Monthly Archives: January 2012

Apple in Education – iBooks or eBooks?

There is no denying that Apple have actively been part of some interesting changes in education over the years. The Apple Classroom of Tomorrow in the 90s and the present version, ACOT2, combined with projects like Apple Distinguished Schools, Apple Distinguished Educators, Apple Regional Training Centres and Apple Solutions Experts … and we can always say that Apple have seen schools and children as a valued market, even if they haven’t always shown some of their educationalist credentials … but that is a for a long discussion over pizza and drinks.

The point to look at now is based on the recent Apple Education event, led by Phil Schiller at the Guggenheim Museum, New York. It was interesting to see the international league tables appear … I half expected a certain Secretary of State of Education appear … but part of this was to stress the importance of taking action to stop the “flatlining”.

The video of teachers, administrators, from US schools showed the downside that they are experiencing at the moment. However, it initially failed to show the good things that Apple and many other tech companies are already doing, but Phil did stress how there are lots of resources already being used and this includes the iPad … but more needs doing and no single company or group can fix it all. It is also worth pointing out to non-US readers that some of the problems will having fingers clearly pointed at the rigid curriculum that can be dictated by school boards. Now, this is not the National Curriculum as we know it in England but far more rigid, with text books centrally prescribed and lessons being taught by rote. From talking with colleagues in various US states they will point out that this varies from district to district and school to school, but that sounds all too familiar to us over here, being told that our ICT lessons are boring.

So, the scene is set. We are told that things are bad, stuff needs to change and teachers need more help and freedom. Apple’s answer is based on rebuilding student engagement … via the iPad of course.

Rebooting the text book

Text books are good … and the source of knowledge and information. Apparently the publishers have said this is true so Apple are now reselling these materials now so they can be used on the iPad. There is no denying that the the new books available via iBooks 2 are far better than looking at a plain text book and Roger Rosner, Vice President of Productivity Software, demonstrated how the new books can have a raft of features … some of which we have already seen via interactive materials already delivered to computers from Pearson, Nelson Thorne, etc … but put together with the extra features such as highlighting sections of text to create notecards for revision (study cards, flash cards … whatever you prefer to call them). The organisation of the layout after rotation, the use of multi-touch gestures to aid navigation … these are tweaks that make a good improvement to ideas we have already seen before.

And here we hit my first query. A quick delve into the background of the iBook will show that this is a special format belonging to Apple to allow you deliver specially formatted resources to iPads. This is similar but vitally different to an ePub formatted eBook. Thomas Baekdal covers some of the difference quite extensively but the first query is about whether it is right to lock down resources to a single platform or, as it turns out, a single device.

But I’m The Author … Aren’t I?

Apple have been thorough … they don’t just want the big names to provide the iBooks though, they want classroom teachers to create resources too. Thank $deity for that. A WYSIWYG tool to help educators collate and build fantastic resources that simply works. We all know the effort Apple go to when making things as simple and as quick as possible, and, having looked at building eBooks for some time, I had opted to go to Pages to do most of the work with a little bit of tidying up in either Calibre or Sigil. My initial thoughts on iBooks Author was that it followed suit, not surprising when you consider Roger Rosner heads up the team dealing with productivity tools like iWorks. Users of iWorks are now hoping that this shows that Apple will be taking more of an interest in the other tools instead of just doing limited ports for iOS versions of Keynote, Numbers and Pages, especially as iBooks Author will use Pages and Keynote resources. Reading Vicki Davis’ blog she found it pretty simple too.

And with such a fantastic tool, which is free, you have to wonder if there are catches. Apparently people have spotted some and time will tell what it will mean. The main thing some people have concerns about are who owns / controls the resulting materials. The EULA of iBooks Author includes some specific instructions about what you can and can’t do with resulting work. John Gruber over at DaringFireball.net has a number of blog posts looking at the EULA, Dan Wineman examines some specific sections on the restriction along with Cult of Mac and Audrey Watters. Now that is a lot of links to go through and most of it is opinion and interpretation. My take is as follows.

The EULA appears to say that if you use iBooks Author to create work then you have 2 choices. First is that you create works and make them available for free. If this is the case then you the iBook Author created file can also be given away for free from anywhere, including the iBooks Store. The second choice is that you want to sell your resulting iBook and to do this you *have* to publish that file via the iBooks Store, and Apple take a 30% cut of that.

Don’t get me wrong … I have no issue with Apple taking a cut. They are operating as a publisher, are charging a commission at a published rate and if I want to do any differently and still have it go out via the iBooks store and earn from it then I have to go to another publisher who has a commercial arrangement with Apple … and knowing Apple there will still be a 30% cut *and* whatever my publisher wants to charge. I would expect the same with a physical book … the publisher takes a cut as does the book shop. I have no problem with it being 30% either … as an unpublished author I would find this reasonable, knowing that other means of publishing are out there … but … and this is key … if I want to make full use of the wide range of options in an iBook then I know that I have to agree to working in Apple’s closed arena. If I feel that I don’t need to do that and that other ePub creation tools will do the business then I am free to do that.

The areas that I need an explicit answer on include the following.

If I create an eBook and have 2 versions of it, one created in something like Sigil and the other in iBooks Author, can I sell the iBooks version via the store and the Sigil version in other places? They are different works, but include the majority of the same text, images and resources. The difference is the creation tool.

If I take an existing book I have produced and I am selling elsewhere can I also create an iBooks version and still sell the original?

The presumption on the EULA is that the individual (i.e. the End User) has agreed to it. As well all know, most schools will deploy software to computers via central management tools. With Macs this will be a combination of DeployStudio and Apple Remote Desktop in most places but the agreement has already been agreed on behalf of the end user … and this is point number two. Does a school have the right to agree on the behalf of their employees to the EULA on how things will be published? Does it also have the right to agree it on behalf of children? Does the network manager / IT support team have the right to do this on behalf of the school? I know that EULAs are routinely agreed on behalf of the school but this one has some specific restrictions and perhaps people need some training around this or at least a policy? And this clearly steps on the toes of how schools deal (or fail to deal) with IP.

And this brings up another concern I have.

I mentioned about children creating and publishing … when we look at the whole event I only heard from marketing people, product managers, schools administrators, teachers … we saw lots of children using laptops and the provided resources … other than highlighting text / taking a few nots in an iBook (perhaps under direction from a teacher?) I didn’t see any creation from children. When I went to the Apple Leadership Summit last year a key area covered was children as creators / co-creators / collaborators. At least there we had good examples of using the Wiki Server section of Lion Server for sharing and collaboration, but this was missed at this announcement. If you are not going to talk about children, as learners, as creators and collaborators then you have failed as a company engaging in education.

iTunes U is a fantastic tool and it is easy to see that it is targeted to gain some of the market from people like Blackboard, but if schools start to rely on this as the single delivery mechanism for resources, then you remove valuable tools from the hands of learners.

So, my summary … the new iBooks are going to be a fantastic resource. iBooks Author is a powerful, yet simple, tool for putting together these resources. iTunes U will be a good way of stringing a series of resources together. The caveats would be that we should not limit ourselves to a single platform or device (from what I have seen / heard / tried you cannot get the new format iBooks onto anything other than iPads … ruling out iPhones and iPod touches), that provided resources are only part of the equation, that you should not forget to give learners opportunity to collaborate and create, that there are technical / legal concerns that have a lot of opinion around them but perhaps need an official stance … but we should also not be scared to try something new. If you are concerned then continue to produce your resources with tools such as Sigil and Calibre, publish as standard .ePub files and make the most of them. There is still a wealth of tricks to make these eBooks wonderful anyway.

BETT – Mr Gove’s Speech

It was interesting to finally get to an opening keynote at BETT and it turns out to be Mr Gove, Secretary of State for Education. Having read a few newspaper articles over breakfast most of us knew the basics of what the speech was going to say, but we all know and appreciate that, short of publishing the whole speech in a newspaper, there will always be some element of selective editing … and some important bits can be missed.

I did video the whole speech and will probably do some selective clips in a later post to highlight certain points but the key things (for me) can be drawn out of the full text which is available on the DfE website, which also has a copy of the video.

Over the last few months we have seen a bit of softening from Mr Gove on some parts of technology and ICT. The initial lack of any comment or ideas on technology were disconcerting for many, and the rawness of the demise of Becta, coupled with the scaling back of LA involvement, had hit a nerve with many. Whatever the good reasons for such a rapid change, it was detrimentally viewed due to so many other issues it was causing. The political flags waved on all sides and some tended to forget a key fact … lack of information and unsure direction was having a detrimental effect on schools who were delaying adopting good use of technology often because they were waiting for the next hoop to jump through.

Well, the core of the speech helped solve some of that. Some of the hoops are going. The Programme of Study is going under consultation with a view to being scrapped by September 2012. No hanging around waiting for alternatives to be formulated, discussed, dissected, tested, implemented and reviewed … but a quick change to let schools get on with doing what they know best. There is still a requirement to teach ICT, but no prescription about what / how.

And for the schools who still need help and support? There are plenty of folk who can help with this, ranging NAACE to fellow schools, commercial suppliers through to consultants, and a number of special interest groups. Comments from others at the speech ranged from “About time, we have been giving examples of where it could be better for ages” through to “Oh yes, another chance for people to profit at the expense of schools!”

Of course, it is worth saying that some of what Michael Gove was saying raises even more questions. The repeated bashing on about the ICT curriculum being poorly taught to bored children seems to a little away from demonstrations I saw at the show, from what I saw at the TeachMeet, with what I see in local schools. I am not saying there are not times when it is boring and mundane, and is merely hoop jumping for tick box curricula … we all know that some courses and work can be done that way, but it doesn’t mean that it is *all* done that way … and the knocking of ICT by some to promote other agendas (including Computer Sciences) seems to have been jumped on by our political masters. Of course, we can argue that this would not be done without evidence and cause, but I worry about the good being thrown out with the bad. At least now, after the speech, I can hopefully say that those schools who are still doing good stuff with ICT will continue to do so.

But Computing … that is the next big thing. Lots of reports abound about how we are missing the skills for this and the various groups working on dealing with this are coming from different positions. Ian Livingstone spoke at the recent Microsoft Partners in Learning event about the role of computing and creativity (linked in with the games and creative industries), with STEM ambassadors stressing the link with science … and naturally you will come across many IT Professionals who will push computing / computer science with a greater understanding on the use and management of computers.

I am not saying that any of these are wrong or any is more right than others, but it does come across at times as a bit fractious and people are grabbing for control … sometimes losing some of the benefits of joined up work. Recent discussions on the Computing at Schools group have shown this too me … people annoyed at the perceptions about others possibly charging for access to a robust curriculum, in spite of this being something that Mr Gove was clearly promoting … buying in resources, expertise and structure …

And so we get back to the core of the Speech. Mr Gove says that Computing is important … because lots of notable people and some important reports say so. No direction will be given on exactly how this will turn out but references to work from BCS (actually from CAS, which BCS are helping to co-ordinate, but supported by Microsoft, Google and others), mention of NAACE and talk about commercial firms providing knowledge and expertise.

Nothing on Open Source, other than an oblique reference in a section heading … no real mention of what it means and even possibly mis-representing how open source products can be collaborated on with developmental forks and code being rolled back into a single project … in fact the opposite of what he says about things being in a single document. Nothing explicitly about examples of collaborative sharing. In fact … you could say that this opportunity to mention the Big Society seems to have been missed as well …

So where does this leave us? Or rather where does it leave IT Professionals working in schools?

If computing is going to have a larger role in schools then we have to make sure that schools have ready methods of allowing computer studies / computing / coding to take place. There have been a number of comments to me that teachers in some schools (thankfully a small number but still over 100 in the last 2 years) have experienced problems with their IT Support staff blocking changes. Yet I know of many schools where teachers and children code on a regular basis. When asked about this at the NAACE conference last year I had to explain that there is no standard way of saying to schools, “this is how you do it” … because there is no standard for IT facilities in schools … not even in those with managed services under BSF.

And after the speech we know that there will be a number of different ways of enabling the different options for computing to take place in schools … in fact it is an important part of the speech … no central prescription … schools choose what they think is best. So the only way it will work is if IT Support staff and companies become even more flexible. It means ensuring that you are actively talking with other staff in school now about what they are planning, it is all about instead of saying ‘no’ to something tying to explain what the issues are, what compromises can be made and making people aware of the legal requirements which you have to comply with no matter how important the educational needs are. It is about talking to other schools in the same position. It is about taking part in the planning of the curriculum as well.

One comment that has stuck with me, from Miles Berry (Senior Vice Chair of NAACE), was that IT Professionals in schools are in a pretty unique position to work with teaching staff. Their wide experience of technical expertise, planning, scripting and understanding of UI almost makes them perfect to help develop what happens with computing in schools …

So I look forward to the next 12 months and what it brings to IT Professionals in schools and the impact of Mr Gove’s speech. hopefully it also brings more professional recognition as well as fostering closer working between them and teaching staff.

BETT 2012 – The Summary

It may seem a little strange to write a summary without having written the other posts … but best to keep things short and sweet.

There will be more posts, but rather than the initial splurge of activity post-BETT I thought I would share ideas, opinions, what I saw, conversations I had, etc … but over a longer period … and it also means that I have the benefit of looking at blog posts from others too … and this year there are a plethora of posts!

I am pretty sure I can summarise the event pretty quickly …

From the point of view of a regular visitor / exhibitor … a few new things, not much of a change of emphasis (i.e. no sudden swings to IWBs, VLEs, tablets, content, $new_revolutionary_tech, etc) but more emphasis on showing use in classrooms / the difference it makes to a school.

Strategy … a fair chunk of the show was taken over by the idea that schools have to make the decisions now (a good thing) because there is no-one there to help them. I felt this is not quite true as there are a raft of people around to help schools … LAs still exist, communities of other schools are collaborating more, there are plenty of formal groups ranging from The Schools Network and NAACE through to think tanks and special interest groups such as Computing At Schools, and this is before we get to the amount of support and sharing going on via the exhibitors at the show. To some extent Mr Gove’s opening speech covered the importance of taking control of your own destiny and so on … but more on that in other posts.

Networking … for many this is the key to the show. We are not talking about the movers and shakers meeting in closed rooms, but innovative and exciting teachers / senior leaders / IT Support having a chance to meet with others of the same ilk, sharing ideas and projects. These range from people from the K-Team through to fellow EduGeek members. Sometimes it is a mutual friend who introduces people, sometimes it is the fringe events giving chance for people to find new connections (Collabor8 4 change) and sometimes it is the exhibitors joining the dots.

So, a hectic 4 days followed by a few weeks of picking through the various notes I made, videos and pictures taken, emailing new people I met and keeping in contact with old friends.

I will also try to link to specific blogs and articles I have found of interest during or post event … and looking forward to reading a lot more of how other felt about the show.

(Also posted via EduGeek Blogs)

Tweeting ideas at the #BETT_Show (#BETT12)

Looking at some of the tweets going on during the latest (and last) BETT Radio show (hashtag #bettradio) I saw a comment from @peteschneider about what is the best hashtag which can be used by tweeps who are visitors to share what they are finding at BETT.

When I asked if this was because he was concerned that other hashtags could end up as just broadcast / taken over by exhibitors he said that yes, this was the case.

I said I had a plan … and I do … I have several in fact and there are some good and bad points to all of them. Some of it depends on how you use twitter, how companies work with social media / social networks and also how much of a sense of fair play people can expect when using a free tool at a free event. There are some hashtags already in use so let us have a look at those first.

#BETT_Show This is the official hashtag (according to Mango Marketing) and I presume it will be used by Mango Marketing and EMAP in the lead up and during the show … it also likely to be used by all and sundry .. because that is how hashtags can be used.

#BETTRadio This is the hashtag used by @russellprue before and during the show for the Radio shows. Russell has done 5 shows prior to BETT (available to download as a podcast) and will be on Prof. Stephen Heppell’s stand during the show. Russell has already said he is happy for this to be used to help people share things too.

#bettchat This has been used as part of the Tuesday afternoon discussions to find out what people think about particular things that are likely to see at BETT. Loosely similar to the #edchat #ukedchat and #edchatie hashtags, it has been a core group who have shared things … and considering the time in the day it was on some of the discussions were good … but occasionally did end up being exhibitors broadcasting where they were and what they are planning … nothing really wrong with that, but it can put some people off.

#bett #bett12 #bett2012 have already been used by many as these are similar to what has already been picked up by many other in previous years … and like any crowd-sourced choice, it is led by those who are most active and so you might have to wait to see which one gets picked up by the twitterati.

There will be other hashtags in use … exhibitors might use their own … the Fringe events will have their own … notable individuals might have their own too … so you can even see the situation where tweets will be full of hashtags before you even get any content. I’ve been in similar situations before when replying to tweets and it has begone to include more and more people … resulting in only 1 character left in each tweet to use … it was fun, but now how I like to do things.

And so we get to part of the issue. Some people, like Pete, are worried that the signal to noise ratio will be poor. That the tweets will be full of broadcast messages from exhibitors and little sharing of what visitors are finding interesting. Now, don’t get me wrong … there are some exhibitors who understand the 2-way nature of twitter, are actively taking part in conversations about technology, pedagogy and general stuff without pushing their products … but there are some who are shouters … broadcasters … almost deaf to what others are saying because they are used to only talking about the next wonderful thing they are doing … and this can be a turn off for some, or at the least a distraction.

One thing which could be done is that visitors and exhibitors agree that one hashtag will only be used by visitors to share things, or by people reporting on behalf of visitors … the information points perhaps or people like Russell. Exhibitors could be politely asked to play fair (and I think most would) and those that don’t could be spoken with, and named and shamed. From personal experience a similar method is used on the EduGeek forum where commercial vendors (who are not sponsors) tend to play fair as they know that users are usually the best advocates for their products / services anyway.

For those who worry about the broadcast traffic being too much, or if some people don’t honour the above (which is only an off-hand idea), then you could always create a second twitter account dedicated to BETT. Let people know you will be sharing your thoughts and hope others share theirs. Follow your regular folk and add in others throughout the day … and then if you find a shouter … then you can send a reply back pointing out that if you wanted their sales spin you would visit their stand (give them a chance first) but then you can block them and not have to worry about them any more. The downside is that people may not be following you so may not see some of your wonderful insights and you may miss some good stuff from others.

I’ve not seen any of the marketing infer this year (thankfully I don’t do any organising anymore) so I might be missing some guidance which has already gone to exhibitors … but I would be interested to see what people think of the ideas … whether it is just too much hassle … and even whether people think twitter is going to be the best tool? People might want to use Schmooze … or simply wait until the regulars who blog write up their own thoughts …

As always … open to ideas and feedback.