A Poisoned Apple for Education?

iPad manufacturer, Apple, claims to have “revolutionised” education since it has made a “deal” with textbook providers the world over. Brave words, if you take on an industry that is notorious for being resistant to change. And, if it does make up its mind to change, will only do so in small steps. It is doubtful whether Apple’s model of monetising every free bit and byte in cyberworld will succeed in academia. In fact this is what it claims on its South African version of its website, obviously aimed at the education market.

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Before I receive a lawyers’ notification from Apple Inc, their claims are, simply amazing. Undoubtedly, it’s backed up by “years of market(ing) research” but the transformative power of technology on our thinking processes has yet to be rigorously debated. Admittedly, there is a “we believe” in the first sentence which makes it clear (or not) that this is an opinion, not a fact. Furthermore, the claim goes, “it can pave new ways of thinking”; “New ways of sparking ideas”.

However, as an educator who has been around since the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64, such claims have yet to be proven. Great advances in computer technology have made an impact on how we access, manage and use information, but its impact on teaching and learning is still a hotly debated issue. Using technology as a tool to facilitate, and perhaps augment teaching and learning processes is not to be ignored by any society in the new “globalised” and “networked” society. But to claim it “revolutionises” education is somewhat of a stretch. The clincher, however, is that “…working alongside educators and students to reinvent what it means to teach and learn”. Show such a statement to a serious educator and you’ll get responses such as “really?”, “how?” and “when?”. In fact it remains to be seen whether teaching and learning was “invented” in the first place.

But, here’s my main concern….

“The real danger is not that computers will begin to think like men, but that men will begin to think like computers.” Sydney J. Harris

Mobile wars – they are here.

Cellular dominance war

Your mobile communication device, whether a “smart” or a “dumb” phone, an IPad, Android tablet of “phablet”, is the ultimate prize for the likes of Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Apple etcetera who are “at war” over becoming the dominant player in the market. In non-technospeak, it means they are “upsizing” – the bigger you are as a market player, the stronger you are, the more you can throw your weight around (… in theory).

Google’s moves included buying out handset maker Motorola, making its mobile operating system Android Opensource and launching (revamping) its own social networking offering, Google+.

Microsoft has also been put under the microscope by market analysts who blame Nokia’s declining sales on its dogged partnership with Microsoft’s “old, sluggish and buggy” Windows mobile operating system. In fact the latest industry talks indicate that Microsoft has jettisoned the “entry level” phone market – including its entry-level smartphones. One of these days, the only Microsoft phones will be on the same “level” as the other mobile phones on the market.

Yahoo, once one of the “most loved” tech companies has come under fire for “falling behind” in the innovation race – failing to come up with novel and creative ideas to remain on top. No so long ago it was reported that Yahoo has gone through CEOs like ticks on a hot plate.

What does this all mean for the consumer? Although Google is already a giant on the Internet, its growth will soon see it become the Godzilla of everything to do with data and information. In fact, there are some who are convinced that the behemoth has already become unstoppable and that sooner or later smaller, more innovative ICT entrepreneurs will either have to bow down before it or get gobbled up.

I wonder what the solution is – if there is one. Any ideas?

Digital Television approaches …

The South African Department of Communications  (DOC) has finally pulled a rabbit out of its hat after the switch-over to digital television broadcasting infrastructure has been delayed on several occasions. Judging from its “Go Digital” campaign that’s in full swing during 2012, South Africans should soon benefit from DDT (Digital Terrestrial) television signals. The DOC’s pamphlet states that the roll-out is to start early this year (2012) and that by 2015, “almost 11 million TV viewers” should have access to DDT in their homes.

Should this be the case, and the DOC and its partners do not board star ship Enterprise, to “boldly go where no-one has gone before”, a clearer, sharper and more enjoyable television picture (and hopefully, content) will be on offer for all. Thus, according to the marketing material there will be:

  • More channels, thus more choices for viewers.
  • “Equal access to every citizen” to all free-to-air channels of “good quality picture and sound”
  • Electronic Programming Guide and program synopsis.
  • Better control by parents over what is to be watched or not in the household
  • More accessibility for those with hearing and sight disabilities

Concerns ..

Although the DDT is long overdue in South Africa, compared to the rest of the digital world, two issues still chafe. The first  is the “set-top” boxes which must be purchased in order to enable “old” (Analogue) television sets to convert and display the signal. This conversion will result in a loss of quality of both picture and sound. In talks about the “set-top” box this does not seem to be worth mentioning. Perhaps the idea of it  being a “digital signal” seems to negate the need to explain this fact. In addition, the cost of these boxes seem to still be “in flux”.

Receiving a good quality digital signal with your current “bunny ears” is another issue that’s not made very clear. Mention is made that “some viewers may require new TV aerials or adjust their existing aerials for reception”, giving the impression that you will still be able to use it. But, alarm bells have sounded about this being an additional cost for consumers. If, however, you are one of the lucky few to have a television set with a built-in digital receiver and a “dish” hooked up already, the switch-over will be quite painless.

Be smart, buy the perfect Xmas gift – a full HD LCD

South African consumers shopping over the Christmas season for that “perfect gift” – a Full High Definition (FHD) with 1080p x 1920 resolution are to think hard about parting with their hard-earned money (cash or plastic). Luxury goods such as LCD Television sets take centre stage in all the major stores with their “walls” of LCD displays enticing the shopper to buy the biggest and the “best”. In South Africa our public broadcasting system is still analogue with the switchover to digital infrastructure scheduled for 2013. This means that the FHD television set you are about to (or have purchased) will not be able to receive, decode and display the digital signals since they all have built-in analogue receivers.

Very few, if any, of the FHD Television sets instore have digital receivers. In fact, in a store of about 15 branded models, not one had a digital receiver built in. When pressed, the salesperson eventually admitted that they did not “order” nor “stock” models with digital (or both types) TV signal receivers. Electronic store owners are fully aware that the switch-over is already being piloted in certain parts of the country and that the switch-over is just around the corner. Yet, they continue to stock and sell analogue-only television displays. Of course, they reckon, the choice is yours – whether to buy “old” technology or not. Their “obligation” is to simply “supply” the “demand”….

Here’s the sell

One of the reasons why FHD LCD Television display prices have dropped so dramatically is probably due to such “old” technology flooding the South African market. Sure, you can plug your blu-ray player into the full high-definition display and watch your movies as “you’ve never seen them before” but if you plan to use it to view public broadcasting signals after 2013 in South Africa, you’ll be out of luck. If you are not one of those fortunate enough to have a satellite dish receiver hooked up to a decoder unscrambling digital signals (Pay Channel), your “bunny ears” aerial will have to be replaced and you’ll have to buy a “set-top” box. Set-top boxes will have to be purchased and plugged in to convert the digital signal into analogue signals for display on “old” television sets. The FHD LCD Televisions sets in store now, will be such “old” sets in 2013.

Options?

If the plan is to buy a full HD display, rather opt for a “monitor” – a High Definition LCD display without a built-in TV tuner. Make sure that it’s got more than one HDMI connector and as well as a D-Sub (PC) connector and, if you are lucky, an S3-video and AVI connectors. Get hold of an HD Media player that you plug into the FHD monitor to watch your movie files. If you are able to get a media player with a built-in DVD (or Blu-Ray) player, you have a fully functional Home Media Entertainment Hub. Better still, grab an old PC with a DVD ROM and install XBMC on it.

Once electronic stores start stocking FHD LCDs with digital tuners, hold on to your money a little longer  until the prices sag, then grab a “modern” television set. And … if you are lucky the new sets might even be capable of receiving the next generation of TV signals – Ultra-High Definition (probably just wishful thinking).