The Red Pill

My move from developing software to teaching high school was extremely enlightening; working and socialising with a tech savvy crowd had made me ignorant to how IT was perceived by users in the "real world."

After watching Objectified I began to think about how you don't need to know about all of your users to make a good product, just the extremes; the middle will fall into place by itself.

On one end there are some really switched-on people in education, Fraser Speirs and David Cleland, to name but two, who are pioneering the use of technology in schools.  At the other, you have teachers who have don't have an internet at home or know how to use The Google and who reluctantly go along with new IT policies that come across their desk, they'll need help, but have no other choice. To them IT is an unnecessary inconvenience. In the middle you have teachers who are IT aware, they can send emails, use a printer and probably have a Facebook account, but it's a means to an end. As long as things work they're happy to make use of it.

As software is developed, we not only need to ensure it is relevant, functional and well designed, but that it is usable even by those who have very little IT experience; there's no age barrier either, graduates can have worse IT skills than veteran teachers; none of them will be installing Moodle. Users in the middle might not spend time online searching for a new piece of software (although now that "apps" are such an embedded part of culture, perhaps I'm wrong) but if what they use works, in that it works how they work, then the software itself will melt away.

As I see it, a huge problem with how ICT is used in education is that is still isn't seen as an infrastructure, like the building or the electricity. We get a pile of computers and throw them into a classroom and tell the teacher to work away. In Northern Ireland, C2K has made huge leaps forward, but there are still too few teachers who are happy, willing and/or skilled enough to innovate with the resources they've been given.

The iPad, solution or not, is seen as the "microwave" of the computing world and, what many don't realise, is more cost effective than netbooks, which, my school at least, thought, would be good value for money. If you count up the cost of repairs, and reinstalls we could have bought an iPad and still had change. Its not the only way either, I have high hopes for Google's Chrome OS; I customised Ubuntu on our netbooks so that they don't even have a traditional GUI, only the browser and I've never looked back.

While many in the IT industry (myself included) have called for the death of the traditional IT Teacher and instead have IT as an integral part of every subject, it isn't possible; not until hardware and software become invisible, just like an everyday appliance. I can only hope that Jotter will be invisible to its users.

As the project continues, I'll release more information about exactly what Jotter is. At the moment I'm still not sure how to describe it myself, but hopefully from these blog posts you'll at least see the reasons behind what we are doing.

Andrew Gribben

Andrew Gribben @grib