The iPad Project: Day Nine - This Will Kill That .... somehow.

I took a day off today. What choice did I have? I cooked BBQ for lunch and then promptly fell asleep until 5pm.

I wanted to write a bit about where I see this iPad project going. Unlike many technological interventions in schools, we're playing for keeps. We are driving for long-term institutional cultural change around technology.

In many schools what happens is that "a pot of money" is found for technology. It might be found from the Parent-Teacher Association, a central government initiative in an election year or a local charity or business looking to do something for their community. Regardless of the source, the thing these funding sources have in common is that there is no refresh budget and there is no support budget.

The generational failure of public policy around technology in education is that nobody has ever properly recognised the level of human support required to deliver responsive, flexible and, put simply, useful technology in schools.

I worked with an older sysadmin in my first job and the first thing he taught me was "you have to drink coffee with the people who use your systems". In his mind, that was the true test of accountability to the users in an organisation where there is no actual economic pressure to be responsive. I think it's a quite brilliant observation.

So many schools don't have that same level of responsiveness. The madness is that, even when IT technicians live in the building, they often need permission from "central IT" to take even the most trivial action - and I really mean trivial action, like moving a piece of hardware from one room to another or unblocking a URL.

Our iPad deployment has no end in sight. This is how we will do business for the forseeable future. We have on-site support, empowered to say yes to requests instead of "please fill in this form".

Now, I cannot say what this is going to look like. Sometimes, computers come into schools for specific projects. Maybe that's the computer that's used for the flatbed scanner or, in earlier days, the CD-ROM encyclopedia. Computers that come with strings attached don't get used to their full potential.

This is why I get a little testy with people who demand to know "What Will You Use This iPad Thing For?". I don't know what we'll use it for and that, my friends, is the beauty of the thing. When people are allowed to figure out what technology is good for the technology is used better, more often and more effectively than when you're told chapter and verse that This Computer Is For The CD-ROM.

I can tell you a bit about what I hope will happen.

I hope we make printers obsolete. Printing - even laser printing - is outrageously expensive when done at the scale children and teachers like to print. You can hand over printed material to a school inspector. You can pin it on the wall. You can show it to parents. Paper is the lingua franca of education. If we can move a lot of that traffic to email, that opens up a lot of money for other things.

I hope we stop venerating technology. We have a room - my room - dedicated to and designed around the housing of The Computers. It's amusing when the new P1 kids come in every year, one of the big hits is to be taken to "see The Computers". In the future, The Computers are there for you to use at any time and for any reason.

I hope the kids' backpacks lighten up. I don't know when you last weighed the backpack of a kid who's sitting exams, but they carry a horrifying amount of weight around with them. I have no idea how it can be healthy for children to carry that kind of load on a daily basis. Moving paper notes to electronic format is one of my first priorities.

I hope that working together with technology becomes the norm. The iPad is shareable in a way that a desktop computer can never be. I can't wait to see how the collaboration starts to kick in as we let the kids take technology with them to do their work instead of setting tasks and separating kids into silent communion with their iMac.

I hope that field trips change forever. Take a class, with their iPads, a MiFi and the Camera Connection Kit and drop them into some strange environment - a museum, old building or remote location and see what they bring back. I don't really know what I exepect from this one but it just feels exciting.

I'll leave you with a link to a piece on the iPad by Dan Hill. I've linked this one before but I think it bears re-reading in the context of education:

The particular device is not the core aspect, necessarily, though brings things together at a certain place and time. The overall service model - noting how iTunes made the difference to the iPod - is key. There’s a symbiotic link between software, hardware and context. The link I’m now interested in is this last link to space, as well as system. As in, how do we design environments for this activity, and how does this activity work in, and affect, particular environments?

In much contemporary work - at least the more knowledge-based end - people are often transient too, even in a corporate office environment. In fact, in the latter, the chance that anyone will be at their desk at any one time is around 50% or less (which has implications for the way we design commercial office space, never mind soft infrastructure like computing.) Given this, it might be very handy to have a machine for easy lifitng between coffee bar, meeting room, what are euphimistically-called ‘quiet rooms’ or studio-like spaces, breakout spaces. Or in a non-corporate environment, just moving effortlessly over the space.

Of course this is why the broad move to laptops in working environments is key, but if a laptop is connected to a big screen (as may often be the case) and power socket, and you just need to flash some code, some text, some images/photos etc, some webpages, some Powerpoint etc. past someone’s eyes, a tablet will not just be more convenient, but far more appropriate. Indeed, a distributed phalanx of tablets will be far more palatable, more civil, than the walls of laptop screens that are temporarily erected during meetings now.

From For the life between buildings by Dan Hill

Can we lose the "walls of screens" from education? I certainly hope so.