Support for tablets in schools: can we learn from the early days of PCs?

Schools are getting quite excited about how the latest computers might help improve education. But could this excitement blind us to lessons from the past?

The devices have suddenly become much more intuitive and fun to use, which is attracting people who have never used them before.  They’re getting cheaper, so schools can afford to buy them from their own budgets, without relying on corporate IT funding. They offer new forms of interaction which are much more intuitive than those we’ve had up till now. Their displays, too, are much more attractive and capable of showing us the world in new, more engaging, ways. We don’t need technicians to make them do what we want; adding new functionality is something almost anyone can do.

The scenario I’m describing, though it describes what’s happening now with tablet computers, is from about 20 years ago. It describes what happened when the first personal computers, with their text-based monochrome displays, gave way to the first Windows PCs. Their intuitive new interface used windows, icons, menus and pointers to reach new levels of usability; today tablets offer touch user interfaces and haptic feedback.

But tablets are completely new, innovative technology; how can experience from 20 years ago be relevant?

The reason it’s relevant is that the same patterns of organisational behaviour are emerging. And if we notice that, we can identify a  significant risk and start to think about how we might manage it.

What are these patterns? Here are some examples:

  • The user enthusiasm is partly driven by the ability to customise the device, just as with early versions of Windows which permitted end-users to install programs. (PCs at this stage were generative devices.)
  • There is a sense of tension developing between end-users and IT departments.  Hard-pressed IT departments don’t have the resources to start managing thousands of devices that were built for consumer use. Yet they worry they’ll be held to account for the licensing of the software installed on them, and know that end-users don’t read licence terms. Similarly, they worry that once the devices start to age and need repairs and software upgrades, they’ll be expected to get involved – but can’t see any likelihood of having the resources to do so.
  • The staff deploying the devices are responding to end-user demand and simply hoping that the long term support issues will sort themselves out. End-user departments don’t have the desire, technical skills, or resources to get involved.
In each case, the pattern is identical to the early days of PCs. So how did this play out? Some examples include:
  • Organisations had to engage more staff to support PCs, and costs started to rise.
  • The PCs became essential, and organisations became less tolerant of failures.
  • The job of managing them was given to IT departments, who asserted control of purchases.
  • IT departments bought PCs in bulk, leading to avoidance of premium consumer models.
  • Software vendors responded to that change by marketing to IT departments, adding more and more refined lock-down capabilities to make their lives easier.
  • IT departments learned that they could minimise support costs by locking down the PCs to the maximum extent. IT departments used software licensing and software conflict risks to justify preventing users installing software.
  • Over time, remote management systems were developed which enabled central management of thousands of PCs; but these  took a long time to mature and required highly skilled IT staff to manage.
  • Eventually, end-users became frustrated and bored by their locked-down PCs.
What is the risk we face now?
 If large numbers of tablets are deployed into schools, and become important to learning, it is no more likely that the support issues will sort themselves out than they did with PCs. Given the similarity of the situation, it seems quite possible that organisations will seek to throw the support and management task over the wall into the domain of the IT department. By this stage the issue is likely to be big enough for IT departments to justify additional staff, just as they did with PCs.
We can already see software for managing large numbers of tablets developing rapidly, so centralised management is starting to become possible. But what choices will an IT department in this situation make?
It is very likely that the same strategy will be adopted as with PCs:
  • User installation of apps is likely to be prevented for support and licensing reasons.
  • A standard build will be preferred to simplify licensing and enable swap-out support.
  • Updates of operating system software will be centrally managed, and will often lag behind current versions.
  • The devices will be used for as long as economically practicable before refresh.
Unfortunately, though, the devices, if this happens, are now much less attractive to users. Given the rate of progress in the market, the locked-down, ageing school tablets could start to look very out of date by comparison with user-owned devices. In the meantime, these have become more and more powerful, and cheaper.
In that situation, perhaps what will matter most is a good-quality network for “Bring Your Own Device” use?


Preston Lodge High School celebrates 3 years of

This month Preston Lodge High School in Prestonpans, East Lothian has been celebrating the first 3 years of

It runs on East Lothian’s WordPress MU blog system, and has grown to become a family of over 30 blogs supporting most departments in the school.

Starting with just two main sites – the main site, and ‘Today @ PLHS’ – the daily notices for use in school, we now have around 30 contributing sites from subject sites, to yearbooks, to pupil web jotters, is a vast network of contributors from around the school. By far the largest portion of has over 120 teachers, pupils and office staff adding to the site almost daily.

If you’ve been wondering how well a portfolio of blogs might match up to the needs of your secondary school, this is definitely one that’s worth a look.

Out of curiosity, I’ve just gathered some usage statistics over the 3-year period. Here’s an overview of page views per month over that time:

The emerging role of student as contributor

Find more videos like this on NL Connect

One of the key benefits from the use of the web in schools is its ability to turn artificial, “pretend” learning activities into authentic, relevant experiences. For example, writing for a real, potentially world-wide audience is more engaging than writing in a jotter for an audience of one or two people.

This video, from Alan November, takes this idea further than I’ve seen before. He starts from the gradual erosion of the contribution historically made by young people to their community, and then shows how this property of the web can be exploited to enable learners in classrooms to now become contributors by taking on jobs such as global communicator, global researcher, tool builder and internal collaborator. These, of course, are exactly the sorts of skills now being identified world-wide as important to 21st century societies, such as the “four capacities” of Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence.

Via Frank Crawford

If we block YouTube, do we block inspiring teachers?

How many inspirational teachers do we block if we block YouTube in schools?

My son showed me this video tonight, in which 30-year-old urosbatagelj from Slovenia teaches the use of Autodesk Inventor, a 3D mechanical design package he uses in school. It’s bizarre that although the video is clearly inspirational, just like the best classroom teachers, web censorship systems would make it impossible for staff, let alone students, to view it in many schools wordwide.

In East Lothian schools YouTube access was enabled for all staff and students last year, and the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. Many students were allowed to have their own Youtube channels where they could get cheapest views and find the right audience. There are overwhelming amount of videos which one can enjoy one youTube have getting the right regulations can be crucial sometimes. Videos like this one show why.

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Initial teacher education: pedagogy vs technology

If technology has a key role to play in the future of school learning, how big a part should it play in Initial Teacher Education?

Today in East Lothian this year’s probationers, as part of their induction, attended a short session where they were introduced to some of the on-line tools they might encounter in our schools, and that they’d be able to use to support their teaching. During the session, of 75 minutes, we mainly covered Glow and the blogs, with a brief mention of edubuzz Google Apps at the end. (The day also included a session on internet safety from Ollie Bray.)

Those of us involved in presenting the sessions couldn’t help but be struck by the low level of awareness amongst the groups of some of the opportunities now presented by these technologies. Many of the new teachers were clearly surprised that it was as easy to publish to a blog as to send an email, for example. Very few had any idea what Glow offered. In most groups, none were aware of Google Documents and its collaboration possibilities. This wasn’t due to lack of interest or enthusiasm; they just simply hadn’t encountered these tools before, and many soon had great ideas for using them to support their teaching.

If, though, we now know that technology has huge potential to improve learning through, for example, improved personalisation and engagement, it becomes important that new teachers know how to integrate technology in their teaching.

This diagram (source shows a current framework which is gaining ground as a way to think about the kinds of skills teachers need to have.  In 1987, Shulman¹ developed the idea that teachers needed not just content knowledge and pedagogical knowledge, but specific knowledge (pedagogical content knowledge) of teaching approaches suited to the content.

Now that idea has been developed by Mishra and Koehler into the TPACK model shown.  That model, though, suggests that technological knowledge – in particular, in the context of content and pedagogy – is now a key part of the skills mix.

If that’s the case, perhaps courses offered to new teachers could be improved by including not more technology for its own sake, but as a context for learning how it might best be used to support particular pedagogical approaches to teaching particular content?


1. Shulman, L. S. (1987). Knowledge and teaching: Foundations of the new reform. Harvard Educational Review, 57(1), 1-22.

Edinburgh Chamber Looking to Glow to Improve School Links

Glow Meet could soon be enabling new links between schools and industry across Edinburgh, thanks to Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce’s Education Policy Group.

At today’s meeting of the Group, chairman Ray Harris of Edinburgh’s Telford College identified the development of school / industry links as one of the key themes to be progressed this year. This links strongly with the Curriculum for Excellence principle of Relevance.

Children should understand the purposes of their activities. They should see the value of what they are learning and its relevance to their lives, present and future.

Earlier discussions on this had flagged up that many of the barriers to developing links were associated with the overheads involved in organising the physical travel and supervision.  Not only does this present difficulties for schools, there are similar difficulties for organisations faced with hosting school children on their sites. Glow Meet offers the possibility of developing virtual links at much lower cost, so I’ll be meeting with Roger Horam of the Chamber to explore the possibilities and get a pilot link-up organised.

Possibilities discussed included:

  • Link-ups with a experienced professionals, to allow students to find out about their jobs
  • Link-ups with recent school-leavers, to find out what was and wasn’t useful from school
  • Link-ups with specialised people, of interest to only a few students, which could be advertised to schools Edinburgh or Scotland-wide
  • Recording of these Glow Meet sessions for future careers staff use

It was also agreed to set up a blog to record progress, which will be set up on edubuzz soon.

Making Glow Happen (lessons from edubuzz) @SLF2008

My slideshow from Scottish Learning Festival 2008 talk “Making Glow Happen: How lessons from deploying a smaller scale authority-wide web publishing system in East Lothian may help.”

Original PowerPoint presentation:making-glow-happen (22 slides, 1.8MB)

[slideshare __ss_619538 making-glow-happenmonday2330-1222414806747737-8]

Here’s a link to it on

Satirists Attack “Bottomless Abyss Of Formal Schooling”

Have we reached a new milestone with traditional school practices becoming the target of satirists?

The concept of wasting a majority of daylight hours sitting still in a classroom when he could be riding his bicycle, playing in his tree fort, or lying in the grass looking at bugs—especially considering that he had already wasted two years of his life attending preschool and kindergarten—seemed impossibly unfair to Bolduc. Moreover, sources said, he had no idea how much worse the inescapable truth will turn out to be.

New Teachers Ask For Email Training

Feedback from an introductory training session on ICT for this year’s East Lothian NQTs apparently included the request that we should have covered how to use the school email system, in place of introducing Glow.

Maybe this is a sign of the times, as increasing numbers of younger people make less use of email, preferring instead the immediacy of MSN? If so, these people are going to be out of their comfort zone if they find they can’t keep in touch – with colleagues as well as friends – via MSN while in school.

Taking things a step further, we may be seeing a new generation bringing new expectations of what communication tools should be on a school PC desktop. Glow Chat may just have arrived in time.

New Glow Group Will Keep East Lothian’s NQTs Connected

East Lothian Probationers\' Glow Group East Lothian’s newly qualified teachers (NQTs) will be able to stay in touch, support one another and find their programme documentation, via their own Glow Group this session.

Their induction training before the session starts includes a day-long session on use of ICT in East Lothian schools. This year, the session will include some time on Glow. Of course, we wanted that to be hands-on and relevant, which is where the idea of a Glow Group to support the NQTs came from. By doing this, we’re hoping to make it easier for them to get their heads round what Glow is all about through practical experience.

So far the site has been populated with some sample links, Glow Meet, Glow Chat and a couple of documents from the Probationer Programme. It’s hoped that the group will have plenty of ideas for further improvements.