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Virtually everything

From in-depth help for teachers to teacher blogs, Georgina Stein found a lot to be cheerful about at BETT

After visiting last month's BETT show at Olympia, I decided that everything anyone needs to teach ICT already exists, although it may take the rest of my life to find it all, and even slightly longer to find out exactly what I really need. The choices are endless.

When thinking about ICT, I always try to separate what I want from what I actually need. This year, I wore my "be prepared for BETT" shoes again and although the soles are now much thinner, I am pleased that I found some really useful "must haves" under one roof. The list is endless, but you can always get in touch or check out the BETT website to find out more.

UniServity, for example (and yes, it is spelt correctly), is worth further investigation. I won't describe this in detail as it would spoil the surprise, but if you are keen to find a great way of using ICT to support teaching using a "learning platform" (also known as virtual learning environment), go online and see for yourself. The people at UniServity are really easy to talk to and they understand learning and teaching too.

Technology Teaching Systems Group's Bee-Bot robot deserves investigation too (see review, page 24). A definite need is met through this little character and similarly the Keyboard Crazy game (plus software) will help all primary ICT teachers and improve literacy.

Some really exciting furniture and equipment has emerged for anyone wishing to drag their learning environments (classrooms to you and me) into this century. Take a look at Northgate Education's Learning and Teaching website; here you will also find out more about Future Schools and Flexible Learning Environments.

If you want to help your colleagues with their ICT or their use of Smart Board interactive whiteboards, but you don't have the time, Canterbury Christ Church University will be able to help you with training and support programmes (which I helped to develop). The resource materials on the Smart Education website include Microsoft Office downloads, interactive links and access to a useful online ICT audit tool, which was designed to reduce the burden on ICT co-ordinators and individuals who need help and support. Most of the resources are free and anyone requiring training will find the site worth visiting.

While we're waiting for next year's BETT, I am thankful that there are so many really great ICT teachers out there who are willing to help everyone find what they need. Today's ICT teachers are not only helping colleagues in their schools, but also extending their help to people with names like "maniac" and "busy bee" via the great virtual ICT catalogues in the form of blogs, forums and every type of discussion group imaginable.

When you venture into the ICT teachers' online domains you will find they are not only full of product descriptions, but also contain graphic feedback, including warts-and-all descriptions about what you can or can't do with the products in practice.

If you are a busy bee you too may wish to join the virtual debates via the TES staffroom, for example, or enter one of the many Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) that are available from well-known companies. The strange thing is that VLEs, or learning platforms as they are more commonly known, are perhaps better understood and more common than people believe, for although they are used only in a comparatively small number of schools, there is plenty of virtual learning and virtual teaching (VLVT) taking place in different teacher communities online.

This virtual land, V-land for short, has developed because teachers are excellent communicators who have such a passion for teaching that they take every opportunity to practise it on their virtual colleagues.

Georgina Stein is the director of the client research, development and publications unit at Canterbury Christ Church University HELPFUL LINKS

If you are looking for something to discuss in V-land, some of these links will be useful

* TES staffroom: join the debate

* BETT: engaging, enriching, empowering. Visitors had the chance to improve their ICT knowledge at the numerous seminars, workshops and product demonstrations.

* UniServity is a leading provider of learning platforms that enable schools, teachers and students to collaborate, focusing on supporting wider school development.

* Bee-Bot is a programmable floor robot for early years and primary. It is simple and child-friendly. The online gallery is a perfect starting point for teaching children programming, control and directional language.

* Keyboard Crazy is a game which teaches pupils keyboard skills in key stages 12 in mainstream schools and KS1-3 pupils in special schools.

* Find out about Northgate Education and Building Schools for the Future (BSF) on the Learning and Teaching website and discover what their Flexible Learning Environment (FLE) solutions can do for you.

* The client research, development and publications unit at Canterbury Christ Church University, Kent, provides advice and support.

Tel: 01227 782802

* The Smart Education website has free resources, including great ICT ideas for using Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, as well as Smart Board software Starting Points files.

* Canterbury Christ Church University's Smart Education training and support programmes are designed help people wishing to gain recognition in their use of Smart Board interactive whiteboards.

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