Tablets in Schools: A Hangout on Air

I posted this on Google+ last week…

Do you teach in a school that uses tablets? (iPads, Android tablets, etc) Have you been involve in planning the rollout and implementation of a tablet program in a school? Do you have thoughts about how suitable tablets are for education? Do you have any success stories to share? Warnings to give?

Come along and join in the conversation as we take this opportunity to learn from each other about this fast growing area of educational technology.

Here’s what happened.  It’s a long recording (1:18:00) but has lots to think about…

Thanks to everyone who joined us, both in the actual Hangout and also in the live stream.

An Open Letter to Telstra on 3G Data Use

Hello Telstra.

I’m one of your customers. I have my mobile phone service with you… the reception is reasonable, at least it seems to be better than most of the other Australian Telcos. You charge a little more for it, but hey, I’ve tried the others and I don’t mind paying a little more for a service that actually works…

But, Telstra, can I tell you what really sucks?

I recently bought a new wifi+3G iPad. It should really be a 4G iPad, but apparently you and Apple can’t agree on what the term 4G actually means. So ok, it’s still just a 3G iPad, and I guess I can live with that. But I’d like to buy some 3G data from you so I can use my iPad when I’m not in wifi range.

Now, for me, that’s not all that often. I’m in wifi at home, and in wifi at work. I could tether to my iPhone’s 3G data when I’m out of wifi range (and I often do) but it would be a lot more convenient if I just had a 3G SIM in the iPad itself. So I want to buy an iPad 3G data service from you. I don’t think I’ll need much, probably no more than a few hundred MBs each month to be honest. Some months may be way less – possibly even no data at all – and other months might be heavier usage. I don’t know for sure.

I’d LIKE to be able to buy a decent chunk of data from you – maybe a few GBs – and just use it till it runs out. After all, if I pay you for it, I should be able to use it till it’s gone, right?

Apparently you don’t see it that way. You let me buy data from you, and then after 30 days you just let whatever is still left over expire. Just like that. Gone. Don’t you think that’s a bit unfair? I mean, I bought that data. I paid for it. Why do you need to expire it at the end of 30 days? Why can’t I just keep using it till it runs out?

When I asked the customer service rep on the phone why this was the case, the probably-accurate but rather-brazen answer was “Because we’re a business and we need to make money”. Bravo Telstra, nice way to put the customer first.

This policy that all of the Aussie telcos have of selling data to customers and then insisting it be used in a limited period of time is a rort. An absolute ripoff. In any other industry you wouldn’t get away with it. Imagine if I filled my car with petrol and then didn’t drive it much that week, but at the end of the week the remaining fuel in the tank just “expired” for no reason other than it was now the end of the week. Fair? I think not. And yet, that’s what you do with my 3G data.

I’m not sure I understand the logic of why you feel the need to expire my unused data at the end of 30 days. If I’m using my iPad a lot that month, there’s a good chance of me running out before the 30 days is up anyway, and I’ll probably just buy more from you. Win-win.

And if I don’t use all the data that month, then it hasn’t really cost you anything anyway, since I’ve already paid you for data that is still sitting there, unused. Sure, I will use it eventually, even after the 30 days are up if you don’t automatically expire it on me. Maybe I’ll run out of that 3G data halfway through the next 30 day period, and then, guess what, I’ll probably buy some more from you. And instead of being a resentful customer who hates you for ripping me off by just taking away something I’ve already paid you for, maybe I’ll end up being a happy customer who loves you for being so fair minded.

Maybe I’d even tell my friends how wonderful you are because you treated me fairly and allowed me to use the data I bought from you in a timeframe that worked for my needs, not yours, and maybe when I do buy more data from you, I won’t do it  begrudgingly, thinking of you as a pack of bastards who are just out to rip me off.

Or maybe if you created a policy of treating customers like me with enough respect to let me use what I’ve paid for when it runs out, not just at the end of some arbitrary 30 day period, you might just be surprised at how many other customers would be interested in being treated the same way. Maybe even those hard to find New Customers.

Right now, you are getting my money for two 3G data plans, one for my phone and one for my iPad. But, frankly, the iPad data is a bit of a ripoff. Not because it’s a bad service or I don’t want to use it, but because you seem to feel that it’s ok to charge me for a product and then, if it is partly unused after 30 days, you feel it’s ok to just take that unused part and make it vanish, even though I’ve paid for it.

You see Telstra, there’s nothing fair about selling someone something and then just expiring whatever they haven’t used at the end of 30 days. It sucks. You might be able to get my business, but you get it begrudgingly and you don’t win me over as a customer. I may give you my business today, but as soon as an alternative comes along, I’m out of there because you’ve not done anything to earn my loyalty to your brand.

Eventually, when the resentment becomes bad enough, I’ll decide that I really don’t need 3G data on my iPad that much anyway, and just go back to tethering on my phone’s data plan. And then you lose me completely as a customer for that second data plan. The irony is that if you just let customers buy data and use it till it’s gone, you’d keep me. You’d have happier, more loyal customers, and probably more of them, who would gladly top up their data plan again and again because you’d be offering a service that works on their terms, not yours.

Have you ever stopped to consider how many potential customers you don’t get because of this short-sighted approach to providing a 3G data product under fair and reasonable terms?

Here’s a tip. Treat your customers with respect. You have a good product technically, but your customers don’t love you. They endure you. They tolerate you. They stay with you because you are less worse than the other telcos. If you treated us with more respect by recognising that when we pay you for a product we deserve to be able to use that product until it’s finished, you’d probably find a whole lot of new customers that you never knew existed and a whole lot of existing ones that felt far better about doing business with you.

Think about it.

Inventing the Wheel

Rob is a music teacher friend of mine who works in the NSW Southern Highlands, and he dropped me an email this afternoon asking if I knew of any schools who were thinking about using iPads.  His school is moving forward with an iPad trial and he was wondering what resources might exist that would help them avoid “reinventing the wheel”.

As it turns out, I’ve been seeing a lot of iPad related information lately so I thought I’d post a reply here on the blog rather than just reply to Rob in an email, just in case some of the information is of some use to others.

I’ll preface it by saying that I think there are a lot of things in education that could certainly use some reinventing, and maybe this is a good chance to do it. There seem to be a lot of schools looking at how iPads might fit in so it may be a little early to avoid the reinventing and instead take advantage of the opportunity to do some inventing. While there are plenty of lessons about 1:1 learning to be gained from the last 20 years of laptop use in schools (and we should leverage everything we’ve learned from that history) the iPad is a different enough device that it’s causing us many of us to stop and think about how we might do some reinventing of what it means for learners. I remarked to someone recently that it’s interesting that nearly every school implementing iPads is still referring to it as an “iPad trial“. We’re all trying to figure this out. With it’s unique form factor, light weight and slim design, the touch interface and thousands of apps to explore, the iPad seems like such an obvious fit in education, it’s just a matter of fitting where. It’s a classic “solution in search of a problem”. It seems apparent that it ought to be an ideal device for educational use, but nearly everyone is still hedging about with a “trial”, rather than just biting the bullet and going ahead with full scale iPad implementations. This “reinventing” isn’t a bad thing, because it means we’re thinking outside the box, looking for the right niche, trying to figure out how this clearly amazing little device will find the right fit in schools.  Sometimes new wheels need to be invented.

We run a laptop program at my school and we had a meeting a few days ago to evaluate the progress of it. We all agree that students having their own device has caused some fundamental shifts in the way our kids learn, create and interact with content as well as the way teachers think about designing learning tasks. There’s no doubt that it’s a good – no, a great – thing and has opened doors to a different kind of learning for many of our students. Many students have remarked to me that the couldn’t imagine going back to the non-laptop days. It’s great to hear that, although I still don’t think we’ve really begun to leverage the full advantages of being 1:1. We’re still learning too.

But there are downsides to carrying technology around. The added weight of carrying laptops and textbooks (yes I know we should be able to get rid of textbooks altogether, and we will eventually, but change can be painful and we are still in transition on some of this stuff). The fragility of having a computer in your bag and the inevitable damage and breakages can be a problem. Laptop battery life is fine when the machines are new but gets steadily worse over time, which then opens a whole can of worms regarding charging once they can no longer get through a whole day on a single charge.  Traditional laptops are fine, but if only they were lighter, thiner, more compact, more durable, with less moving parts and good battery life.  Sound familiar?  No wonder the iPad strikes so many people as an obvious solution in schools. It’s has so much of what we’re looking for in a device!

I love my Gen 1 iPad, but until the release of the iPad 2 I wouldn’t have entertained the original iPad as a serious contender in education. It was the classic debate between it being a “content consumption device” versus being a “content creation device”. I want kids to do far more than just consume content, I want them to create it, and iPad 1 lacked far too much in this area for me to take it seriously. However, with the recent addition of cameras, enough grunt to handle tasks like video editing and multitrack audio recording, display port mirroring and a number of other big improvements, it’s getting to the stage where it could be a contender for a student’s main computing device. Maybe.

I’m still hedging a little and saying “could be” a contender, because I think it still depends what you want to do with them. With an iPad as your primary computing device you’d still need to be able to live without Flash (which admittedly is becoming less and less of an issue thanks to HTML 5) and the limitations of mobile Safari and the very ordinary way it renders some pages.  Safari doesn’t play nicely with our Moodle LMS because, being Webkit based,the browser don’t show the toolbar buttons in Moodle 1.x. I’m sure 2.0 fixes this, but right now, it’s a problem for us.  I also find Safari does some weird things with forms and text fields. Overall, I’d really struggle with it as my main browser.

There are some issues with the way some third party iPad apps interact with school firewalls and, unless your school runs a transparent proxy, there are likely to be many apps that simply cant get through to the web. This is likely to be a problem. I also have doubts as to whether the pseudo-multitasking is really good enough to be used as your primary computing device, and there are plenty of time when I feel very unproductive because of it. Sometimes, I just want a “real” computer.

There’s also licensing issues to consider as Apple haven’t been very clear about just how apps can be shared and deployed on a school basis, as well as a lack of what you might call enterprise-level imaging tools. There are quite a few nuts and bolts issues like this that need to be thought through if they are to be used on a school-wide basis. Apple’s own view seems to be that iPads are not really an enterprise device, they are a personal device and they aren’t designed to be “managed” in the same way that laptops would be.

However, all that aside, there are still enough intriguing things about the iPad, and enough potential advantages, that I totally understand why schools are running “trials” to try and figure out just where the real limitations lie and just how they might be made to fit into a school situation.

So, with that little preamble of thoughts about the iPad, here are a few resources for Rob.  Hope you find them useful, mate…

Hope that helps a little. Let me know how it pans out for your school, and how that wheel gets invented. You might let Kerry Smith know too, and she can add you to that list of schools running trials.

CC Image: ‘iPad with Dandelion