Surface PC spells end of interactive whiteboards

Microsoft had one of the largest booths and exhibition areas at this year's British Education and Training Technology show (BETT) showing off some cool new educational apps on its Surface PC and rating its favourite netbooks for schools on a 'wall of cool'.

Microsoft's Education Marketing Manager Ray Fleming gave us a tour of the BETT booth yesterday, enthusing about the netbook "Wall of Cool" he had put together with a bunch of teachers – rating their favourite and coolest (and not-so-cool) netbooks for use with kids in the classroom.

We were also treated to some outstanding demos of new educational applications and games on Microsoft's Surface PC, with a collaborative spelling game called Finguistics holding our attention for far longer than it perhaps should have done!

The end of the interactive whiteboard?

Leading educationalist Sir Mark Grundy told TechRadar that he and his team of teachers and developers were particularly excited about the possibilities that MS Surface presents for bringing together collaborative projects in the classroom "along with individualised bits of work, that kids can do on their own PC at home or in school."

For Grundy, Surface PC means "the end of the interactive whiteboard" and promises a whole "new and different way of working in the classroom."

Kids want to get involved in stuff, they don't want a teacher presenting to them from the front of the classroom, they "want to get their hands dirty" and, in his opinion, Surface gives teachers and pupils fun and productive new ways of doing this.

The netbook 'wall of cool'

Netbooks are ubiquitous at BETT this year. All the major companies were showing their latest wares – with brands such as Acer (showing off a new ten-inch screen Aspire One), Asus (with a slew of Eee PCs), Elonex (with a bunch of exciting new announcements, more on which shortly) and Sony with its flashy new Vaio-P series and numerous others on show.

"Although there are loads of suppliers at BETT, all showing off their latest mini laptops, you can't visit a stand elsewhere where they are all lined up together," writes Fleming on the Microsoft UK Schools news blog. "So you can compare them side by side, and you'll be able to see how their speed, graphics, weight and design vary between manufacturers and price brackets."

So, taking up the challenge of rating the most popular netbooks at the education and technology show this year, Fleming gathered a bunch of teachers to "do a true Top-Gear style road test" where the group "set off trying to arrange them from Seriously UnCool to Sub Zero."

Fizzbook fizzles out

"There was plenty of debate as I handed them around – with lots of opinions on keyboard size, style, colour, which paint job was best/worst etc" writes the Microsoft man. "And although the middle of the chart moved around during the debate, there was no serious debate about the winner and the loser in this discussion."

The overall winner (which TechRadar thankfully is in agreement with) was the Samsung NC10 "which people thought looked good, felt good, and had the right keyboard and screen."

Following that, in order, here are how the other netbooks in the teachers' test fared:

  • The Asus Eee PC 1000H…pipped all of the other similar devices because of its smart pearlescent paint job.
  • The Toshiba NB100…divided opinion – some complaining the keyboard and screen was too small (noticeably smaller than the others), but others thinking that made it more convenient.
  • Then the Elonex Webbook in Black with a flecky metallic finish, followed closely by,
  • The Elonex Webbook in White which was exactly the same spec, but didn't have street cred of the black one.
  • Falling a little further behind was the HiGrade Notino L100, which wasn't saved by its "England" football team branding.

The unfortunate Fizzbook from Zoostorm came out worst of all, with some claiming that it looked "astonishingly retro… a little too 'Fisher Price' and 'Seriously Uncool'."

Conclusion: it seems that kids want the same netbooks that we do. Let's not forget that even the younger pupils these days know their netbooks from their 'Fizzbooks'.

Adam Hartley