Guest post by Education writer Gerald Haigh

There’s a lot of emphasis on hardware at BETT this year. Or is that just my impression? If it is so, then it’s probably inevitable. We are in the middle of some kind of device revolution. Once, a well equipped school was one that had one or more up-to-date computer suites. Now, quite suddenly, I’m hearing statements like this one from an academy vice principal,

‘Computer suites are becoming seriously outdated. They are expensive resources not just in terms of the hardware but because of the inefficient way the rooms have to be booked and tied up often unnecessarily.’

The answer – a kind of holy grail for many – is for each child to use a personal device, whether school-provided or their own.

But which device?
That decision as we’re so often reminded, has to be driven by learning needs. It’s important not to be seduced by advertising, the power of ‘cool’, or the need to keep up with the school down the road.

That, though, implies that there ought to be a good selection of devices from which to choose the most suitable. So, sure enough, suppliers are now putting a steady stream of products out for us to see, many of them on show at BETT, some of them to be seen on the Microsoft stand displaying the versatility and power of Windows 8.1. In fact I expect to be blogging about some of them over coming days.

WIN13_Lenovo_08 

There’s an inbuilt paradox here of course. It’s great to have a good choice of devices that we can browse among and try out. But as we do that, our focus on the learning needs of our children can very easily fade, overtaken by the immediacy and seductiveness of the objects themselves.

You can’t touch and handle a learning need in the way that you can feel the cool magnesium body of a Microsoft Surface. And so, before you know where you are, the thoughts you’re having, and the conversations with your colleagues on the Microsoft, or Lenovo, or Toshiba stands become once again all about the devices.

‘I like the look of this one!’
‘Yeah, it’s really neat.’

To be fair, I know that the Microsoft people will work to keep all enquirers focussed on what they want their device for, and I’m pretty sure all reputable exhibitors will do the same. It’s up to teachers and school leaders, then, to resist gadget allure and come to the stands with a clear idea, written down if necessary, of the vision for learning that’s brought them there in the first place.