Steve SidawayForget email. If you want to get through to students - wherever they might be - the best way is by texting them on their mobile phones. And further education colleges are already proving much more ready than schools to exploit the fact that virtually all students now have mobile phones, and that this can be a good thing.

Steve Sidaway (pictured) was at the Handheld Learning 2008 conference in London last year, and will be at BETT 2009, to show the clever things being done with the Edutxt service to take texting way beyond the niche truancy services that have been adopted by some schools for texting parents. Texting students is the real challenge, however, and Steve Sidaway says it is a far more inclusive way for schools to communicate as long as the the "digital divide" means that significant numbers of students don't have access to computers for email outside school.

Microsoft may have captured the interest of many in education with previews of its interactive, touch-screen table "computer" (the Microsoft Surface) but SMART Technologies, maker of the market-leading SMART interactive whiteboards, is the first education company to produce an affordable interactive table for schools - the SMART Table, designed specifically for preschool to key stage 2 children.

And while BETT 2009 visitors will undoubtedly throng to the only two MS Surfaces currently in the UK - on the Microsoft stand and in the RM innovation area in Olympia 2 - it's the SMART Tables which are being bundled on to container ships ready for transport to schools worldwide as soon as the shippers can get their hands on them. That said, however, the Surface is a conceptually different beast to the SMART Table (more soon) and uses other sensing technology as well as a touch-screen.

Bob HarrisonConsultant Bob Harrison, a Toshiba Ambassador original from 2001: "...research evidence seems to be pointing to the need for a step change in the development of the education workforce's confidence, competence and capability in using technology in an innovative and creative way"

Is there something about Toshiba’s Ambassadors programme that inoculates educators against interactive whiteboard fever? Not that there is anything wrong per se with whiteboards. But when you have secondary schools like Djanogly Academy (current Becta ICT Excellence Award winner) and Leigh Technology Academy talking about the engaging, flexible learning they provide with portable computers, projectors and screens (plus portable SMART interactive plasma screens at Leigh) then you can clearly see that learning trumps orthodoxy.

And when headteacher Suzanne Ship and consultant Dave Smith from Havering’s Engayne Primary school share their innovative ICT practice using visualisers, tablet PCs and projectors, and its support for the increasingly influential Visualiser Forum (, it almost seems too much of a coincidence. But the common theme with Toshiba’s Ambassadors is not an anti-whiteboard conspiracy but the confidence of schools that sort out the learning before the ICT, which is then a far better fit.

The Ambassadors scheme is how Toshiba’s UK outfit supports a network of key school leaders and teachers to partner, collaborate and help develop innovation and good practice. As with many other company-supported projects like Microsoft’s Innovative Teachers, the learning is firmly in the driving seat, and while they might be “ordinary” schools with the same opportunities and challenges as other schools, their achievements are becoming extraordinary, as is the way in which they share practice.

The most recent Ambassadors day was held in Warwick, where leaders from primary, secondary, further and higher education got together with Toshiba’s Len Daniels and his staff and their education consultant Bob Harrison (above) who help start the project back in 2001. "Communities of practice are a really effective way of spreading best practice and supporting staff development across and between institutions... all of the research evidence seems to be pointing to the need for a step change in the development of the education workforce's confidence, competence and capability in using technology in an innovative and creative way."

From bullet trains to nuclear power, Toshiba's £60 billion earnings

Giving a sense of the scale of Toshiba’s activities, Len Daniels said that Toshiba’s 2007/8 income was $60 billion. Its activities ranged from creating processors, PDAs, computers and TVs to building nuclear power stations and Japan’s bullet train. In the past 10 years it has applied for 50,000 patents – that’s around 100 a week, the result of ploughing back 4-6 per cent of turnover back into research and development.

The Toshiba Ambassador programme is an interesting model for other private sector companies involved in the BSF, PCP and College capital projects to ensure the transformative potential of technology is fully utilised. It provides a forum for school leaders for the kinds of honest, critical discussions and information-sharing that might be difficulot in more formal education gatherings. It also gives Toshiba invaluable insights into the needs of schools, leaders, staff, learners and parents.

Like other technology companies close to education, Toshiba knows that a hard sell is not the way forward in the schools market. In fact, the only appearance of Toshiba technology was the much-awaited NB100 netbook which will certainly attract attention at the BETT 2009 educational technology show. But it's entrance was eclipsed by the discussion of the challenges facing all educators who recognise the potential of ICT for learning and teaching - how to bring about the curriculum and organisational changes that will allow for the innovation and transformation that is now at the top of the government's education agenda.

More about the Toshiba Ambassadors and the NB100 at BETT 2009

Toshiba BETT stand L30


Ross WallisRoss Wallis (see below) The work that earned Bob Overton a Becta ICT in Good Practice Award when he taught art at Mere Oak special school in Wigan, is unforgettable (link below). Bob helped severely disabled children create wonderful works of art and movies, all of them enabled by the use of digital technologies.

One young learner, who had great difficulty with other media, used a whiteboard to achieve a very high grade in an art examination which many other schools simply would not have made available to him.

Sally McKeownSally McKeownPersonalised learning brings opportunities for gifted and talented children. Sally McKeown (left) provides 10 top tips for improving gifted and talented provision, and offers a BETT 2009 trail for visitors.

This year personalised learning should highlight excellence. If you are responsible for gifted and talented provision, it’s a good time to audit what you are doing. Most schools have a gifted and talented register with a named person to co-ordinate activities, but all too often it can end up as a very low-key affair.