Screen Reading versus Real Books

The beginning of the school year is always a busy time for administrators but it is also a time when many of us look forward to being able to discuss with our colleagues workshops and training we have experienced or given over the long summer break, or reading we have done during the period away from our classrooms and offices. Two reports that have appeared in shortened form in the education Press were hotly debated in the first week back – at least if the e-mail exchanges I was copied in on are anything to go by.

The first of these reports appeared in the national and education press in August and discusses research led by Anna Mangen from Stavanger University that suggests readers of a short story were better able to respond to test items that demanded certain mental reconstruction skills such as sequencing if they had read the story in traditional print form than if they had done so on a Kindle. Mangen observed that her study appeared to support the findings of an earlier study in which 73 tenth grade readers in a Norwegian secondary school were divided into two groups and required to read a short story. The control group read the story in traditional print form and the experimental group read the same story in pdf form on a computer screen. The experimental group performed significantly worse on test items that measured immersion constructs such as empathy, transportation and narrative coherence.

The Kindle study that attracted such attention in August 2014 appears to have been extremely ill-structured. One report claimed only two individuals constituted the entire experimental group, but Mangen, whose recent work has also included a study that explored phenomenological reflections on the digitization of literature in early childhood learning contexts, concludes from the earlier Norwegian study that reading comprehension is significantly impaired when students read on a screen. She postulates that haptic elements such as the compression of the pages and the sense of progress internalized by the reader’s feeling the amount of reading already completed, as measured by the increased number of pages held in his or her left hand (assuming the reader is reading left to right), may contribute to the superiority of the printed form over the on-screen form for fomenting reader immersion. The study has clear implications for policy forming and the development of technology resources to support reading programs in schools. It also, rather neatly, provides a modern-day context for Jane Austen’s observation in Northanger Abbey that the physical presence of the book in the reader’s hand constitutes an interplay between text and textuality and limits the ability of the writer to control the reader’s assumptions.

                 The anxiety which in this state of their attachment must be the portion of Henry and Catherine, and of all who loved either, as to its final event, can hardly extend, I fear, to the bosom of my readers, who will see in the tell-tale compression of the pages before them that we are all hastening together to perfect felicity.

– Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

This is the sort of research that all of us can relate to and extend to ourselves. Following Nicholas Carr’s famous example of self-study described in The Shallows, I began to reflect this summer on my own screen and paper reading habits.  Although I am not a Kindle owner I do read books on my iPad fairly regularly, and I have even read one or two entirely on my iPhone.  More frequently, I begin reading in one form and continue switching between the two depending on where I am when I find myself with time to read. For example, when I read Moby Dick last year it happened to coincide with a month I was travelling quite frequently. Although I did not want to lug my heavy hardback edition of Moby Dick around with me on trains and planes, I did prefer to read the novel in that form when at home. I, therefore, read about half the book on screen and the other half on paper.

However, a year on, I find I cannot remember which sections of Moby Dick I read in which format. This contrasts sharply with my memory of reading from the time when all my reading was done in traditional printed form. For example, I last read Northanger Abbey in 1984. However, thirty years later (i.e. just now) when I needed to quote a passage for this blog post I could remember that the passage lay on the left-hand side of the page towards the end of the book. A few minutes ago before beginning this post I went to the high school library to get the same Penguin paperback edition to quote from and there it is – top half of the left-hand-side on page 234, some two and a half pages from the end. It took me literally three or four seconds to locate the exact quotation I needed.  I doubt I will ever be able to do that with an eReader – although I accept there will be electronic tools to assist me when I lose that faculty.

Northanger Abbey

An equally interesting study was reported in the Times Educational Supplement last month that appeared to show high school students in the UK are showing less enthusiasm for working with iPads in schools than in previous years. The study, conducted by the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) surveyed more than 600 British schools in an attempt to explore the extent of investment in iPads. According to Vaughan (2014), the study found that there are currently over 440,000 tablets in British schools with the number set to double by 2016. However, the study also surveyed teacher’s perceptions of interest in iPads among their students. This reflected a decrease from 89% in 2012 to 78% in 2014 of teachers responding that their students did have at least some interest in tablets. This pattern is indicative of the same product adoption life cycle as that observed in tablet use in the commercial world. A further analysis of the BESA data reveals a gap between the high levels of engagement teachers perceive being demonstrated by students at elementary school and the much lower levels of engagement teachers perceive are typically displayed by students in middle and high school. The existence of this gap is supported by more robust research (Marks et al., 2011) and suggests the possibility of social factors affecting the data. It is, for example, possible that tablet devices are now so commonplace in the lives of some middle and high school students that there is no special attraction to their presence in the classroom. Younger students, on the other hand, often appreciate being given opportunities to use devices that are possibly monopolized by older siblings at home. Although unexplored in the BESA report itself, this idea, in my humble opinion, would be worthy of pursuance.

 

References

 

Flood, A. (19 August 2014). Readers absorb less on Kindles than on paper, study     finds. The Guardian. Retrieved 19 August 2014 from http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/aug/19/readers-absorb-less-kindles-paper-study-plot-ereader-digitisation

Mangen, A., Walgermo, B. R., & Brønnick, K. (2013). Reading linear texts on paper versus computer screen: Effects on reading comprehension. International Journal Of Educational Research5861-68. doi:10.1016/j.ijer.2012.12.002

Vaughan, R. (8 August 2014). Once it was “wow”, now it’s “whatever”. Times Educational Supplement Connect. Retrieved on 13 August 2014 from http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6439349

 

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Learning Chinese on the iPad

The summer holidays, as always, is a chance to reflect back and project forward.  The new school year starting in August will be the first where we introduce large numbers of iPad Airs, and the first where we begin the year with Casper as our MDM system.  Further afield, we have collaborate research projects set up with Hurstpierpoint College and with our sister schools in the ACS group, and invitations to present our research at several international conferences.

But I’m keenly aware of how easy it is for the researcher to become too intensely focused on the mechanics of the research process itself, and to lose sight of the connection research must have with real life.  This is a danger to which researchers whose day to day school role is in administration, not teaching, are especially susceptible and so the subject of this month’s blog is deliberately pragmatic and stems from my classroom experience teaching my weekly Chinese class.

Language teachers commonly complain that there are no decent apps for teaching language. This may be true (although the picture with all apps is so fast-changing that it is difficult to make definitive statements about anything), but it misses the point.  The conversations I have had most recently with teachers of French and Spanish at my school certainly leave me better informed about apps like Linguascope and Duolingo, but they also make it very clear that the most engaging activities that teachers appear to find effective are those where the students are using the target language incidentally, rather than as a conscious exercise in mastery.

When I was training as a language teacher more years ago than I care to mention, the prevailing (but at that point untested) thinking was that the best way to master a language was to study something other than the target language through the medium of the target language.  At International House, where I studied for an RSA Diploma in TEFL, I observed students in a film studies course whose fluency in both spoken and written academic English developed as they pursued their learning about film.  My own mother-in-law developed her English through studying a higher degree in Education. So we have known for a long time that making the target language incidental to the learning can be effective, and the lesson for teachers teaching with iPads is to make the iPad the tool to achieving tasks other than directly learning French, Spanish or, in the case of my own students, Chinese.

In my Chinese classes I have been known to set the odd quiz in Socrative, but I admit that these serve little pedagogical purpose beyond giving the students a mental break from other tasks.  The biggest benefit I have seen in quiz setting (other than giving the impression to some parents – and a recently-departed education minister – that real learning was going on when it wasn’t) is the experience it can give students in mastering test-taking techniques. But passing a test, rather than acquiring mastery of the learning the test is supposed to assess, is a very limited horizon for which to set one’s course.

This is where one needs to consult the research and adapt pedagogies and instructional strategies that we know assist language acquisition.  These include (but are not limited to) the following:

Hands-on activities
Project-based learning
Reciprocal learning
Storytelling
Student-centred learning
Simulations & Rôle Play
Reflect & Write
Anything involving Rhythm, Rhyme, Music & Rap
Graphic (visual) Organisers
Collaborative learning

I’ve written on most of these before, but in the context of teaching Chinese there is a resource I am prepared to endorse that I have used for about six years now and which, with a bit of tweaking, allows the teacher to cut out a lot of the donkey work involved in lesson planning.

The resource is called Chinese Pod and it started many years ago as a podcast. You could download the podcast and listen to it on your iPod as you got on with your day. It often involved conversations about topics that were in the news or of general interest to ordinary folk at the time. Therein lay an important difference between Chinese Pod and even the best textbook – it was fresh and unpredictable; relevant and topical. You couldn’t flick ahead and see what was coming. Although pre-recorded, it felt live and the presenters (typically two – a waiguoren and a native Chinese speaker) didn’t worry about the odd slip of the tongue. It had the feel of people enjoying themselves.

Screen Shot 2014-07-17 at 11.46.19

Allied to the podcast was a webpage from which you could download and print off dialogues at different levels. I’m actually a great believer in dialogues as a way of learning languages. I learned Chinese this way myself and occasionally even today I find myself slipping into phrases I learned wholesale from those days. Chinese Pod’s dialogues ran the gamut from Newbie to Advanced, with pinyin support available where appropriate.  They discussed things like pop music, St Valentine’s Day and who was going to win the World Cup – the very conversations I knew my students were having in the recess playground.  

Today, these dialogues are still there on the Chinese Pod website, and subscribers can make use of Lesson MP3s, Dialogue MP3s, Audi Review MP3s or just a straightforward pdf transcript of the dialogue.  We use all of these in my classes, and my students access them via their iPads either before or during the lesson, but they also give me ideas for prompting my students to write their own dialogues, and we record or film these after they have had a chance to practise them.

Screen Shot 2014-07-17 at 12.09.27

Today, students can produce sophisticated translations using Google Translate (see above – and also on their iPads in the form of an app), and can have the phrases modelled for them by a native speaker to guide their pronunciation and tones, but this really doesn’t matter. Students get a buzz out of seeing themselves and hearing themselves speaking Chinese, and if they keep the recordings, they can use themselves as revision aids or teachers in the future.   

Of course, I also encourage the students to use the Chinese keyboard on the iPad, and we have had some success in the past with the app iChinese as a way to encourage students to master the correct stroke order (although it has been admittedly mixed success as it is time-consuming – and I have to say I sometimes get stroke order wrong myself even after years of learning Chinese), but it’s probably fair to say that reading and writing Chinese are the last two skills to be mastered (albeit, there is a thrill to be seen on the students‘ faces when they manage to translate a piece of text written entirely in characters!)

To that end, there are a number of apps for both iPad and iPhone/iPod Touch that have proved effective over the years.  Here are some I still swear by.  

Apps Screenshot

The Flashcards app can be especially addictive – in a wholly positive way.  Many years ago I would spend hours on trains across China taking a pack of flashcards out my my jacket pocket and trying to commit them to memory. Those I knew I would transfer to my right-had pocket; those I didn’t, I would shuffle to the bottom of the pack and try again when they surfaced.  The Flashcards app (see screenshot below) is the modern equivalent of that. So with that in mind, I’m now going to roll the clock back and see how well I do on the advanced set.

我希望您有一个愉快的夏天!         

Top Tens

Recently, the Stephen Perse Foundation ‘s Daniel Edwards published a list of the top ten apps in use at his school’s two-year-old 1:1 iPad programme.  He noted that all ten apps were multipurpose apps, and he included in his list a description of how each app fitted in with the workflow developing at the school.

The list will make reassuringly familiar reading to FOMO-afflicted school leaders who have been dabbling or diving headlong into the world of 1:1 iPads, but it also indicates strongly how far the shift has been completed towards content creation.  With the arguable exception of iTunes U, every one of the SPFlearning.com’s top ten apps is primarily or exclusively designed to get users creating new content, not consuming existing content.  Here is Daniel’s list

Book Creator

Book Creator

Edmodo Edmodo Explain EverythingExplain Everything iMovieiMovie

iTunes U iTunes U

Keynote Keynote

Notability Notability

Pages
Pages

Showbie Showbie

Socrative 1.0 and 2.0 Socrative

Daniel’s list got me thinking about another list I realise I’ve been mentally compiling without actually writing it down.  In my many conversations with teachers and administrators in iPad schools across the country, I have noticed how the same questions are being asked and shared.  Not many of these questions have definitive answers – often it’s a case of personal preference or school philosophy, but here are some of the questions that are most commonly asked of me as an administrator in a school where our oldest 1:1 iPads programme is now entering its fourth year.

1.  What MDM do you use?

2.  Who pays for the iPads?

3.  What is your insurance structure?

4.  Do you recommend 1:1, shared iPads or a combination?

5.  What age range is the iPad best suited to?

6.  Do the iPads go home or stay at school?

7.  What eSafety issues do the presence of iPads raise?

8.  What training structure and timetable have you found most successful?

9.  Why iPads as opposed to Android or other devices?

10.  How do iPads best engage the students with the demands of the new curriculum (e.g. the demand for programming etc.)?

This list is by no means exhaustive. I could certainly add questions about how students save their work, what peripherals are most recommended, which subjects are best served or least well served by the apps on the App Store, how well iPads work with Google Apps schools and so forth. But following Daniel’s lead of naming only the top ten, these are the ones that are most often asked, and the ones to which I do find I have preferred answers borne of our experiences since we got started in January 2011.

I will endeavour to work my way through these questions and answers over the next few posts.

The Joys of Instant On and Elongated Battery Life

Screen Shot 2014-02-20 at 16.14.36

 

Today’s power cut was a good illustration of the attractiveness of two features of the iPad that nowadays often get overlooked but which at the time the iPad was released made it so welcome to educators.  When the power cut hit Cobham this afternoon the computer teacher and students were able to switch immediately to their iPads without any need to wait for log on delays (worked out by an ECIS colleague of mine a couple of years ago as typically the equivalent of two whole days over a school year!)  Nor were there any concerns that the iPads would have flat batteries despite it being the afternoon and the iPads having been in use all day.

Instant On and a ten-hour battery life are taken for granted nowadays, but back in 2010 these two features rescued many of us from a huge IT headache.  Today was proof that these features are still essential.

Some thoughts on Content Creation and the iPad

OEiPad

Storyteller Katrice Horsley shows second grade teacher Christie Down PuppetPals HD in an Outdoor Education lesson.

The release of iOS7 on September 18th this year prompted the customary exchanges of views on the blogosphere about what was good and what was less good about the upgrade.  Design purists celebrated the apparent demise of skeuomorphism at the hands of Sir Jony Ive. Others took turns saying Apple has lost its way, scored another hit, become out of touch, proved once again it has its finger on the pulse, fallen behind, taken the lead and all the other polarised clichés that seem to accompany new technology releases these days.

Personally I was keeping an eye out for the return of that old chestnut “the iPad is fine for content consumption but it can’t do content creation”, and I wasn’t disappointed.  Several commentators who have obviously somehow missed Pages, Numbers, Keynote, PuppetPals HD, Morfo Booth, Evernote, Penultimate, Moxier Collage, Art Rage, Moodboard, Collabracam, Me Books, Showbie, Edmodo, Explain Everything, iMovie, GarageBand, Creative Book Builder, Book Writer, Strip Design, Hopscotch, Animation HD, Aurasma and so forth trotted out that line on various forums.

This got me thinking.  It simply beggars belief that all these people are in the pay of Google or Samsung.  Some of them probably genuinely believe that students and others cannot create meaningful content using iPads – or at least that they cannot create content that cannot be replicated on laptops or desktop computers (as, for example, the work created on the iPad apps for WordPress or Prezi etc. could be).  The visit of accomplished professional storyteller Katrice Horsley to our school campus this week gave me the opportunity to see how someone unconnected with our school and its recent history of iPad integration would approach an outdoor learning opportunity. To my delight one of the frist things Katrice did once she was out in the woods with our second graders was to introduce one of our newest staff members to the wonders of PuppetPals HD.

Katrice

 

Katrice Horsley in full swing talking to the second grade shortly before tasking them outside

There is almost nothing in PuppetPals HD that qualifies as content consumption.  The power of the app lies entirely in its capacity to provide a vehicle for users to express themselves.  As a language teacher I have used PuppetPals HD for script capture ahead of practical work in drama.  In the case of Katrice’s outdoor learning lesson PuppetPals HD provided an option for storytelling.  The second graders told their stories today using traditional materials like sticks, rocks, bark and some novelty eyes that Katrice brought along.  But photographs of these characters, settings and objects can easily be incorporated into PuppetPals HD shows which can then also be edited within the app or in  other apps in an app workflow.

StorytellingSecond graders tell their stories to Katrice at the end of an outdoor learning lesson

PuppetPals HD happens to do this task extremely well, especially if one invests in the paid version of the app, but there are myriads of alternative apps out there.  Students are also using apps such as iMovie (now bundled with new iPad purchases) to tell stories, Pages (similarly bundled) to create eBooks (many other apps facilitate this too these days) and Garageband to create soundscapes and backtracks for their story creations.  The iPad hasn’t invented all this – any more than the development of the four treasures (paper, ink, brush and inkstone) in second century China “invented” writing.  It merely provides a much  tool for the job than was previously available.

I don’t expect the content consumption die-hards to surrender just yet.  I’m sure they will still be claiming that the iPad can’t create anything in years to come when work done on tablets constitutes a majority.  But then again, I read today that the Flat Earth Society still has nearly 2,000 active members.

 

Consumer Technology and Understanding the Nature of Tablets

Education has a long history of adapting innovations intended for other uses to its own purposes. In the last forty years, examples have included language lab technologies, business management practices and solution-focused therapy to name but three. Schools have had to adapt to the notion that they fulfil multiple roles in communities, and school heads and school compliance officers have had to become knowledgeable about fields of expertise that would have been regarded as far removed from the traditional business of schooling just a few decades ago (environmental policy, employment law, action research, data protection and so forth).

Against this general background the notion of consumer technology has steadily nosed its way into school administrators’ consciousnesses. Gartner, undoubtedly one of the world’s leading technology research and advisory think-tanks, describes consumer technology as digital services and products that have their origin in home or home-related activities (satellite navigation systems in cars would be included in the category of “home-related”). For educators, the notion of consumer technologies has become an important one to understand. Not only are we teaching students who are using in their homes sophisticated digital technologies to perform or enhance everyday tasks – a situation that has important ramifications for how we use technology in our classrooms, but the demand for such technologies is driving prices down to the point where it becomes viable to consider the sort of purchases that would have been out of reach of school or local authority budgets two or three years ago.

For example, consider how the market for interactive whiteboards has been threatened by the development of flat screen television technologies in recent years. Where teachers are given a say in what goes into their classrooms the choice of whether to have an IWB or a flat screen television (supported by Apple TV, AirView or some similar service) will be determined by, among other considerations, ease of use. It is easy to see why in an overwhelming majority of the schools I have spoken to over the past two years, IWBs are slowly being replaced. The only sticking point appears to be the fact that IWBs typically offer larger screen sizes, but as larger flat screens hit the market at competitive prices this objection is likely to lose its potency. Certainly, from their experience in their own homes teachers and students are likely to be more familiar with using a flat screen television than they are an IWB. In twenty years of international education I have met only two educators who have IWBs in their homes – and one of them is selling hers!

The iPad fits into this general picture very well. Designed for the consumer marketplace on a hunch that there existed a gap between the laptop and the smartphone markets, Apple’s iPas was launched in March 2010 with the company later admitting it didn’t really know how it would be used. School-based educators were among the first professionals to realise the iPad had potential as a learning tool, and it was noticeable that by the time of the release of the iPad 2, less than a year after the original launch, the iPad’s role in education settings took up a significant portion of the publicity accompanying that release. We saw, for example Chicago Public Schools’ director of technology, John Connolly, crediting the iPad for improvements in maths and literacy scores across the district. More plausibly perhaps, we saw practical demonstrations of how third party apps were helping children in kindergarten and special needs classes develop literacy and social skills. Tellingly, much of the footage accompanying these claims was taken in students’ homes.

Classroom teachers are, of course, reporting a number of things they are seeing from their students once they get their hands on an iPad, and engagement was one of the most conspicuously common findings in the first year or two that iPads appeared in schools. Our own experience at ACS suggests that even when students have their own iPads at home the engagement levels remain high in classrooms (albeit this observation comes from elementary classrooms where engagement is typically high anyway). Measuring engagement is not straightforward, and there are many variables to consider such as which apps are permitted in school and which are preferred at home, or how much control is ceded to the students over decisions such as turn-taking, content creation versus content consumption, game playing and so forth. Nonetheless, even a non-scientific measuring device such as informal observation supports the contention that students enjoy lessons that include the use of iPads. Other metrics must be used to determine how worthwhile those lessons are from a learning perspective.

The consumer technology research conducted by Gartner also addresses what technology companies need to do to preserve or increase their market share. Crucially, Gartner observes that technological maturity alone does not ensure market success. Timing, anticipating change (or driving it), tracking margins and reinventing all play key roles in keeping a technology company healthy and ensuring given products remain desirable in the consumer marketplace. However, Gartner also contends that there is an “inflection point” on the horizon that will cause companies like Apple to evolve their business models. Those that do this well will fuel the next wave of growth and innovation. Those that manage it badly will fall by the wayside.

Schools have traditionally been nervous about putting all their funds into devices that run single systems for fear of being caught out if that system becomes obsolete. An argument I have heard frequently over the past two years is how do we know if Android or iOS will win out in the operating system wars? The implication is that schools are delaying whether to invest in iPads or Galaxy tablets (or Chrome-books, Nexus or Surfaces for that matter) because they are afraid of backing the 21st Century’s equivalent of Betamax. The concept of interoperability has gone a long way towards quiet ending those fears but we still hear teachers saying they want to run Flash on iPads or needing to run web-based programs because there are no Android apps for the activities they have seen in other schools’ iPad classrooms.

Obviously on this page I’m an advocate of iPads in the classroom, but I have greatly enjoyed my visits to both Google’s and Microsoft’s seminars at which educators have been given a chance to look at the competition. What all these devices share is a domestic target market. Not one of the commercially available tablets was designed specifically for the classroom – or even for the workplace. It makes sense, therefore, to have a clear understanding of the nature of tablets. I recently spent an enjoyable afternoon in the company of two engaging, knowledgeable and extremely articulate educators at my old university who addressed precisely this question in the preamble to their workshop on education apps. Tom Preskett is Learning Technologist at the London Centre for Leadership in Learning. His partner at that workshop was Gavin Calnan, an ICT teacher from Bentley Wood High School. They summarised a number of concepts iPads enable and what follows below to conclude this blog entry is largely their conclusions.

1. The iPad enables “seamless learning” in that it is easy for the learner to switch between contexts. This in turn enables what Andrew Goodgame has described as app workflows (or work appflows) in which students create content in one app, import it into another for further work or refinement and then continue to work on it in a third or fourth app until it is ready for publication or presentation – which may be done in yet another app.
2. The iPad enables Multimodality. Students don’t need five or six separate pieces of kit: the iPad is it. For example, it is a video camera, a TelePrompt, an editing suite, a sound studio, a timer and so forth.
3. The iPad’s finger-driven interface motivates and engages students
4. The iPad enables collaboration. Two or three students can productively share one device (filming each other, assigning different rôles etc.) and it also enables cloud file sharing.
5. The iPad has spurred the creation (mostly by third party developers and for the most part free of charge at the consumer end) of a huge variety of creative apps for project work etc.
6. The iPad enables enhanced learner control. This is especially so in one-to-one environments, and it is easy to put iPads into any classroom set up (although Tom Preskett thinks a café set up is the best).

Google Drive, Office365 and Considering MDM as a Variable in School-based Research Studies

Microsoft-Headquarters

As part of a team making a decision about support services at my school, I recently spent a day at Microsoft’s UK headquarters in Reading.  Microsoft are keen to focus on “services and devices”, and the executives I met with observed themselves that the word “software” – for so many years indelibly associated with Microsoft, is completely absent from the various pitches they gave to the school districts invited that day to visit the Reading HQ.  In my own opinion, the services Microsoft is able to offer are far superior to the devices it currently produces.  Its own tablet, the Surface, lags behind the iPad in many important respects, but another major tablet manufacturer, HP, is currently shipping its flagship products, including the Elitepad 900, with the latest version of Microsoft’s operating system, Windows 8.  This is testament to Microsoft’s enduring relevance in the technology market, even in the age of mobile.

Moreover, although in many of the presentations I attended this week it was noticeable that this former technology monolith is now very much a follower, where previously it was a leader, there are nonetheless features of Office365, Skydrive and Sharepoint that will give industry leader Google (on whose Google Drive technologies these Microsoft products are clearly modelled) pause for thought.  It appears to me that Microsoft is now concentrating on design much more than it did formerly, and it is making the concessions to user choice that it previously refused to do (to the point where my own school district is considering how Microsoft’s Sharepoint could enhance our Virtual Learning Environment in a Mac-only ecosystem; a consideration previously unthinkable).

Google drive

Office365

 

 

 

 

My conversations with Microsoft and Google executives over the past six months have allowed me to gauge how far Apple, especially since the release of the iPad, has forced its competitors to innovate in the tablet and tablet services markets.  Microsoft UK’s Chief Envisioning Officer (yes, really – although he himself laughs about the title) is an entertaining and sharp-witted guy called Dave Coplin who tells a good story and has a clear idea of what Microsoft has to do to catch up with the competition.  He recognises the need for innovation, but he is trying to innovate in an ecosystem that for me still feels derivative.  I was reminded of that inspiration poster that reads “Be a Voice, not an Echo”.  Perhaps Microsoft needs to buy a few of those for its staff’s offices – but then again, that would be copying someone else’s idea, wouldn’t it?

Google’s major contribution to this competition has of course been the development of the Android operating system as a rival to Apple’s iOS, and its Google Drive constitutes an attractive environment that appears to have learned the lessons of failed walled gardens before it (remember AOL?).  In Google Drive the company has created something pragmatic, useful, safe and easy for schools to use.  Although I could see Microsoft’s Office365 had some nice design touches and improvements in interfacing compared to google drive (which can look stark and austere), Google appears to have a healthy lead, and the familiarity its users have with Google products like search, gmail and translate ensures the transition to Google Drive feels easy and natural.  Microsoft’s rival system will no doubt leverage the company’s recent acquisition of Skype (another tool users are familiar with from their life outside of work) and will seek to build relations with Facebook (which seems to me to have been the inspiration for the design of the tools Office365 provides to allow teachers and students to communicate with one another).

The tablet services division is no less competitive and I believe it has reached a point where the choice of tablet service provider will be worth considering as a data item in school-based comparative studies. My contention that iPads are transforming classroom pedagogy in ways not yet fully understood or even measured, would not be a sustainable contention were it not for the support services emerging from third party partners who provide management systems on which schools depend.  Teachers who use iPads to engage children in content creation need systems in place through which to save, share, upload or even print that content.  Technical support divisions in individual schools and school districts with large numbers of iPads similarly need to be able to sync, back up, wipe and asset-tag devices in an efficient and cost effective manner.

merakiCompanies such as Cisco (the makers of Meraki), Aerohive, Ubiquiti, MaaS360 and Lightspeed all offer alternatives to Apple’s own Configurator system, and choosing between these services is becoming an increasingly important decision for schools to make.  Although the choice of Multiple Device Management (MDM) provider is not a decision that is commonly placed in the hands of classroom practitioners, it is certainly worth capturing and recording the choice of MDM as an item of baseline data when setting out to measure the effectiveness of iPad use in different schools.