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.

SMART TableUp to six children at a time can work collaboratively on SMART's 27-inch touch-screen table at any one time. As with its easy-to-use SMART Boards, pupils and teachers can control the SMART Table by simply using a finger or a pen. SMART Technologies CEO and co-founder Nancy Knowlton, will be at BETT 2009 to show how the multi-touch, multi-user product can be used in class. At the product's UK launch in the UK in 2008 she was helped in remonstrations by Greenwich schoolchildren and their teacher.

“Technological innovation in education over the past two decades has enriched student learning and made it a more effective, learner-centred experience,” says Nancy Knowlton. “The SMART Table interactive learning centre builds on that success by giving students a 21st-century tool they will understand and use to further their own sense of collaboration, discovery and excitement.”

The SMART Table, about two feet tall, consists of touch-screen and built-in computer and projection system and the US price is around $8,000. At current conversion rates that's around £5,000. It is delivered ready to use and there's just one start-up button. It will be available spring 2009 and will be a star performer at BETT 2009.

The equipment comes with a set of programs, interactive lesson activities, educational games and a "toolkit" to support teachers using PCs or Macs to customise their own learning materials created with SMART Notebook software. Materials are loaded via a USB key.

Microsoft's Surface, expected to cost around $10,000, has been marketed to corporate customers first, among whom are casino operators in Las Vegas. But now it is being picked up by UK corporates like Tesco and Barclays, and I understand that a number of UK schools have already put in orders.

More information

SMART stands B50, G40

Microsoft Surface

Microsoft BETT stands D40, D30