22 Years of EdTech

40yrs oldHaving turned 40 years old not so long ago has made me a little more reflective than I have previously been.   The last week or so in particular I have been thinking back to my now 22 years experience in education (Note: I include 4 years of teacher training which included regular serial placements) and on how educational technology has evolved during this time.

I remember 1997/98 and introducing a flat LCD panel for use with a conventional overhead projector, to a technology department I was doing my placement in.   The LCD panel sat on top of the old style projector and allowed the images from the computer to be projected in much the same way as a data projector does.   I think the lesson was regarding orthographic projection and I was using a small piece of software I had written in order to show students  the 3 views of a 3 dimensional object.  This was the time when the Archimedes and the BBC B still had a place in schools.

1998 saw one of my first jobs as a qualified teacher morph into something different as I introduced a network to the technology department I was working in, in order to facilitate both file and print sharing.   I think it was Windows 95 if I remember correctly.

1998/1999 brought me away from Scotland and secondary education and saw me start working in Further and Higher education.    The college I worked at was still largely working on Windows 3.1 however during my first year they engaged in the migration to Windows NT.    This was all a major undertaking as everyone had to adapt learning materials and approaches to learning to the new operating system, new software and the overall new user interface.   It was also not without a few technical challenges.

In 2001/02 I took possession of a number of Promethean whiteboards for use in my department while working in a 6th form college.    I don’t remember actually choosing the boards, instead I think they just appeared as was the way at that time.   My initial response at the time was very positive however on reflection I think I was taken in by the “shiny new thing” phenomenon and a certain amount of naivety.    What followed was a period of engagement as my team all sought to use the devices as best we could, accompanied by a lot of lost interactive pens!    My feelings on interactive whiteboards started developing at this point as I started to see limitations.    Today I would class myself as being NOT an advocate of IWBs.

Learning management systems were the subject of the year in 2003 (I think it was 2003!) as we looked at various options before finally adopting Learnwise as the chosen platform.    Since then I have also used Sharepoint, Moodle and a few others and overall I am not a fan of the LMS, VLE or whatever you want to call it.   Or at least I am not a fan where the system is applied to all, as one size does not fit all.

2005/06 saw me take possession of a new set of Xbox 360 devices for the colleges gaming club which had begun just over a year previously using the original xbox gaming systems.   We used the systems as an enrichment activity but also to build interest in games programming and games graphics among other games related IT roles.

At the end of 2008 and start of 2009 I found myself working in a totally new context of schools in the UAE.   Technology availability was minimal with most classrooms lacking any tech at all.   The IT labs included standalone desktops with no network and the schools overall internet connectivity was a domestic connection which had developed into an unstructured network providing internet access, albeit unreliable access, to the school as a whole.    At the time I engaged with schools to try and resolve this situation by putting in place more structured networking as a temporary solution to bridge the gap until the education authority deployed its own IT improvement project across schools.    I was also lucky to get involved in the IT project.

2010/11 saw me working with a school using Intel Classmate laptops which were little notebooks complete with a touch screen and stylus.    These were Intel Atom based units so not exactly fast however this was the start of putting devices into students hands.    I combined the devices with a solution which allowed students to wirelessly send their screens to a projector and even to allow for 4 way split screen which all added to the flexibility.

My first educational blog was created in 2013 although initially it didn’t see much use.   It wasn’t until the following year that I made more significant use of my blog plus a number of other micro blog sites I created for specific training programmes.    It was around the same time that I also started making use of social media including Twitter and Pinterest in particular for my own professional learning.

2014/15 for me was the year of the iPad as finally after many years resisting Apple devices in favour of a more techie Windows or even Linux solution I had to give in and admit the iPad had its place.     This was the year that first saw me singing the praise of the Apple eco-system and the large number of educational apps which were available.

Its interesting reflecting back on how technology has changed over the time I have been working in education.   It is also interesting how the technology differs within different contexts and countries, plus how my own viewpoints and beliefs have been shaped by my experiences.    I wonder what the next 20 years have in store?


Mobile devices

devicesI have recently posted a couple of times with regards the iPad in classrooms however I want to make it clear that I am not an Apple only person.   In fact I spend most of my time working within a windows environment including actually typing this piece up on a Samsung ultrabook running Windows 10.

As part of my role as Director of IT I have recently been involved in re-examining the platform which we use as part of our mobile learning scheme.   This is due to the current devices reaching that age where the need replacing.      As I said I am not an Apple only person and therefore as part of this review myself and colleagues took on a review of the various options which were available to us at the time, some 6 months ago.     You can see a summary of our findings here.

To us it was clear that the iPad represented our best option, made easier still by the fact that the new iPad rollout would be replacing our current fleet of aging iPads thereby reducing the difficulties associated with any change in devices.

Since our review the iPad Pro has became available which addresses one of the weaknesses which we did identified for the iPad in the lack of a keyboard.   Personally in the 9.7” version I don’t actually like the keyboard finding the keys a little cramped so I am not sure I would actually go out and buy this direct connection keyboard option.    The 9.7” version also brings with it the new Apple Pencil which from testing I found to be excellent for taking notes and also for sketch noting.   My concern here is the cost of the pencil and the likelihood of loss especially where lots of users have one.  Again I am not sure I would go out and buy one so overall these two new items would be unlikely to be purchased as part of the schools rollout meaning the initial review findings would still stand.

The question in hand at the moment is now iPad Air 2 versus iPad Pro 9.7”.    The cost difference isn’t an awful lot however the two critical factors are life expectancy and memory.   Taking memory first the Air 2 would be purchased with 64Gb, up from the 32Gb units currently in the school.   The iPad Pro however, for a similar but slightly higher price would only have 32Gb, with the next option being the 128Gb unit as no 64Gb option exists.   This would mean if we go with more memory we also have to pay significantly more.        As to life expectancy, this relates to the iPad Air 2 which was launched in 2014.   This makes it already a 2 year old device, and aside from the iPad 2, Apple iPad devices have only usually being manufactured for a period of 2 ½ years meaning the iPad Air 2 may become a discontinued device in around 6 months to a year.    If we are investing on devices we hope to have for the next 3 to 4 years, it would be of concern if they were discontinued within the first ¼ of their intended lifespan.   That said, we know that iOS is designed to keep working for a significant period even after the discontinuing of the device itself.   Also, unless an Air 3 makes an appearance, which I doubt, the Air 2 would represent the end of the Air and traditional iPad lines so it may possibly have a life of longer than 2 ½ years like the iPad 2.

The overall question for myself and the school currently therefore is do we invest in the iPad Air 2 or in the new iPad Pro 9.7”.    I liked the Pro 9.7” I tried although I think I have leanings towards the Air 2.   A decision will need to be reached soon however for now further discussion is still required.



iPads in Schools – Further thoughts

ipadI recently came across an old posting of mine from March 2013 with regards iPads in education.  See the full posting here.   In the posting I expressed concerns over the very generalized benefits of iPad devices in lessons being espoused at the conference I was attending.    I expressed a concern that this general positivity towards the impact of iPads was very similar to the unrealized positivity which for many years surrounded the Interactive Whiteboard.

It is now over three years further on so I thought this was an opportune time to reflect on my thoughts now, how things have turned out and my thinking as it is now.

Thinking back to 2013 I believe now that I was skirting around the key issue.       My concerns at the time were very much around the lack of significant evidence to support the benefits of using iPads in schools.    The conference had plenty of examples of where iPads had been used however the benefits were very generic such as pupil engagement, pupil collaboration and pupil directed learning.   I was looking for more quantifiable evidence of the benefits as opposed to these more general and anecdotal benefits.

Reflecting the key issue I missed was this idea of generalization and the issues which surround it.    My concern was the generalization of the benefits being stated by presenters at the conference however this generalization was inevitable as presenters strove to present in a way which could engage and be appropriate to attendees from various backgrounds and experience levels.    They were seeking to explain how they viewed the iPad as having the potential to have a positive impact on learning.   What I should have been more concerned with was this suggestion that the iPads benefits could be extrapolated to schools in general as opposed to the suggestion that the iPads had general benefits.

Every school is different in a multitude of both small and large ways.    This make the possibility for a single device to have benefits for school in general unlikely.    In addition the iPad as a piece of #edTech is a tool for learning and the impact of any tool depends on its usage.   A well used hammer will fix things to the wall whereas a poorly used hammer will just result in a sore thumb and fingers.    Given the dependence on usage and the likely significant variance in how devices are used again makes it unlikely that a single device such as the iPad could have benefits for schools in general.

Considering the presentations, and on reflection, what I should have been wanting to see was a school that told me what they had sought to achieve, what they had done and how they had assessed their success including what measures and data they used in measuring their success or failure.   The presenters should have been specific about their context and the impact of their use of iPads in this context, with no attempt made to generalize for the wider world.

As more schools look to engage in mobile learning this is my key message:

  • Be sure what you want to achieve through the use of mobile devices including iPads including considering how you might measure your impact and hopefully success.
  • Do your research on what devices can and cant do including seeking feedback from schools already engaged in using mobile devices however also remember that your context will most likely be different than theirs. Don’t assume as it worked in one school it will work in yours.
  • Consult widely. Use social media and your professional learning network (PLN) to get feedback and ideas.    Again, as indicated above always ensure you remember that the context within which those providing feedback are operating may differ from your context and therefore don’t assume what they have done would be transferable to your school.
  • Review, review and review some more. No matter how much planning and research you do there will always be something you miss.    These might be unexpected issues however equally possible are unexpected opportunities, new ways to apply the technology, unforeseen benefits, etc.

Above all if you are implementing mobile devices remember you are doing it for your students and staff and your school and therefore any solution or project needs to meet their needs and not the needs of the abstract concept of education or schools in general.



Devices in schools

devicesI recently read a @donaldclark posting (Read the full post here) commenting on the “debacle” of deploying tablet devices to schools where he feels that laptops are the devices that should have been “purchased in the first place”.   He states that “while ipads may be appropriate for young children, they are not suitable for older children who need to acquire writing and other more sophisticated skills using tools that don’t work on iPads”.

I disagree with his point of view, believing that tablet devices do have a place in schools including secondary schools.  I do however add a note of caution here in that the deployment of devices has to be carefully considered and issues such as staff training, IT support, change management, consultation, etc need to be carefully considered.   I would suggest that any “debacle” associated with a US state wide or other deployment of devices, be it laptops or iPads, relates to a failure to fully appreciate and address one or more of these areas.

Reading Donald’s post the main item I pull out as his reason for not having iPads in schools is that they are “poor for writing”.   I will acknowledge that iPads are poor for typing and that this links directly to writing.   I have even recently been trying out an iPad Pro 9.7” with the smart keyboard and still find the device poor for typing due to the available real estate for the keyboard resulting in cramped keys.    I am not sure if this is better on the larger scale iPad having not had the opportunity to try this however I doubt it will be much better as the keyboard is unlikely to have the same feel associated with a proper laptop keyboard.      So if we are asking students to produce written content and then assessing then by their written, or typed, response then the iPad may not be the best tool.    This to me is acceptable as equally a laptop isn’t as suitable where the evidence we want to generate is video or photographic evidence.   The iPad, or laptop for that matter, could never be the only tool used.

This brings me to Donalds other point with regards his comment on the iPad device as a consumer device for consuming media as opposed to for producing media.   Having seen the devices in the hands of students facilitated by enthusiastic and creative teachers, however, I no longer believe this to be true.    Students are able to make use of app smashing techniques to combine multiple apps to create new and creative content often with unexpectedly high quality output.    I will admit that the content they produce isn’t often written content, tending to be more towards either audio or video content and mayve herein lies the issue.   If we expect students to produce evidence of higher order thinking the way we have always done it, via written content, then yes the iPad is not ideal, however if we allow our students to be creative in how they evidence their learning and therefore accept video, audio, animated, etc responses then the iPad fits the bill perfectly.    Students can prove their understanding of complex writing concepts through explain everything for example.

My focus has always been on the iPad as a tool for learning and I continue to stand by this.    I believe it CAN be used as a tool to learning about writing and about coding, another area identified by Mr Clark as a weak area for ipads, however when it comes to the skill of producing writing and of producing coding, I would suggest that maybe the iPad isn’t the best tool.    With this understanding it is acceptable then the progress with iPads in a school on the understanding that the weakness is addressed through other methods, including possibly other technology which is available with the school.    I wonder how many iPad 1:1 secondary schools still have IT Labs with devices with keyboards for this very reason.

For me the biggest danger is sweeping generalizations.   The iPad was never the one answer to tech use in schools and the error made by so many was to adapt it as a one size fits all answer.    Equally we can’t say that iPads shouldn’t be used or are ineffective within schools as there are many schools where they are being used very effectively with students.    Although I generally disagree with Mr Clarks post I will close with a point of agreement in his statement of “do the research”.     The critical issue is to examine what you hope to achieve and to ensure that you have, within your own school and own plan for using EdTech, considered all the aspects of a deployment including staff training, change management, consultation, etc. and not just the shiny new device to be deployed whether it be a laptop or an ipad.