The Digital Advantage

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.

About Robert Pogson

I am a retired teacher in Canada. I taught in the subject areas where I have worked for almost forty years: maths, physics, chemistry and computers. I love hunting, fishing, picking berries and mushrooms, too.
This entry was posted in Linux in Education, Teaching, technology and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Digital Advantage

  1. kozmcrae wrote, “You should write for Gartner.”

    I doubt that would work very well… Chuckle. They would keep getting mail from guys like oldman telling them what an amateur I am. I should get back to my welding…

  2. kozmcrae says:

    Robert Pogson wrote:

    A bunch of interesting, well written, and informative stuff. You should write for Gartner. You make way more sense than there current writers do. You can write from the comfort of your own den and make a lot of money doing it too. I know, I used to work for a company that hired a bunch of technical writers for different projects. They would sometimes do contract work for Gartner. I was not one of the writers though.

  3. kozmcrae wrote, “They never nail it down. That kind of writing just pisses me off. They don’t say anything.”

    It’s not something that can be defined because it depends on the particular customer, the particular business at the particular place in time. They give examples from a cruise-ship that are pretty specific. Customers value not having to wait in line for anything. They provide customers with a debit card for every service. It identifies the customer to the system and does the “paper-work”. I can relate to that. I remember going to dinner some places where the wait was longer than the meal. The customers also had instant access to utilization so they could time their visits or choose locations that were efficient for everyone. The business gets huge value from that because no genius has to manage all the juggling. The customers do it automatically.

    In education, because we often do not sell a product for money, value has to be about the results. Students get a lot more out of education if its flexible to their needs and each student is different. Schools that do charge money are essentially the same as businesses but they still need the same performance a non-profit school needs.

    I’ve been in schools where we could value the day by the number of fights that did not happen in the hallway in the last hour. Hardly a day went by that classes were not interrupted by a “lock down”. It was like being in prison. Better IT would have had an important impact on that value if students felt education was relevant and useful. Obviously what was going on was not relevant and useful. Administration balked at any changes. They had spent decades making that school the way it was and they weren’t about to throw all that effort away. I suggested shipping in a bunch of Computers for Schools machines and was told the cost of maintenance was not affordable. Yet, I have worked in schools in the North where we got PCs for $0 and students and teachers were able to maintain them just for the fun of it.

    Everyone has some different values. Thinking that everyone should value what M$ values is what got the world into the current mess that is IT today. It’s past time we valued things that work for us like FLOSS.

  4. kozmcrae says:

    The problem I have with these “analysts” reports is that at some point I’m left with a feeling of “say whaaa?”.

    That last paragraph did that to me.

    “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.”

    These are the key phrases that left me with a feeling like I was suddenly in 0 gravity:

    customer value
    addressable revenue
    expanding the definition of value

    “Customer value” sounds like what you get with a pole dancer without the pole. Something is missing between customer and value. And though they speak of expanding the definition of “value”, they didn’t define it in the first place. They do a nice dance around a subject and never define it. They never nail it down. That kind of writing just pisses me off. They don’t say anything.

    I can appreciate that Gartner has given a strong emphasis towards greater digital efficiency and the possibility that FLOSS may be a part of that efficiency. But the analyst speak it’s written in makes it unaccountable. “Customer value” is not defined. Is it defined later on? If it is, I suspect it’s defined with more nebulous phrases that boil down to nothing.

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