Post written by Mark Reynolds, Schools Business Manager (South)

(At the time of writing) It’s the Friday after BETT. Last week, I was in the middle of Olympia, for the last BETT Friday ever (assuming that the EXCEL London move works out). The Microsoft stand was incredibly busy, which is brilliant. I didn’t get to talk to everyone I wanted to, but did have hundreds of great conversations with a huge range of people; and whist trending on Twitter is all well and good, I thought I’d try and sum up the trends I spotted by talking to people face-to-face, in a totally unscientific brain-dump of BETT 2012.

So, what was trending on the verbal network at BETT?

1. Computer Science and the teaching of IT. After Gove’s speech on the Wednesday, we had loads of people come on to the stand, asking how we could help them re-write their ICT curriculum. Some were big Local Authorities who are planning things centrally, and some were individual IT teachers, who, quite frankly, looked a mixture of terrified and excited about the need to introduce some “proper” computing into their classrooms. We had some amazing teachers on the stand who could help them start straight away, like Ray Chambers from Lodge Park and Nicki Maddams from Hartsdown Technology College. They were showing off the amazing Kodu for game programming and also showcasing the software they’d written themselves for Kinect. Microsoft has been campaigning long and hard for the computing in schools agenda, and it’s great to see that work recognised – but my view is that we also need to retain some balance. Do people still need to know how to use Office properly? Of course they do. Kids need to learn how to format their CV, track their budget with a spread sheet, or build an exciting presentation - but that can definitely be achieved at an earlier stage in their learning than it is today, either with in-app games like Ribbon Hero or with industry recognised qualifications like MOS. I think it’s a really exciting time to be involved in Education IT, but teacher CPD will get more and more important as we push things forward in a new direction.


2. BYOD, and iPads in particular. Yes, this is a Microsoft blog that’s going to talk about iPads. Shock horror. It may amaze you to know this, but most of us at Microsoft are pretty pragmatic types. We are very excited about the launch of Windows 8, and wish we could have told you more at BETT – but we’re also seeing lots of schools buying iPads and also visiting the stand, waving their iPads at us, mostly asking things like: “can I use this with your Cloud” or “can you help me manage these on my network”. So for me, there are two parts to this: user experience and management. When schools use our Live@Edu email service, they can sync mail and calendars to their iPads very easily and have a great experience. We even have apps for SkyDrive, OneNote and Lync on iOS. Most teachers I spoke too seem to use their Windows PC for planning lessons, writing documents and doing the bulk of their admin – then use the iPad to carry around to meetings or browse the web on the sofa. Therefore, using Cloud technology like SkyDrive which lets you easily move files around is a big benefit, and we showed just that during our “School in a Box” presentation. As for device management, we encouraged the technical people who came on to look at the beta of System Centre 2012, which for the first time will allow schools to manage iOS and Android devices. There were many raised eyebrows and confused looks – but we said yes, as long as you’re using Windows Server and Exchange for email, then BYOD and teacher iPads are just about to get a lot less scary and hopefully help schools avoid any nasty “SIMS data/iPad/left on bus” type moments.

3. Skype/Lync and the Video Conferencing 2.0. A few years ago, video conferencing in schools meant that you had to buy big expensive dedicated kits, with plasma screens, wall mounted cameras and complicated software. Now, we all use Skype at home and the whole idea of video conferencing is more accessible and widely accepted as a non-speciaist subject. We had a brilliant presentation on our stand by Joe Dale, sharing some inspired ideas from Skyping Santa to sleepover Skype nights in the school hall! We got feedback that some Local Authorities or RBC broadband services block Skype – which we’ve taken on board and will hope to discuss with those people in the coming months. Now this is, of course, often for reasons of e-safety – but with current budget restraints and the huge pull of Skype from people's home lives, we have to find a way to help schools embrace it safely. Joe advocates the teacher leading a Skype call at the front of the class – to a teacher leading their class at the other end, Skype in the Classroom is not about student-student conversations. Where things got really interesting at BETT, is when people realised that the “managed” world of Video Conferencing (using Lync integrated with your Active-directory, Exchange servers and Office apps) would, in time, merge with the “consumer” world of Video Conferencing. This will allow me, on my Microsoft provided Lync client, to call my wife at home on Skype. Not to mention me calling my 8 year-old on his xBox! The possibilities are mind-blowing, but for a whole host of reasons, from distance learning, to cost-saving, to international collaboration – it’s time to re-visit Video Conferencing in your schools and explore the possibilities.

I was once told that you should never tell people more than three things at once, so that’s my lot. Anyway, I still have 158 unread post-BETT emails in my inbox. See you next year at EXCEL.