Gartner has a new book out that you can read for $0 and no registration required. It’s about the advantages businesses can have over their competition and for their customers by improving efficiency, allowing for growth, and improving performance by doing what was done by paper and face to face communication by digital means. The book contains examples of some remarkable successes that leave competitors in the dust.
The basic idea is that the more an organization can get computers to do things the faster and more efficient will be every operation. I have done this in my own way in education.
- I used digital books from Gutenberg.org, and made my own documents and the software we used available to students when and where they needed them.
- I used digital lessons so my students could learn at their own pace and I could teach more subjects/classes/lesson simultaneously. My record was 14.
- I used digital data in pictures, databases and files so that year to year students, teachers, the school and the community could accumulate information to improve relevance, preserve vital information despite turnover of staff, students and elders, and to allow students and teachers to define their environment individually. It was also searchable saving countless hours of wasted time flipping pages and referring to inadequate indices on paper.
- I used several times the average classroom’s contingent of PCs to make IT useful rather than just present and to make IT available when students needed it, not according to a schedule.
- I used software as most teachers used books by having a local library that could be invoked in seconds by the teacher or student thanks to the huge repository of Free Software provided by Debian. Besides the dramatic effect seen by students and teachers, I who maintained the system had most of the work done upstream by the Debian developers and package maintainers. All we had to do locally was choose a few packages and the rest happened like magic.
- Even our PCs were digital, not just in the way they operated locally but on the network. Data could be anywhere, computing power could be anywhere, display could be anywhere and storage could be anywhere.
Were the results of using digital everything in schools positive? Certainly. Just the savings in paper justified the small effort required. Further benefits included being able to deliver a customized programme of study to students even in remote/small/impoverished schools. Not having to schedule trips to the lab or library were a bonus, saving many hours every year. Typically schools where I taught would have students visit the lab at least once per day for about 1h. That’s beneficial but skipping the transit time, opportunities for mischief, and making IT available at the moment students needed it, “catching the wave”, really made teaching and learning much easier.
Most amazing of all the results was that multiple improvements in performance could be achieved with little or no effort and $0. Older PCs are perfectly suitable as long as there are a few newer machines to do the work and storage (via LTSP). Older PCs are discarded by government and business on schedules so they can be obtained by schools for $0 and freight. The software from Debian is a free download. Chief obstacles lie in teachers not knowing about this possibility or knowing how to do it. All the information is available if you know where to look. Another obstacle is that some teachers feel that using computers takes jobs from teachers. There’s no evidence of that. Class sizes are fairly constant. There’s still a lot teachers cannot do. The important point is that IT allows teachers to do a better job, applying their skill/knowledge when/where it can do the most good. My classrooms functioned best when students were doing most of the work and I could give them instant feedback on what they were doing. The only effort on my part was a few hours to set up equipment usually before school started and the usual planning for education which increased only because I was offering more courses. That did not greatly increase my load because I often taught some courses in one semester and not in another. By being digital, I could plan at the beginning of the year and have both semesters covered so I just advanced the pace of planning, not doing more planning.
Gartner even touches on the subject of businesses that hate or cannot give away anything “for free”:
“So what is the digital strategy for those enterprises?
It is a strategy based on defining a new path — one based on building a digital edge by combining the digital and physical worlds rather than substituting one for the other. Those combinations increase the accessibility of new sources of customer value to expand the potential of digital business. Defining value at this digital edge also helps to create addressable revenue that reflects the best of the digital and physical worlds. The process begins with expanding the definition of value in a digital world.”
That works for schools too. IT is not a substitute for any part of education as it is a better way to do much of what education attempts to do without IT. The bottom line is that education is more valuable to students, teachers and society when it’s flexible enough to meet needs and as efficient as it can be. There’s nothing more efficient than having electrons doing much of the work of creating, finding, storing and presenting information. That leaves people to do the really important things like imparting values, helping, sharing and generally making the world a better place. With GNU/Linux that’s all so much easier.
see Gartner – The Digital Edge.