Category Archives: education

Early Adoption – do you plan?

It is wonderful to continue to hear about people eager to look at the latest technology and see what a difference it makes in schools … and as an avid early adopter I do have to urge a note of caution at times … even to myself.

It has been interesting to catch up with a few others who are trying out iOS 6 and also having some fun playing / learning about the Raspberry Pi … but the best thing I have seen recently has been around Windows 8, the next system from Microsoft. If you haven’t had a recent read of the Microsoft UK Schools Blog recently then I suggest you pop over to look through the last couple of posts.

With the release of Windows 8 all very imminent it is no surprise that this appears to be a hot topic but I’ll let you into a little secret … I am pretty sure that no-one is expected to have it all up and running for when schools start back in a few weeks. In spite of a lot of access to release previews, healthy discussions on technical sites, serious cogitation by hardware manufacturers … the main point for me has been about awareness raising about what the change to a new system might mean.

If we take the post about chances to learn about Windows 8 then we can see that there are plenty of chances to look at development on Windows 8 (good for those involved in Computing@School) as well as a chance to look at curriculum resources. There is a free eBook available about programming apps on Windows 8 and making your network ready for Windows 8, but the best blog post for me has been the report from IDC about why you should move on from Windows XP.

From an IT Management point of view it is always interesting to see someone stick down figures around how much effort goes into managing and maintaining IT systems. Any form of change, regardless of whether it is for IT or anything else, will also incur a cost. It could be in capital costs (in IT this could be licences, hardware, etc), training, expertise or simply staff time. Balancing out whether you continue with the status quo or invest in making a move is sometimes a difficult choice but the above report from IDC really does hammer out that if you are still using XP now then you need to plan what you are going to do in the near future. They are not saying that you should jump now, but it does give you ammunition to start planning.

In schools this is vital as, no matter how much IT Support plan, it has to go hand-in-hand with how the school will deliver the curriculum, how the school will make use of IT to run on a day to day basis and also how the children respond to the change.

A lot of people have been looking at tablets in education, primarily iPads, and this is another good reason to start looking at what you are doing with technology. The arrival of Windows 8 will allow for schools to consider using iOS, Android, Windows 8 or any combination of the above. Change is inevitable … and it is better to look at it and ride the wave than crash and burn when someone demands something that is not going to work!

And this is the point where the innovators and early adopters are hitting a brick wall. I can remember listening to Ewan McIntosh tweeting that project management stifles innovation … and I can agree with this, because it is hard to push the boundaries of what you can do with tech when you can’t get access to it.

And this is the point where the planners, budget holders and senior leaders raise their head and ask about making sure money invested is done so wisely, that people don’t buy a lot of white elephants (we could dedicate a website to the amount of tech which is bought but never really used) and that what is bought and used actually has an impact and isn’t just there because it is a toy, a plaything, something shiny or because everyone else is using them.

And so we have to get to a compromise.

Early adopters need to have access to tech and they need to try things out. Systems in schools need to allow for some of this to go on but also to hold people accountable for what they are doing.

The report from IDC say that schools need to look at change. It shows that cost of keeping to the status quo (which will rise) and it gives a chance for people to start having ideas about what they need to do in the future. From chatting with various sources working on Windows 8 in education it is clear that testing things with OEM tablet manufacturers will be a good thing to do, running pilots in collaboration with other schools to look at Windows 8 devices, iOS devices and Android devices, comparing the ideas against earlier research on Windows Tablet devices (remember that tablets in education is nothing new … perhaps just improved) and then deciding how to adapt what you do with technology.

With Windows 8 coming out soon and the raft of devices it will generate (including the Microsoft Surface), the ever changing flavours of Android and the upcoming release of iOS6 from Apple … there will be a lot to try and there will be a lot of cross-over between all the different option.

(image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/sdasmarchives/5018415361/)

Is Change Really That Hard?

I’m going to let you all into a little secret. Technologies changes.

Phew … thank goodness I was able to get that one off my chest. It has been eating me up ever since I got involved in technology in education all those years ago!

Ok, tongue firmly in cheek but you would be surprised the looks I get when I say that. People will start with tales of woe and regret from where they have seen schools to scared to change, failing to plan to change, or constantly changing for no discernible reason.

Talking with many IT Support colleagues I tend to hear anecdotes where a school has failed to plan for change and set suitable targets for measuring the impact of the change. We all know that some change is inevitable and outside of our control, such as the demise of support for an operating system or the end of a period of warranty.

Recent changes from both Apple and Microsoft seem to be strongly discussed right now, whether when I visit schools, on twitter, blogs or EduGeek.net. Yet there is a lot of information out there to support schools with the changes which are coming in or are already available.

For Microsoft, the big change hitting schools right now is the advent of Office365. As well as the benefits you can get from the existing Live@Edu service there are other features including LyncOnline and SharepointOnline. The questions I tend to see at the moment are technical and operational so I usually point people to the UK Education Cloud blog or to people like James Marshall (@Jamesbmarshall on twitter and EduGeek.net), but I really wanted to highlight a set of training videos for those dealing with the technical setup more than anything else. If you haven’t been following the UK Education Cloud blog then have a look at this post.

Where Can I Get Office 365 For Education Deployment Training?

And then we get those facing the prospect of putting in more to their Apple ecosystem. The growth of iPads / iPods in schools has been a drive for this and rather than get involved in the argument about whether this is a good thing or bad thing, I want to be pragmatic with helping people realise that if the kit is being purchased then you have to get on a deal with it.

I tend to recommend that schools work with an Apple Solutions Expert as this can give access to best practice, links in with Apple Distinguished Educators to ensure that education is central to the project and also to think about getting the right level of expertise with the school support staff or from contractors you bring in. As part of this I want to point people to the range of seminars that Apple now run online..

https://edseminars.apple.com/seminars/ are a little US centric but can be invaluable for when working with partners to deploy Apple solutions.

There are plenty of good CPD events out there available for people looking to change how the technology is deployed or used within their school, both on a technical and educational level. These will range from weekly Google Hangout sessions with the likes of Leon Cych, the educational chats on twitter, course run via VITAL.AC.UK or simply spending time reading threads on EduGeek.net.

If change is going to happen … no … scrap that … *when* change is going to happen then you should be ready, have a plan and see how much it makes a difference.

And the winner is … iOS6

Today was another peak in the circus of an Apple Fanboi!

The Apple World Wide Developer Conference always has some interesting things to see and today’s keynote was no different. There will always be some hype, some disappointment, some pragmatism and some anger … and different people will feel it about different things, even within the realm of Apple Fandom.

To be honest, there was nothing which was too unexpected. We saw some hardware improvements in the Pro notebook range, tweaks in the consumer (albeit expensive consumer) notebook range and a some other hardware updates didn’t make it into the keynote but have come up on the Apple Store. Until we see the new kit in the hands of testers and real people it is hard to say what difference they will make but two key items on the top end MacBookPro are likely to be spoken about a bit … access to 2 Thunderbolt ports give you high speed I/O to a range of devices, from displays, external RAID enclosures, adapters for Gigabit Ethernet / Firewire 800 / fibre channel and a range of capture devices … and you still have a HDMI port for a second display and video output anyway. Couple that with the Retina Display and you have a device for video editors, photographers and so on … giving them one of the best graphics experiences for seeing their work. Of course, the debate goes on about whether some people can notice the difference with screens of this high calibre, and whether this is a marketing gimmick … and so we will have to wait to see what it is like when people start using the machines in anger.

We saw a raft of features spoken about with Mountain Lion, the next incarnation of OS X (no longer even called Mac OS X … a disappointment to those of us who paid for the original Mac OS X Beta). A number of these have been covered before as we are now on Preview Release 4. The strength which appeared to be taken from the new features seemed to be the accessibility tools (dictation, etc) and the portability of your personal settings to other devices. We have already seen the push for iCloud and how this links with Photostream between your devices … and this increase with iMessage, Notes, Reminders, Sharing and so on …

The key areas I am looking at with Mountain Lion are around AirPlay and Notification Centre. As someone who has a lot of inbound information streams there are some tools I use to manage this, but Notification Centre looks as if it could make a big difference for me.

And then we get onto the area that everyone was waiting for … iOS6.

With no formal announcement of an iPhone5 we are all looking to see what the new OS will do on existing hardware. Although we were told it would work on legacy devices back to iPhone 3GS, 4th gen iPod Touch, the iPad 2 and the new iPad (and yes, that is how Apple term it on their site) we do not know how much of the functionality will work. Siri will work on the new iPad we are now told, but will it work on the iPad 2? I doubt it … in the same way it doesn’t work on an iPhone4. A lot of the updates make more sense for the iPhone and iPod touch than the iPad. Moving from Google to Apple’s own Map service, Passbook for holding electronics tickets for cinema, flights, etc (possibly a lead into Near Field Communications [NFC] for using an iPhone for payment services?), improvements in how you manage incoming phone calls and notifications (it has only taken them a few years) … but the accessibility improvements have also seen me amazed that Apple appear to have really understood a need on the iPad. Enabling a parent / carer / teacher to only allow one app on a device as well as restricting touch input on particular parts of the screen seem to be encouraging using iOS devices with children. Engaging them whilst not overloading them.

An area of concern is the increasing integration with Facebook … as much as I generally trust Apple we are now in the situation where the ever changing preferences on Facebook will also have to deal with how that is applied with iOS too.

There is a lot to take on board with it all and I would recommend people watch Tim Cook take the keynote, if nothing else to see the difference between him and Steve Jobs, as well as a lengthier demonstration of all of the above.

As for what it all means for schools and education …

Hardware – Apple personal computers (desktop / laptop) are expensive. They can work out good value if you buy the one which is right for your requirements and you know how to get the most out of them, but in the present times of austerity this is more and more difficult. It seems to be that more schools are going down the mobile device (iOS or Android … and eventually Windows 8 !) and this is understandable. The lack of a decent server in the Apple hardware range does show that management of any Apple Device is not taken that seriously (IMHO) by the folk at Cupertino. A disappointing comment to make, but one many experienced Mac Sysadmins would agree with.

Mountain Lion – Again, the lack of mention of how the Server tools will work means that it will be interesting to see how the devices fit into a school environment. The increased emphasis on a personalised device, with settings and information following you around via Apple’s iCloud, means that there could be clashes in an education environment. The major bonuses for me come in the way of Airplay as a means of ditching the Interactive Whiteboard (until you are ready to make the most of them) and tools such as Dictation.

iOS – Again, the emphasis on a personalised device does work well with BYOD, but the increasing number of schools I speak with who only see the shiny nature of it or the cost cutting side … iOS6 will do little to improve or support the use of BYOD over iOS5. Until we look at the management tools and what settings can be applied to encourage best use of the devices … then we should still plan on making the most of iOS5. Siri is a major improvement, but like all information services (google search, wikipedia) information on its own does not give you understanding and knowledge … so we have to understand the most appropriate use (teachers before technology folks). Accessibility will be an interesting area to work on and develop, and how we make the most of personal devices as a tool and not as a cheap (or expensive) gimmick to generate engagement for the sake of it.

I am trailing Mountain Lion on my work MacBookPro (starting to get on a bit but should be serviceable) and will put my thoughts on this blog as I discover things I like or loathe, or if I spot things that could be fun in the classroom, or things which could help a teacher or SLT change / improve their working life.

I will also be testing iOS6 on an iPad2 (my own one) to see what apps do and don’t work, to try to see if we can lock it down and tweak settings, and to see if there are restrictions on some functionality … hopefully helping people work out whether they need to go for the new iPad or if they can get away with a cheaper iPad 2.

If you have any particular areas you want me to test or try out then let me know. You lot are going to be more inventive than I am for a lot of this because you are pushing the limits in class already.

Opening up your options…

In these days of strain budgets, restricted investment and and tough decisions we have a bit of a bidding war to get the attention of schools. With Google Apps for Education being heavily pushed through grass roots and national projects we now see some of the counter-blow from Microsoft.

It was interesting to see today the report on the Microsoft UK Schools Blog, about the announcement from Kirk Koenigsbauer – Microsoft Office Division, which looks at changes to the price plan and offerings with Office365. In the UK we tend to still view it as Live@Edu  as the changes to Office365 had not really hit us here. The price plans have been a concern to some schools in various countries, especially when they start comparing them to other offerings out there which come out as no licence / subscription cost. It appears that Microsoft have listened to this.

The previous price plan meant there a was some cost for staff and if you wanted the extra tools then there was a cost for staff and students. Now, the A2 plan is free. This gives you the email and calendars, online storage, online share point, online web apps, IM and presence … and with it you now get Lync for video conferencing. Yes, there are still other add-ons which will have a cost, such as integration with your PBX, voicemail and so on.

This now puts it back into real contention with schools and I can even see a variety of specialists now offering to help deliver this into schools in a similar manner you get certified teachers / trainers with Google. Add branding, integration with your school Directory Services, pre-designed SharePoint templates … all of which you can do yourself, of course … and it becomes an interesting prospect.

So, what could be the downside. There are still questions about integration with your AD, as there is a cost for FIM I believe, and from a DM I had on twitter I am not sure about where it fits with EES. For many schools these will be moot points, but it could be a swing factor for a small number.

Overall … a good thing, but be prepared for fans of both Office365 and Google Apps to swing into action with why their preferred solution is the best thing. The key is to look at the differences and see which is most important to you.

My issues with BYOD

Firstly, let me state that I am an advocate for BYOD and anything else which gets more technology into the hands of learners so that it can be used *where appropriate* and that will also include some work to help SLT, Teachers and learners understand when it can be appropriate. As part of that I love to see the blog posts, articles, videos from folk at Microsoft, Google, Apple, Learning Without Frontiers and many, many more.

My first issue is around the shiny tech syndrome … the same issue that cropped up with IWBs and many other fantastic tools. You hear (or experience) a school saying “School A is using technology X and has fantastic results and we sort of understand why so *we* have to use it to!” and yes, I know this is a bit of a generalisation but we can all understand how it happens, the hard work folk involved have to put in to make it work as a result and that by some more careful thought it can be the success we all know it should be. This applies to so many different things in schools (and other sectors) so it is not just a technology thing. Having to think and plan about something can be mundane and boring but it can be, for your school, the thing that makes the difference. It is worth saying that not all schools need to plan as much as others … some schools have a culture of adaptability and innovation … and so can pick things up that bit quicker … going from a trial to full implementation with far less work, less planning, more trust between people involved (an important factor) and get wonderful outcomes. When trying to think of something to equate it to I tend to think how would a school deal with having to teach every lesson in song. If you think your school could adapt and change, very little training, understand the benefits … then this could be a sign you could go to BYOD with little educational pain.

And this gets to my second issue. BYOD and consumerisation of IT is wonderful. It puts good kit and tools in the hands of people who will make good use of it. There are barriers to this and some are practical, some are educational, some are technical and some are legal. This is where those schools who spend more time planing might be better off.

Let us deal with legal in this post … and this will not be a comprehensive list, will not form any sort of legal advice and should not be considered as a reason to go for BYOD or not to go for BYOD … merely a pointer for starting conversations with the relevant professionals who you would normally go to for advice and instruction (hopefully that covers my backside!) … so please take it as such. There are lengthy eSafety Law in Education discussions which can be had around the use of technology, online tools, walled gardens, etc and these should be considered. I cannot find a comprehensive list of what this involves other than schools should apply with the laws with regarding safeguarding … but I know that it will cover (and not a full list) The Education Act 1996, H&S legislation, Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006, Common Duty of Care … as well as other legislation in place to deal with bullying, physical and mental harm.

And then you get onto what some regard as the mundane aspects of legislation … and whilst we have mentioned H&S already we do have to come back to that when we consider the problems some schools used to have with trailing wires in the early 1:1 laptop schemes … not so much of a problem now with mobile / handheld devices but not everyone will be bringing in iPads / Android tablets … there will be laptops, netbooks, ultrabooks … and devices will also need some charging during the day as learners forget to bring them in fully charged or as the battery slowly burns out. This also steps into the practical aspect so we can leave it there for the moment. The next bit is about security. As much as we might not like the idea, we have a responsibility to ensure that all the data, the personal information, the work created by staff and learners, the services that are provided in the school, the machines we work on each day and the devices we connect on the network are safe, secure and there will be no loss or damage.

When any device connects to a system there are both legal requirements and usually terms and conditions for that connection. With your phone it is the contract you sign and the law of the land. You are not allowed to disrupt communications, misuse data, use communications maliciously, etc as points of law. You then also agree a contract to say you will follow the rules of who you connect to … which includes the above laws (and more) and also things like the amount of data you can download / upload, damaging the name of the firm, etc … and in schools the contract *has* to be signed by the parent as a minor, as has been pointed out to me a few times recently, holds no or minimal legal power. To some extent this is similar to school rules though … but this means that you *have* to consider the damage which could be done. You might not allow some children to connect devices to the school systems due to previous actions in the same way you might not allow some children to use sharp knives in DT lessons due to the previous damage they had caused (which, technically, would be criminal damage and that is something you can hold against some children as a criminal offence … but how many schools do prosecute!)

So, we have covered the idea of a contract and that there are legal requirements for a safe system. This includes protection of data loss / damage, viruses, use of the school systems to launch attacks against other networks. As much as we might want to think that these should just be covered by who ever does your tech support … the buck stops with the Head and Chair of Governors. When schools have lost data and had to sign Undertakings with the ICO it is the head and Chair of Governors who have to do it … and it is their neck on the line for the fine and even jail.

I recently asked a group of schools about what laws they have to follow to run a school network, what standards are out there for this and who would they go to for advice. Majority of SLT put the onus on their IT Support (either in house or contracted) and even those who accepted that they could not devolve the responsibility (it is only ever shared) they had to accept the limitations of what they could reasonably manage to cover themselves.

Personally I would love to see a legal review of what it takes to run tech, including BYOD, in schools. It is worth saying that none of the above should put anyone off … just show them the areas that need dealing with and I hope to cover a few more areas (technical / practical) in the next posts.

A summary then. No matter how much we all want to focus on the inspirational benefits that BYOD brings, we also have to fact a few realities that it is like any other change a school faces. It has to be done for a good reason, has to be planned and has to take into consideration legal boundaries, operational requirements and a lot of the other boring stuff. Educational benefit is not a magic want that will sort or over-ride the other stuff … just a really good reason for putting the effort in to sort it in the first place.

So, what would folk like to see next?

A breakdown of managed wireless?

Dealing with proxies?

Day to day operation in schools?

I am open to ideas and information … I don’t have the answers and I am always looking for others to share what they have done so far and the lessons they have learnt.

Google Teacher Academy UK 2012

“I would like to thank my wife, my parents, my teachers, the cat from 2 doors down who walks across the roof at 2 am in the morning, the excitable children who need to be spoken to when trying to lift their friends up by their ears … ”

Ok, so it is not really an acceptance speech and that is partly because I wasn’t successful in my application. It is more a thank you to everyone else who has applied and shared their ideas and passion.

For those who are not aware of what Google Teacher Academy is …. it follows on from the brilliant practices of Apple Teacher Institute / Apple Distinguished Educator, Microsoft Partners In Learning / Innovative Teachers Program, EduGeek Conferences, BOF sessions at trade shows … and is a chance to have an intense day of training on tools from Google, sharing it with some of the most exciting educators (not all of them teachers).

And watching yesterday and today’s twitter stream (especially the hash tag #gtauk) it was fun to see others being as excited about I am … if not more so! Watching the stream did raise another interest thing … I was now seeing another bunch of people to connect with, and since my application was based on collaboration, so it made sense to create a twitter list … because even if only a few of them made it through I would want to connect with all of them and keep a track of what they are doing. I do hope that Google release a list of all those who applied because it would be wonderful to connect with them all … and in the meanwhile I will continue to update my twitter list.

Below is my video … it is very tongue in cheek and yes, you can take a variety of technologies and put them in there as collaboration does not rely on a single technology from a single company and is it is more about a willingness to connect with others.

GTAUK application

And so we get back to my acceptance speech … thank you to those who applied and shared … you have been gems, stars, providers of treasure (and hours of laughter). I know a number of people were surprised that I, and many others, didn’t make it … but have you seen the calibre of those who did? All I can say is “WOW”!

I’m really looking forward to the twitter stream of those who are going … You just know it is going to be exciting and full of gems.

Rethinking ICT #ICT500

Inspired by Chris Leach‘s collaborative model for Rethinking ICT.

There are few things in the world which are likely to drive more wedges between the teaching community than someone saying, “but you have to teach X in this way” … no matter whether it is a central figure from which Department looks after schools, a self-nominated individual with an agenda or axe to grind, media groups (whichever medium it goes over) or pushy interest groups (whether they be ‘industry’, parental or community groups) … and we should be careful not to fall into any ‘pushy’ category when thinking about rethinking the future of ICT in schools.

There are lots of people with a wide range of knowledge and expertise who can help people find a range of suitable options … and that, to me, appears to be the crux of the matter … lots of possible options.

Whilst we are rethinking ICT we need to accept that this will cover such a wide area that there will be so many options and variations that we are unlikely to say that x or y is the perfect model. Neither should we …

Recent conversations in groups like Computing at Schools has looked at things like which is the best language to program in … and it is starting to sound a little like the argument about what is the best office package, what is the best video editing package, do you need middleware like RM’s CC3/CC4 or can you manage a vanilla network and just stick in a few extra tools if needed?

I’ve long been a firm advocate for transferable skills where possible but accepting that there are certain applications which are beneficial to learn for commercial / career prospects. In the same way I used to practice Judo and have a wide range throws available to me, I also knew that certain techniques worked better at various national levels of competition and so would focus on these in training and application. In a similar way I have experienced that whilst the dogmatic training approach in the Armed Forces tends to be delivered by rote (and learned as such) it also leaves open doors for further development of adaptable soldiers (and is often a tool for spotting leadership).

And yet if I was to suggest an area that people should consider when rethinking ICT it would be that whilst we know that poorly taught ICT is poor, we also have to accept that not all ICT can be whizzbang. In the same way sports stars, artists and musicians might have hours of mundane skill honing repetitive activities, we should be ready to accept that even as a top coder you are likely to be churning out code … not inventing new ideas every single day. There is nothing wrong with mundane or minor activities … it can be what makes the world go round. It does not mean we should accept poor teaching, but it does mean we should not over-hype it all either.

iBooks developments

After my recent blog post about the education announcement from Apple I mentioned that I had some questions about where this left the ownership of created resources. I did send some queries out to some folk who had done education work with Apple in US schools and found they had raised similar questions … and had the response of, “We can understand your concern and will get back to you.”

It was pleasing to see an email on 3rd to say to keep an eye out for the update of iBooks. Sure enough, an update was released and the major change has been captured by a number of sites but my favourite has to be from 9to5mac.com.

It clears up about the use of PDFs you export (i.e. do with them as you wish) and makes it clear that the iBook format is locked in to the iBooks Store for sales … but as I mentioned previously, if Apple are operating as your book publisher (vanity or otherwise) then you can expect them to take a cut of your money.

The questions not answered … in a school the EULA is likely to have been agreed on behalf of the end user by someone such as a Network Manager. What happens if the school haw one rule but the creator of works does something different? I know, I know … not Apple’s problem but that of the school and what they do for dealing with IP and who has the right to sell or resell work done by staff. I was asked why I had raised this previously as surely the idea that the school agrees the EULA for software on behalf of the user is common … but I still say that the direct link into a platform for selling work makes it different enough to worth special consideration. I think this is one I might ask Leon Cych about this as I think Apple have not caused an issue here … just highlighted it.

The other question I have is about ePub3 … I still like open formats for those who *want* choice (even if that choice is to go for a more locked in system) and for all the pushing that Apple did with HTML5 I just want them to use a bit of fair play here (and not use FairPlay). I’m happy to use iBooks Author and iTunes U, but don’t want to lose a good standard as things get fragmented.

From the depths…

After looking at a number of friends setting up auto-tweeting tools from their blogs, something I already do, I spotted that they are also digging out posts from their archives … sometimes it can be a little confusing as there is no indication that it is an old post, but it has been fun to revisit some of the posts anyway.

And so I am now looking at similar tools and finding that the best option is for me to choose a post, update it and ensure that the tweet has in it [blog archive], the short URL, the title of the post and the original date. Since I am going to be selective about the posts from the archive I don’t mind spending some time doing this … but will look for ways to automate it.

I also know that my blog and my tweets get viewed by a number of different audiences and different times of the day. Would it be too much to tweet it more than once? The best times for me are 9am, 1pm and 8.30pm … is three times too often? Only a small proportion of my followers will see it more than once.

I will also be using one of my other blog spaces to republished some archives too … this is so it is part of the #NorthantsBLT, #4Northants and #HETUP projects. These will go out via http://grumbledook.bltnorthants.net …

Also, if you find a post in my archives you think others would like reading then please let me know.

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.