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John Spencer

Dr John Spencer began his teaching career in 1981 armed with a Sinclair ZX81, thereby demonstrating two things at once: Firstly he was in at the very start of ICT in the classroom and secondly he is a sucker for duff technology. Thereafter he taught joining a start-up open source company as their Head of Education in 2002. Now John is bringing his iconoclastic disposition and tendency to throw a spanner in the works to blogging.

Schools start taking the tablets

Backlash against centralisation promises tablet led innovation in education ICT

Article comments

At last some signs of movement in the schools’ ICT market. This is really needed after a dismal hiatus when solutions to our computing future consisted of destroying ICT’s credibility in schools and investing in a very vague notion that a low-spec Linux computer and the BBC Micro would solve everything.

These signs of change come from a report by the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) which is an organisation whose title gives away what it cares about: sales of ICT equipment into schools.

So what did they find?

The best news was that 71% of secondary schools do not give a fig that directions as to what they should buy are no longer coming from the D of E. This is a good thing look at the mess they got schools into during the BECTA era.

To summarise the rest:

  • What are schools buying? Tablets obviously, just like everyone else.
  • Do they know what they want them for? Not really, much like during the PC revolution.
  • Do the students like them? Of course, tablets are cool.
  • Any coding happening? A bit, students show interest in making ‘apps’.

In other words tablets are going to take over from the PC in schools. Soon nimble-fingered tyros will be showing their teachers their latest apps (goodness knows what they will be), tiny tots will be fingering their way to early learning (the biggest growth area for tablet purchase is by parents for the under-fives!) and school-books will be read using an e-reader...but don’t think that my limited imagination will limit what uses will be found for tablets...remember Supercalc?

But which tablets?

As before some twits are twittering on about ‘compatibility’ and ‘convergence’. Indeed Apple, Amazon and Android are carving out separate niches in schools just in the way that Microsoft, Acorn and Apple did in the past. It did not matter then (except in the tiny mind of a bureaucrat) and it does not matter now.

Why am I so sure the change is coming?

My confidence is based on my own experiences to date. In a previous post I mentioned that I had through an accident of fate an embarrassment of ICT riches in my science classes. We have enough tablets to go around. They are used casually, in that I don’t direct their use, if anyone wants one they are there for them.

The uses are: the e-reader is becoming more popular as more of the student work is set and submitted in epub format (it’s easier than trying to ‘DTP’ a booklet); a quick ‘look up’ on the Internet is often naturally performed even during a conversation (i.e. ‘how many micro-farads should this capacitor be for my rail gun?). I have even been shown my first student-made app.

In other words the ball is rolling. No-one is sure quite which way it’s rolling, school buyers are not blindly gung-ho as once they were but that feeling of potential is returning. Creative students, creative young teachers it’ll be fun.

All of this bodes very well indeed, thank you BESA (and Mike) for cheering me up ... and the best thing of all...?

No madly-rich quite insane Government is telling school what to buy and throwing billions at them to do so thereby creating a monstrously expensive and inflexible Microsoft monolith that we have all fallen deeply out of love with.

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