The Digital Divide

I had the enormous privilege of attending the Apple Distinguished Educator Institute in July, a week of inspiring professional development and hearing from amazing educators from all over EMEIA (Europe, Middle East, India and Africa). Not very surprisingly, many people came from schools that had some sort of 1:1 iPad programme. They could tell stories of the creative and innovate things their students were doing with technology, and more importantly how learning and future life-chances were impacted.

I’ve wanted to have a 1:1 iPad programme at my school ever since I heard about Fraser Speirs‘ pioneering work in his school in Scotland.  Research since has shown that giving a computer to every student has a measurable impact on their education, and so that question is now whether schools should go 1:1 but just when and how.

My problem is the later two questions. Working at a large state Primary school, there is a big budget but there are also a lot of students for it to go between.  With the government busy cutting budgets further, spending money on ‘luxury’ Apple tablets can seem a bit rich.

What I noticed at the ADE Institute was the high percentage of attendees from either International or Secondary schools, which tend to have more money to spend on iPads. I don’t begrudge this, but I do wonder about the digital divide: should children’s opportunity to be part of the learning revolution depend on their parents’ means or have to wait until they’re older?

Talking to people who’ve walked this path before me, it seems that there are two options:

  1. Inspire those in leadership to take a longer and harder look at the 1:1 possibility. In the scheme of things, an iPad for every child isn’t dirt cheap but is affordable: the money is there, but is being spent on the wrong things (photocopying!).
  2. Make the most of what we have. Julian Coultas has done some brilliant work on how to effectively use 8 iPads in a class of 30 children. 1:1 might be the ‘best’ way, but a smaller amount is not worthless.
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iPad mini – hands on

Yesterday I (finally) got to try out an iPad mini. The “sorry, we’re sold out” sign outside the Apple Store suggests that it can’t be all that bad. And I don’t think it is.

The size is really nice. It’s small enough to hold in one hand, but the screen is definitely big enough to interact with. It does indeed remind me of the 11″ MacBook Air with its diddy but high density screen, which allows you to get everything done just as well. I don’t think it would work so well as a shared device though, but who’s to say. I’ve done some work with kids using iPod touches one between two and that seemed to work fine.

It does remind me of the iPod touch in terms of portability but without the use restrictions. I’ve heard people talk about using 1:1 iPod touches in schools, but to me there didn’t seem to be so much you could do on it. Whereas an iPad mini suggests many opportunities.

Other pluses:

  • Better camera
  • Lovely build quality
  • Super light
  • Great price

Anyway, enough of my sales pitch…

Why not to do 1:1 iPads

I had an interesting discussion last night with a friend about 1:1 iPad deployment in a primary school. She was horrified at the thought of every child getting an iPad which they could use all day long. She has an iPad at home that she lets her kids use, but she is always concerned to limit the amount of screen time her children are having, even if they are playing educational games. Life is bigger and wider than staring at and tapping on a glass screen all day. Maybe she has a point?

SMART Notebook 11

Well, SMART Notebook 11 is here. And it’s not bad. It feels a lot more up-to-date, particularly on the Mac version, and includes interesting features like the ability to embed a live web page onto a page. Stability is also good, as is compatibility with Lion. It seems like a good, solid update and we’ll be rolling it out across the school when we reimage during the holidays.

However, not the same thing can be said for ‘Smart Ink’, a bit of software that installs with the Board Tools, which are the drivers needed for running any attached Smartboards. Smart Ink puts a little horrible green button onto every and any window, allowing you to write all over the window and then move the window around, keeping all the writing attached. Not a bad idea I suppose, but it does add a whole level of ugliness to the OSX interface, which isn’t good. The fact that the green button wobbles around the screen in a very Windowsy way whenever a window is moved doesn’t help either. Hmmm.

But in SMART’s defence, I was impressed that every ageing Smartboard we attached to our new Mac minis did seem to work fine. That sort of backwards-compatibilty is very un-Apple, but saves us a load of money!