Step Away From The Store


I had a convergence of three things the other day.  What more do you need for a blog post?

First:  8 Excellent new iPad Apps for Teachers

Second:  Google launches Play Store for Education

Third was a conversation with a teacher who let me know that her school was an “iPad School” and she wasn’t happy.  I asked what that meant.  To her, it meant that all of the existing computers had been taken away and replaced by a mobile cart full of iPads.  It could be booked and rolled from class to class.

That was the good news.

Then the other shoe dropped.  The 16 iPads that were purchased were 16GB iPads that had come preconfigured with applications that were the choice of someone else.  The iPads were then locked down without the ability to install other applications, plus they came complete with applications to be used everywhere from Junior Kindergarten to Grade 8.  And, two of the applications were broken with updates available in the store but can’t be downloaded.

Then the tears started to flow – from her perspective, the implementation had taken away technology that had worked and replaced it with a technology that has the promise of being a game changer.  I did resist the urge to suggesting contacting a student from the Los Angeles Unified School District…

You’ve got to feel for well meaning educators.  They read these articles in November, three months into a school year, and then realize that they can’t do anything about it except to suggest that a new suite of applications be installed over the summer for the next school year.    It’s really not a problem with the technology – it’s as close to cutting edge as a school district can afford, has been shown to have great results for specific purposes, and most certainly can be used to capture a child’s imagination.

It’s just that this great software just came along.

Where a BYOD program is in place, it’s less of an issue.  Recommended applications can be added when Mom and Dad are alerted to the value, assuming that the application is available and actually runs on their chosen device.

When districts are clearly thinking through and seeing these limitations, alternative purchases are made.  That’s where you’re seeing the rise in popularity of the Chromebook.  In this case, users are not necessarily tethered to a store.  Log in to a unique account and the machine becomes the student’s as long as they’re logged in – unlike a device that was essentially a consumer device made to fit into education.

It’s tough for a developer.  Can an application actually be developed, tested, debugged, and made available to coincide with a school year calendar?  Certainly it has to be if you’re going to want people to use it.

Is there a better way for education?  I think that there are lessons to be learned from all of the current devices.  It’s nice to have the unique account ability of a Chromebook but it’s also nice to have the touch of an iPad or an Android tablet.

That’s where I think we need to step away from the store just a bit.  If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I’m a fan of Brian Aspinall and his projects.  (Disclosure – he was a student of mine at the Faculty of Education at the University of Windsor).  In his development, Brian tries  to get away from the traditional limitations of current devices and makes software for education that just works.  Any time, any place, any device.

If you need convincing, pull out all of your devices and try Sketchlot or Scrawlar.

I think that all educational developers could learn from this.  Rather than writing for, compiling, and distributing for different platforms with different design, why not write for them all?  It won’t complete get rid of the need for certain installed applications.

But it sure will give the teacher desiring the best for her classroom the moment she needs it, the opportunity.

 

From Web to the Desktop


Just when I thought I had things mastered…moving much of what I do to the web, my world just might get turned around.  The latest news from Google is the ability to run Google Chrome apps from your desktop.  At least on Windows and on Chromebooks (which run the Chrome OS) at this point in time.  So, of course, I had to check it out.

It’s not like I need to do things local – I’m connected everywhere I want to be connected.  But I did start thinking about education and there are a number of scenarios that spring to mind where having a fully offline working application makes a great deal of sense.

  • your classroom isn’t wired yet;
  • you’re out in a portable and it’s just not workable;
  • you’d like to take some portable technology outside or on a field trip;
  • you need a computer to take to a professional learning event without wifi;
  • make up your own.  Think of any opportunity lost because you didn’t have a computer with you.

In the long run, I think that the real advantage is that any application developer can just develop for Chrome regardless of the base operating system.  You just need to have Google Chrome or Chrome OS installed and you’re off to the races.

When you visit the Chrome applications store on the web on a device that’s ready, you’ll see an additional menu item.

desktop1

I chose this item to poke around.  I was curious to see what was available.  Of interest would be a desktop blogging application.  Pickings are kind of slim at this early point but I did grab a couple of applications.  The first thing that it did was install a Google launcher.

launcher

I actually have three pages of things that the launcher can access.  Many of them on the previous two pages are extensions that are installed in the Chrome browser already.  Of importance to me here are the last two.  I downloaded WeatherBug and Google Keep as desktop applications. 

I ran them once to make sure that they were functional.  In this case, both of them actually needed web access to get going.  WeatherBug to get a location and to download the weather information, and Google Keep to get access to my Google account. 

Then, for the acid test, I closed off the browser and disconnected my computer from the home network.  Now, I started each application.

keep

bug

Both applications open nicely as standalone applications.   (I left a bit of my desktop in the image to show that they’re no visible evidence of Chrome anywhere.)

Both work as expected.  They were just as functional as if I was actually in a web browser.

It’s an interesting concept, this moving back to the desktop.  I think the key is that it adds much additional functionality and purpose to the Chromebook and it levels the playing field for developers who want to write for Windows, Macintosh, Linux, and Chrome OS.  It used to be that the web was the common thread that made this possible.  Now, it’s a browser that’s not connected to the web that makes it happen.

Don’t get dizzy!