BETT 2010 panorama

ICT policy may be in turmoil, but George Cole predicts a lively and dynamic BETT 2011

The 2011 BETT Show marks a new phase for the UK’s educational technology sector. For the past decade, educational ICT funding has boomed, with billions spent on hardware, software, infrastructure and training.

Now, however, tough economic times coupled with a government determined to cut the deficit quickly means that this trend is being reversed.

The Harnessing Technology grant has been slashed by £100 million and it’s little wonder that a Besa (British Educational Suppliers Association) survey revealed that 36 per cent of all schools believe that this cut will have a significant impact on ICT investment in 2011/12. Besa also found that almost half of secondary and 42 per cent of primaries think they are unlikely to maintain ICT investment in this coming financial year.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Besa says that a Market Performance Outlook report suggests that schools will spend £3 million more on educational resources between January and March 2011, than they did in the same period in 2010. Others point out that a tougher economic climate means that schools will have to focus on ICT that is both effective and good value for money.

Think of the mountains of hardware and software purchased in the boom years of ICT funding, but which now lie forgotten in cupboards. This scenario is unlikely to be repeated in a climate where every penny matters. And tighter budgets mean that schools will have to be more imaginative and innovative in their use of ICT, which could have positive pedagogical outcomes.

'Software rental could save schools thousands of pounds in licensing fees'

The changing economic world also means that suppliers, vendors and service providers are launching a raft of new products and initiatives designed to offer schools more flexible budgeting and even better value for money. New company Stream2School is launching its new software rental service at BETT, which could save schools thousands of pounds in licensing fees (see separate article). RM Education is unveiling its new RM Essentials range of products that includes hardware, software and peripherals. Adam Stewart, RM’s senior product manager for computers, says, “The configuration of these products will be more rigid and there will be fewer features (for example, there might be no webcam or integrated speaker), but the benefit will be lower prices.” Schools will also be able to use existing peripherals, such as a monitor or keyboard with many Essentials offerings.

From March 1, 2011, Microsoft will be launching a new software licensing scheme (Enrolment for Education Solutions) which will be based on the number of full-time equivalent staff in a school and the products used, rather than the total number of computers in a school, which Microsoft says could save some schools thousands (see "Licensed to thrill..."). A possibly even cheaper option, of course, is Open Source software and services, and companies such as Synergy Learning and Webanywhere will be promoting Open Source solutions like the Moodle VLE and the Mahara e-portfolio system at BETT.

'Expect to see and hear a lot about cloud computing'

Expect to see and hear a lot about cloud computing – AKA cloud services – at this year’s show. The case for cloud computing seems compelling: why should schools have to purchase, manage and maintain banks of servers when many applications and services could be hosted online? Many of us already use cloud services such as Google, Amazon, Facebook and Twitter, so why not save time, money and hassle by reducing or removing servers from the school network and letting someone else take the strain?

Screen Smart AcademyRealsmartcloudSmartassess teams with Google for 'a real virtual learning environment' is a cloud service offered by Smartassess and Google, which is described as a ‘real learning environment’. The service includes a school website, learning portfolios, email, collaborative documents and web apps. Microsoft’s Live@Edu offers schools a free web-hosted email service, and this service will be transforming into a new platform, Office 365 for Education, which will offer a mix of free and paid-for products.

Cloud computing is certainly attractive, although whether schools would want to entrust sensitive student data to an external online service is debatable. Another issue is how much control users have over a cloud service – remember what happened to Wikileaks when a host of cloud service providers decided to pull the plug on it? A school’s modus operandi is not comparable with Wikileaks of course, but the same principle applies to all cloud services – the service provider reserves the right to terminate the relationship if you are perceived to have breached its conditions of service. No cloud computing provider can ever promise to offer its service in perpetuity.

BectaThe lights are going out at BectaThis will be the first year that Becta, the former government ICT agency, does not have a presence at BETT. Last year, when we spoke to Stephen Crowne – then Becta’s chief executive – about the prospects of the agency appearing at the BETT 2011 show, he was very bullish (see "I'm confident about future"). But Becta was one of many quangos that faced the axe. The departure of Becta from the educational scene has been met with mixed feelings, and a Besa survey found that more than a third of schools (38 per cent) felt that Becta’s closure would impact on impartial advice regarding best practice.

The vacuum left by Becta’s demise is being partly filled by Web 2.0 services, like blogs and Twitter, and many teachers are now using these media outlets to form personal learning networks (PLNs) with groups of teachers, who share advice, ideas, resources and best practice. (The Mirandanet community canvassed feelings about the loss of Becta which were made available in this document.)

International and UK leaders get their own BETT conferences

BETT’s vibrant seminar programme is running as usual, and on Saturday January 15, a new initiative, Open House @ BETT is launched, This will include meetings, workshops and seminars organised by not-for-profit subject associations, teachers’ associations, organisations and networks. Many of the expected 30,000 visitors to BETT 2011 will be from overseas. For example the Hong Kong Government’s Education Bureau (EB) is launching a $140 million e-learning initiative at home and members from the EB will be at BETT to see how e-learning is developing in the UK, and explore collaborative opportunities.

Two new conferences are also being launched. On Tuesday January 11 and Wednesday 12, BETT International will bring together policy makers and influencers from around the world.  ‘UK Education Leaders @ BETT’ will gather the UK’s leading educators and policy influencers for a robust debate around the effects of the coalition Government’s strategies on Thursday January 13 and Friday 14. The conference will feature Question Time-style debates on subjects such as, the Free Schools programme. Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, and journalist Toby Young, an advocate of Free Schools, are among those taking part. Other topics under discussion will include the effects of the cancellations of Building Schools for the Future (BSF) projects and the closure of agencies such as Becta.

RM SlateiPad success opens door for rivals like the RM Slate (above)Naturally, cutting-edge technology products will also be at BETT. Apple’s iPad has put Tablet computing back on the educational agenda and its huge success has inspired others to enter or re-enter the market.

RM launched a Tablet PC some years ago, but the concept was ahead of the available technology. The feeling now is that tablet computing is a technology whose time has come. RM is launching its RM Slate, a sleek Tablet PC which runs Windows 7, and includes multi-touch functionality and handwriting recognition technology and can be used with the full range of other technologies that are used in schools.

Also watch out for Android tablets – Samsung's Galaxy Tab, which is a viable, open alternative to those not wishing to be tied to Apple's closed ecosystem should be making an appearance and there are likely to be others too, like the Eee Slate from Asus.

Multi-touch operation has also come to the interactive whiteboard, in the shape of Promethean’s ActivBoard 500 Pro system and Smart Technologies’ Smartboard 800 series. These products greatly extend the functionality and collaborative capabilities of interactive whiteboards and will help make learning even more engaging. And isn’t this exactly what the best ICT should do?

BETT 2011 logoBETT 2011, January 12-15
Olympia, London
Besa (British Educational Suppliers Association): stand D46 
Stream2School: stand P6 
RM Education: stands C60/D60 
Microsoft: stand D40  
Synergy Learning: stand N2 
Webanywhere: stand J50 
Smart Assess: stand L18 
Open House @ BETT
BETT International
: Olympia 2
UK Education Leaders @ BETT
: Olympia 2
Apple: Apple Inc does not support events by other organisations and has its own event elsewhere in London during BETT Week
Samsung: stand K28
Promethean: stand B30 
Smart Technologies: stand B50
Asus: stand K29
BETT panorama photo (top) by George Cole

George ColeGeorge Cole is a freelance journalist who writes about technology and learning. A former teacher, he is also the author of The Last Miles, a book about the jazz musician Miles Davis, and runs The Last Miles website.

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