The BETT show was the usual noisy, boisterous affair, made a little more bearable this year with the bad weather keeping away just enough people that there were short queues at the coffee counters.
It is always difficult to identify particular themes at BETT, but two I picked up on were touch computing and green IT.
The iPod and iTouch made touch screens popular, and with Windows 7 being touch enabled, interacting with programs by touching the screen is set to become commonplace. Some of us have been using this daily for years through touch sensitive digital white boards, and there was the usual large number of competing digital whiteboards on show. The development here was multi-touch capability. However, touch screens look to become commonplace on laptops and tablets by the end of the year. Perhaps even on desktops, but I can see there are some ergonomic issues to be solved there.
With large LCD and plasma screens becoming more affordable, there is also a trend to use touch enabled versions of these in place of interactive digital whiteboards and projectors. But there is still quite a large price premium. And if you can’t afford a plasma, you MUST at least go for a short throw projector and avoid those blinding flashes as you turn to face the class.
Having a small carbon footprint was being put forward as a key selling point by many hardware vendors. The first stage of an EU directive (EU 1275/2008) covering standby power consumption came into effect a few days ago and a number of products were promoting their compliance. There were also some interesting solutions (particularly for schools) where a single computer could provide up to six independent Windows sessions for teaching.
So what in particular caught my eye? In no particular order:
Casio’s new A4 sized lamp-less projector, that uses LEDs, lasers and digital light processor (DLP) chips to form the image. They are bright enough for classrooms (up to 3000 lumens), consume less power, and are maintenance free . And the quality of the image was excellent.
Panasonic have a neat, free, web based utility that enables networked data projectors to be managed from anywhere. All but the very basic Panasonic data projectors are now network enabled.
The Second Sight software uses a small camera attached to a PlayStation Portable (PSP) to recognise printed tags on paper or attached to real objects and then superimposes extra graphics on the scene on the PSP screen – a form of augmented reality.
Visualisers are a much underrated educational technology (IMHO) – they are more than glorified electronic OHPs. There were some very trendy looking models with some really useful features from Lumens and their Ladibug series.
One of the issues we have with our interactive digital whiteboards is that we have to compromise on how high we mount them on the wall. In some rooms, some teachers need an aerobics step to reach the top of the board! There are a number of motorised adjustable height mechanisms, but I think it is worth looking at the manual solution offered by Conen. Any board can be retro-fitted to it, and the height can be adjusted instantly by hand. They come in fixed and portable (trolley) versions.
There was an interesting demonstration of the softxpand ecoware . In conjunction with Windows XP (and soon Windows 7), one computer can serve six completely independent sessions each with their own keyboard, monitor and mouse. This saves on power consumption (80% less power), purchase costs (60% less) and so the total carbon footprint ismuch smaller. And as well as consuming less power, many applications actually perform faster!
You do need a computer with extra high-specification dual-head graphics cards, at extra cost, but this is easily recovered by needing fewer computers. It was suggested that this is a serious competitor to thin client computing for teaching rooms.
In conjunction with softxpand, Musu were showing their multi-user touchscreen kiosk; six touch enabled screens that run from a single computer – ideal for internet café-style settings, or data capture at exhibitions, etc.
An exhibitor that I also saw at the Oxford University IT exhibition back in November was Xirrus . They have a high performance Wi-Fi solution that they claim can deliver high bandwidth to rival cabled network. Their technical manager was absolutely certain that the Xirrus system is the solution for all teaching spaces to give network access to all without being tied to fixed network points and with the added benefit of significantly reduced infrastructure.
TurningPoint were showing their new ResponseWare voting system designed to work with iPhones, Blackberrys, other web enabled phones, netbooks, indeed any device that can run a web browser. The system integrates with PowerPoint and enables multi-choice questions to be inserted into the presentation, either pre-planned or ad-hoc. When a vote is needed the lecturer makes available a code that students use to connect to a TurningPoint server. The vote takes place, and the results are instantly feedback and presented on the slide. The PowerPoint plug-in is free, the cost being about £18 per year per concurrent voter. There is a free app for the iPhone and iTouch.
Office 2010 is in beta and available for trial. One of the features demonstrated on the Microsoft stand was the live broadcast of a PowerPoint show from within PowerPoint, through Windows Live! with the recipient viewing the show in a browser – no PowerPoint required. The show and narration can also be captured as a video. Microsoft also showed off a proof of concept application called Pivot that provided an interesting way of visually organising tagged images.
There were quite a few companies at BETT that now offer learning space design, small and large scale. For me, the best find of the show was a company that have produced an on-line room design tool specifically for education. I have tended to use Microsoft Visio and Google Sketchup in the past. Great tools, but they don’t lend themselves to involving users in the design process. This new tool from designyourschool.com is intuitive enough that in conjunction with an interactive digital whiteboard it would be ideal to use in a focus group. It is web-based and so access to models can be opened up to anyone to enable them to experiment with their own design ideas.
We always struggle here to find teachers for computer programming classes; to teach programming effectively you need to be a practicing programmer (so speaks this ex-programmer!). A Polish company, ProgMan SA, have created on-line resources to teach programming in C++ and Pascal (with Java soon). The learning material (which can be customised locally) is supported by programming exercises that are automatically tested and marked (www.youngcoder.eu).