This is more like it (project update)

One of our primary schools is the latest school to take part in my pilot and represents an interesting development in the project – in that it is no longer exclusively for secondary schools.

They have now got six iPods using the Kindle app to read books for the Tower Hamlets Book Award. Further apps may be added as the pilot progresses.

I’ve recently been quite negative about eBooks (“Really? I couldn’t guess from the tone of the last dozen posts.” I hear you cry), but at the moment I feel as though the pilot is getting back on track, and actually fulfilling the original brief.

I feel that my last participants demonstrated how schools all too frequently make poor use of new technology. They bought no books and made exclusive use of free apps. As they say, though, pay peanuts and you get monkeys. There isn’t even the analogy of buying a PC but not buying software, at least with a PC you have huge amounts of freeware to play with. App stores – as I am at pains to emphasise – are not the internet, they are shops, and there is a reason why something in a shop is free, and it’s certainly not because it’s content that’s worth buying…

It all demonstrated how untested this technology is in the classroom – we are setting our own precedents and we need to have the courage to experiment and take chances. My last school shied away, something that my current primary school is not.

For a start it’s being joint managed by their part-time librarian and their literacy coordinator. The librarian represents guidance in book buying, which is  now a democratic process rather than the free-for-all before that I found helped no one. Without a good choice of books to read the pilot (like any library) becomes pointless.

The literacy coordinator is my full time contact in the school and the avenue into promoting the use of the technology as part of the school teaching strategies. Previously, working only with my librarian colleagues, we still felt isolated from the teaching community in the school, but a crucial balance now seems to have been struck.

The major change to the pilot this time is that the school will own the books (in as much as they can) at the end of the pilot. Although pupils no longer have free-reign in their buying, they learn a bit about democracy by buying books on a central account fed to all of their iPods. At the end of the pilot I pass administration of the account to the school. Certainly the schools feel that they’ll get better value for money. It also means that I’m moving back to Amazon for purchases as it is a format that, available through apps as well as the Kindle is more versatile than the iBooks format which would require the school to buy Apple hardware to continue using the books.

Finally, the shift to the primary school  has made a significant impact on the pilot – the security of the participants. In a secondary school flashy gadgets are no longer a novelty, but today was the first time that none of the pupils in my group owned a mobile phone, let alone an pocket-sized multimedia player. A different approach to working with parents was the first step, a second being to emphasise the need to be careful without worrying the children. It sounds as though it’s tin-foil hat time for me, but I dread the consequences if a primary school child was mugged for an iPod that I had given them.

It all just feeds the arguments of how quickly this sort of mobile technology is integrated into education, especially at an early age. Does it put pressure on all involved? Yes, certainly. Are there real benefits? That one’s still undecided. Do Apple care? I doubt it.