There was a time when the BETT show resembled a high-tech bazaar, with exhibition stands packed with boxes, and masses of teachers examining or ordering the latest computer hardware. But at this year's BETT, virtually all the computers on show were being used to demonstrate software or services.
Microsoft showed the Encarta Class Server, a product designed for accessing and managing online resources and content. Among the many others on show were AVP.net, an NGFL subscription service; schoolmaster.net, an online community; REM was busily promoting EducationCity.net, which offers online educational games (REM is also distributing Ed on the Web, an online resource for supporting SATs at key stage 2); Learnall.net is an online resource service from DIALNet; and DigitalBrain.com, which describes itself as an applications service provider offering many resources.
Granada Learning launched Primary-Zone, a subscription service offering literacy, numeracy and science activities for school and home users; TAG Learning showed TAGLink, an online learning community; the Anglia Campus online service now has more than 4,000 schools subscribing to it; RM announced SuccessMaker Internet and Destination, online integrated learning systems. Bromcom's Mychildatschool.com allows parents to access their child's record on the schools administration system via the Net.
There was more online activity from the BBC and Channel 4 with their highly regarded educational websites; TEEM, which offers online evaluations of educational CD-Roms and websites; and an updated Virtual Teachers Centre managed by Becta. The Skills Factory showed Literacy and Numeracy Complete Online - a planning and record-keeping system, which shows that ICT can really save teachers time and effort.
The growth of online educational resources and services has put the spotlight on Internet connections and broadband. DIALnet, with its parent company Redstone, announced that it plans to launch a high-speed, two-way SDL digital telephone link to the Net that is about 16 times faster than ISDN. DIALNet says the connection will be always-on and "compeitively priced".
The buzz word in computing - "plug-and-play" - is used to define hardware that is simple to install, but that is rapidly being replaced by the phrase "unplug-and-play" - used to describe wireless computing. Its reliability, flexibility and price now mean that more and more schools are considering this type of technology.
Companies demonstrating wireless technology at BETT included Apple, Centerprise, Intel and Texas Instruments, which showed a prototype wireless network for graphic calculators. The latter also showed how the line between calculators and hand-held computers was blurring, with the latest models offering flash memory technology. This allows calculators to be upgraded using software downloads.
Apple showed that when it comes to new technology, it still leads the pack. Among the company's offerings was iMovie, a system for capturing, editing, and displaying high-quality video on a computer.
Compaq's iPaq handheld computer showed one possible future for mobile computing in education.
RM demonstrated RM Maths Quest, an interactive teaching and assessment resource for key stages 3 and 4. Developed by US company Riverdeep Interactive, Maths Quest is being localised. It has ILS-type features and offers thousands of questions which can be downloaded and used at home.
However, the CD-Rom is not dead. New Media Press's highly acclaimed Key Concepts in Science multimedia CD-Roms use animation, video and interactive exercises to help develop an understanding of scientific concepts (Multimedia Science School, p25); Two-Can's Interfact series shows that the book and the CD-Rom can co-exist nicely.
Computer Kids' Spreadsheets Through Time and Pictorial Databases CD-Roms, Crick Software's Clicker Resource CDs and Softease's latest version of Textease Studio are all examples of how some of the best software is being produced by the smaller companies. Anglia Multimedia joined forces with the Manx Multimedia Centre to promote Secrets, a CD-Rom which shows that this medium still has new and interesting things to offer (p24).