The slate and the school

IT has the highest percentage of students unemployed six months after graduating, despite producing the fewest numbers of graduates. This means, looking at the figures for other subjects, that ten times as many media studies graduates obtained...

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IT has the highest percentage of students unemployed six months after graduating, despite producing the fewest numbers of graduates. This means, looking at the figures for other subjects, that ten times as many media studies graduates obtained paid work in that period than did IT graduates.

The truth is IT skills are a bit like ‘television repair man’ skills, that is they reflect a series of anomalous, temporary flourishing of a soon-to-be-redundant quasi-trade. This makes it not only a potential poisoned chalice for the wannabe IT graduate but a real challenge for the IT manager who has to steer his or her organisation through the tumult of changes.

When I first went to school it was, like today, in a building of steel and glass and we used slates on which to work. OK I admit it was not quite like today, it was built of corrugated iron and the slate was real rock, moreover the technologies required to deliver my early education were a thousand years old and by the time I left school they were a mere 500 years old.

The following 25 years however witnessed the wide scale enthusiastic deployment of technology into learning. The rate of change of this technology meant that schools typically either had cutting edge solutions or at worst lagged behind by a year or so. The challenge to school managers to make strategic sense of these changes was a very big, mostly impossible ask.

What we witnessed was an explosion in spending that produced a classic mashup of technologies masquerading as a computing paradigm based around the LAN. In my current workplace nearly every network topology and transmission protocol co-exist. We have server- fat-client/thin-client ( star, backbone), using SMB, TCP/IP as well as P2P.

In one sense it is a towering achievement in another it is a Tower of Babel that consumes tens of thousands of pounds in electricity, aids and abets the printing of 3000 sheets of paper per student and spends hundreds of thousands of pounds on technical support...and don't get me started about licence costs for software.

No manager, school leader or IT graduate can make sense of this behemoth and is helplessly driven to merely elaborate it further. Of course it is close to collapse though few would like to admit this. 25 years on there is no consensus as to how to apply technology to education merely an accretion of software novelties that complicate the monster further.

Emerging from the fog though is a new and simple solution in the form of the good old slate. This time in electronic form lead by the iPad but with dozens more scheduled for release before the end of the year.

The new slates gives student access to everything needed to educate them; access to:

  1. all reading material (text books work sheets) via its e-reader software,
  2. the vast library within the world wide web via its browsers
  3. each other and tutors via its net-based communications software
  4. all multimedia material (video and sound).

In other words the 'new slates' carried with a healthy lunch in the 'new satchels' pretty much meet all the educational needs of students without nearly all of the existing infrastructure found in school

It seems the IT manager will breath a sigh of relief and the IT graduates will find it even harder to get work.