Happy Birthday, Mac

Ok, this is going to be a very geeky bit of nostalgia, so you may want to just move on to something more substantial right now.

Anyway, today is the 30th anniversary of the announcement of the Apple Macintosh computer1 and, having owned and used a variety of command-line computers prior to 19842, the graphical interface in this new machine grabbed my attention like nothing before it. Based on the message boards I frequented at the time (Facebook’s great grandfather), I wasn’t alone.

My first Mac was the 512K, the second edition, released in the fall of 1984. I sorta kinda bought it illegally. Apple was allowing a few colleges to offer Macs to faculty and students for large discounts through their bookstores and a colleague at my school arranged for his daughter to buy one for me. She was an English major, owned a top of the line IBM Selectric, and had no interest in computers of any kind.

Since then I’ve lost track of how many Macs I’ve owned and used, certainly more than two dozen different desktops and portable machines. The only representative of those earliest editions I still have is that SE/30 (on the left in that picture), which was my second purchase. It still works (booting from that massive 40mb hard drive) and is still an amazing piece of engineering.

There’s no need to go into any more details. Someone else can relate the rest of the history of the Macintosh (like this list of favorite models), I’m more interested in the future of personal, portable, connected devices, regardless of whether they are called computer or Mac.

However, for as far forward as I’m able to predict technology (which frankly, is not very far), I’m pretty sure I’ll be buying the best of that category from Apple.3

Happy birthday, Mac.

BYOD and the Digital Divide

In a thoughtful comment on my full-throated support of bring your own device (BYOD) programs, Sue brings up an important concern: how do we deal with the divide between students whose families can afford to buy the technology and those who can’t?

I believe Gary’s concern (and mine that I shared in the comments) is that especially in affluent districts where the majority of students would have devices to bring in, BYOD will only contribute to the growing divide between the haves and have nots — something out country simply refuses to acknowledge. We seem perfectly content to allow those children who are fortunate enough to be born into families with wealth to have every advantage possible. The inequities of our public school systems throughout the country are growing — and are alarming and extremely troubling to me.

Certainly those inequities exist and are growing, even in the schools in the wealthiest neighborhoods of our overly-large district. And they are manifested in more than just whether a student is able to bring a connected computing device in their backpack.

So, is that a valid justification to junk this concept?

Not only is the answer no, it’s exactly a major reason why BYOD programs need to succeed. And Teresa writing in reply to Sue, explains.

Creating a BYOD policy will open the door for districts to afford the cost of providing resources for those who do not already have access. Resulting in the opportunity for ALL students to learn through technology and collaboration…

I’m sorry if Sue and others believe that carrying around machines with school district labels on them will be “disrespectful” to those students, identifying them as the have nots. Opportunity for all is the important goal here. The shameful economic inequities in this country need to be addressed by our society as a whole, not exclusively by schools.

As I mentioned last time, I’ll be co-moderating a discussion of BYOD programs, sponsored by the Virginia Society for Technology in Education, tomorrow night at 7pm Eastern. Join us if you can.

We also hope to continue the conversation in the Digital Sandbox (an unconference space) at the VSTE conference in December. Visit the proposal site, vote up the topics you like, and plan to participate in person. Should be fun.

It’s Inevitable

When it comes to issues of education reform and using technology to enhance teaching, I rarely find myself on different sides of the fence from Gary Stager (although we sometimes differ on the details).  However, when it comes to the bring your own device (BYOD) programs that many schools are currently implementing, including our overly-large district, we are in different zip codes.

In a recent post, Stager calls BYOD the Worst Idea of the 21st Century*, expressed in his usual definitive, how-could-you-possibly-not-agree-with-me approach.

Well, I disagree.

Not only is the concept of students using their own technology in school a great idea, it’s inevitable and unstoppable. It’s a very logical extension to the fast-moving evolution of how personal portable communications devices are permeating most of American society.  As teachers, our only option, and our professional responsibility, is to figure out how to make the best use of the powerful communications tools that will now be available in student pockets and backpacks.

Of course it will take time for the full impact of all this to be felt. And the transition from a culture of computers being organized into labs of identical machines in which students do programmed assignments and totally under adult control will not be an easy one.  But for those teachers who already understand the power of being connected to the world and want to incorporate that into their instruction, they will finally have the resources to make that happen.

For those teachers (and administrators) who are still dragging their feet, who are reluctant or afraid to share control of the technology with their students, the changes will come more slowly. But it will come, and I suspect the process will pick up steam quickly. In less than five years (which is a fast change in the culture of education), BYOD will be an accepted practice in all middle and high schools.

As you might expect, I’m looking at this exclusively from the point of view of the school system in which I work, one that is more affluent than many in this country. We have large numbers of families who are wired and willing to provide the technology their kids need for school. We are also fortunate to have a very robust digital infrastructure and very good technical and instructional support.

All of which makes me very optimistic about the possibilities for our teachers and kids.

On a related, somewhat self-serving, side of this issue, this coming Thursday evening (October 20th) at 7pm EDT, I will be co-moderating a webinar about student BYOD programs, sponsored by the Virginia Society for Technology in Education (VSTE). Please plan to join us if you have experience with these programs, have an opinion one way or the other, or just have questions (non-Virginians are more than welcome!).

And I look forward to continuing the discussion at the VSTE Conference in December.

*The title of the post ended with a question mark. However, the body of the entry leaves no doubt Gary was making a declarative statement, not asking a question.

Unraveling Standards

Last Friday I had the occasion to speak with someone from the IT service desk here in the overly-large school district.

My problem had to do with the email system (we are saddled with Outlook) and the fact that it was not finding someone in the global address book who I know should be there.  In the course of the conversation I happened to mention that I was using Outlook 2011 on a Mac, something that should have had no relevance to the matter

I thought the person on the other end of the phone was going to collapse as he anxiously recited the standard IT script about “unsupported technology” and “cannot be responsible” and began trying to extract himself from the conversation.

I wonder how IT is going to handle the shock this fall when students in some of our schools are allowed and encouraged to bring their own devices, some (maybe many) of which will carry the dredded Apple logo and run an OS not named Windows, but all of which will need to connect to our network and work with various elements on it.

Kinda puts a kink in the concept of only supporting a “standard platform”.

Is This What You’d Call a “PC”?

I’ve been working on a presentation for the VSTE Mobile Learning Conferences (one next week and another the week after), which means I’m paying more attention to anything related to the subject at hand.

Like this view of the tablet business from the president of Microsoft phone division.

The use of the mobile OS would be “in conflict” with Microsoft’s notion of having the full speed of a computer in any design, including truly mobile tablets. He insisted that users would want to do PC-style activities on a tablet and saw Windows 8’s networking and printing support as being important.

“We view a tablet as a PC,” Lees said.

Interesting. I think I’m doing a “PC-style” activity, namely writing this post, on this iPad right now.

Anyway, I suppose it really depends on what you want, when, and how you want to do those PC-style activities. Certainly I’m not going to write the great American novel on this thing (not without using a bluetooth keyboard) or work with complex spreadsheets.

But I can edit video, record audio, and create music, as well as do a whole host of other things that a few years ago would be considered “PC activities”. And more functionality is being added every day, some of which would be difficult to do on your standard PC.

So, while the concept of what is considered a computer is getting fuzzier, the remarks of this exec makes very clear the distinction between Apple’s concept of post-PC devices and Microsoft’s dedication to more PCs.

I rather like the post-PC vision.