I've spent the past week at the 2012 Apple Distinguished Educator Institute in Cork. It's been a great week. The best thing I can say about it is that the Institute was run to the same quality and attention to detail that WWDC is. I might add, though, that the lunches were substantially better than they are at Moscone!
About 270 educators from all over the world got together at Fota Island hotel in Cork to spend the week networking, socialising and working together on various projects. It was a delight to meet so many new friends. Personally, it was the most relaxing conference I've been to in a long time and I think most of us here would agree. We are all the "tech person" for our local institutes and communities and coming together in a group where everyone is working at that level is both relaxing and stimulating at the same time.
In conversations, I started to get the sense of two early and new trends that I think are interesting.
The first trend is that we, as a group, are starting to get into some of the second-order effects of 1:1 programs using iPad. Deciding to use iPad is an important step, as is going 1:1. However, there are a few of us who, having made that move successfully, are asking "now what?". We're all exploring different avenues to answer that question. For some, it's about redesigning the school building or the school day. Others are getting into extremely high-quality content creation. Some ADEs are doing outstanding work in accessibility and mainstream inclusion for children with additional needs.
Personally, I'm looking to iTunes U. My project for the next three years is to lead a transition to using iTunes U across the whole of our school. Initially, we will adopt it for assignments and content distribution. Next year, as the new National 4/5 exams come in, we will be redesigning our courses on the assumption that this kind of technology is available to us. Further down the road, I hope to use iTunes U to expand the range of courses available to our students and, once that model is proven, make those courses available to schools across Scotland.
The second trend I picked up on was the continuing shift towards total student autonomy in IT. The shift to mobile is eliminating the need for dedicated computer space in schools. The shift to iOS is eliminating the need for dedicated server hardware, home directory infrastructures and backup systems. On iOS pupils can genuinely administer their own devices in a secure and stable fashion, eliminating a broad range of tech support oversight functions.
The final step is to eliminate the network. I had several conversations about the difficulty of scaling school networks beyond the 300-400 device range into the multiple thousands of devices in larger schools. Several people observed to me that mobile networks are designed to scale to those numbers without issue. The shift towards LTE cellular networking - which is typically faster than the broadband in a school - is starting to look like an interesting option for schools that cannot provision or scale their networks to multiple thousands of devices.
Imagine, in 5-7 years having gone from the complexity of laying ethernet in fixed locations in schools, building broadband, deploying servers and switches all over the school to the simplicity handing out an iPad and a SIM card and getting on with the learning.
In the UK, we are well positioned to take advantage of this. We don't have LTE networks yet but that's certainly going to come. We already have pre-paid iPad data SIM cards commonly available, which isn't true in every country around the world. For £20, I can buy 3GB of data transfer from Three and, when it's done or the card has expired, I just go buy another one. It would be great if we could get to a point where we can buy non-expiring SIM cards. If you think we can't afford this, consider one conversation I had this week where I learned that a friend's school pays more than £200,000 per year for IT services. I think we can find some fat to trim.
This is what I mean by second-order effects of 1:1 deployment: you can't afford a 1:1 on top of everything you already do, but we are starting to learn that there are a lot of things you can stop doing when you become a - I hesitate to use the phrase - post-digital school.
It will take leadership and it will take courage. We'll need help from the mobile phone carriers. We'll need help from local planners to get masts built. We'll need far stronger leadership from politicians than we've seen to date, but I have seen the next steps to the future of school IT. It lives in the minds of the outstanding people I met this week, and the many others who were not able to be here. That's what I'm taking home from ADE 2012.