BETT 2012 – Innovation in Abundance

BETT 2012 proved that innovation in education technology is alive and kicking – literally. This year, the BETT Innovation Award went to the HapTEL Virtual Dental Chair, from King’s College London’s Dental Institute. Haptics gives users feedback on tasks that require physical dexterity, and in this case the solution gives student dentists feedback on how hard they are pushing on teeth when learning procedures such as drilling cavities. The HapTEL solution costs 1/5th of traditional dentistry training equipment, and has the added avantage of collecting data about learning.

Another winner of the BETT awards was Voiceye – a mobile app to help those who struggle with text. Users can use the phone’s camera to read a special Voiceye code (like a QR or barcode) embedded in a document, and this transfers the text from the document to the phone. There it can either be read using preferred combinations of fonts and colour schemes, or listened to using text-to-speech if the phone has that installed.

For a full summary of the BETT Awards, visit: http://www.agent4change.net/bett-week/news/1437-2012-bett-awards.html

Those looking for devices innovation would not have been disappointed. For example, Lenovo showed their ThinkPad Tablet (to be launched later in the year), and their all-in-one touch screen PC, the ThinkCentre Edge 91z. RM exhibited a Samsung’s “slate” running the developer version of Microsoft Windows 8. Dell and Toshiba also had devices running developer versions of Windows 8.

Surface devices are beginning to proliferate with Samsung showing its SUR40 and Promethean its Interactive Table.

Writing technology is developing as an increasingly strong theme at BETT, exemplified by one of my favorite innovations at the show – the LiveScribe smart pen.

I’ve been using a LiveScribe Echo Smartpen since before Christmas and I love it. Its great for making notes, and diagrams on paper and them transferring them to the PC.

A tiny infrared camera picks up the pen strokes and stores them on the pen. When you are ready you can download notes onto your computer, where they become searchable. LiveScribe integrates beautifully with OneNote. For it to work, it has to write on paper that has imperceptibly small dots, and these can be printed from templates that LiveScribe supply, or bought in bulk in A4 or A5 format. LiveScribe is a complete platform amongst a wide range of tools and applications including translation capabilities.

Low cost interactive whiteboard solutions are getting better too – now!board, Mimio and e-Beam all offer solutions that can turn wall spaces or dry-marker based whiteboards into interactive whiteboards. These products could be used with mini-projectors such as the Qumi, to provide a highly portable and flexible solution for teachers.

Another favourite innovation this year at BETT was Solar Ready Ltd. Combining Windows MultiPoint Server, LG Monitors and some very smart electrical engineering, entire suites of computers can be run using solar power – even in the cloudy UK. The result – 92% savings in running costs.

Innovation wasn’t confined to technology either. BETT itself has evolved too, with children doing learning as a central feature of the show. Prof. Stephen Heppell’s “New Worlds of Learning” featured students engaged in a range of learning activities both on and beyond the stand.

One key area of innovation that I’d like to see at BETT is better engagement with visitors from outside the UK. Whilst the British government does a great job in bringing Education Ministers from around the world to BETT, the show itself isn’t anywhere near friendly enough to foreign visitors IMHO. Visitor numbers have grown to 30,000 and about 30% of these people are from overseas. However, exhibiting companies are not visibly and explicitly addressing foreign opportunities. Overwhelmingly, signage was in English, and attempts to “speak the language of education” were limited to references to the English schooling system.

Let’s hope that as the show moves to a new world-class venue (ExCel) next year, that suppliers make a better effort to address markets outside the UK. Innovation should not be restricted to technology solutions – there’s a clear need innovate in the selling process too.

Invitation – Schooling Solutions Community

Thanks to the 80 people from 25 countries that took time out from the BETT Show to spend a morning with us at the Schooling Solutions Workshop.

As Roberta Bento from Planeta Educação said – “its amazing how so many of our problems and opportunties are the same”.

Key themes that emerged from the workshop included:

  • Deployment
  • ROI and effectiveness
  • Elearning and Content
  • ITL Research
  • HTML 5
  • Cloud (Live@edu; Azure; InTune)
  • Security

I’d like to thank Bruce Dixon, Sarah Armstrong, Edgar Ferrer Gil, Fotis Draganidis, Dan Baelum, Kirsten Panton, Walid Mohamed, Thomas Hauser and Dolores Puxbuamer for delivering the event.

Schooling Solutions Workshop, London, January 12, 2012

If you are in London on the 12th January for BETT, come and join us at our  Schooling Solutions Workshop.

Key questions that the workshop will address include:

  • How can standards be raised whilst reducing costs?
  • How can you take advantage of trends such as personalization, BYOD, Cloud and virtualization?
  • What approaches can you take to simplify and improve ICT services?

This workshop will bring you up to speed with the latest worldwide trends in education technology and give you practical methods and approaches that you can use immediately. It will be a mix of formal presentation and round-table discussion with world-class experts and leaders in their fields.

Designed to help decision makers plan more effective, efficient and inspiring systems, the workshop will provide an understanding of the Microsoft technology roadmap, solutions for access, connected communities and analytics, and offer the opportunity to work in groups with experts.

Agenda

Time Session
09.00 Solutions for Schooling
10.00 E-Learning
10.30 Institutional Effectiveness and Efficiency
Round-table – project planning sessions
11.00 Access
Managing large scale access programs
Learning
Using ICT to increase learning outcomes
OperationsUsing data to improve decision making
12.30 Reflection & Networking Lunch
  • Date: Thursday, 12th January, 2012
  • Time: 09:00 – 13:00 followed by lunch
  • Location: Microsoft Offices, Cardinal Place, 100 Victoria Street, London, SW1E 5JL

Confirmed speakers/facilitators include Mike Lloyd, Sarah Armstrong, Matthew Fox, Edgar Ferrer Gil, Fotis Draganidis, and Thomas Hauser .

To book your place, contact your local Microsoft Education representative, message me on Facebook, or drop me an email

Saving Money Whilst Raising Standards – West Hatch Show You How

How lucky am I to be able to send my children to an excellent state school on the outskirts of London? Apart from having an Olympic Gold medalist, a Turner Prize winning artist, and a BBC newsreader amongst its alumni, West Hatch High School has now acquired an international reputation for its work in ICT. The school has just become a “Microsoft Innovative School” – partly due to the technical excellence of IT Manager, Alan Richards, and the smart investments in ICT made by Headteacher Frances Howarth and the Board of Governors.

Despite being able to offer IT Academy courses to the community for many years, it wasn’t until 2008 and with the arrival of Alan, that West Hatch started to optimise its infrastructure. Until then West Hatch’s 1300 students and staff had no guarantee of their network’s reliability, which meant it was underused. As Alan says: “Teachers will try things two or three times, but after that, if a lesson’s wrecked, they won’t risk it again.”

Alan joined the school with a track record of moving schools from failing ICT systems to state of the art facilities. His starting point was to rebuild the whole school network with new fibre-optic and network cabling and a managed wireless solution. The next step was to replace 24 servers of varying ages, and it was at this point that the decision to virtualise was made.

What is Virtualisation?

A school network will usually have one server for each major IT service function, such as the Management Information System (MIS), Learning Management Systems (LMS), accounts, printing, and library systems etc. When a system is virtualised, these physical servers are replaced with virtual servers that are housed in clusters on a smaller number of physical servers. This has significant benefits in terms of savings, efficiency and reliability. The number of physical servers needed to effectively run the West Hatch’s network shrank from 24 to 9, and virtualisation increased efficiency of the network whilst saving $18,000 a year in hardware, maintenance and electricity.

Virtualisation provides the system with the ability to deal seamlessly with the failure of a server by automatically moving all its services to another – the rest of the school wouldn’t even know it’s happened. “Our staff have confidence in the use of ICT now. They know they can go into a classroom, turn on the computer, and have the applications they need for their lesson up and running in seconds,”

The key technology that enabled this to happen is Microsoft Hyper-V Server, and Alan and the team also used Microsoft Network Monitor in and beyond the pilot phase to ensure effective resource planning. Server technology is predominantly Windows Server 2008. A detailed case study is available here – West Hatch_Virtualisation_Case_Study. West Hatch uses Application Virtualisation, as well as Hardware (or physical) Virtualisation described above. For a detailed description from Alan on how he virtualised applications using Microsoft App-V click here.

Towards the Paperless School

With a solid network foundation in place, the next challenge for Alan was to build a portal. Having been the first school in Europe to deploy Windows 7 across its network, West Hatch was also the first school in the UK to build a portal on SharePoint 2010. This has enabled students, staff, parents and the wider community to benefit from a wealth of information and learning resources.

But the SharePoint 2010 sites goes way beyond just providing information. It is now being used to reduce printing and postage costs. It is estimated that 1.5 million sheets of paper are used per year at West Hatch – the paper, toner, photocopier rental and staffing costs associated with this paper “blizzard” are phenomenal.

A major step forward for Alan was converting Academic Review day from a paper-intensive activity to a paper-less activity. Academic review is when all students and parents attended interviews with teacher. Prior to the use of SharePoint, this process involved completion of paper forms. Now forms are managed electronically and copies of agreed academic targets are emailed to the students and parents. 

Alan has a passion for providing every student with the facilities they need to achieve the best they can. Best of all, Alan openly shares his knowledge in his wonderful blog – Education Technology Now. Needless to say, Alan’s presentation this year at BETT on using ICT to save money whilst raising standards was a big hit!

An Innovative School

In February 2011, West Hatch announced that they had been accepted into the Microsoft Innovative School network. Benefitting from:

  • Access to virtual and in-person training from Microsoft and renowned education experts from around the world
  • Support for professional development
  • Access to the global Innovative Schools community 

And finally, I can’t resist it – here’s a picture from my daughter – a Yr 10 student in West Hatch. Produced on OneNote on a Tablet PC, this was synchronised between my computer and her computer using the automatic synchronisation between OneNote and SkyDrive.

BETT 2011 – Clouds, Rain and Immersion

The usual lousy London January weather didn’t stop huge crowds from decending on Olympia once again for the annual carnival of Ed Tech. Early indications from exhibitors at the show suggest brisk business and an ever increasing international dimension. And well worth the trip it was too, agreed the overseas visitors that I spoke to.

But behind the noise and eye-candy, what key areas of Ed Tech innovation were evident?

Three key themes emerged at BETT:

Immersive Learning Environments

Several companies showed Immersive Learning Environments, including this Immersive Room featured by RM in their “Learning Emporium”.

This allows children to act out scenarios in a wide variety of environments – from the London Underground to castles and historical street themes.

Also in the RM Learning Emporium were learning environments and workstations based on Lego, microsoprocessor building, and school radio:

There was a noticable increased focus on surface/table-top interaction displays, and a big increase in 3-D displays and 3-D glasses. Promethean has done some nice integration with PowerPoint as well.

Multitouch on whiteboards – eg Promethean’s “Touchboard” – also caused quite a ‘buzz’, as did RM’s new Slate, which also has mulitouch capabilies. This Tablet PC uses a 29.5cm multi-touch screen and runs on Windows 7. Designed specifically for schooling, it is packed with features including, camera, microphone, speakers and handwriting recognition software.

It was good to see a high amount of Slate innovation from ASUS, HP, Toshiba and ACER.  The ASUS Windows 7 Slate generated a lot of excitement.

Lots of gaming for education was evident, particularly for Maths and reading solutions for the Primary sector.  BrainPop, in particular, were very popular.

The Its Learning stand – featuring their VLE with Live@Edu integration – was packed.

Data driven decisions and cost saving

RM launched Beyond Data, a professional development programme designed to help teachers use data to make better decisions.

Great to see the innovations coming from these three companies too:

Another emerging theme is using ICT to help make cost savings, and Ray Fleming from Microsoft has collected a set of examples and summarised them in a new eBook – Saving Money with ICT.

As a tax payer I’m delighted to see my childrens’ school – West Hatch – increasingly viewing ICT as an investment. Here, they have significantly reduced the number of servers through virtualisation – making them web-based rather than keeping machines on site – which has saved £12,000 a year in reduced energy consumption and maintenance.

Windows MultiPoint Server 2011, which will be available in March, allows you to plug multiple screens into a single machine and gives each user their own virtual computer, with a full PC experience with multimedia, audio, USB ports etc – saving on hardware costs and power consumption.

Cloud

On the subject of cost effectiveness, Microsoft announced that 15 million students now use Live@edu, up from 11 million students just three months ago. Office 365 for education will be the successor to Live@edu.

Office 365 for education will include everything available in Office 365 for enterprises – Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Lync Online, Office Web Apps, and Office Professional Plus desktop software. The suite also will include templates and pricing designed to meet the unique needs of schools, their teachers and students. For more information on Office 365 for Education visit http://office365.microsoft.com/en-US/education.aspx

Cambridge University Press and Hunterstone showed an Azure based solution to assist search and provisioning of content within their Global Grid for Learning offering.

Two free Cloud based apps from Microsoft are also worth checking out:

——————————————

Schooling at the Speed of Thought

And finally, on a personal note, I’m most grateful to all those people who bought Schooling at the Speed of  Thought at the BETT show. Thanks to the growing international presence at BETT, the book, which I wrote in an independent capacity, will by now have reached at least 60 countries – from China to the Faroe Islands. THANKS!!!

Thanks also to my friends at elearningforce for selling the book off their stand 🙂