Bett 2013: The year of tablets and cloud

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The world-famous Bett education technology exhibition saw hundreds of exhibitors and CPD seminars and thousands of visitors when it took place in London. Sal McKeown rounds up Bett 2013 – the year of tablets and the cloud.

Bett 2013 ran across four days earlier this month at its new home of ExCeL in London. If the 2012 Bett Show was the year of games and programming, Bett this year was all about tablets and the cloud.

The majority of stands sported iPad and Androids. If they were not selling the hardware they were advertising new content to run on it.

The show was opened by Vince Cable, secretary of state for business, innovation and skills, who focused on the world of work during his address. 

He mentioned companies such as Little Bridge, which offers English lessons for children through online gaming, and the use of haptic technology to train dentists in a virtual environment. 

At Bett 2013 the official government line was that computer science would be added to the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) league table measure as a science option – a move that was unsurprisingly welcomed by many at the technology event.

But teachers at the show wanted to know about devices, curriculum software and, in some cases, to catch a glimpse of celebrities – Carol Vorderman, Sir Bob Geldof and Professor Brian Cox all made an appearance. 

The celebs were promoting maths, pupil safety and science, respectively. Ms Vorderman introduced Maths Made Easy, produced in conjunction with Pearson, a new online maths homework service for primary-aged school children. Sir Bob was promoting Groupcall’s Emerge for Parents app, while Prof Cox wowed a massive audience in the Bett Arena with his views on the role of technology to motivate children and bring science to life.

Technology highlights

As well as the big names, there were the big guns: Microsoft, Toshiba, Samsung and Fujitsu. I particularly liked Acer’s W510 Tablet with Windows 8, a tablet PC with a detachable keyboard dock. This is not a bolt-on extra but is an integral part of the kit so pupils can touch-type on a real keyboard.

Another popular tablet was Avantis Learn Pad which won the Digital Devices category at the Bett 2013 Awards. It comes with preloaded content either for primary or secondary. 

The judges said: “This is the way tablets should be managed in a school environment. A great deal of thought has gone into the design to reflect the needs of schools and how they operate. Excellent online management system provided and very easy and quick-to-use. Excellent price. Impressive and convincing testimonials.”

Some familiar faces were moving into new areas. European Electronique was showing school products but pitching hard for the higher education market too with seminars and workshops targeted at universities. They also showed Freedom, a cloud solution with everything from core network systems to a learning platform.

Frog was promoting its mobile learning platform. Teachers will be able to create and share resources, update lessons plans and mark homework on any device, anytime, anywhere and children will be able to access content on tablets too. 

South Nottinghamshire Academy in Radcliffe-on-Trent became a Frog user in 2008, deciding not to wait for the local authority-funded virtual learning environment. Communications manager Simon Asthill has found that if a student misses lessons due to health reasons they can access the work from home or hospital and so do not fall behind.

With the proliferation of tablets, companies have started to look at ways of moving schools from printed text books towards e-book versions. One advantage is that it is impossible to lose books. If a learner loses the tablet, at least they can reload content from the website. 

Many teachers were impressed with RM Books. They have a substantial collection of digital textbooks from the main publishers. Schools can decide whether to buy or rent. With the current political u-turns on exams and syllabus reform, renting is probably the more sensible option.

A focus on dyslexia

There was a wealth of tools for people with dyslexia. Sandra Fox is a teacher who works with secondary pupils and older learners in Haringey in London. She also has dyslexia and dyspraxia which prevents her from reading and writing so she has had to find adaptations which enable her to do her job. 

She is very keen on “back-pocket technology” and uses CapturaTalk from iansyst, which she says is an ideal tool for the increasing number of teachers who have dyslexia. Lots of learners use it to take a picture of a page of text or a poster and let the software convert it first to text and then to speech so they can hear the content. However, Sandra uses CapturaTalk on her Samsung Galaxy phone to dictate emails and play back the text to make sure it is accurate.

There were other examples of “back-pocket technology”. TextHelp has an e-Book Reader Read&Write Web App, which comes complete with dictionary, picture dictionary, translator, study skills and fact finder. There is also an app which works with Google Docs in the Chrome web browser. Now learners can collaborate on documents and then have them read aloud with dual colour highlighting.

Students often find it hard to listen and take notes at the same time. One solution on offer was Sonocent’s Audio Notetaker. It provides a visual representation of speech where phrases are seen as bars and pauses as text. It breaks a long stream of audio into bite-size chunks so users can listen to the text and highlight phrases which matter. Some students use different colours for different topics or for different speakers and add their own notes in the text pane.

Digital video

Technology has the power to motivate by presenting concepts visually. Twig’s short films for science and geography help pupils who struggle to process large amounts of text. Each film is about three minutes long with on-screen keywords and comes with teachers’ notes, quizzes and diagrams. 

Twig commissioned research from Lancaster University. Professor Don Passey’s findings showed that video helps school students to understand and recall concepts and is the single most useful resource for a mixed ability class. It works even better when teachers set questions so pupils watch with a purpose in mind and know there will be a discussion afterwards. 

Sunflower provides models of different science situations. DNA is traditionally a very hard subject to teach but using the slider tool at the base of screen, the learner goes on a journey through DNA, starting off with a cell, moving into its nucleus, into the chromosomes, the double helix and base pairs, then onto interactive animations of the structure of DNA and how it replicates. It makes it look quite simple.

Channel 4 Learning’s Clipbank now works on iPads and Android devices. There are clips and quizzes for English set texts including Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, Golding’s Lord of the Flies and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. There is also a selection of updated resources for maths covering topics such as fractals, probability and statistics.

Lee Alderman, director of ICT at Repton School in Derbyshire, contributed to a Learn Live session called Video on Demand. The school uses ClickView which includes materials from Getty Images and National Geographic among others. 

There is also the facility to record every single programme from six television channels for two weeks, so if a teacher sees something on one of the main channels they know it will be available in school.

“The school is dispersed across many buildings, including 10 boarding houses,” said Mr Alderman. “We have up to 1,000 PCs and lots of mobile devices – iPads, Androids and Windows 8 slates – and ClickView can be accessed on all of these. It has had a huge impact across every single department in the school.”

MediaCore was shortlisted for the Bett Award for ICT Tools for Learning and Teaching. It lets teachers have a free personal account with 5Gb of cloud storage. 

They can share their videos with up to 50 students. There is also a free app, MediaCore Capture, which works with an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad and an Android version will soon be available. What teachers seem to like about MediaCore is that they do not have to save videos in a particular format. 

They upload it and the system does the tricky bits for them. This makes it easier than ever for unconfident teachers to embrace video technology.

  • Sal McKeown is an education technology and SEN journalist.
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