Watch this space

I won’t insult your intelligence by telling you what a fantastic breakthrough for education the Apple Watch is going to be. Not only would it insult you it would show me up to be a bit of an idiot. The truth is that we don’t know what impact the device will have yet, in any aspect of life.

What do we know?

We know that technology is capable of enabling activities that were not previously possible without it. Most innovation is just efficiency in disguise, but sometimes efficiency is so evolved as to change the nature of the process. Yes, I suppose using a SatNav is just the same as using a map. But on Wednesday I spoke to my phone (hands-free of course) and asked it to find me an alternate route home as there was a coach on fire on the M25. It found a new route and then talked me through it whilst I phoned home to give an update on my ETA. My old AA Atlas couldn’t do that. It couldn’t tell me what the traffic was like on an alternate route, nor could I phone home from my car. This was, of course, after I had used my smartphone to broadcast live from the beach to forty-nine people worldwide. But that’s just a geek thing at the moment.

We know that technology tends to make processes more efficient. Ok, there’s a caveat in there – ‘tends’. The right technology, correctly applied by a suitably trained operator to a process will make it more efficient. And if you are waiting to jump in and play the “opportunity cost” card don’t bother. To be ‘more efficient ‘ a process has to pass the financial test as well as time test. Efficiency is good. Efficiency is the friend of the educator.

We know that technology makes resources more sharable. This obviously has negatives as well as the immense positives but on the whole I’m thinking that this is a positive. Not just shareable but capable of repurposing. Without the aid of scissors and a Pritt Stick. Without them existing in the physical world at all.

So technology enables us to do new things, enables us to do old things more efficiently and enables us to more easily share what we are doing.

As an aside I am writing this in my office whilst my daughter is FaceTiming me every five minutes to ask me for some help with the maths questions she is doing. That makes both our lives easier.

Where does the Watch fit into all this?

My view is that there are clearly some personal things it will be able to facilitate, particularly in the health sector. I can imagine a time (see what I did there?) when in some countries, for some people it will be difficult to get health insurance without having a smart watch to send data back to their doctors, where their computers will monitor and determine if any preventative action needs to be taken. Depending on your viewpoint this may be either a “good thing” or a “harbinger of a dystopian future”. I can imagine that some are planing similar things for education.

It will also enable some efficiencies to take place. Quite small efficiencies, perhaps. Reading SMS texts will become simpler, so if you spend a deal of time receiving texts then this may be of great benefit to you. Anyone who has a need to receive frequent small bursts of data or information will find the watch useful. Also, given the right software, the storing of small pieces of data and information. This is where there could be some educational utility.

I can see that it will be useful for students to help with personal organisation.

I can imagine also that some interesting things may well be done with geo-location devices and the Watch.

In this sense the Watch is what I would term a piece of “convergent technology”. In of itself it doesn’t (currently seem to) do anything new. It just brings together a number of existing technologies, miniaturises them, and presents them to the user in an easy to access and use way. Consider the SatNav. Mapping technology, GPS and touch screens all existed before the SatNav. The capability was there, just not the utility. By converging those technologies into one device and miniaturising it the SatNav changed the way we navigate. Essentially we don’t navigate anymore.

What I would like to see is this. Rather than having groups of teachers shown the Watch and being told what it is capable of, we should have groups of teachers looking at their own practice and being given carte blanche (and time) to think about what would improve their minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, day-by-day, week-by-week workload. Let us look deeply into where the efficiencies of technological innovation could be helpful, and then work out how we can bring that into reality.

If this all sounds a bit Doug Lemov for you, if you believe that teaching is too holistic to be broken down in this way or that each teacher/subject/school is too different to do this, then I will have to disagree with you. Even if only 20% of activities could be classed as common enough for making more efficient, and even if technology can only make a 5% improvement, then that’s £250m of efficiencies right there. You might even think that education shouldn’t be about how much money we can save. Unfortunately, it is.

It might involve the use of a Watch-like device. It might actually be that the Apple Watch is the ideal device to solve all those efficiency issues.

I don’t know.

I only know that thus far the history of education taking being given existing devices and repurposing them for its own use hasn’t been great. Maybe it’s time to do the research and get ahead of the curve.

I’m sure someone out there is dying to make a device that every teacher would want to own.

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2 thoughts on “Watch this space

  1. “repurposing them for its own use hasn’t been great”.

    I think we could argue that the history of technology in mainstream education has generally been dire. In fact I would go so far as to argue that there is a conceptual gap of about 150 years between what is possible and what and how it is used. That is to say that most uses of technology in schools are just replications of what could have been achieved during the Victorian era with analogue devices. Most of the teachers that I work with have neither the time nor the inclination even to get to grips with the most common of digital tools (I have been arguing for over a decade now that we need an online school calendar so we all know what is going on without having to go to the office and leaf through the diary). What is available on the cutting edge is not even on their conceptual horizon.

    And then there’s the problem of profit. Companies in the digital market sell what sells and makes them money. Apparently, in England, that’s very different to say Scotland or Australia, for example. So we get what we get because of our limited imaginations – digital replications of pencil and paper tasks instead of sophisticated simulations, for example.

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