A recent post on All things D highlights how devices which have been somewhat off the radar in education have quietly gained kudos and market share. The Kindle Fire featured in this post is one such device. Interestingly, Amazon’s own app store is also gaining some traction.
The Fire is not currently included in the Scottish Government Tablet Device Procurement Framework for Education and neither is one of the other recent success stories in education, the Chromebook. I recently wrote about the Microsoft Surface tablet and how subsequent iterations (the Surface 2 is now out) will find their place in schools. The Surface is not in the framework either, and the new Toshiba Encore is a fantastic tablet running Windows 8.1 which certainly should be. This platform is a great fit with the Microsoft Office 365 on which the current iteration of GLOW is based, when schools eventually get it.
The procurement framework was one of the key planks of the Scottish Government ICT in education programme. It coincided with our work on the ICT Excellence group where access was one of our key concerns in the report accepted by the Cabinet Secretary back in February this year. I know the introduction of the framework was applauded at the time as a way of increasing access, or at least helping schools with purchasing tablets, even if the pricing structure was not incredibly competitive! The Framework document states…
The national framework has secured the following benefits:
Provides access to devices for the purposes of education in Scotland, enhancing learning and teaching, supporting digital inclusion across Scotland’s schools.
Provides a range of tablet devices with various operating systems, at market leading prices.
Provides a range of competitively priced upgraded devices and accessories.
Provides consistent national pricing, regardless of size or geographical location.
Provides an easy route to market for contracting organisations.
Provides organisations with one central point for ordering and contract management covering warranty, insurance and general supply enquiries
It is anticipated that the majority of requirements for tablet devices will be met through the National Framework.
The last sentence is very telling for me because I don’t think this is now true. Are schools blindly purchasing iPads without a thought for what their needs actually are? Are schools accessing good advice and help with needs evaluation before making tablet purchasing decisions? That any investment in tablet devices is based upon needs and not simply driven by ‘Magpie decision making’ (lets collect shiny things) or a herd mentality is crucial to a successful tablet roll out and schools cannot afford not to factor in Office 365 and GLOW, and therefore the full (rather than the somewhat restricted range of devices offered through the current framework) range of current devices into their decision making process. The current Framework covers purchases but not the advice and training which is a vital component of any tablet device deployment.
Some local authorities are geared up for this, particularly Edinburgh with its superb Digital learning Team and experienced practitioners like Mark Cunningham. Other sources of advice are available, including the Learning with Devices blog which is from Education Scotland, and truly independent consultants and organisations not tied to any one particular platform or reseller such as Tablet Academy Scotland which can provide specialist evaluation services covering all operating systems and devices. This can help schools weigh up the pro’s and con’s of all the different devices and platforms and assist them to arrive at the choice which meets their own particular needs.
If you are considering purchasing Tablets, first ask this; Has your Local Authority or Learning Community held a Tablet Evaluation Workshop day yet? Have you researched the web for information on different tablets? Do you need to use the procurement Framework or is your chosen device not featured, and can you get a better deal elsewhere?
Taking good advice and doing the research before making significant purchases is something which needs to be encouraged so that LA’s and schools don’t end up with yet more ‘White Elephant’ technologies on their storeroom shelves. Good advice taken directly from locally-based trainers who have worked with Curriculum for Excellence and appreciate how tablet devices enhance it’s delivery and practice is also crucial because its not just about the devices, its also about how you manage them within your current and future ICT Tech support set up. This is where good advice from the experts in actually using tablet devices in schools (and not just selling to education experience) is crucial to the success of your roll-out. Apple have certainly recognised the importance of this last point.
Another part of the Framework agreement is even more interesting…
“There is an on-going obligation on the successful supplier to identify new or potential improvements with a view to reducing costs and/or improving the quality and efficiency of the products and services”.
Has this happened with the current Framework arrangements? And is this something which needs to be examined more closely when the first year comes to an end and is reviewed in May 2014? There have been developments during the lifespan of the current framework which have been significant enough to have merited examination, yet I’m not aware of any changes made to the existing framework detail during its life to date. One example would be the Chromebook, which is even featured on the Learning with Devices blog yet remains absent from the framework and also the more recent Kindle offerings from Amazon and the previously mentioned Windows 8 devices.
That the Windows 8 platform does not feature prominently in the framework is one of many reasons why schools and LA’s might give serious consideration to bypassing it and making direct purchases. The up to date versions of the Office applications which come with Windows 8.1 are a great fit with the corresponding web apps within Office 365 and therefore, GLOW.
It seems to me that whilst the Framework has been a very good vehicle for making bulk purchases, it has also been a great opportunity lost (this is how a few disappointed LA IT folks have described it to me) and in particular is unadventurous when it comes to price and device range. In fact, when it can be said that the major benefit is not having to go down to Argos or PC World with a back pocket stuffed full of enough £50 notes to cover your purchase, then there needs to be a full review and evaluation of the Tablet procurement Framework at the Scottish Government before any extension or renewal takes place.
I wonder when review time rolls around might it be time for the Government to start talking to the manufacturers directly? Might this approach offer education the opportunity for some much more adventurous and innovative technology use with each manufacturer that wished to engage with Education offering special purchase schemes for schools and other institutions? This might also encourage targeted support for specific platforms.
The Tablet Device Framework was a first step in the right direction to widen access and manage the mobile device revolution in education but there now needs to be a serious conversation about widening access and this means re evaluating the current framework and perhaps changing tack. My own view is that schools considering tablet device purchases should examine all their available options both from inside and outside the current Framework…and get good independent advice before making decisions and then purchases.
(Please see the usual disclaimer which applies to all of my blog posts. Image from vancouversun.com ccl)
Filed under: capacity-building
, future of education
, teaching and learning
, mobile devices
, Office 365
, Scottish Government
, Surface 2
, Surface Pro
, Toshiba Encore
, Windows 8