HP: VR and two-in-ones are the future of ed tech

Forget tablets, the big trend this year for education will be two-in-ones.

That's according to Neil Sawyer, head of HP's Education Business, who told IT Pro on the sidelines of BETT 2017 that convertible devices were the latest trend in schools - and made a host of other predictions for ed tech.

"There's big interest in the two-in-one form factor, quite a lot of growth with our product the Elite X2, similar to Microsoft's Surface form factor," he said.

"There's less of an interest in tablets today, I think that's fair to say, in schools and the broader market, but a huge interest in that convertible 2in1 market," he added. "There's a need for consumption and interactivity on the screen."

"I see two-in-ones and touchscreen as an area of continued growth, and that's where we're putting a lot of our own research and development into, because it's a big growth area," he added.

HP's rivals Acer, Asus and Dell are all launching two-in-one, touchscreen Chromebooks for the education market, though Sawyer stressed there's "always a buoyant need for core PCs and laptops" in schools.

Such Chromebooks will start to make more inroads into British classrooms, he predicted, saying: "[Google Chrome is] massive in the US, driven by online testing that's prevalent in the US education sector, where every child has got to have a device, because they have to be examined on that device through online testing."

"I see that as definitely something that will come to the UK education sector," he predicted, adding that HP and Google are working more closely together than ever before on education.

The right mix

Cloud-based systems - be they Chrome or Microsoft's Office 365 - are wise choices for schools, as it helps them avoid becoming stuck on one form factor of hardware if they pick up on the wrong tech trend, and lets them quickly update and roll out software, he said.

However, he advised schools against sticking to one system or hardware form factor, saying it's best to have a mix - even if that makes management a bit more complicated.

"Exposing children to as many different technology types is key," he said. "Vendors, HP included, have to understand what that technology is going to be used for, because the world of buying tens of laptops or tablets is disappearing," he said. "We need to make sure we do a better job of ensuring we're asking schools what are they using that technology for. There's a broader ranger of stuff around BETT, there's some amazing technologies."

Future of work

To understand what's the right technology for schools, educators need to consider the future of work. "The way we think about using technology in the workplace is not how technology will be used in schools and certainly not be how it's used in 15 years' time when those children are entering the workplace for the first time," Sawyer said.

"Schools need to understand what will be a key part of the workplace [of the future]," he added, suggesting virtual reality and 3D printers were safe bets to be big parts of work in the coming decades, arguing they aren't "gimmicks" and advising that "schools should back that type of stuff".

That said, he added that schools should keep teachers in mind as well as students, as they'll have a mix of tech abilities. For that reason, it's best to have a range of equipment that educators can use regardless of their own skills.

New schools

Choosing the right technology for schools is particularly challenging for those only now being built - it's hard to know what to pick for students who aren't yet in their desks.

While such schools have the benefit of being a "blank canvas" that can start from scratch building a technology system for students, it's not an easy decision to make.

"It's really important they make a good decision now as that will drive their IT strategy for the next 10 years," Sawyer said.