A Good Storm

It was like a perfect storm.

I was reading content from two ladies that I had incredible respect for.  First, it was Angela Harrison who was actually weighing in on an iPad versue Netbook discussion.  She sided on the iPad side of things and one of the big reasons was her network at school.  If she used the board supplied computers attached to the school network, she claims that just booting computers can take between 8 and 10 minutes.  That’s not an uncommon scenario for school computers that are attached to a Local Area Network and then a Wide Area Network.  In the interests of security, often these networks are built on systems that are imaged, locked down, user login authenticated, etc.  It’s not that this is a bad idea – it’s based upon the premise that the end users are hackers or vandals and so the system has to be built to withstand the onslaught of these people.  She points out that primary students just don’t have the patience to wait for booting and then logins.  But, it’s not just the primary students; everyone including older students and teachers have their patience tested as data slowly comes across the magic wire or even more magic wireless.  Ironically, I’ve noticed that primary classrooms can devise strategies to handle this better that others in the school.  A typical use might be to have one or two computers positioned in a centre and the application being used doesn’t need a unique student login.  It’s not uncommon to see primary teachers who are at school at the crack of dawn, it seems, boot the computers and do a login while they go about the myriad of other preparations that are necessary for the days learning experiences.

Regardless, it’s a whole process that is not what you would expect from a typical computer experience.

Of course, the problem revisits itself when the actual application is loaded as time again is involved.  Lessons are even better if a single application can be loaded before the students arrive as well.  Angela makes excellent points in her defense of selecting the iPad that she can download and install individual applications to do what she needs done.  For the most part, no login or password or email address is required.

Then, this morning, Jane Hart released her summary of the top 100 tools for 2011.  As I flipped through the Slideshare of these learning tools, I think that 96 or so of them were familiar.  There was a nice collection of multi-purpose tools and some that were specific for single use.

The common thread to both readings, for me, was the simplicity that each offered.  No policies to be created, tested, and deployed.  It was nothing but getting to an app and get it running.  In both cases, I could see a rather straight line path that takes you from the keyboard to the application that’s needed.  The iPad already comes with its desktop; the other solution is web based that could easily be handled with a new tab in Chrome or Firefox by itself or by using a custom desktop launcher like Symbaloo or Tizmos.  All that one needs is a connection to the internet and you’re there.

In Ontario, educators have access to a wide variety of Ministry of Education licensed applications.  Even if an image was based solely on these products, you’ll have over a hundred applications that have to be perfectly installed and then live somewhere on a hard drive or a server.  Chances are, the operating system of choice is Windows XP which can be tweaked, but still takes a while just to load!  Thankfully, Microsoft is encouraging people to move to a more contemporary operating system for security and speed.  Windows 7 is a speed demon compared to XP and Windows 8 promises to be even better.

Both reads this morning really do help affirm that the classroom computer paradigm is changing.  Even OSAPAC is leading the way.  Witness the recent licensing of web-based services like Naxos, Bitstrips for Schools, and the National Film Board resources.  They allow for immediate use of the application rather than waiting for the next installation cycle.  And, there’s nothing to go wrong with the installation – you just need to have a contemporary web browser and you’re on your way.

Such a change in philosophy opens the door for:

  • true Bring Your Own Device because you’re not using commercial, locally installed software;
  • a shift in thinking about what portable means – getting away from computer labs and technology to the point of instruction;
  • existing equipment may actually last longer as it’s not made antiquated by newer software;
  • Windows, Macintosh, Linux, iOS, WebOS, QNX, Android – who cares – we are the web;
  • desktop, laptop, netbook, pad, phone – it doesn’t matter as much as it used to;
  • realistic electronic access to school workspaces from at home.

Sometimes, it takes a good storm to clean up the old debris.

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2 thoughts on “A Good Storm

  1. The paradigm is shifting and student access to devices at home can lead to frustration at the wait time in schools. I do value our network and understand the safety issues. However, I see the faces of the seven year olds turning on computers to boot up, then entering in their student numbers and assigned long passwords. I watch as the enthusiasm for the task ween as they wait for the network to connect and files to open. The classroom computer paradigm needs to shift but funds also need to be available to enable this to occur. It makes me wonder what would our classrooms look like if money wasn’t an issue. What will our classroom tools look like in 5-10 years?

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