Monthly Archives: October 2011

Think … erm … Different?

The following article takes a look at the use of iPads as mobile devices in schools and is based on attending the Apple Birmingham Leadership Summit at Birmingham Science Park on 19th October, the pre-event discussions on about questions which should be asked, discussions on Dr Brian Bandey’s eSafety Law in Education group on LinkedIn and from talking with colleagues in a range of schools across the UK.

For reference, this article is not intended to spark any pro- / anti-Apple discussions and where possible I will make reference to where models translate across multiple systems or where they differ. This is not meant to produce a definitive answer for any school about what to do with mobile technology.


I was pleasantly surprised to be invited to the latest in a series of Apple Education events a few weeks ago. An invite-only event too. After a relatively quiet spell, where Apple relied on Apple Distinguished Educators (ADEs), Apple Solutions Experts (ASEs) and Apple Authorised Service Providers (AASPs) did all the work and interaction with schools, this year saw a veritable plethora of events supported and run by Apple, almost like a young butterfly coming out of the chrysalis … or was it a badger coming out of hibernation!

The event was to be run twice, on 18th and 19th October, and so I was happy to accept the invite. It would give me a chance to bring up a number of questions I had myself as well as many others I had been fielding from others … some from people not as supportive of Apple as I am. And before we go any further I should explain that most people regard me as an Apple Fanboi! … except when attending Microsoft events where I am often viewed as an Open Source Evangelist … or when attending Open Source events where I am sometimes looked upon as a Microsoft diehard. Sometimes you just can’t win!

Back to the preparation for the event. I know I had a series of question, but I knew that it would only be fair to allow others who couldn’t make it or weren’t invited to be able to take part. And so I started a thread on to formulate the 5 important questions.

1) What are the plans for making integration of OSX.7 and AD actually happen and stay as something reliable?

2) Can Apple give examples, case studies and instructions about how to employ iOS Devices in a multi-device, multi-user environment … taking into consideration accessing and saving files, security, patch management, application deployment and configurations settings for accessing the network infrastructure? This includes working with educational networks where there are specific filters, proxies, firewalls, etc.

3) Can Apple be clear about how Apps are now to be licensed on iOS and LionOS devices, taking into account that this is for devices that are multi-user and users who will access multiple devices, especially in the light of recent changes to the iTunes ToS in the UK.

4) Can Apple be clear about what work they are doing with suppliers of educational resources and tools to help them provide stuff that will work across the range of Apple devices? If you can get Flash to work it would be a start!

5) When will Apple start giving information to people in schools instead of just saying “Go ask an ASE” … who are wonderful, but people in schools also want to learn and deploy things themselves (or have to, depending on the budgets).
(Sorry if it seems that I want to do ASEs out of some business …)

Reserve questions (in case anyone else asks one of the above or if there is a clear demonstration of it at the event)

6) Any chance of knocking another 20% off the price for schools?
7) When are you coming back to BETT instead of just being done by ASEs? (who are wonderful people … yada, yada, yada)
8) When can we stick OSX on kit other than Apple kit? We’ll pay! Honest!


The day started well, handed an iPad2 when I arrived … only to find I had to give it back at the end of the day. Still, there was WiFi available to use with my own kit to save having to setup / personalise another device.

We started with a breakdown of where Apple are in the education arena. About their trip in working with schools over the years, and where they saw themselves fitting today. Apple’s approach is based around 4 levels of literacy. Basic Literacy, Information Literacy, Media Literacy and ICT Literacy. This was very much a case of looking how you teak their tech and use it … There were some interesting samples about how the world has changed … the 5 months / years to change Article published in hard copy for Encyclopaedia Britannica compared to 5 minutes on Wikipedia. On a personal note I tweeted about how this doesn’t take into consideration the weeks to argue with editors / mods about structure, verifying references and the in-fighting which goes on behind the scenes …

When talking with students Apple clearly see that in student desires they want … learning that provides the equivalent functionality as their social environment, learning that accommodates a mobile lifestyle, learning that adapts to individual learning style, and learning that encourages collaboration and teamwork.

To be honest, there were lots of stats about how the various markets Apple are involved in have grown and changed … and this is not meant to be a sales pitch so there is little point in me including them here … but I have to admit I do take all such stats with a pinch of salt, and that is with all companies. Talking about the iPhone having the first proper browser on a mobile device is spin … especially when I was using my P800 for it a while ago and I even had a tweet back talking about the Newton being the first circa 1994 and then Mobile Explorer in 2002-ish (@waltatek). So … stats … pinch of salt. No offence intended. A key comment though was that when you look at the adoption curve, for iPads we are still in the early adoption phase … so it is important to speak to the visionaries and those who have already been there. Frasier Speirs was highlighted as an example with the quote “It’s not the technology, it’s the content” and that ran true throughout the day.

Some time was spent looking at iTunes U but there was a more comprehensive session later so I’ll cover it further down the report. Likewise iBooks and the use of ePub as a format was raised. The iBook Store is very novel-centric, but that is where the funds come in to do other stuff. Again, ePub covered in more detail later. Good examples of Apps given, dissection of a frog for science reminded me of Operation! but growing examples of good tools, many are free. I’ll try to set up a dedicated page to link to others who have better lists of these sorts of resources. VLE / LP providers are also making iOS friendly front-ends … Blackboard given as an example but I have also used the one from FirstClass too. Some opting for iOS friendly web front-ends instead. More about standards later!

And so we get to the first question I could ask. 4) Can Apple be clear about what work they are doing with suppliers of educational resources and tools to help them provide stuff that will work across the range of Apple devices? If you can get Flash to work it would be a start!

Apple are working with publishers to help them find easy ways to convert materials / resources. They are also linking them with iOS-using schools to try to help show the need to change, but the focus is on the drive from the education market as well as when resources need to change. A lot of video is now accessible via HTML5, but Adobe now also have tools to convert from Flash content. It was noted later on in a replied tweet that the output from this can sometimes be as resource hungry (if not even mores) than Flash itself. Time will tell.

Apple tends to separate things into 3 areas. Technology (which they do and they like to say they do it well … It tend to agree, other might not), Content (which they also do, or enable, or support) and Pedagogy (which they don’t do, but rely on us to provide that bit … but will support and help link people together in this area). As part of this Essa Academy was used as an example. The change in the school through introducing iPod Touches was immense. Improved parental engagement just the tip, but it was important to spend time looking at changing to take in all 3 areas above. Tech alone is not a fix! Also looked at examples of tech to save money … printing used as an example once more. I would be interested to see financial comparisons against saving through other changes in tech such as the case studies provided by MS when people move to Sharepoint … Don Passey’s research also key here. I am sure similar could be done via Open Source options too … cost savings through tech is almost tech-agnostic.

I did get a chance to ask about licensing and was told it was not explicitly being covered today but to ask again later.

The Primary school case study was interesting to here. An almost complete meltdown in tech (no explanation why) resulted in no engagement with tech, not enough time or resources to get it running properly and general frustration due to the impact on learning. Significant work was needed so research started. BETT was instrumental in looking at options and after consideration (and quotes, plans, etc) Apple was decided as the way to go. Initially it has been about rolling out iBooks but they are now planning stage 2 with iPads. The audit of software on PCs showed 75% of software not used. What remained was replaced with Mac equivalent or other options. Sometimes the publisher did a Mac version anyway. A fair bit of training is needed for new staff but pupils are fine. They even had to get more tech in due to rising demand. I have to note at this point that they could have done the same change through other options … either sticking with a Windows based solution or even tried open source but it is good to see the lengths they went through to evaluate the need and the reasons to change, including impact. I did note that there were frequent mentions about PCs being a barrier and Mac versions of software was simpler to use. Having used some of the programs which are cross platform and having spent time working with schools looking at transference of skills between programmes and platforms, I do tend to feel that some of this is a psychological barrier, but there is no denying that such a change can motivate people to be engaged with tech again. I just worry about moving from a school based on only one system … to it being based solely on another system. Most of the examples of programs used had their Windows-based equivalent (including Comic Life) but the key targets they set of engagement with tech, embedding ICT in learning (a lot of learner centric stuff shown …) and confident use of multimedia, were met easily.

The secondary school presentation gave a rounded snapshot of how the school was working and what they already did well. Some key points in the ethos of the school included making sure students understood that learning can be hard, a struggle, but effort is rewarded … perhaps not immediately, but it does come in time. There is nothing wrong with hard work. The school made good use of R&D time for staff to look at school needs. After some investigation the issues the schools had in the curriculum centred from it being a teacher-led model … and that suffered when there was a change of staff or illnesses. The change was needed to move to learner-centric. This also created the need for a device to be personal as learning is personal. The ‘Airplane’ scenario was mentioned again … this is where students describe lessons as being on a airplane. You face the front, are strapped in, have to turn all tech off for a few hours and just hope it gets you where you need to go! I did ask what comparisons had been done with other similar schemes (remember folks … 1 to 1 schemes are nothing new and some have had the same impact as the iPod Touch / iPad schemes … it is not about worrying that we are re-inventing the wheel … just that it is the exact same wheel instead of an improved model with better traction, less wear, etc) but the R&D had shown them what had worked well elsewhere. The finance around this is covered later on in the report … but yes, it costs a money, but the reduction in other costs (replacing labs, etc) helps. It was interesting to hear Prof. Stephen Heppell’s name come up in the discussion about the research for the right device too … and it is important to note that although the full scheme has only been running since Sept it had a pilot last year and has been 2 years in the planning. From personal experience I know that this is important!

Looking at the management of the devices (I’ll also cover some of this later) it is important to remember that these are regarded as personal devices and so the students and their parents look after them. Apps recommended by the school are free and anything that gets paid for is via the parents.  As for the other part of management mentioned, the importance of a good WiFi solution was key to it working. Out of the various offerings they had there were some very cheap solutions … but it was doubtful that they would deliver … as mentioned before in other articles / blogs, cheap does not mean best value. You ned to select a solution which is fit for purpose and plan around the true needs … not allow it to be a limiting factor. I know other 1 to 1 schemes that have struggled due to this, including one school that has improved their wireless 5 times over the last 10 years … partly due to changing tech, but also due to needing to makes changes to get it just right!

The talk on Finance of iPad/iPod schemes came directly from Apple Financial Services, where there is an Education team. iStudent covers the kit and the soft costs around it (within limits specified by financial regulations … IIRC it is 20% of a lease scheme can be soft costs but I’d need to check that again). So the cost covers the lease arrangement, the insurance, the warranty, case, support with parental contributions. It is possible to add work from ASEs / AASPs onto another deal but you would have to speak with Apple and their resellers for more details … but in comparison to other similar schemes I have seen for 1 to 1 offerings it is very comparable. Some of the value-added comes in the extent of the support and insurance … world-wide cover, the offering can be tailored into a range of options. The important thing is that there is a good option here which schools can make use of, but like all lease arrangements … plan how you are going to exit from it, how you plan to deal with the last 2 years in school for KS4 students, etc …

And then there was lunch. For someone on a diet … the Black Forest Gateaux was very nice. Oh well … more time on the Wii Fit to burn it off methinks.

We resumed the afternoon with Worcestershire County Council talking about their move to delivering resources via iTunes U. For those who have not come across it iTunes U is a section of the iTunes Store where you can freely access education videos and audio clips. These will range from MIT courses (wonderful examples for Physics), all the OU materials right through the the more recently acclaimed Khan Academy. Worcestershire County Council looked to take the existing resources they already had on video and which they already published to DVD. After work to encourage all staff to make materials public they hit a brick wall … permission. Although the existing permission slip allowed for publishing of materials to DVD and online, it was deemed that putting the materials into a system which could allow for them to be downloaded to an off-line device automatically was not covered. This was taken all the way to the ICO and had a lot of legal work done on it. A new permission form was agreed and now being used. Unfortunately this form is not in the public domain due to the legal specifics in it, but it might be an idea for a number of us to approach the ICO about a template which could be used. A job for another day perhaps … any volunteers? It is also important to remember that the materials are not stored with Apple … but on your servers. From personal experience of podcasts I know that it is key to understand RSS. It might even be worth looking at as an option for online storage. A question was raised from the floor about LA blocking the use of iTunes U. After a bit more digging it is not a technical issue but a permission issue … so I will be working out what exactly is entailed in giving permission for a school … I have a feeling a request might be coming my way soon!

The final session was the hands-on workshop. There was too much choice here and i could have gone to them all. Dave Baugh, Joe Moretti and Oscar Stringer (all from CrunchEd Productions) ran 3 of the sessions and I will link to any reports / blogs from those attending when I get them. I went to the session looking at the technical strand. I still had 3 questions to ask (4 if you include asking about licensing again).

I think I will leave the report there for the moment and cover the Hands-on workshop in a separate article … it will be lengthy enough on its own.