Some thoughts on iPads and one-to-one initiatives [DMLcentral]

My latest post at DMLcentral (the 10th I’ve written for them) is now up. Entitled Some Thoughts on iPads and One-to-One Initiatives I reflect on the seeming tendency of educational institutions not to heed lessons about buying wholesale into a single vendor’s ecosystem.

To my mind, educational institutions uncritically adopting iPads is very similar to the dominance Microsoft had through their Windows series of operating systems and Office suite. I argue in the post for a ‘mixed economy’ of devices which is better in the long run for all concerned.

Check out the post by clicking here.

(I’ve closed comments here so you can comment there!)


Why a ‘mixed economy’ of digital devices is best for your educational institution.

lisa's scissors

Earlier today, on Twitter, I mentioned that the 64GB version of the BlackBerry Playbook is now at the scandalously low price of £129. They’re practically giving it away.

I mentioned that for some educational institutions that would be a really good fit, especially given that you can side-load Android apps. Eventually, I should imagine, you’ll be able to dispose of the BlackBerry OS altogether and juse go with Android for the entire system.

Bill Lord, a Primary school headteacher, replied that he was looking at a ‘mixed economy’ of devices for his educational institution, adding that he had three main reasons for this approach:

  1. Pupil needs
  2. Staff needs (confidence/competence)
  3. Vagaries of the market

I’m with Bill. To my mind, being an ‘iPad-only’ school makes no sense. It’s replicating the Microsoft vendor lock-in all over again. Since when was school about teaching young people how to use particular types of devices?

Instead, it’s better to look at the affordances of each device. That doesn’t mean how much it costs, but rather what it allows you to do. The BlackBerry Playbook at £129, for example, has front and rear-facing cameras and a high-definition screen. Sounds like an opportunity.

It’s OK to build learning activities around specific devices some of the time, but I wouldn’t want to be doing it all of the time. Why not focus on building and using things that are device-agnostic? Surely that’s a more sustainable option? Use the Web, for goodness’ sake!

Finally, if you’re reading this in the UK you should really stop by HotUKDeals every now and again. I’m on there at least three times a day – and not just to find cheaper stuff than usual. I also find it really enlightening in terms of what people are interested in but, more importantly, the comments people leave and the context they give. There’s some serious expertise there.

Image CC BY-NC reebob


How to implement technology successfully in your organisation.

Technology adoption

I spent some time in a local school this week talking to some members of staff about implementing educational technology. It made me realise that I haven’t talked nearly enough here about how to do that successfully. It’s simultaneously straightforward and painfully difficult.

Let me explain.

Technically, pretty much anything is possible. Short of thought-transfer and teleporting to the moon we live in a world with endless possibilities on the technical front. Whatever it is you want to do is probably possible.

Sucessfully implementing technology in your organization is therefore not a technology issue. Yes, it’s important to get right. But no, if you just focus on that your technology implementation will not work.

Here’s some advice for those seeking to introduce a new technology into their organisation.

1. Solve other people’s problems

This is the number one priority. If technology isn’t solving someone’s problem somewhere, somehow, then it’s superfluous. My experience is with educational institutions where I’d very much focus on solving teachers’ problems if you want any meaningful traction.

2. Get other people to evangelise for you

If you’re known as technically competent, then any success you have with technology is not necessarily seen as replicable by others. Get influencers on board. Embrace skeptics. Again, solve their problems.

3. Embrace constraints

You will always face constraints. These could be financial. They could be political, social, emotional or hierarchical. Whatever they are, if you can’t change them easily there’s no point whinging: you need to use the difficulty.

There might be a certain technology you’re being forced to use. So use it.

There might be some awkward members of staff or departments. So convert them or avoid them to begin with.


4. Have a strategy

This is blindingly obvious, but if you don’t have a strategy you can’t be strategic about your deployment of technology. “We want to introduce iPads to improve engagement” is not a strategy. It’s a hope. It’s a wish.

Strategies should be user-focused and have appropriate timescales. There’s a lot of talk around technology changing so fast that most strategies are meaningless.


When technologies evolve rapidly, then strategies are more important than ever. They’re not perfect but use research such as the yearly (free!) NMC Horizon report to see which way the wind is blowing.

5. Turn on everything / default to open

You don’t know where innovation’s going to happen. In fact, it usually happens at the edges, at the places where you least expect it. That’s certainly been my experience.

So, when you’re deciding which features of a platform to turn on, first look at your strategy. If that doesn’t tell you what to do, turn the feature on. Let the users drive the innovation.

And, finally, default to openness. It’s what makes the world go around. Don’t hide behind e-safety. Don’t hide behind ignorance. Don’t hide behind what you think other people will think. You’ll be pleasantly surprised if you let go of the reins a little. 🙂

Image CC BY Veribatim


Swimming Against the Tide: Tracking the Genesis of ‘Rebellious’ Approaches to Educational Technology.

Swimming against the tide

Lisa Phillips is a Masters student in the Learning & Technology programme at the University of Oxford Department of Education. She got in touch with me yesterday asking for some help.

Busy with the scoping part of her MSc, Lisa is looking for ‘rebellious’ approaches to educational technology – “approaches that challenge, subvert or transform educational norms.” She wants to understand how these approaches came about and what prompted/enabled individuals to think ‘outside the box’.

I’m really interested in this.

Instead of just give her my response and limited expertise, I thought I’d open it out to my readership. Here’s how you can help:

1. Read the following:

Many different groups, such as policy makers, educationalists, teachers, and the business sphere, generate ideas about how to incorporate technology into education. Yet, a critical look at the field would note that the majority of ideas in educational technology exist within a set “box” of education norms, replicating class-based, teacher-led, subject-specific delivery norms in the current education system. Therefore, approaches to integrating technology tend to reflect and reinforce the education structure that already exists. This dissertation will look at approaches to using educational technologies that have the potential to challenge, subvert or transform some aspects of school practice; what I choose to call, for the purposes of this study, “rebellious” approaches. An abstract is attached.

2. Answer the questions in the Google Form below.

[This survey is now closed – thanks to all those who helped!]

Thanks for your contribution! 🙂

Image CC BY-NC-SA Leonard John Matthews


Revolutionary tools do not a revolution make.


A lot has been made of about the role of social networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter in the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa recently. Whilst I don’t know enough about Egypt, Libya and Bahrain to comment on their internal political situation, what I do know is that it takes more than the mere ‘potential’ of something to make a difference in practice.

And so it is with education. Mark Allen’s contribution to the #purposed debate reminded me of the important difference between something’s being available and an individual or group having the requisite skills and critical faculties to use it in a new, interesting, or even revolutionary way. As I mentioned in my comment on Mark’s blog, one of the reasons I think everyone should study a little Philosophy and History is because it prepares one to consider the ways things might, could or should be rather than being limited to tinkering within existing parameters.

So next time you read or hear of a technology or service that is going to, is, or has ‘revolutionised’ something, think of the context and milieu into which that tool or idea has been launched. As with Purpos/ed, it’s very likely you’ll find more than a hint of latent demand and the ‘adjacent possible’ in there. It’s never just about the tool or service.

Image CC BY Rev. Strangelove !!!!


Less shiny.


Dan Meyer, an inspirational teacher I’ve mentioned plenty of times before, has as his mantra “less helpful”. You can see it on his blog and watch him explain what he means in this TEDx presentation (see especially his stuff on Clever Hans).

I’ve decided my mantra is going to be less shiny. Just as Dan helped his students (he’s currently pursuing a full-time PhD) by being less helpful and not spoon-feeding them, so I’m going to help everyone I meet by being, and by promoting the concept of being, less shiny. That’s not to say that things can’t be exquisitely well-designed (I’m typing this on a MacBook Pro) but function needs to enter the equation on an least an equal footing with form.

At this point I’d like to drop into the mix that I bought two (original, 16GB wifi) iPads today – one for my wife and son, and one for me. Together they cost the same as the wifi + 3G model I was tempted by a few months ago. They’re less shiny – and less expensive – than they were yesterday. Why? The announcement of the iPad 2.

It’s not always a question of “We can afford it, so…” As I explained when divesting in 2009, there’s a difference between recognising the appropriate use of technology and being the equivalent of a dog chasing shiny cars. The iPad’s actually useful now: you can edit Google Docs (the holy grail for me). There’s established workflows, gestures and norms that surround it. I’d say there’s definitely a case for using them in a considered and focused way within educational environments.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that we should always hold off buying new products straight away: we should just know what to do with them. As Agnes Kukulska-Hulme pointed out when I interviewed her for the JISC Mobile & Wireless Technologies Review I undertook last year, sometimes a device comes out (in her case, e-book readers) that almost exactly solves the problem you’ve defined.

So what does it mean to use educational technology appropriately? I refer you back to The perils of shiny shiny educational technology and the trusty SAMR model. Pin it to your wall.

Image CC BY Patrick Hoesly


The perils of shiny shiny educational technology.

New, free and shiny technologies are like catnip to educators. An almost-tangible frisson of excitement cascades through Twitter, Facebook and subsequently staff rooms and TeachMeets in the hours, days and months following announcements of such products and services.

Puentadura' SAMR model

(click image for explanatory presentation)


  1. Is there a business model behind the technology? (OSS counts!)
  2. Can it be used in a transformative way?

Style is not substance.

I’ve certainly been guilty of using things in the classroom mainly because they look good. And that’s fine, so long as you realise at which end of the hierarchy you’re working. Sometimes you need a bit of the shiny.

Johannes Ahrenfelt in Teaching: The Unthinking Profession nails it:

Teachers want ‘stuff’ they can take away and use tomorrow. While I always show how the theory works in practice, it never seems to have the same impact as CPD with titles like ’10 engaging starters’ or ’7 great discussion tools’… The ‘quick fix’ is just that and somewhere down the line a proper solution needs to be found.

If I had to go back and re-teach 2003-10 again, I’d do so taking into account the sage advice of “more haste, less speed”. It’s the considered and sustainable use of technologies that make a difference.

This post isn’t a dig at teachers; it’s a broadside at senior leaders. They, after all, create the parameters within which teachers operate. If you’re pressured into using technology at the level of substitution it’s effectively akin to using a pen instead of a pencil. Something to merely mention in passing, not something to write home about.

Considered use and reflection upon the use of educational technology can be found. Start at and start asking of each new edtech tool you come across: so what?