Gerald Haigh gets an exclusive pre-BETT look at the future of SIMS

Buick Y JobBuick's concept car, the Y JobI was at the Capita Education Services HQ in Bedford the other day, looking at what they’re going to show at BETT 2010. While I was there, looking at the on-screen goodies, I suddenly started thinking of a very special car, a 1938 Buick that the factory called the “Y Job”.

There was only one Y Job. A beautiful, low-slung roadster, with a straight-eight engine, it’s reckoned to have been the first true “concept car”. Far ahead of its time in styling, it was deliberately put out into the public eye to provoke feedback from as many sources as possible. Now that's happening with software.

The concept car was such an obviously good thing to do that motor firms have been putting concept cars out to test reaction at the big motor shows ever since, sitting them alongside both new production models and slightly tweaked old favourites.

Capita's SIMS DiscoveryCapita's SIMS DiscoveryWhy did I think of all this during a Capita presentation? Because Capita will be doing much the same thing with its SIMS presence at BETT in January. There will be the familiar SIMS products – Curriculum Planner, Learning Gateway, Lesson Monitor and the rest. Then there’ll also be both “the new model” and “the concept car”.

The new model, launching at BETT, is SIMS “Discover”. What Discover does, essentially, is make SIMS data a lot easier to read and analyse. It makes full use of “drag and drop”, so you can pull data from lists into various kinds of graph – Venn diagrams, pie charts, bar charts, progression lines.

So, for example, you could create a Venn diagram with three circles -- pupils with below 85 per cent attendance, pupils with below average attainment, pupils with more than a specified number of behaviour incidents. The intersection of the three creates a group who may require intervention. This group can then become “dynamic user defined” – that’s to say, the software will continue to keep membership of the group up to date as students move in or out of that intersecting field.

Capita trying to take a leaf out of Apple's book

SIMS' 'concept car' for the futureSIMS' 'concept car' for the futureIt’s a whole new look for SIMS, a bold attempt to tackle the inherent problem of all sophisticated software, which is how to maintain a balance between deep and wide functionality on the one hand and ease of use by busy multi-tasking people on the other. The company has employed an interface designer for the task and the benchmark was ambitious - Apple applications.

Does it succeed? Teachers are the ones to answer that, so take a good searching look at it – think of the things you long to be able to do with your MIS and see if Discover helps you with them.

That’s the new model. The “concept car” is a leap forward, an attempt to explore and show what the MIS of the future might look like. At BETT it will show how touch-screen technology and exciting graphics will be able to present the teacher with a highly accessible and multi-functional “dashboard” for the day’s work. There’ll be student data, with realtime alerts, general announcements, quick links to lesson content – lots of information and support on a screen that’s kept uncluttered and attractive with the aid of an advanced graphical interface manipulated by touch and gesture.

It’s a truly interesting venture. In authentic concept-car style, it’s intended to raise questions rather then provide answers. Any production version (and I know nothing of any dates or firm plans) is going to benefit from feedback, criticism and discussion as well as from continuing technological and educational change.

The SIMS “Y Job” we might as well call it – because Capita doesn’t have a name for it yet – is bound to attract lots of attention at BETT. And Capita has, I understand, specially acquired a giant touch-screen for the occasion. Something that can only accentuate the motor show parallels.


More information

The Buick Y Job is on show, in full working order, at the General Motors Heritage Collection in Warren, Michigan. Photo above courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Capita Children's Services has been nominated as ICT Supplier of The Year in the BETT 2010 Awards.

logo for BETT 2010BETT 2010
January 13-16, Olympia, London
You can see Capita's new wares for school administration software, including Discover, on its stand, D20.
Capita Children's Services (SIMS)

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