Guest post by education writer Gerald Haigh

Writing or talking about the BETT show inevitably means describing software, devices and systems. That’s why we go there, after all, whether as visitor or exhibitors. All technology, though, is made, sold, enthused over and looked after by people, and in this blog, I propose to mention some of the great Microsoft-connected folk I encountered on my BETT visits. So, quite early on on the first day I bumped into Adrian Edgar and Chris McKinley of SharePoint Edu Tech, whose speciality lies in helping schools to make the most of SharePoint in a branded and bespoke way. They were visiting the Microsoft stand before flying off to the Microsoft Global Education Partners Summit.

‘We focus on adding value to SharePoint and Office 365,’ said Adrian. ‘And we’re here meeting existing clients and seeking new ones.’ Their emphasis, he says, is on working with client schools over time to develop their SharePoint solution. ‘We don’t just put it in and say goodbye.’

imageAdrian’s track record in schools as a teacher, senior leader and IT director is a considerable help in that. School experience, counts, too, for Civica, whose own ‘Cloudbase’ learning environment is Office 365 based.

‘Our e-learning team, made up of teachers from all sectors – primary, secondary, subject specialists -- adds real value,’ said Marketing Manager Nicola Herd. There were lots of enquiries at BETT, says Nicola.

‘Once people realise the power of it, and we show its capabilities, they become interested.’
Making the most of what you have is also a mission of the Tablet Academy, who were running an Interactive Classroom on the Microsoft Stand.

Led by their CEO Professor Steve Molyneux, a team from the Academy were intent on David Fuller Tablet Academytheir core purpose, which is to help teachers to use mobile devices innovatively to support learning. When I captured trainer David Fuller between sessions, he pointed out to me how important it is for schools not only to make the right choice of tablet for now, but to realise that children, learning needs, and devices themselves all change over time.

‘A tablet’s life might be three years, but a child is in school for thirteen years and go through perhaps five generations of tablet. Schools need to wake up to that.’

Underlining the need to make good choices, Microsoft were showing a wide range of mobile devices on the stand. Surface, unsurprisingly, was strongly featured, and Surfaces in Education Marketing Manager Jacqueline Russell was in from Seattle to help spread the message. She was struck by the number of teachers at the Show who had been individually using other devices, such as iPads, but were looking at alternatives as they considered ‘one-to-one’ devices for students.

‘I’ve been showing them how great Surface is for working with  Office 365, and ‘One Note’. For example I’ve shown history teachers how they can import video into PowerPoint, and I met some maths teachers and shown them the various maths tools in One Note and they’ve been very excited by that.’

Windows 8, though, is hugely flexible, and appears on the widest possible range of devices, many of which were to be seen on the Microsoft Stand which was where, for example, I met Jay Pitchford from Nokia. Jay was showing how their Windows 8 range goes seamlessly from a range of Lumia smartphones, through the six inch Lumia 1520 ‘phablet’, to their Lumia 2520 ten-inch tablet. ‘There’s been fantastic interest,’ Jay told me. ‘And it’s not just been the number of conversations, but their depth – teachers discussing the convenience of a six-inch device for their everyday work for example.’

Toshiba devices Toshiba’s eight-inch ‘Encore’ Windows 8 tablet, filling a gap between six inch ‘phablets’ and ten-inch Surface-type tablets, was also part of Microsoft’s display. I was impressed by it, and walked to the Toshiba stand for a closer look. It really is a great little device, full Windows 8, handbag size, and with a blue-tooth folding keyboard, what else would you need on the 0739 to Waterloo?

Or, on second thoughts, perhaps you really need a small laptop. In which case, said Toshiba’s Dave Howson (clearly not a Sales Account Manager for nothing) why not treat yourself to both?

‘You could get probably find both an Encore tablet and a Satellite Pro NB10 Windows 8 laptop for around £500.’ Now there’s a thought.

I wandered off to the Lenovo stand, too, to check out some of their beefed up laptops for schools. To use their word,  they’re ‘Ruggedised’ , with strong hinges, and tight lids that you can’t slip a biscuit into. It’s a reminder that you need to think carefully about hardware that’s going to be used in the classroom.

I have to say, though, that I was distracted on the Lenovo stand by Lenovo’s Client Technologist Mertens Flemming, who showed me their Idea Centre Horizon ‘Table PC’ – an all-in-one 27inch Windows 8 touchscreen device that can be lowered down horizontally so that users can sit around it – like sitting round a table -- and work, or play, together.

‘It’s very popular in the Nordic countries for collaborative work in pre-school,’ said Mertens, and it’s not difficult to see the same thing happening in UK.

Really, that’s just a taste of my BETT 2014 experience, I haven’t even touched on the teenage app wizard, or the Olympic torch-bearing global Skype enthusiast, or Microsoft’s primary computing curriculum materials, or…..well, you get the drift. Some of those call for blogs all to themselves, and we’ll get to them, no fear.