Posts filed under ‘Technology’

Peripatetic me – amongst the washing up

Monday 30th July 2012 – Day one of my peripatetic journey.

If you don’t know what this is all about, and why would you, I shall explain as succinctly as I can.

For the last 10 years (at least) the Vivid office has overlooked the splendour of the Royal Pavilion here in Brighton. On a daily basis I have strolled from my house, by Queens Park, down Edward Street to the office on the Old Steine to attend to Vivid business around this bustling centre of the city.

Last week we, Vivid staff, moved out of that office with no new office to replace it. We moved out because the owners of the building are seeking vacant possession so that they can sell it. In some ways it suited us because in, any case, most of the people who work with us do so remotely maintaining contact through digital communications, getting face to face only periodically. This is the reality of the increasingly mobile digital world we live in, a reality that actually renders our office with it’s splendid views a luxury rather than a necessity.

Functionally the office had become a means of getting me out of the house, a place where others could occasionally work when we needed them, a mailing address, an anchor. But latterly none of this has been essential to the work we undertake. Indeed our recent award winning (winner of the British Council ELTon award for innovation in learning resources) development of the Sounds app for Macmillan Publishers was undertaken virtually (ha,ha) wholly remotely by the complete team.

So we have complete confidence in our ability to maintain the very highest of standards of the work we undertake whilst operating remotely, and indeed save a bit of cash by ridding ourselves of the permanent physical office overhead.

But there is another important reason for the decision to become mobile. I spend a significant amount of my time describing my vision of the education ‘system’ of the future, a vision that has personalisation, in which each individual can undertake their own unique lifelong learning journey which feeds their individual talents and aspirations, at its core. This is made possible because of digital technology with mobile technology an important component of this.

In essence digital technology rids us of the necessity for a single teacher to teach 30 pupils the same thing, in the same place, at the same time. Now 30 people can be learning 30 different things at any one time. This means that ‘place’ takes on a different aspect. The school building was designed to coral pupils into one place for the purpose of being taught. Now there is a growing recognition that the role of teacher is changing from one of teaching to one of enabling learning, and that learning takes place in a variety of ways, individually and collaboratively.

With mobile technology people can be undertaking learning activities, digitally, individually or collaboratively anytime, anywhere. This doesn’t mean that physical presence, getting together, is not important, or indeed essential, but that such events do not have to be undertaken in the one place called school, between the hours of 9.00am and 3.00pm, during term time.

Thus education itself becomes peripatetic, weaved into our lives, as part of our lives, a combination of individual and collective effort, on-line and off-line, digital and physical, here and there.

In this 21st century, with ‘always with, always on’ technology in most of our hands, the boundaries between learning, working and playing are diminishing. The way that place defines our lives is shifting, the need to delineate the places to learn, to work, and to play is becoming redundant. Whilst my vision for education is of a more dispersed environment, so my vision for the workplace is the same, indeed they are inter related.

Our decision to explore the reality of this, by going mobile is us ‘putting our money where our mouths are’, saying that the future we foresee is happening now. For me it is living my life within the philosphies I profess to.

This ‘diary’ is a device to track progress, to document the highs and lows of this journey, to establish what works and what doesn’t.

My first act is to sit amongst the washing up in my kitchen at home and write this. More later….

August 1, 2012 at 7:51 am Leave a comment

Cross platform app development – no substitute for experience

In July last year, at Vivid Interactive, we ran a webinar about our app development strategy over the coming months, both for the range of apps we are producing for our own digital publishing activities, as well as cross platform strategies for the development of smartphone apps for our publisher clients. Several months on we have been putting these strategies into practice and now have app development firmly within our portfolio of services.

This is a natural progression for us but highlights the absolute importance of good solid experience of the implementation of robust, pedagogically sound digital technology solutions to education issues. It is unfortunate that some of the ‘education’ apps I come across, often developed by people who know their stuff ‘technically’, lack the pedagogical attributes that are so important.

Having been involved in digital media development for over 25 years I know full well the complexities of developing across different operating systems and browser types, memory options, computer speeds and versions, and this just across PC and Macintosh platforms. Regardless of this, though, it is possible to identify those issues that are common, regardless of the technical differences of particular delivery platforms. For example there are a range of usability principles that were as relevant for early BBC Micro Computer Based Training programmes, as they are now to leading edge smartphone apps.

An important thing to remember is that the user experience is critical, and the principle that any application or programme should transparently ‘do what it says on the tin’ absolutely key. The fact that we have new opportunities for apps that make best use of the multi functional facilities and ‘always with, always on’ mobility of smartphones and tablet devices should not cloud our usability judgements and tempt us to be over complex.

Neither should we be daunted by the apparent complexities of developing across platforms in the smartphone arena. Anyone who has experienced in detail the complexities digital technology over the last 25 years should not be daunted by the spectre of cross platform development of apps across iOS (Apple), Android, (Google), Blackberry (RIM), Windows phone 7 (Microsoft and more recently also Nokia), and a few others. There is a process, involving constant problem solving, that if appositely applied allows a smooth development path.

There are, of course, various techniques, like, say, agile development methodologies, that can help the process. But in the end, the key, the absolute critical factor that makes the difference between a development that is fraught with difficulties, a development that doesn’t deliver to objectives, is good solid experience of developing within the particular environment of digital technology for education publishing.

We can easily find the technical expertise required for app development, but there is no substitute for experience.

April 7, 2011 at 4:14 pm Leave a comment

Blog’s away!

You may have seen the item on Breakfast TV news this morning (14th Feb) about the use of blogging in Heathfield School which is a fantastic demonstration of the massive potential of digital technology for education. If you didn’t see it the essence is that pupils of Heathfield Primary School, under the inspirational guidance of deputy head David Mitchell (@deputymitchell if you want to follow him on Twitter) are writing blog posts. Not only do they really enjoy this, it is also having a fantastic positive effect on their writing abilities.

This is happening at a time of immense change when the education ‘system’ is going through yet more changes on top of the constant fiddlings that have taken place over the last 20 years. This is incredibly destabilising and difficult for schools, but of course education must go on. The initiative at Heathfield School is a prime example of how a simple application of digital technology can have hugely beneficial effects, despite current uncertainties over curricula etc..

I think this is a real way forward, where we simply transcend the complications of platforms, technical compatibilities, even connectivity. Blogging can be undertaken anywhere, anytime on any device and doesn’t even need constant connectivity, simply the ability to connect to upload a blog, or to read someone elses blog (unless stored locally).

Yet it opens up the world.

This does open up the potential for what Mike Butler (outgoing chair of the Independent Academies Association [IAA] and chief executive of the award winning Djanogly City Academy in Nottingham) describes as a ‘guide by the side’ approach which gives the learners greater control of their own learning, with teachers in a more supportive, facilitation role.

Heathfield were also pioneers in the use of YouTube in the classroom. Some may feel that giving access to the vast range of videos on You Tube may be problematic if it gave young pupils access to disturbing materials but Heathfield got around this by installing software to filter out comments around the materials that may have been disturbing.

This gives access to an extraordinary free resource that can be used in a number of ways for learning, not least in the use of the ‘freeze frame’ technique that I blogged about a couple of years ago.

What I particularly like about both these initiatives, blogging and YouTube, is the simplicity of implementation from a technical perspective. None of this involves complex Learning Management Systems or VLE’s, no considerations of SCORM compatibility, no complex devolvement of new systems or technical standards. Just progressive thinking.and ‘guiding by the side’ (a term I an rather taken by).

It is no wonder to me that @deputymitchell has taken his rightful place in the ‘inner circle’ with the likes of Tim Rylands, Dawn Hallybone, Stephen Heppell, Derek Robertson et al.

More like this, please.

February 14, 2011 at 4:41 pm Leave a comment

i-pad, u-pad, we-pad….or do Wii?

My ten bobs worth about the i-pad. Yes, Graham, getting sucked in…to the debate at least.

So, I find myself getting sucked in to the debate about the i-pad. This is unusual for me because, to be honest I have certainly been on the fringes of what Stephen Fry in his review of the i-pad calls the ‘nay sayers and sceptics’ in respect of the i-phone and i-pod touch et al.

In my defence, though, I have never said that the development of the Apple mobile device armoury is not extremely well conceived, beautifully designed, and skilfully executed, or that Apple have not led where others have followed.

But, neither do I believe that the sun shines from Steve Jobs posterior. There is something about the evangelism surrounding all things Apple that disturbs me. Perhaps it’s the blinding light shining from you know where that restricts our peripheral vision preventing us from properly seeing the full picture.

Where it comes to the i-pad, and indeed i-phone, i-pod touch etc. context is important, I think. At least it is in the world I occupy which professionally and personally revolves around education, specifically primary and secondary education. Even more specifically a large slice of my life is taken up with the exciting opportunities offered to education through digital technology which, as Lord Putnam said at the recent Learning Technologies show at Olympia, has changed the way people interact, engage and make sense of the world’.

The i-pad, in all it’s glory (and I do not doubt its gloriousness) will open up all sorts of exciting opportunities to do some remarkable things in some schools and educational institutions around the globe. But, fantastic as that is, this effort will be restricted to a minority for three very good reasons that have nothing to do with design or functionality. These reasons are that the i-pad is too expensive, too nickable, and too fragile.

Stephen Fry in his review of the i-pad refers to the ‘shockingly low price’ of $499 (£310) for the basic model. Shockingly low for someone of his means, for sure, affordable for someone of my means, completely out of the question for the hundreds of  thousands on a low income. Will the ‘Home access’ scheme (which already restricts provision of access to broadband to one year only)  be extended to the provision of this device, even the basic model. I suspect not. In any case the ‘Home access’ scheme doesn’t by any means reach all the people who need it.

Where the ‘Home access’ scheme is meant to narrow the digital divide, the aggressive pricing policy of Apple (when did you last see a discounted i-phone or i-pod touch), I’m afraid, only serves to widen it. This does play into Apples hands, of course, because their enormous 15.9 billion revenue is made mainly from the haves and the perception that their beautiful products are made for the beautiful people who, of course, can afford them.

I know that Steve Jobs has made a point of saying that he wants to keep the price low, but there is low and there is low.

In a tweet today Graham Brown-Martin (of Handheld Learning fame) said ‘as I walk thru the Elephant & Castle favela I wonder if I’d really whip out an #iPad to read the news…’ Now extend that thought to all the pupils in all the schools.

We recently had a burglary at our offices. Someone had got hold of the key and came in at their leisure when no-one was around. From everything we have in the office, dozens of systems, Macs and Pc’s and all sorts of other equipment, the burglar took just our i-pod touch (my freebie from the Handheld Learning conference) and our Mac mini. Small enough to conceal and very sellable, just like the i-pad. No doubt the good Apple folk would puff out their chests in pride that their products are so eminently nickable so not likely to be much change there.

And as for robustness, I have no idea how much rough handling the i-pad can take (because of its elegance it does seem rather fragile, but this may well not be the case), but it would have to be very robust indeed to survive the ravages of my 12 year old sons treatment. Clothes, books, bottles, lunchboxes, nothing survives the daily onslaught. His mobile phone just about survives, because it is small enough to go in his pocket, and has a case to protect it. Even so it looks pretty sorry for itself, although just about intact.

It might be argued that other devices may be equally susceptible to damage, but that isn’t the point. Someone will have to address the issue of rough treatment, and I don’t suppose it will be Apple. They are just not in that space.

You may feel that I am simply being something of a killjoy about all this, but I think I am just being practical and pragmatic. I don’t doubt, or deride, Apples achievements as innovators. But, in the world I occupy, I cannot see a ubiquitous place, per se, of the i-pad, i-phone, i-pod et al despite all the potential on offer.

In this respect, though, Apples great achievement, and it is a great achievement, is to set the standards for others to follow and I applaud them for that. But I expect to see a greater use of other devices for education, netbooks for a while, making way for smartphones that can be had free on very low tariffs, gaming consoles like PS3 and x-Box, others like the DS and of course the brilliantly conceived Wii.

January 28, 2010 at 5:42 pm 9 comments

andwriting and spelchekin

I had a really interesting discussion with my kids last night about how appropriate the school tasks they are given are to the requirements of the 21st century. The kids are 15 and 12 and the discussion centred round my daughters (15 year old) creative writing homework.

More specifically it centred around the fact that she was not allowed to present this as a printout (or even in an electronic form – a Word document, for example) but it had to be hand written and the quality of handwriting would be subject to a mark, in addition to marks for other attributes of the work. Furthermore, it seems that whilst the mark for other attributes of the work contributed to the general grading for the piece of work, the marks for the handwriting were disregarded in this respect.

My question to the kids was that in a world of word processing and spell checking was the requirement to hand write this piece not a little archaic?

Their view was that, given that the bulk of other written assignments they had to perform were word processed, there was some value in keeping the, let’s face it, dying art of handwriting alive. And I would admit that it does seem appropriate somehow that this should be done in the context of a creative writing piece.

On the question of spell checking they argued that they had to look at their spelling in a different way if they did not have the luxury of a spell checker to utilise. This meant, in their view, that their spelling would improve.

My argument was that even if the good intentions of the school were to keep handwriting alive, assigning a mark to it, which was then for all intents and purposes ignored, was rather pointless. Give feedback, yes, but not mark.

I get the kids point about spellchecking, that somehow without the benefit of this they had to work harder to get their spellings right. Presumably the teacher, when marking the work, will point out misspellings. If so, why not have the misspellings identified by a spell checker prior to the piece of work being handed in. Makes no difference, as far as I can see, how or when misspellings are identified, as long as they are done so at some point. And allowing this to be picked up early could save valuable teacher time.

In the event, my daughter constructed the piece on her laptop, spell checked it, and then transposed it into her own handwriting.  Wouldn’t any half thinking person do the same?

Overall I can see the sense on insisting that kids do some handwriting, particularly if it does at least delay the complete demise of the noble art. But the issue around spell checking does, it seem to me, highlight the confusion that exists as we see the much greater use of technology in our schools. It is a transitory time. It is important that we embrace the changes that we are presented with, and not let them confuse the issues.

January 25, 2010 at 4:25 pm Leave a comment


Mick Landmann on education, digital technology, and the 21st century

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