wasting bandwidth since 1999

Tag: portable computing

Personal Tech

One of the conclusions from a new study of computer use says that “[i]n the next five years, tablets will displace notebook-style computers to become the dominant personal computing platform.”

I wonder if the word “displace” shouldn’t be replaced with the word “supplement”?

Based on my personal, very not-research-based experience, the functionality of my iPad has developed grown over two years so that these days my laptop usually remains on my desk while the tablet goes with me for most daily activities.  I still have a desktop machine at home (an old Mac Mini) but it now exists only to store and serve media and files. I expect that once the capabilities and reliability of all those many clouds improve, that unit will become unnecessary.

So, for me at least, the laptop has become the desktop and the tablet is the portable device, pulling into the same relationship the laptop and desktop had a few years ago. For a while, the convenience of the laptop was nice but it didn’t have all the power and features needed for some tasks. That changed over time and my laptop is now a complete desktop replacement.

The same will happen with tablets and whatever lightweight, portable communications devices are coming (Google glasses anyone?).

As part of this evolving world of portable devices, the research company speculates about something they call “frames” which would act like wireless docking stations.

Frames will be large, stationary displays that a person can use to wirelessly show video, documents and any other tablet-based content. They’ll be laden with sensors, so people can interact with them through touch, voice and gestures (via motion sensors similar to those in Microsoft’s Kinect).

Forrester envisions frames as fixtures in homes, offices, hotel rooms, coffee shops and conferences. Forrester analysts expect them to reach the mass market in 2015, when they will spark an acceleration in the displacement of laptops.

Conference centers and offices maybe but I really don’t want to show the whole coffee shop what I’m working on.

Anyway, I sometimes use a bluetooth keyboard with my iPad but I’m not sure I see the point of having a whole setup like this in a fixed location. If these frames are coming I certainly hope they are better than the physical docking stations for current laptops. For a while, everyone in our offices wanted one, until they discovered just how badly they worked, not to mention being incompatible with the next model computer they received.

In the end these predictions sounds like a report for IT managers in businesses, not a reflection of how most people seem to want to use portable devices. It certainly doesn’t sound like my experience, but then I’m probably not reflective of the audience the research company is trying to reach.

The New Computer Lab

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the use of personal portable communications devices* in a classroom setting, only a small part of which is driven from carrying around an iPad for the last six weeks or so.

Based mainly on my experience, I think Apple’s tablet will be a very compelling device for learning, once they push out a few major upgrades. More about that in another post.

Anyway, here in the overly-large school district we are also running experiments with the instructional use of the iPod Touch, as well as seriously discussing how and why students might use their own personal computing devices in the classroom.

Frequently, however, I get an impression that many of the people involved don’t understand the nature of these tools and how they are designed to be used.

They want very much to map them onto our classic computer lab style of technology use.

In a computer lab, even one consisting of laptops stored in a big metal box that is rolled from room to room, all the units are the same. Or essentially identical when booted.

All have the same software, identical desktops, files all in the same places, mapped to the same servers, and sometimes are even connected to a master unit that can take control of the whole lab.

And all the kids using them are expected to be doing exactly the same activities on each computer.

On the other hand, the powerful devices coming to school in the pockets of students (and many adults) are designed to be personal, with everything customized by the user to make the unit function best for them.

The “lab” created when each student boots their personal “computer” would result in almost none of the workstations looking – or working – alike.

So, as one teacher recently asked me, how are we supposed to get anything done if every computer in the room is different?

It’s a valid question, and I think the answer lies in a fundamental mistake we’ve made over the decades in the way we’ve taught kids and adults to use computers.

We taught Microsoft Word Fundamentals instead of learning the writing process regardless of the tool being used.

Our training focused on the mechanics of PowerPoint instead of on understanding the best ways to communicate ideas.

While this approach is possible, and relatively easy to implement, when using a standardized lab, it falls apart completely in a BYOC setting.

So we “get something done” by separating learning to use the technology from using that technology as a tool for learning more useful skills – like writing and communicating ideas.

After setting minimum requirements for the “computers”, we put the responsibility on the students themselves for knowing how to use the different applications.

Then we give them meaningful assignments and evaluate their work based on factors other than how well they use fonts and the number of slides in their shows.

I know, I know… far too simplistic.

However, if a 1-1 ratio of kids to computers in our schools, at least high schools, is really what we want (and I hear many around here say it is), then we will need to make two major changes to our education process.

First, we must allow and encourage students to freely use their own computing devices in schools (and provide them for those families who can’t afford it).

And then completely revise both the curriculum and our approach to teaching to fit the new circumstances.

Not simple at all, but do we have any other options?

*I know that’s a very clunky name but “smart phones” doesn’t nearly cover the capabilities of these devices and “computer” ties them too much to a stereotype.

Will the Kindle Change Education?

An article in the most recent issue of Scholastic Administrator asks that question.

The short answer is no. At least not that particular device.

Certainly highly portable, connected devices are making their way into the classroom, somewhat slowly since most are smuggled in by way of student pockets and backpack.

And, hopefully, they will be one of the catalysts that will force schools to alter their teacher-as-giver-of-knowledge approach to education.

However, the big problem with the Kindle being that device is the way it’s built around a “business model” rather than an educational one, namely the one-way model of the current publishing industry: we print, you buy.

For the most part, placing content on the device is controlled by the publishers, complete with DRM to “protect” their files. Users cannot excerpt or edit the material, and forget about loaning, giving, or selling a file to someone else.

I know it’s become much simpler to put text and pdf files on the Kindle but that’s not enough for a unit that’s supposed to change education.

The devices that will truly change education will be those that make it easy to access information from anywhere at any time, combined with a wealth of open source materials that can be used and modified by anyone, student or teacher.

Devices that make it seamless to work with more than text – audio, video, interactive graphics, access to learning communities – anything that can be used to understand, clarify, revise and build on the knowledge available.

Maybe the Kindle is a step in the right direction (I’m not convinced it is) but the writer of this article is far more optimistic about Amazon’s digital reader than he should be.

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