Category: Technology

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Why do people sneer at Apple?

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My son managed to get his Android phone to make every icon, folder and background use the Twitter logo. In one sense this is an impressive feat.

It then made me think, “What’s the point?” I wondered when you would need to do this and how it helped the user be more efficient with their smartphone. My feelings are that there is no point, it can be done because it’s possible. Google, in designing Android, has decided that total freedom is more important that function and form. This would also assume that ths was actually a decision of design at all.

Since the days of Macintosh, Apple has always been criticised for controlling the user experience. I have known many techie people who have hated the fact that they couldn’t fiddle or tweak System 7 and more recently iOS. They enjoy computers for their own sake and enjoy engaging with the technical experience.

The thing that isn’t always understood about Apple is that they were always making technology to be used in life. This means that the freedom to fiddle is always less important than the experience. This is what Steve Jobs talked about in his famous talk about liberal arts being in their DNA.

It’s true you can’t make your entire iPhone repeat the Twitter logo everywhere, but the real question is, “Why would you want to?”

Recently Apple has been facing a lot if criticism for not keeping up and not adding features to their smartphones like HTC or Samsung. This article here is typical of the comment, http://www.thestreet.mobi/story/12033242/1/google-laughs-at-the-new-iphones.html.

In the criticism levelled at Apple, people seem to resent the fact that Apple products cost more. They also demand that the iPhone jumps through hurdle after hurdle to keep up. This is no different than the processor wars of the 90’s.

The thing about that competition was that in the end the ever increasing demand for speed reached a saturation point and any computer was fast enough to do pretty much all we ever wanted. We are now at a similar juncture. Apple have conclusively defined the features and appearance of a smartphone. Now we all we are doing is seeing slight modifications but nothing is really as significant as the initial iPhone look and feel. The world wasn’t crying out for a 41mp camera in their Nokia mobile phone.

In the end I bought my iPhone because of how easy it is to use and how it helps me do my job. There are many things I’d like to improve such as the camera or the battery, but if I went to a phone that had these it wouldn’t use iOS. I don’t want an operating system that lets me do anything to it and therefore prevents me from doing what I need to do with it.

The fascinating thing for me is the emotional response that so many people seem to have against Apple. They are angry about the cost, they seem irritated by the fancy design. They seem almost jealous of the Apple culture and want to upset the happy scene. As some sort of Luddite they seem to celebrate the inadequacies of poorer quality products. The irony is that they seem as devoutly opposed to Apple as the cringing Apple fans’ loyalty they mock.

To quote Simon Leys, “The need to bring down to our own wretched level, to deface, to deride and debunk any splendour that is towering above us, is probably the saddest urge of human nature.”

When the learning starts…

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It is often thought that technology gets in the way of the rest of the curriculum. Many teachers will have stories of whole lessons that were lost because the technology went wrong or because the learners didn’t have the skills to use the technology in their learning.

I use the chart above to illustrate how we address this question. As a school we may invest in core IT skills with our younger children so that the curriculum becomes maximised later in school life. We also need to prepare the children at the begining of themes or projects so that the digital learning is front loaded. This may mean that the first two weeks of theme lessons are almost entirely based on teaching the technology, even through decontextualised tasks. Then the latter weeks can focus on the curriculum learning.

Of course, the skills can be taught throughout the theme or embedded in specific tasks but this approach at least stops the technology getting in the way. Then all we have to do is make sure it all works.

Mike Eisenberg’s Constructionism: New Technologies, New Purposes @garystager

This great presentation (http://constructingmodernknowledge.com/cmk08/?p=1656) from Mike Eisenberg at the Constructionism Conference 2012 outlines the key elements in combining constructionism and technology.

  • A focus on children’s culture and interests beyond the classroom.
  • Continued interest in blending physical and computational media, making use of powerful fabrication tools, navel materials etc.
  • A focus on designing content-rich activities as opposed to skill-building.

This breakdown attacks a number of arbitrary segregations within education. For example, teachers often talk about ICT lessons or about teaching programming. Eisenberg promotes ‘blending’ the learning with one elemnt as impactful on other areas of learning. This leads to open ended content rich activities rather than skills practise for some future unknown purpose.

This approach is at the heart of intrinsic motivation. Beginning with purposes and activities that are interesting and vital to children, interacting with the media and tools of our environment to be productive.

Webmaking with Mozilla Thimble

Mozilla Thimble is a great web based environment for learning HTML, CSS and JavaScript. As yet it is still not possible to upload images (you have to link to images hosted elsewhere) and you cannot publish Javascript, yet. However you can publish your web pages and it highlights errors to improve your learning. The side by side view is great for seeing the effects of differnet tags. This type of interface was available from W3 schools but Thimble is a neat fully packaged solution.

Becta had its faults

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I was recently throwing out some stuff in the garage. I found this box, still shrink wrapped, for Norton Anti Virus. This is something I had to buy but never used. I had to buy it as part of my Computer for Teachers bundle in 2000. The bundle was prescribed by Becta and although it was cheaper than buying a computer outright it wasn’t the best value because of the extra things the resellers had to sell with the computer.

• iMac DV

• Norton Anti Virus

• 1 year Apple Support

• iMation 100mb superdrive

All I actually wanted was the iMac but Becta had decided that teachers would need to be protected from viruses and we needed to buy a support contract. If I had been buying a PC then this may have been necessary but as a Mac user it wasn’t necessary and as you can see it was never used.

This characterises the way Becta made paternal decisions on behalf of schools and teachers. It is also an example of system prescription that acknowldeged the existence of Mac computers but didn’t really understand them.