Tag: iPad

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

Productivity 101: calendars (nouns) and reminders (verbs)

My parents upgraded their iPad last week so I spent part of the weekend showing them some of the newer features. My Dad decided he wanted to get to grips with using the Calendar and Reminders apps so I verbalised for the first time something I’ve only known implicitly.

Calendar items are for events and therefore should be organised around NOUNS.

Calendar items should be organised around NOUNS

The advantage of this approach is that you can enter specific times for the event. This can then generate ‘remind me 30 mins before’ functionality, etc.

Reminders or To-do list items are for actions and therefore should be organised around VERBS.

Reminders or To-do list items are for actions and therefore should be organised around VERBS

The thing I tried to get across to my Dad is that if you need to include a time in your to-do list or reminder then it should be a CALENDAR item.

Personally, I use Google Calendar (events in blue) and the Tasks functionality (in red):

Google Calendar screenshot showing events and to-do items

Hopefully that all makes sense. Separating out your verbs from your nouns can help enormously with productivity! 🙂

3 rules for our five year-old (that work!)

Baby Taz

Last week I was cooped up indoors with my son.

Ben is an energetic five year-old on Easter school holidays whilst I was ill and off work. It rained most of the week meaning that there were fewer opportunities for him to get out of the house with my wife and Grace (our one year-old daughter). The temptation to let him just watch films and play on the iPad was quite high, to say the least.

Thankfully, we’ve already laid down some ground rules for him that help manage his behaviour.

1. Food

Young children can be inordinately grumpy if they’ve got low blood sugar. Actually, I’m inordinately grumpy if I have low blood sugar.

The first job for my son every morning is to eat some fruit. This is usually a banana. Given that he usually rises at around 6am, it stops him being super-grumpy before his breakfast at 7.30am.

I don’t care what anyone says about children and sugar: too much is bad for both their teeth and their mood. Ben gets that wild look in his eyes when he’s had too much. Fruit, however, contains fructose which seems to be a useful compromise.

2. Screen time

I have to admit, the notion of limiting children to a certain amount of ‘screen time’ seemed slightly ridiculous before we had Ben. But, oh my, you have no idea how more than 15-20 minutes on the iPad (or watching TV) has on his behaviour.

The rule in our house is that he’s not allowed on the iPad until after lunch. This means that at weekends and during school holidays he usually wants lunch at 9:30am!

Whilst Ben has got some games that are purely for entertainment (like Smash Cops which he got as a birthday present, or Gravity Guy and Sonic Racing), most of what he plays has a puzzle element.

His favourites?

He has periods where he’ll just focus on one game to the exclusion of the rest. And that’s fine (for 15 minutes at a time…)

3. Entertainment

Partly from necessity, partly from principle, we ask Ben to go away and play by himself every day.

We live in an age of mass entertainment when it would be easy to find him something for him to passively consume. When I was young I read books and played with cars because there was nothing more exciting to do. Now there’s a million TV channels, apps and digital distractions fighting for our attention.

Clay Shirky puts the problem well:

I remember, as a child, being bored. I grew up in a particularly boring place and so I was bored pretty frequently. But when the Internet came along it was like, “That’s it for being bored! Thank God! You’re awake at four in the morning? So are thousands of other people!”

It was only later that I realized the value of being bored was actually pretty high. Being bored is a kind of diagnostic for the gap between what you might be interested in and your current environment. But now it is an act of significant discipline to say, “I’m going to stare out the window. I’m going to schedule some time to stare out the window.” The endless gratification offered up by our devices means that the experience of reading in particular now becomes something we have to choose to do.

In a way, therefore, by insisting on analogue play (including reading and writing) we’re teaching mindfulness. It also reinforces the role of my wife and I as parents as opposed to mere babysitters/entertainers.

Are you a parent? What rules do you have in YOUR house? Do they work?

PS You’ll love Leo Babauta’s The Way of the Peaceful Parent

Quick overview: iA’s Writer app

So here I am, messing about with iA’s new Writer app. I’m writing this on the iPad version of the app but I rediscovered it after iA announced in the last few days that there’s now a version available via the Mac App Store. I prefer Scrivener on my MacBook Pro, but for shorter-form writing on the iPad it looks ideal.:-)

One thing that you can’t see in this text (but should be able to see in the attached screenshots) is the difference between Normal mode and ‘FocusMode’. The latter dims all but the most recently-entered text to focus on writing.

I think that, given the ability to work offline and sync with Dropbox, it could be a really useful tool to get down some thoughts on a topic. Indeed, when coupled with something that requires discipline like 750words.com, it could become an app that allows and encourages me to write in a whole new way!



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

Is now a good time to get an iPad?

There’s a website I check every morning after a quick scan of my emails and Twitter @’s and DMs. Yep, before I even find out if the world’s still there (via BBC News or, more likely, newsmap.jp on our touchscreen kitchen PC) I head over to Techmeme. If you haven’t seen it before, go and have a look now. We’ll wait for you. 😉

This morning I woke up to find an interesting juxtaposition of stories relating to the Apple iPad. Notwithstanding rumours of a 7-inch iPad in the works (hastily dismissed by John Gruber) the following couple of stories would make it seem like now is the time to get yourself an iPad:

What does this mean in practice? The ability to play almost any kind of media on the iPad, along with the long-awaited (potentially ‘killer app’) fully-fledged Google Docs.


But wait! What about the iPad naysayers? Those who say that it’s not neutral and that it’s only good for two things? My reply: no technology is neutral, nor is the language we use to describe things. There is no purely objective view/standpoint from which to judge anything. And as for the iPad only being good for two things? See above. 😉

A more salient point might be that this is v1 of the iPad. Although it marks almost a paradigm shift in computing, think of the original iPhone in comparison with what came after. Getting an iPad now, only for v2 with a ‘retina display’ and a front-facing camera to be launched after Christmas would be frustrating to say the least…

Digital literacy: a function of poor design?

You’ll notice that I haven’t written a blog post about the new Apple iPad. There’s two reasons for that. First of all I haven’t got one (yet), and the second is that what would I have to say that hasn’t already been said? The iPad has been included in almost every presentation I’ve seen over the last few months as an example of outstanding design. The tech community have marvelled at the fact that people – such as the very young and the very old – are able to use the device intuitively. People haven’t had to have training to do things they and others find useful.

There are many definitions of digital literacy, the subject of my Ed.D. thesis. As I have discussed before, almost all of them are ambiguous in one of seven ways. Some of them are ambiguous due to semantics, some due to scope, and some because of scale. And some, quite frankly, as a result of a combination of two or three of the above. Many definitions of digital literacy conflate skills with knowledge, wrapping it all up in a Prensky-esque assertion that it is almost the preserve of ‘digital natives’.

This, of course, is nonsense. There is no reason why the mere use of a digital tool should require a separate literacy or, indeed, anything over-and-above the basic skills that primary schools should (and do) teach. It’s my belief that poor usability and bad interface design can be mitigated by the learning of procedural skills early in life. This in the eyes of older people who can remember life before that technology is assumed to be some kind of meta-cognition and a higher level skill that it actually is.

My favourite example of this is the ‘digital camera’. You don’t hear people of school age using this term. It’s an anachronism. Who uses film cameras in nowadays other than enthusiasts? The concept of taking a picture and it immediately appearing on a screen isn’t a difficult concept to grasp, my son happily snapping away as a 2 year-old and learning to frame shots as a 3 year-old.

It’s all about dominant paradigms. If you grew up taking photographs in the send-your-film-away-to-get-prints era, it takes a conceptual shift to move to digital photography. All the while you’re looking for the ‘equivalent’ of something in the digital system from the film system. It doesn’t quite work like that. It’s functionally similar but qualitatively different.

So, to my mind, much – but by no means all – of what we refer to as digital literacy consists of procedural skills. And the learning of such skills can be aided a great deal through effective interface design. For the second time this week I’m going to recommend you look at Chris Messina’s work – this time his rather useful Flickr collection of web usability stuff.

Digital literacy is a concept past its sell-by date. As I argue in an upcoming journal article, it’s lost pretty much any sense of creative ambiguity it may have once had. It also makes little sense from a procedural skills point of view.

We just need to design better user interfaces and nudge people into making more informed decisions. Enough of this talk of ‘digital literacy’! :-p

Image CC BY raneko