Guest post by Gerald Haigh, our education freelance writer.

OK, let’s get the ‘Do like the new venue?’ question out of the way first. My answer, I guess like most, is ‘Not sure yet.’ Mind you, what I did not enjoy was arriving at the bottom of that giant staircase at the Excel’s West Entrance. It reminded me of the Odessa Steps sequence in ‘Battleship Potemkin’. I half expected to meet a baby’s pram bouncing down pursued by Cossack soldiers.

image

The Royal Docks – home of the new Bett venue, ExCel London.

You hadn’t finished walking when you got up there either, so by the time I arrived in the Hall I was ready, as they say, for a cup of tea and a nice sit down. As always, though, any grumpiness was dispelled by the kindness and good humour of everyone I met – press office staff, PR people who arranged my meetings and, of course, the tireless folk on the stands, whose energy never fails to amaze me.

The Microsoft Stand, for example, was permanently crowded with enquirers. There was huge interest in Windows 8, and in ‘Surface’, and as I listened in to conversations and questions I realised that the penny really is dropping about the value of a tablet that will be truly connected and manageable, an integrated part of the institution’s IT, whether it’s Surface or any of the growing number of third party Windows 8 devices.

image

Early before the show opened.

Certainly that’s the view of the hardware suppliers. On my whistle stop tour of the Show, I called on Lenovo at Stand F140 and spoke to Education Sales Manager Michelle McGeoch about Liverpool Community College’s recent purchase of 600 Lenovo Windows 8 tablets.

‘We’re obviously delighted with that,’ she said. ‘And it’s clearly the start of something really exciting for us and for Microsoft’.

Michelle promised to keep me up to speed with further Window 8 tablet stories, and I’ll be following up on that.

A little further along the Hall, there were good reports, too, on stand F241 at Ergo Computing where Higher Education specialist Simon Beeby told me that their new Windows 8 Hybrid has already been taken up by two UK universities. I have no doubt that on my next foray into the show I’ll find similar stories, because it’s very noticeable that as you look around from any point in the Hall away into the distance you can see, on stand after stand, that distinctive Windows 8 Start screen.

I had two longer meetings on that first day. One was on Stand D180 with senior people from Advanced Learning, new owners of Serco Learning, and so also owners and continuing developers of cloud-based MIS ‘Progresso’ which makes extensive use of Microsoft technologies. I’ve blogged about Progresso since it first appeared a couple of years ago, and it’s going to be interesting to see how it develops. Advanced Learning is an established Microsoft Partner, and it’s clear that they believe Progresso will fit well into their plans, offering mutual benefits and providing reassurance to users. Sales and Marketing Director John Parkinson intends to find me a school user, so this is another story I hope to follow up on.

My other ‘sit down’ meeting (why do I like those?) was on Stand B238 with Harvey Sanchez, CEO of ClickView, provider of an enormous range of video resources for business and government as well as for education. Based in Australia, ClickView make extensive use of Microsoft technologies and last year in fact, won the Australian ‘Microsoft Partner of the Year’ Award. They’re a particularly heavy user of Azure for cloud storage, says Harvey.

‘In fact we’re probably closer than anyone else to using a petabyte of storage.’ (No, I didn’t know either. It’s a thousand terabytes, or a number with fifteen zeroes. Rather more, in other words, than I had on my Sinclair Spectrum.)

Harvey’s a real enthusiast for learning, which seems half the battle for any educational technology supplier. But he’s a realist, too, and it was he who said,

‘Money’s tight in education. I’m not just competing with similar businesses, I’m competing with everybody here. In fact I’m competing with suppliers of janitors’ brooms.’

That thought, he claims, came from a school principal who told him she had to spend money on brooms, to which he replied.

‘Buy my software and I’ll bring you a complete set of brooms.’

Whether he did or not, I don’t know, but I wouldn’t put it past him.

Harvey has 800 school users in UK so far, so I feel another school contact coming on. We’ll see.

On the subject of learning, the interview given on the RM Stand (C160/170) by Antony Salcito, Microsoft’s Vice President for public sector education worldwide was, for me very significant. Interviewed by RM Education MD Mike Allen, Antony Salcito strongly emphasized the way that technology isn’t just a tool for making it easier to do what we do already.

image

Anthony Salcito with some of the Microsoft and Dell team.

‘Some school leaders start with the technology,’ he said. ‘It’s the easiest part to fix. You can weigh it, measure it, evaluate it.’

What this comes down to, he went on, is an approach that says,

‘We’re going to get the stuff. Then we’ll take what we used to do and use the new stuff to help us to do it.’

But what’s needed, of course, he says, is to make learning the starting point, to go back to the beginning and use the power and freedom that technology bestows to think of learning, and school itself, in a different way.

‘Never before have schools had such massive access to content, such ability for students to learn from each other….That creates a new dynamic.’

The possibility arises, for example of challenging the whole notion of a fixed school day, or a school calendar (meaning ‘timetable’ to us I’d say.)

In the context of BETT, what Antony Salcito says raises, for me, this question.

How many of the products on show have the potential to create that new dynamic – a different approach to learning, to the idea of a class, even to the notion of what is a school? And how many will continue be seen as something to make it easier and quicker to do what’s being done already?

That’s quite a thought, and with Tim’s permission I’d like to develop it a bit in the aftermath of BETT. Meanwhile, if you still haven’t been, or you’re going again, it’s a thought you might like to keep in mind as you go round. I’ll be there Saturday. Say hello.