101 posts categorized "Digital Divide"

July 23, 2011

#BLC11: Help write the keynote

This week I'm back at Building Learning Communities (#BLC11), Boston, MA, after a three year hiatus (as I dipped my toes into something totally different). I can't wait to see old friends and make some new ones, and to hang out with some of the brightest thinking you can get in the education space.

The keynote is the one thing both Alan November, the host, and I wanted to do differently. Based on NoTosh's work with Cisco this past 18 months, I'm delighted to be in a conversation with their Director Global Education, Bill Fowler, a conversation we want you to help shape, whether you're at the event, or spectating from afar.

There are seven key questions we're probably going totally fail to tackle over the hour, but I vouch on my part to follow them through for the next few months in the work I do with schools around the world with Tom. Most of the readers of this blog have influence - on their school, their district, their government. We want you to join the already burgeoning debate and contribute your own take on things.

Can you add your own thoughts, arguments, research pieces to these questions and help us create a long-lasting set of strong arguments with which to influence the Governments, districts and schools with whom we all work?

  1. What are the main opportunities from around the world in building more effective learning communities?
  2. What binds learners from around the world, regardless of geography? (my personal issue here is the hidden digital divide of time zones - technology alone can't be enough).
  3. What leads to more engaging learning for under-motivated/disengaged young people?
  4. How do we adapt pedagogical approaches?
  5. What is the balance of control between the teacher and the learner?
    Are you currently satisfied with relationships within your education community (leadership, parents, community, etc)?
  6. What strategies can we employ to empower the learner to take more responsibility for managing/leading their own learning?
  7. What are the process skills needed to leverage technology?

The questions are co-written, and those of you who know me well will know what my own angle would be on some of them - but I want challenged, pushed, cajoled into thinking about others' views on the same subjects.

There is also a less chunked up discussion on the same issues over on the GETideas site, for those of you who are members there or want to sign up today.

The keynote later this week will be tweeted live, hopefully webcast, too, and I'll be doing my best to keep up with the live online action as well as responding to points from Bill and the audience. I look forward to seeing you there, in person or online!

March 04, 2011

Juliette Heppell: Technology's last stand in learning: cell phones, consoles & Facebook

In a four-part video series for GETideas I travelled the world in 24 hours and asked four educators I admire what their "two stars and a wish" for learning would be for 2011. I'll blog the films here over the next week.

Juliette Heppell, a high school teacher from the West End of London, UK, is seeing so much that is right with learning and technology, but the last crucial step is taking technology to where our students already hang out - to cell phones and social networks:

"Social networking in our school has been vital in engaging students in seeing the connection between learning in school and learning at home.

"Persuading teachers to use Skype in the classroom has resulted in some interesting projects, although the first stage involved teaching them how to use it at home as a form of professional development.

"We need to use what the students have already much more: it might be skills, or it might be equipment that they can bring into the classroom. Handhelds, consoles, mobile phones, research skills, enquiry skills… We're getting there, but we're not quite there yet."

Juliette's site features in this popular post from last month: "Please, Miss, Can I Friend You On Facebook?".

February 15, 2011

Teachers and Facebook: Please, Miss, Can I Friend You On Facebook?

Good use of social networking and other social media in schools doesn't change that much with the changes in tools and platforms, but it's still useful to have a reminder of what works, and what doesn't.

Scotland's Bryan Kerr asks a great question tonight about whether a teacher should friend a student on Facebook, especially when his school district has banned teachers from being on Facebook:

Facebook when you're a teacher

First things first: should teaching staff be on Facebook in the first place?

Answer: Yes.

No employer has the right to tell a member of staff that they cannot interact on social networks or publish their work and thoughts freely on the web - this is the right to express oneself, a fundamental if ever there was one. For any school district to claim that a member of staff is bringing their employer into disrepute simply by sharing online through a particular platform, Facebook or otherwise, would result in the kind of court case that wouldn't make it past the corporate lawyer's intray.

Should a teacher take care about what they publish on their social network, or other sharing space on the web?

Answer: Yes.

Teachers, priests and doctors, for example, are the kinds of groups we trust to vouch for one's identity on a passport application. They are thought of differently than any other profession, and rightly so. They deal in the highly personal, and therefore the room for indiscretion offline or online for a teacher is much more constrained than those working in other professions. If a teacher was ever in any doubt as to what is accpetable, simply read the existing guidance in your jurisdiction for the acceptable attitudes and practices for educators in general, and make sure you keep to that code online, regardless of whether you're sharing and 'socialising' on school time or not.

Should a teacher accept a friend request from a current student on their personal profile?

Answer: No.

Facebook is primarily a space where we find personal profiles. No matter what your personal rules are for engaging people as 'friends' on Facebook (mine involves in depth work or conversation offline, and invariably a pint) you cannot guarantee that your students' habits are as thought-through. Private, personal, almost public and public are four different gradients of privacy that are hard enough for adults to comprehend, let alone a teen acting, probably, on impulse as (s)he befriends you.

Facebook and other communities have provided ample opportunity to create a more public space where the people you invite on board might not be classified as 'friends' in the more traditional sense of the word. Facebook Pages are a great way to create a purely professional profile, whereby you can invite and approve selected or self-selected members to join your Facebook 'community' on that page, without becoming personal friends and seeing what you get up to on a Friday night - or vice versa.

This way, when students want to talk about 'work'-related issues, or learning, they can do so through that page, knowing that everyone there will get the messages appearing on their wall, but their personal messages will not appear on the group wall.

Can we not just say that Facebook is personal, and not a place where learning should be discussed? Full Stop?

Answer: Are you serious?

It's not just today's young people that are hanging out on Facebook for 200+ minutes a day. The largest group on Facebook is over-35s, and in Britain the fastest growing group is the over 75s. If you want to remind students about great resources to help them with their homework, when they've fallen off-task or are seeking help, then Facebook is the only window that you know will always be open on their browser. Likewise, if you want parents to have a wider appreciation of what learning is actually going on, they're on Facebook downstairs in the living room at the same time your students are online upstairs.

This sounds like extra work - working in the evening when I should be marking/preparing/having a life.

Answer: It's a bit extra. But it's worth it.

Train hard, fight easy. That's what the SAS say. In teaching it might be "get to help your students when they really need it, in the place where they need it, and in-class is going to be easier, more effective and more personable."

Where do we go to dive into detail?

Juliette Heppell as a page of great advice on the dos and don'ts of using Facebook for learning. It's worth updating that, since the beginning of this week, you needn't worry about creating a second 'you' for working with students. Instead, new Facebook pages allow you to allocate 'friend requests' to a particular page or list, thus rendering your Friday night shenanigans invisible to Johnny, Jamie, Kelly-anne and Kaylee.

If you've followed the development of education blogging platform eduBuzz, you'll know I'm passionate about social media's promise for connecting learning and parents. Facebook is great for that, too, so consider setting up class pages which parents join. See how one school has done it for its six-year-old First Graders.

For a host of other resources on Facebook, in general, follow up on my library of Facebook links.

November 14, 2010

7 Ways (Video) Games Reward The Brain

I'm a huge fan of harnessing ingredients of video games to make learning and working more enjoyable, more motivating (for newbies to this notion:

Tom Chatfield's seven key video game takeaways are incredibly useful for those redesigning curricula (or their classroom practice) who want to tap into the power of video games. My colleague Derek is always at pains to point out that "good teachers use good tools at the right time", but I still meet folk who miss that, and still feel that a lesson without games-based learning can't be as exciting as those with it. Tom notes in particular the potential in using gamer progress bars as indicators of academic and personal progress. He cites the University of Indiana as one of the cutting edge institutions working in this way.

That said, though, I'm sure when even I was at primary school we had a class chart that we filled with shiny stars every time we progressed in our learning or worked particularly well. Was my Year 1 teacher Mrs O'Hare inventing game mechanics in 1982 without knowing it?

Much in the same way as we can learn from how social networks operate in order to. say, make our own virtual learning environments work better, without the need to feel we need to harness Facebook for learning, I'd say that there are seven gems in this talk that show how we can harness games mechanics for learning from tomorrow morning, without feeling the need to learn the practicalities of bringing in Xboxes, PlayStations and Wiis to the classroom. One thing - to get what these mechanics are, it still helps if you've experienced them first hand by actually, erm, playing a game. Something for your Christmas holiday homework, perhaps?

November 05, 2010

#HuffPost No. 2: Inspiring Learners with Technology... and No Electricity


I'm delighted to see some great interest in my latest Huffington Post, the inspiring story of Moliehe Sekese of Lesotho who has in the past year become a globally acclaimed educator for her work harnessing technology, despite not having had electricity in her school until last month.

The video included in the post would make an interesting stimulus for discussion with students, just at the time when they're gearing up to ask Santa Claus for the latest tech tools, or with teachers as budgets get clamped down and technology becomes harder to resource. If you do use it with either group, let me know how it goes. You can use ZamZar.com to grab the video onto a USB stick at home if YouTube is blocked in your school, or try the Vimeo version of Moliehe's discussion with me.

Read more of my thoughts on the Huffington Post.

November 02, 2010

The real digital divide: time zones kill truly global thinking

I've returned from an exhilarating week in South Africa with Microsoft's Innovative Education Forum showcasing hundreds of fascinating teachers and schools from across the world. The passion of the township kids in the video above sums up the passion and hospitality we were shown, and the hardest work their educators put in to bring joy and learning to them every day.

But most of those teaching in the Western world won't know or care about students cracking cancer cells through vector diagrams in India, the five Arab states that pooled their learning to create a new understanding (and scooped the main award) or the inspirational learning happening in a country where 40% of people live below the poverty line, despite it being one of the world's principal diamond exporters.

I say this based on a personal, unscientific and flawed set of stats gleaned from this site, but one I feel compelled to share. And it was in discussion with Vicki Davis, also with me in South Africa, that we both felt the impact of something outside the control of most classroom teachers and young people: time zones.

Both of us realised quickly that no-one was reading the posts we had started to share from South Africa (my South Africa insights and videos have started here with more to follow; Vicki's thoughts and videos are here).

We were posting the minute we had discovered a new tale, at anything between 10am and 5pm South African time, or 8am-3pm GMT. It was only after one day of seeing no-one was reading her posts, compared to normal, that Vicki started to repost and set new blog entries to post around midnight, to catch the US East Coast's sweet spot. The result? People started to read and watch the videos there, and the viewing spread across to the US West Coast. The same effect was visible on my own blog (and is visible whenever I post too early in the day here in Scotland).

Vicki, I hope she won't mind me saying, was perturbed by such a "rookie error" of posting outside her normal time zones, but I don't think it's that rookie at all. When we're working with young people and they publish their work there is a definite thrill in pressing that publish button and seeing it hit the web now. There is much less thrill in pressing the "Pubish on..." button and seeing it published six hours later so that an American audience can catch it and, with their retweet button, decide whether a thought from outside their timezone is spreadable or not.

And in that, you have the main reason for which I, at least, feel conversations in education have become more parochial than global in the past two years. The subject matter is often the same, but the information and experiences feeding into the conversations feel remarkably segmented by time zone. The loudest conversations at the moment are those about a documentary most of the world don't care about on a local level (and which isn't showing in most of the world's cinemas):

No cinemas showing Waiting For Superman

Why is this so? My stats would suggest it's the Twitterification of thought-creation and thought-leading.

Twitterfication - the fast food of education thinking

Twitter has, for most folk, become their aggregator of choice. No longer do blog posts have a half-life of 24 hours, happily resting in your Google Reader until you launch it in the morning (your morning). Instead, your blog post has to hit a sweet spot where the maximum number of connectors and spreaders are awake, at their machine and ready to press "Retweet". That means hitting "Publish" at a time convenient to the mass of educators on the East Coast US, with a half-life of minutes before it is lost in the stream of other thoughts, resources and locker-room banter about baseball.

The conversations have also disappeared from most of the blogs that I, at least, read from outside the US and Canada. They're maybe happening on Twitter, but are now dislocated from their origins, impossible to trace back, and even more impregnable to those coming in 24 hours late.

So, is the media literacy lesson here that we need to teach children the world over that, to make their point they have to make it at East Coast time? Or is the media literacy point here that educators and decision-makers Stateside mustn't down all their slow-food style aggregators just yet, and make a point of reading things published outside the hours of 9am-8pm East Coast?

(And, yes, I've written a provocative post at 10:39am GMT - let's see who can prove me wrong ;-) See video of the kids dancing over on my Flickr page, or below. Catch up on all my videos from schools in South Africa by subscribing to my YouTube channel)

October 25, 2010

[ #msief ]: In the land where 90% of schools don't have the net

Ewan McIntosh msief And 70% have no access to information technology at all.

I'll be in South Africa all week, visiting schools in some of Cape Town's townships tomorrow, and on Wednesday meeting and interviewing the Vice Presidents at Microsoft responsible for making a truly global impact for their company, and for the country's 12million learners' futures in the years to come.

I'll wrap up the week with some of the most innovative technology stories emerging from around the globe as 400 educators converge on the Cape for a jamboree of teaching and learning as South Africa hosts Microsoft Partners in Learning's Worldwide Innovative Education Forum, the first time it's set foot on the continent, and 18 years after Microsoft set up its first office here.

This country does, without doubt, quickly present the digital divide in stark terms. Hotel internet is available at a good rate (about $15 a night), and it's fast. But only 70% of schools have access to any form of technology, and only a third of them have access to the web. Reza Bardien, the education lead at Microsoft South Africa sees the imperative to prepare the 12million learners here for the digital workplaces that await those who make there - everything from the restaurant to the shop where I bought my power adaptor runs of PCs with SQL databases.

But her admission that "it is a daunting task" is understatement to say the least.

Here's what I'm hoping to find: in a rapidly growing city in the global region fastest recovering from the global financial crisis with a population of whom 40% are under 18 years old, we will find creative approaches to engaging learners on their terms, looking at content that really matters to them, learning that is going to help them survive in the world they have around them. It will be a learning that we recognise in some ways - much in the same way as we recognise Chinese food in Chinese restaurants we've never been to before - but it certainly won't be in consistent and unwavering praise of that education heaven, Finland, and it won't be promoting the ideal model of learning as a North American one, the vision which, for the past month of charter school mayhem, assessment and standards groaning and Education Nation soundbites, one might feel is the only system worth discussing on the most common "international education" blogs and magazine sites.

I'm thinking that learning at these kind of extremes, as Charles Leadbeater has shown this past year in his report for Cisco (pdf) and subsequent TED Talk, offers some direction to those of us in Europe, North America and well-off Middle East and Far East countries. Seeing how learning has adapted here to be productive, I hope to be able to better envision what Scotland's learning might look like if we were to strip it back to its students' real, authentic needs, the needs that we might see pulling on us if we seek it hard enough, and not those that are pushed to them by curriculum, strategy and policy.

I can't wait to share my video (on my Vimeo channel and YouTube channel), photographs, tweets (#mseif) and reflections here on the blog and on the Huffington Post, about how learning from the extremes might offer some inspiration for troubled education systems on the other side of the equator.

If you have questions of your own that you'd like me to ask students, teachers or education leaders in the townships, or Microsoft's most senior education VPs, let me know straightaway, and I'll post their answers.

October 18, 2010

[ #ediff ]: I'm neither right nor wrong: Technology Futures in Scotland, a braindump

Our group's brainstorm of Glow from a student perspective
Discussions about how attention, finance and effort get spent on educational technology at a national level in any country all too often get drawn into a "We're right, they're wrong" play-off.
It's been hard trying to formulate some thoughts after a meeting I was invited to last week by the Scottish Government. In Scotland, on the back of one day, at least, I felt the beginnings of a crack of enlightenment in some frank, sometimes painful discussions about where Scotland's educational technology line of vision might head in the future.

The discussion was conducted under Chatham House Twitter rules, in that the points from the discussion could be made public, but the person from whom they emaninated not. It meant that we were able to call it as it was, challenge and question each other for more detail. It does, though, make blogging about the experience tricky. I've been stung too often in the past from people with agendas, journalists who want to just make stuff up and those who oh-so-wisely but oh-so-naively believe it, by those who hear but do not listen.

There are some good roundups of the content of the day, and some of the discussions:

Instead of duplicating those points, I think I'd like to dump some perhaps unrelated thoughts that came up through the afternoon discussion I was part of, looking at learning from a student's perspective and thinking about what that might mean for a national technology for learning strategy.

1. Do we need Big IT doing stuff for us, can we just do it ourselves, or is there a sweet spot somewhere inbetween? With me on the day was Andrea Reid, a Quality Improvement Officer from the south of Scotland, and in her summary of the day she quotes one of her students, summing up a latent tension any centralised or national technology initiatives hold:

I was with a group of P7s and part of their group getting over a high wooden wall, with no footholds ( about 12 feet). It was one of those team efforts where everyone had to get to a platform on the top, and I promptly interfered and gave advice. One boy took himself out of the group and wandered off to the side – completely adamant he wasn’t getting involved. Eventually he came over and said to me – “Look when you stop helping us I’ll get involved.” Point duly taken I backed off and he worked with the others to get everyone over in a really fast time. His leadership and collaboration with the others was outstanding. At feedback later his comment to me was "When you learn to trust us to solve our own problems, you’ll find we can do it and even if we can’t we’ll have tried our best". Clever boy, who had been really hard going in class previously – disengaged and hard work. Big lesson for me…

The assumption that Government knows the problems that need solved and then goes in to sort it all out is one that has blossomed in the last dozen years or so. But, as we hit these times of austerity, it's the lack of cash to go around that's forcing (or allowing us to take advantage of) an attitude of "it's not what your country can do for you, it's what you can do for your country".

Does Government not have to think about how it goes about Big IT, and whether it goes about Big IT projects at all? There were as many of us wanting to see an increased role of an open marketplace as having more investment in the state-run Glow learning platform, in a "where would you put your money" exercise.

2. National technology for learning projects that are about connecting learners, parents and schools seem to have forgotten something: Facebook has all the mechanics required to do this, and the critical mass to make discovery of others easier. Facebook might only be useful for the adults and older students amongst our learners, but where it fails, Moshi Monsters, Club Penguin etc come to fill in the gap. Could we not harness the open market better, rather than trying to compete against them?

3. "Safe" is the (wrong) key word of most national learning technology initiatives. In Scotland, the 'safety' of Glow has been over-stated, and has been used as a crux by some to avoid delving into the issues that Facebook and other social networks and virtual worlds bring in the real world, both for adults and for children.

4. No online service should ever be so unintuitive and hard to use that it requires training to learn how to open it, let alone how to harness it for deeper or more collaborative learning. Design is vital, and has been ignored - is still ignored - in national education technology projects. Get BERG to do it right.

5. The underlying problem for national education technology has nothing to do with technology. We're solving the wrong problem by throwing money at training and code, when the real problem lies in collaboration itself. Collaboration across age, stage and school subject gets more difficult from nursery onwards. Nursery is the fragile balance between schooling, play and life-learning that we should struggle to maintain throughout formal education. Until we get to grips with how to better plan learning, particularly in secondary education, then the vast majority of "collaborative" technology is a wasted effort. We should be looking at how we can have more schools consider their curriculum through the lens of a learning wall, how they can generate truly student-led learning.

6. National collaborative technology projects assumed that the gatekeepers - parents and teachers - think sharing is a good, worthwhile activity. Sharing is a good thing, and is the lifeblood of great creative ideas (no hyperlink to prove it - there's a ton of literature and evidence out there; start off with my delicious links if you like). But vast swathes of teachers don't think so. If there are still relatively few teachers sharing on weblogs, for example, it has nothing to do with the weblogs or other choice of sharing tool, and everything to do with their perception that spending some time thinking, reflecting, committing to (e)paper and sharing that with as wide an audience as possible is a futile, useless, time-consuming activity that competes with many others of greater perceived importance. It would be worth £35m working out how to crack that one first.

7. National technology projects have largely failed to delight. The reason games-based learning is so popular in the past four years more than any four year period prior to this is down principally to the exponentially improving field of video game narrative, graphic, motion controllers, augmented reality and storyline. The second key ingredient in helping this culture spread is a committed (but tiny) team of individuals who can help empower teachers to weave their own stories around those video games, and in turn inspire learners to do the same. Had the Consolarium team been peddling ZX Spectrum text adventures in 2010 I doubt there would have been the same excitement and tremendous uptake of a new set of contexts for learning.

Great technology and national condoning and pushing of it have combined to delight.

While social networks, virtual worlds and social media have been delighting growing numbers since 2005, national technology projects have tended to not only fail to condone their use for learning, but to distract potential users - publish here, not there, they try to persuade us. "Facebook is used by teachers for their personal lives, not for learning" I've been told. But I don't play video games to learn, either, yet I and many others are happy to harness them for learning in a different context.

8. National technology projects tend to see decisions made on beliefs and passions, not on transparent data. I want Glow's homepage to tell me:

  • monthly unique visitors
  • segementation of visitor types: teachers, learners, parents, admins, LTS staff etc.
  • number of pages served
  • dwell time
  • number of unsuccessful log-ins
  • bounce rate
  • percentage of returning visitors each month
  • peak user access times
  • key pages served
I then would love to see data-driven decisions taken as to whether certain elements of Glow are working or not, and a weekly or monthly trial of new ideas to see if the public bite. If data is made public then we can see the rationale for decisions, rather than seeing them being made on gut insinct, the legacy of the project's history or who has been involved at any one point. I could ask for that information monthly on a Freedom of Information request. Or we could just see the decision-making process as transparently as it should be.
9. In Scotland we tend to be happy with being the first in the world, not the best in the world. Glow was the first national schools intranet. It might be the last, too. The implication is that an intranet is the best medium through which to connect learners, teachers and parents on a learning journey. Why is it? It may not be.
Is there something less compelling about the International School Bangkok's portal of learning that Jeff Utecht has kicked off, connecting to the world, where every student and teacher regularly contributes their learning to each other (and anyone else who wants to listen in) through freely available and free platforms?
Or what about the part automated, part teacher-produced feedback mechanisms of the Indian Mindsparks platform, letting students learn new concepts and reinforce their classroom learning on their own terms?
Or what about the transformative power of a teacher simply sharing to the world, in the form of video, what he and his students have made over a week: a village on stilts anyone?

Tinkering School 2010 Seniors - Village Building from gever tulley on Vimeo.

By limiting ourselves to promoting so heavily what we were the first to produce we limit ourselves away from harnessing the great new platforms and communities that others have forged and which are quietly thriving.
10. In 2005 there was little truly great content on the web. In 2010 we're spoiled for choice. Having great content was one of the things Glow was sold on - successfully - in the early days. Like so many other things, the world changed faster than we could have imagined. TED Talks alone prove the huge value we place on world class content but, unlike much of its education content provider cousins, TED found a business model that allows it to make this learning material free, joining its closer cousins MIT Open Courseware et al. As YouTube seeks out new ways to let us rent or borrow content as and when we need it, what role is there left for a tiny national schools intranet as the curator of 'quality' content? Can one group of curators, however greatly qualified and localised in viewpoint, beat the cream of the world's global curators?
11. We don't want to consume content. We want to learn through experiences whose context is relevant and meaninful to me. Too many have told me about their Glow training sessions with this phrase: "We were told that 'this is how you put up your PowerPoints or class notes for everyone to see." The fact is, this is not the kind of learning we want. If someone feels that their learning can be swiftly and easily uploaded to a site in the form of a PowerPoint or worksheet then something is wrong. How can an online experience back up and augment the real world experiential learning we see in some of our best schools? How can that experience each child experiences differently be represented, shared and developed after the fact? It's certainly not through document stores and half-empty forums.
12. We want a sense of audience - sometimes that's beyond our class, school or country. The biggest challenge with any national platform is going to be that word - national. Our students are already empowered to go international every time.

September 02, 2010

Technology is not an 'either/or'

Ever want a compelling reasoned argument for those we meet who'd rather "young people learnt how to play outdoors in the sun and get away from all this technology"?

John Connell vents some mild frustration at the Luddite brigade who proclaim that all this technology is good and well, but…:

"Call me a grumpy old man, but I want my students to engage with ‘old’ technology – books, journals, articles, conference proceedings. face-to-face discussions in real time, learning to think on their feet…too often ‘new’ technologies get reduced to gimmicks and Wikipedia – I want students who can operate the tool between their ears (another piece of pretty old technology)…"

The eloquence of Stephen Fry in this BBC Virtual Revolution rush, above, provides some common sense to even out the 'grumpy old men' and women who proclaim the computer between our ears is what needs played more often.

The bit I particularly appreciate when dealing with grumpy olds is this:

"Where people make their fundamental error and criticise all this I think it's a danger and it's reducing our capacity to act as proper human beings is they think it's all this. Either sit in front of a screen of some kind tapping away all your life, going lol and, and, and being childish and not writing in proper English sentences or, you sit in an old fashioned study with books and you read properly and you engage property and you go for walks. Well I do both! And most people do both, it is not one or the other.  "

You can download more rushes from the BBC Virtual Revolution programme and make your own version of the documentary. In fact, what a great exercise for students learning how the media can alter the outcome of a set of interviews purely by editing.

August 17, 2010

Some ideas from Google on mobile developments

"We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run." Roy Amara.

It was a long time ago in tech terms, but last year I sat down with Robert Swerling who looks after mobile startups for Google UK. We're now in an age where Google App Creator (above video) will encourage ever younger developers (i.e. schoolkids) to make mobile applications, as well as an inevitable tipping point coming soon in those buying Android phones that run Google products and those kids' apps.

Here's some of Rob's stats that give me this confidence in believing we need children to be aware of how to create, as well as consume, the apps around them:

  • 91% of Americans keep a mobile phone within 1 metre for 365 days a year
  • 63% will not share their phone with anyone else
  • Mobile is the 7th mass medium
  • The prevalence of iPhone apps as an alternative medium to consume and share now generates 50x more search queries than pre-iPhone.
  • 60% of time on the mobile phone is now spent on non-calls activity
  • The average person downloads 40 applications, or apps
  • The Japanese spend 2 hours per day on the mobile web
  • There are 9m new subscribers each month in India
  • In Kenya paying by text message is fast superceding credit cards as a means of payment
  • Mobile video fingerprinting will soon create a translation magnifying glass when you're abroad
  • 5 of the top 10 novels in Japan were written on the mobile phone

These might be read in conjunction with the last stat dump I did in 2008 on the state of Mobile in Asia.

So, if you're going to get students making mobile apps, what would Robert advise the pros,  and how might these affect some higher order planning and thinking in your students?

  1. Velocity
    Give customers what they want as fast as possible. Stop putting up so many barriers such as checkout: experience is the same in Prada, fish and chip shop...
    If you give people what they want and get them away from your site as quickly as possible, then they'll come back.

    This is about students learning how to make less mean more. What is the core of what you're trying to say, write or achieve with a project? What elements can you do without? What elements will you save for later when you're upgrading the app for users? What will you leave out to keep the jar half full?
  2. Visibility
    Don't surprise customers. In a good bar the price is on the beer, you know whether it's available, you know how quickly you can get it. This affects choice.

    This got me thinking about how visible (or not) learning is when the learner is not driving its direction, its content, its timing and its pace. Teacher-driven planning of learning leaves too much invisibility. If it doesn't work in the marketplace, how on earth can it work for learning in the classroom?
  3. Value
    Understand the medium and deliver. Online is cheaper, offers depth, reviews, suggestions, interacting with others.

    A basic learning in doing your research - too many student-driven projects are let loose before the students have done their research. The result is painful for everyone involved. Building apps like this forces you to research in depth and from the perspective of a potential customer, so empathy is trained and honed here.
  4. Variation
    Never come out of beta. You can constantly experiment using your feedback and stats.

    Lifelong learning anyone? This is the core skill of the app builder, and the core skill of any successful learner. It's just that this has a context some learners might grasp a little more.

I like Robert. He works for a company known for its constant agenda of change, change in itself and making change in the world. But I like Robert for the realism that he betrays now and then. As he put it:

"A great wind is blowing and that gives you either imagination or a headache."

Quite. Which one have you got?

About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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