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Monday, April 22, 2013

Tablets, Laptops, and PC’s Oh My

If you were to read any educational technology magazine or site the past couple of years, you might think that there was only one device out there for use in the classroom.  While this may be pure hyperbole, it appears that the market for computing devices is changing again…..surprise!

This week saw Apple’s stock price tumble, largely seen as a barometer of things to come.   Will this also serve as an indication that the iPad’s dominance in the classroom may be waning?  Already it is predicted that Apple will be number two to Android this year in the overall tablet market.

From some of the press about trends in devices, one might think that PCs are a thing of the past, but when one looks at recently published numbers, that is hardly the case.  PC’s sales have been impacted, whether by tablets or by a lackluster Windows 8 reception.  Yet PC sales still are well above tablet sales.  And with Microsoft now executing a tablet strategy, Microsoft is still the major player in this game.  This week predictions surfaced that Microsoft may consider bringing back the Start Menu to Windows 8 with boot to the desktop functionality in an upcoming patch.  This alone could alleviate a lot of the pain association with schools and companies moving to Windows 8.  Who has the time or budget to train our staff on how to start a program, or shut down a computer?

While Apple’s iOS has made great inroads in education, Windows is still a dominant player in the market and it is a safe bet that Microsoft will continue to be a major player in education along with Google’s Android and Chrome OS. 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Schools and districts should not ignore the mobile app tidal wave

How many smart phone users consume their favorite social media sites like Facebook, Linked In, or Twitter via a mobile web browser?   The answer is very few and usually they only do so if forced to use the browser by clicking a link that opens it.  Why is this?  Why do consumers want to avoid surfing web sites on their mobile devices’ browsers?  The answer is that most standard web sites, when looked via mobile phone’s browser, are hard to see, hard to navigate, and often don’t support mobile browsers well.  The end user experience in these browsers is about as pleasant as a trip to your local Department of Motor Vehicles to renew your license.
mobile apps on an iPhone
Social media providers have long figured this out and built apps for major phone and tablet platforms.  Stores are increasingly figuring this out and following the likes of Amazon with building mobile shopping apps. Banks are all over this bandwagon.  But schools and districts have not figured this out.
Schools typically still only provide a normal web site to mobile devices.  Sure, some provide a parsed down mobile version, but even these are somewhat hard to find.  Are schools’ customers different than retail or social media customers?  Heck no – they are the same people with the same preference for consuming web through mobile apps.  Most school customers are still getting Y2K versions of web sites built for Netscape Navigator delivered to their smart phones.

School CIOs need to address this shortcoming and get mobile apps built with easy to navigate user interfaces.  And to have a successful app, it will need to be for both Android and iOS.  Additionally, it must have data that is personally important to parents and students.  That means grade and attendance data is a critically important inclusion.  Other high value content such as menus, athletic schedules, athletic scores, and assorted news are welcome additions. 

Judson ISD Connect! mobile app
There are many roads to getting this done. Some are expensive, such as hiring a third party to build custom apps or hiring personnel with app development skill, but this may be a fine fit for a large district.  Sometimes more limited apps are included with a student information system (SIS) and are probably the best fit for small districts and schools.  Consider including this as a requirement when adopting a new SIS.  There are also low cost or free ways to get an app.  At Judson ISD we built an award winning app for a low cost without personnel dedicated to app programming, using the low cost web-based Conduit mobile platform.  A full presentation of our app and experience is available on Slideshare.

Or you may use a simple free service such as iSchoolBox, which may be a great way to test the waters and get your school into a mobile app (one app the hosts many schools’ mobile sites).  At the end of the day, the consumer demand is there and as CIOs and technology leaders, we need to stop delivering craptastic web sites to phones and tablets when our customers’ preferences have evolved well beyond this.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Making 1 to 1 Programs Actually Succeed

There are many schools that have either piloted or implemented one to one student to computer initiatives.  These are nothing new.  The success of these programs, much like other education initiatives, has varied.  Most technology and curriculum leaders now recognize that there is much more to student and school success, than just putting a computer in the hands of a student and getting instant miracle results.   Just as a new hammer will not help a bad carpenter build a better house, a computer in the hands of a student will not turn the tide in the midst of bad teaching or ineffective school leadership.  But there is now fairly convincing evidence that properly implemented one to one computing is a contributing factor to school success, as evidenced in the rather convincing results from the Project Red study.  ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) has published a book about this report called Revolutionizing Education through Technology. A free electronic edition of the book is available at ISTE site.  I highly recommend that any superintendents, curriculum leaders, instructional technology directors or anyone else seriously looking at 1:1 programs read this books and consider all that it takes beyond a device to make one to one really succeed.
Project Red

This blog was a Tech & Learning Newsletter Intro and is also on the Project Red site at:—steve-young,-cto-of-judson-isd,-tx.html