the average teenager has a true multi-tasking, multi-device, multi-media experience with ICT at home and then returns to a school ICT environment which can often be single-task, single-media, and heavily controlled.
The world of learning, and the role of ICT in supporting that, is going to change radically over the next 10 years - especially with changes enabled by BSF, and curriculum changes proposed by the QCA - but turning back the clock for in-school technology isn't going to support that. I don't think schools need to rush out and change all of their software overnight, just because something new has arrived. However, prudent planning for the future includes providing the right resources at the right time.
(Enough said on this here - I'll return to this theme over the next few weeks)

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