The Virtual Whiteboard Jungle
by Andy Powell – Sr. Business Strategist, End User Computing
Chapter 1 – Lessons, thoughts and Ideas for the virtualization of End User Computing for Education
What we want… Do we really know?
The calls are often made by educators, parents, politicians and students: We need to integrate more technology into our cirriculum delivery. We need to use technology to enhance the the education experience. We need to infuse technology into our classrooms to ensure we have students ready for 21st century job. We need PCs in every classrooms and notebooks in every backpack!
But what are we really doing when we force technology into a situation just to be using technology?
Are we making ourself feel good because we are doing "something", without really looking at how technology can and should be utilized?
Are we really providing our educators with an "better mouse trap" or just a different mouse? Are our students getting a "better interface" to education and learning or just another gui?
Does the magic PC box provide us what we really need?
One can see that many school districts and universities list a ratio of students per computers as being a sign that they are progressive. But what relevance does the number of computers per student really mean? If those machines are 4 years old (or older!), have limited software, and continually breakdown what value to they really have to the student. A major advantage of a book, is that the knowledge is mobile, and the cost for that mobility is included in the purchase price. Can you say the same for applications that are loaded on a physical desktop in a class room? Sure, the information on the printed page can be come out of date, but doesn't the same apply to a computer based curriculum as well? And, if a book becomes damaged, how many hours of a technician's time does it take to fix the book? Does a book become infected with damaging virus that can release sensitive information to the world and affect the other books in the district? Clearly, it is not a completely clean comparison, but the case can be made that a pc desktop is not an effective tool for education. Where is the freedom? Where is the mobility? Is this what we wanted?
We have been trapped by the success of a technology. Client / Server application deployment and it's most popular extension, PC desktop applications, replaced the mainframe/timeshare model of the 60s and 70s. We liked the pc because it gave us freedom from the structured control, poor interfaces, limited applications and slow pace of the mainframe model. The PC gave developers the platform, marketspace and incentive to release the creative wave to make the applications that drove technology into the classrooms in the 80s and 90s. Those devices and their applications crept into the classroom as new curriculum were developed to take advantage of interactive graphics and sound. We became a captive of ReaderRabbit and CAD applications. Now the Web appeared, and all was going to be easy and free. The promise of the browser, and collaborative communities around the world seemed to be full answer. But, the browser ran on a pc. The web applications needed plug ins. The pcs needed virus/malware protection because they were connected to external networks. But the PC was cheap to buy, until you realized (and many still have not considered this) the costs associated to support the OS updates, application updates, security updates, printer drivers, device drivers. And, you were still stuck with only being able to do this from the device that is on your desk or lab. Where was the freedom? Is this what we wanted?
In reality, the old desktop model is actually taking away time, effort and money from school districts rather than adding significant value. The old desktop model requires continued attention, updating and support for a device that can only be used 7 hours a day… at best. This is like being only able to see the video content that have at your desk. And you have to maintain the video tape player, because the district did not have the funding to buy you/your classroom a DVD player. So much for the new content that is being delivered in a few format… Is this what we wanted? An interesting view from Todd Oppenheimer.
It would appear that what we want is freedom, flexibility and accessibility with security and control. And of course, we would like it with a low cost of acquisition and a low and predictable cost of support. The PC desktop model gives us some, but not enough. The desktop limits our access and choices. It controls our budgets and time by the immense effort that it takes to maintain and support. It is a dead end… just like the video tape player, analog telephone and broadcast television. To be exact, it is access and mobility, not the device that is important. A student survey of technology is listed here.
I am hoping that this blog can act as a meeting of the minds for the discussion of technology in education. Now granted, I would like to tighten the focus of conversation to the concept of how a "end-user computing" model can benefit schools better than the traditional "pc centric" model, but would be happy to expand the conversation in later chapters. Let me knwo what you'd like to hear about in the comments below.