BETT 2012 – Innovation in Abundance

BETT 2012 proved that innovation in education technology is alive and kicking – literally. This year, the BETT Innovation Award went to the HapTEL Virtual Dental Chair, from King’s College London’s Dental Institute. Haptics gives users feedback on tasks that require physical dexterity, and in this case the solution gives student dentists feedback on how hard they are pushing on teeth when learning procedures such as drilling cavities. The HapTEL solution costs 1/5th of traditional dentistry training equipment, and has the added avantage of collecting data about learning.

Another winner of the BETT awards was Voiceye – a mobile app to help those who struggle with text. Users can use the phone’s camera to read a special Voiceye code (like a QR or barcode) embedded in a document, and this transfers the text from the document to the phone. There it can either be read using preferred combinations of fonts and colour schemes, or listened to using text-to-speech if the phone has that installed.

For a full summary of the BETT Awards, visit: http://www.agent4change.net/bett-week/news/1437-2012-bett-awards.html

Those looking for devices innovation would not have been disappointed. For example, Lenovo showed their ThinkPad Tablet (to be launched later in the year), and their all-in-one touch screen PC, the ThinkCentre Edge 91z. RM exhibited a Samsung’s “slate” running the developer version of Microsoft Windows 8. Dell and Toshiba also had devices running developer versions of Windows 8.

Surface devices are beginning to proliferate with Samsung showing its SUR40 and Promethean its Interactive Table.

Writing technology is developing as an increasingly strong theme at BETT, exemplified by one of my favorite innovations at the show – the LiveScribe smart pen.

I’ve been using a LiveScribe Echo Smartpen since before Christmas and I love it. Its great for making notes, and diagrams on paper and them transferring them to the PC.

A tiny infrared camera picks up the pen strokes and stores them on the pen. When you are ready you can download notes onto your computer, where they become searchable. LiveScribe integrates beautifully with OneNote. For it to work, it has to write on paper that has imperceptibly small dots, and these can be printed from templates that LiveScribe supply, or bought in bulk in A4 or A5 format. LiveScribe is a complete platform amongst a wide range of tools and applications including translation capabilities.

Low cost interactive whiteboard solutions are getting better too – now!board, Mimio and e-Beam all offer solutions that can turn wall spaces or dry-marker based whiteboards into interactive whiteboards. These products could be used with mini-projectors such as the Qumi, to provide a highly portable and flexible solution for teachers.

Another favourite innovation this year at BETT was Solar Ready Ltd. Combining Windows MultiPoint Server, LG Monitors and some very smart electrical engineering, entire suites of computers can be run using solar power – even in the cloudy UK. The result – 92% savings in running costs.

Innovation wasn’t confined to technology either. BETT itself has evolved too, with children doing learning as a central feature of the show. Prof. Stephen Heppell’s “New Worlds of Learning” featured students engaged in a range of learning activities both on and beyond the stand.

One key area of innovation that I’d like to see at BETT is better engagement with visitors from outside the UK. Whilst the British government does a great job in bringing Education Ministers from around the world to BETT, the show itself isn’t anywhere near friendly enough to foreign visitors IMHO. Visitor numbers have grown to 30,000 and about 30% of these people are from overseas. However, exhibiting companies are not visibly and explicitly addressing foreign opportunities. Overwhelmingly, signage was in English, and attempts to “speak the language of education” were limited to references to the English schooling system.

Let’s hope that as the show moves to a new world-class venue (ExCel) next year, that suppliers make a better effort to address markets outside the UK. Innovation should not be restricted to technology solutions – there’s a clear need innovate in the selling process too.

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