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Review: BETT 2012

Last week I was able to spend a few hours at BETT 2012 in London. BETT is the world’s biggest educational technology exhibition, and companies showcased their products to thousands of visitors.

For me, the highlights of the show were the new product launches from SMART, in particular the SMART Notebook 11 software. SMART Notebook 11 is the educational equivalent of SMART Meeting Pro and as well as having a new, more intuitive interface and toolbar it has several new features that will let teachers use their interactive SMART boards to deliver even more dynamic lessons. Firstly it has an integrated web browser so teachers can have full use of the white board but also pull up web content in a smaller window within the board. Another new feature is an Activity Builder. This clever development allows teachers to build their own interactive activities and it has a wealthy of uses. It’s difficult to explain without actually seeing it in action, but a simple use might be for teachers to create two on-screen baskets and label them Fruit and Vegetables. Children drag words or pictures into the right basket – if they try to add a potato to the Fruit basket it will bounce out. The implications for lessons using this technology are huge, especially as you can make the activities as complex as you want. The third new feature of the SMART Notebook 11 software is that it has widget support via SDK (Software Development Kit) – this means that SMART and third party developers can create widgets to add extra functionality to SMART boards. For example, there is already a dictionary widget which can be viewed within a window on the board; you can write a word on the board, drag it into the dictionary widget and it will be converted to text and a definition given. I was really impressed by this, and the potential is there for all sorts of additional widgets to be developed.

Another new product launched at the show was the SMART Lightraise 40wi Interactive Projector. It’s similar to other interactive projectors already on the market from companies like Epson and Hitachi, but the bonus here is that this one is fully compatible with SMART software, including the new Notebook 11. The interactive projector lets you use any surface as an interactive white board and comes with a special pen, allowing you to do pretty much everything you can on a SMART board. SMART already has a 60% share of the education sector market and that’s likely to increase with this new projector, which gives schools the opportunity to use interactive technology at a much lower cost.  However, though the idea of the interactive projector may be exciting, my own view was that I didn’t enjoy using it – I found it very difficult to write with the pen on a wall and it wasn’t nearly as intuitive as the SMART boards. You’re also completely dependent on the pen – if you lose it, you can’t use the projector, unlike the SMART boards which have finger touch control.

As a SMART leading reseller I was also given access to their product growth map for the next six months – I’m not allowed to reveal anything, but there are some exciting developments in the pipeline.

Something I noticed at BETT 2012 was the emphasis on 3D technology and content. Many projectors on sale now are 3D ready, and more technology is being developed that offers 3D interactivity. For example, SMART have an object visualiser that works like a 3D camera and lets you display objects on screen, via a 3D projector, in full 3D. More and more content is likely to be created with 3D in mind, so it’s well worth schools consider upgrading their projectors and computer equipment now to benefit from these advances.

Finally, one of the most impressive products showcased at BETT 2012 was the Multi Touch Video Wall from U-Touch. (You can see a video of it on the U-Touch website).This huge interactive screen is actually a 3×3 grid of nine 42” LCD screens. It’s huge, yet the interactivity is seamless. Obviously this is a premium product and well out of the budget of most education providers, but it’s definitely an indication of the way the industry is going. 

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