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The B.E.T.T. Show

16th January 1999

WE SAW THE FUTURE BUT COULDNT AFFORD IT.

On Saturday we went down to London to see the BETT show of technology in education at Olympia. I hadn't been to such a show before so I wasn't sure what to expect. My first impression was pretty boggling as I made an initial foray into the bazaar. We were immediately taken by a completely wired up classroom of networked computers with big flat computer screens at the front to teach from. An Australian teacher did decimals for you on each work station at the pupils own speed & questions were asked afterwards & scores given. The almost automated teacher. They gave us a mouse pad each.

A lot of folk were selling this sort of set up in massive packages. I liked the flat liquid crystal screens on a little post that were around. I surfed on one at the BBC stand and the screen colours and definition looked fine. In a classroom a row of these would look a lot lighter than a row of cathode ray boxes which tends to make a classroom look like the control room in 'Apollo13'.

There were a lot of Smart whiteboards which look like a conventional whiteboard except they have a network of wires behind the surface which means that they are touch sensitive. The board is linked to a computer which is projecting the image of it's screen onto the whiteboard with a projector. By touching the board with your finger or a 'pen' or 'eraser' you can control the computer and what it does. So anything you can do with a computer you can do on the screen. You could show video clips, photographs, text, anything you can get into a computer. You could surf in front of a class and cut and paste as you go to make a multi-media document in front of the class. Fantastic stuff and clearly the way of the future but at almost 10,000 for a complete set up it isn't very realistic yet. The price will fall though. They will be huge I'm sure.

The question is how do we get to the future from here. A lot of these large companies want to sell you the future in one complete package with attendant support & training. This has obvious attractions as sorting any of this yourself is pretty time consuming & tricky. Whether all these packages are all they are cracked up to be I don't know. Our school ICT room may not be that pretty but due to Tim's hard work & excellent technical support our school set up works extremely well.

On one of the major stands in the middle of the hall we saw a program which was supposed to be central to your literacy push and testing of the same. It was supposed to be an English version but the gnome read the story to you in an American accent and used American phrasing so that auditioning was 'trying out for a part'. I didn't think that was on really, at the heart of your literacy hour, so I wandered off to see how these folk would sort out interneting our network for us.

A chap was happy to run through the routers and their ISP services which would cost us 2,500 per annum. For this we got their value added services which failed to find a reference to 'Oldenburg', our current Pop Art project. Still I remained very keen and we went on to their filtering system which would ensure safe surfing for the under aged in our care. This was apparently based on a selection of thousands of web sites continually updated by themselves and a network of educationalists. I was invited to try it out but couldn't think of a dirty word so the chap typed 'sex' in. Unsurprisingly the search engine wouldn't work out. It wouldn't have been much of a filtering system to have failed on that one.

We talked about the difference between censorship and filtering and he made it clear that this was a filtering system and wasn't a political correctness machine. Which is fine. I asked if it would find German skin-head sites for example and I was invited to try. I tapped in 'nazi', a potentially legitimate search for a history project. The third find in the search list was 'Gay Nazi Porn Ads'. The poor salesman didn't know where to put his mouse. He tried to see if the page would come up and it would. So that's not a sale then? I took the brochure and made my excuses leaving the chap to have a tight lipped conversation about doing a bit more continual updating with a manager.

Clearly I take no pleasure in this unfortuanate incident whatsoever.


 

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