Sunday, 20 January 2008

Videoblog 1

I’ve been thinking about what could be described as defensive organisations – about how the risk of failure becomes paramount and how management systems develop to focus on the past to justify the present – we risk tripping over the obstacle while we are looking behind.

I’ve also been thinking about the importance of living outside your comfort zone in order to develop and how so many people and organisations spend effort to avoid moving outside their comfort zone.

So to “kill two birds with one stone” I’ve decided to risk failure and move out of my comfort zone to see what happens with a video blog – video/audio work is something I’m not comfortable with at all but the only way to improve is to have a go – so here goes.

This is the first video to outline what I’m planning to work on in the week ahead – please feel free to leave your comments


Wednesday, 8 August 2007

The network and the computer

In 1984, John Gage of Sun coined the phrase "The Network is the Computer" to describe the emerging world of distributed computing, dismissed at the time by the computer industry, this phrase came to symbolize the explosion of network-based computer services as the Internet became increasingly available. See Wikipedia

Since 1984 computer communications have “exploded” and much of the western world can be found on-line. Back in 1984 we mostly had terminals and mainframes . Today we still have mainframes – many give all their power to one person, are far more powerful than they were back then and often go by the name of PC. OK, this is stretching the truth but the laptop I am using is running Vista with Office 2007 – this has 2Gb of RAM and a dual core CPU and runs at the same speed as any windows computer I have used over the last 10 years. I wonder what the next version of Windows (Windows 7) will need to run.

However, there are some interesting developments coming through over the next 6 months and strangely many are built to Microsoft’s Umpc (Ultra Mobile PC) specification but some don’t run windows at all. These devices are relatively cheap (£300 or much less) and don’t have a lot of processing power but will be ideal to access the Web.

In combination with Web 2 applications and pervasive Internet broadband access these Umpc devices may represent the thin end of the wedge to shift computing to the network.

Have a look at some of these recent announcements of Umpcs in the pipeline for August/Xmas

Asus are due to sell their Eee 701 Umpc (ultra mobile PC) for £199 this will ship with Linux though but will give web access. Ironically this is the first Umpc to fall within Microsoft’s UMPC price target of £360. It has a 7in screen, full keyboard, 802.11bg, 900Mhz Pentium M and uses flash memory instead of a hard drive but at £199 you only get 4Gb - still 2Gb memory sticks are relatively cheap and you can of course use web storage.

Samwell (UMPC 657)

Similar systems have been announced from FIC (iDOTCE260), Aigo, Samsung and Amtek.

Another interesting device is the Datawind Pocket surfer 2 this is a small PDA style unit (175mm x 75mm x 15mm) - it costs around £175 with GPS infirmation and wireless WAN access included and claims to be able to show all web features including flash video. The standard price only gives 20Mb a month but "unlimited" acess can be added for just £6 a month. Not sure how this would opeate in practice as it only operates over slow GPRS but everything is compressed. The unit could be interesting for web 2 pilot projects.

Saturday, 30 June 2007

Social Equality and ICT developments

In the discussions taking place about current and projected ICT developments I haven’t seen much (if anything) about social equality and the effects on social mobility for example.

The distribution of technology follows a familiar pattern – at first it can be very expensive and only the very rich or organisations can access it. If a technology is useful then technical and manufacturing developments bring down costs and we find that individuals can increasingly buy access. The motor car is a good example, once our roads were empty and only the wealthy had their own car – everyone else used a shared version – the bus. These days access to a motor car is a lot easier. Telephones through to mobile phones are a similar example.

ICT and the Internet is following a similar pattern. Once, only organisations like colleges could provide access to computers and “the information superhighway”. Today many individuals have their own access to computers and the Internet but many don’t.

I do have a concern about the unanswered questions regarding social equality issues in our assumptions of ICT access.

Who is disadvantaged?

Who is advantaged?

Who are we thinking of?

In many of the discussions around e-learning there are many stories about senior executives and their children using home computers. Are these the users we are thinking of when we are designing our e-learning strategies? We don’t hear very much for example about the poor family living in a flat in a “difficult” estate who cannot afford a home computer let alone Internet access. It seems inevitable that e-learning will advantage the already advantaged.

Much of this is outside our control but there are things colleges can do. We do need to provide sufficient e-learning opportunity at our colleges so that the less privileged have access. We should be careful if we replace traditional homework with e-work as this may introduce unfair advantage. Instead of operating e-learning through a standard curriculum we should operate e-learning through new organisational methods (e-curriculum for want of a better word) more on this in a future blog. In these days of participation it would also be interesting to hear the voice of the student regarding learning and “e-learning” .

This all seems a bit gloomy but there are things we can do (the e-curriculum). The stresses are inevitable at this period of change. As technology develops and prices come down and personal computing really does become personal in the years ahead the issue of social exclusion in ICT access will be less tangible and the developments in teaching and learning we are starting now will bear fruit. The issue of social exclusion will no doubt have moved on to some other technology or application not yet thought of.

Sunday, 17 June 2007


IT has been stuck with a design concept for so long that people find it difficult to think outside the box. That box is the desktop personal computer that once upon a time freed us from the constraints of terminal computing but like so many revolutionary forces eventually ends up constraining a new generation. We have had different box formats (full height, half height, micro, wide, slim), different colours (beige for so long now black and of course some Apple white and transparency), flat screens and various attachments but basically the box has been with us for 25 years . There is of course a reason for the longevity of this design – functionality – it has done the job extremely well with the technology available and the culture in which it operated.

However, all this is about to change – we could regard the desktop computer as a transition device from mainframe terminal to true personal computing.

Technology, culture and society have developed in the last 5 years so that and new devices, designs and ways of using IT will be accepted. The latest mobiles have it all - Internet, GPS, video conferencing, media (audio, video players and recorders), txt, radio, computing and voice – phone is only a tiny part of these devices. Memory is not a problem for mobiles and when compute power, power longevity and human interfaces are improved then they will be contenders to take on the desktop. One scenario for mobiles is that they will act as your personal communications hub in your personal area network interfacing with various devices and other networks. Use your mobile as it is or interface it with a keyboard and screen for a more traditional environment – your mobile will be your personal computer. Tomorrow’s workforce will be used to mobile IT and may come to expect it – regarding our dear old desktop as just that. Environmental factors may make the daily commute to the workplace unacceptable – work from anywhere. In a typical office for example you have to ask yourself why the desk is necessary if you don’t need to shuffle paper or put a desktop PC on it and why the workplace is necessary if you have multiple types of communication available with your

What does this mean for colleges?

We need to prepare to accommodate staff and student personal computing devices in what we do. Staff will be able to use their own computers to do admin and to teach. Students will be able to use their own personal computers in their learning. Increasingly what we do will be done off-site – the college building will act as a hub of a wider activity.
This won’t happen overnight – this is the next 5 to 10year period and there are significant factors to work through (technical, security, management, financial, privacy – you name it) but bit by bit the social and cultural pressure will force change. Whether this change is a problem or an opportunity for a college will depend on the answer to the question:


Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Web 2.0 Update

The college division which responded earlier has come up with some great ideas for extension in their area. It’s always very satisfying to watch ideas be developed by others.

The division is a communications subject area and Web 2.0 spaces are very relevant – students publishing ideas, reports, cross site, cross discipline, cross organisation and global assignment work instantly becomes possible.

Safe computing is always an issue. Rather than duck our responsibility and try to ignore and ban the use of such systems we can teach safe use through them. By experience with the systems the students can appreciate the dangers involved – how easy it is to fake an identity for example.

This area has suggested these “rules of engagement” for it’s students
- choose a fun name - don't use your own
- choose a cartoon or logo - don't use your own photo
- don't write something you wouldn't say out loud in the classroom

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

A watershed period in IT and Education

The present period reminds me of the early days of the Internet when we first got to use email and of the first days of the web when we first got to publish and link pages. There is a lot of excitement, a lot of fast development and lots of potential.

The competition between Google and Microsoft has invigorated both companies and great products are coming out of both – to our benefit. The energy and ability at Google are making Microsoft act like the underdog again and they are getting back some of that drive and focus they have lacked since the launches of Windows and XP. However, the action on the web really is with Google at the moment.

I feels like a watershed moment – step forward and go with the current.

Education recognises that we need to develop real world skills in our future people. Skills to live in a dynamic, complex, fast changing world with information levels far greater than today. Education needs to develop our people’s skills in just in time learning, problem solving, problem management , communication and information management.

Most of all education needs to develop skills for people to learn how to learn.

The argument for the teacher’s role to change from teacher to facilitator needs to be extended to the educational organisation – the organisation needs to facilitate learning for staff and students (wait for the blog on this one).

So here we have it - disruptive forces in both IT and education at the same time – a very interesting period for students and teachers.

Web 2 update

I have emailed three division managers.

Two have responded.

One seems quite keen to consider this with staff after the exams and has copied two staff into the email.

One has responded with no commitment either way.

Early days and I'm still enthusiastic and optimistic that this can initiative can bear fruit.

However, I have to be prepared for the inevitable cold water as it widens out and bureaucracy settles in.

There will be no more news from these first attempts for a while - have to be patient.

I will try a few more division managers tomorrow and tackle teacher training and staff development.

I will keep you posted