Dispatch From the Digital Frontier: Volunteer for Your Schools; OS Wars

Written By

Anne Derryberry

August 24, 2009

Does summer seem shorter than it used to? It’s as though global climate change has begun to affect school schedules. Or maybe we’re just hedging our bets against a swine flu outbreak yet to come. In any event, you would think the various budget crises would shorten rather than extend the school year. But in my town, the opening school bell chimed on August 19.

Whenever that bell rings in your community, it’s likely to be as much a call for volunteers as it is for students. In California, for example, where the state’s education budget comes nearly exclusively from property taxes and where home values have suffered huge declines, most districts have been forced to reduce, if not eliminate, “non-essential” personnel (e.g., school nurses, teachers’ aides, librarians, media specialists). Teachers are facing more crowded classrooms, and have their fingers crossed that members of the community will find the time and the willingness to support them as they to try to teach our children.

Those of us with experience or background in education have a special responsibility to come forward. Although our over-burdened teachers don’t need our help in lesson planning and teaching, they do need help monitoring group projects, mentoring, tutoring, and myriad other things. With our exposure to real-world and virtual learning environments, we bring knowledge and understanding that can be vital to a positive experience for students.

So, to borrow from public radio, let’s get off our good intentions. Pick a school in your neighborhood or near your office, and call the principal. Heck, maybe a group from your office could adopt a nearby school. Be prepared (everybody) to make a firm commitment of an hour or two a week. Adjust your lunch schedule so that you can be available during class time. You’ll be glad you did. So will your community.

 


 

Something very interesting is at play, and it’s bound to have an impact on the way we work and learn. A new fight is heating up. Microsoft is preparing to release Windows 7, a major upgrade to its operating system. Google, in turn, has released a Beta version of its first operating system, Chrome OS, after previously releasing Android, its operating system for mobile phones. Not to be left out, Apple released iPhone OS 3 earlier this year, and will follow that with a dot-release of OS X this fall.

This isn’t going to be like previous OS wars. This time, these vendors aren’t going to be duking it out over who controls the PC market, or the cell phone market. This time, it’s about how we access, use, and create content. Each vendor has a different approach to making this a powerful, efficient, enjoyable experience for its customers.

Microsoft is convinced that the desktop PC will, for some time, remain the hub of our digital world. Their evidence? Beyond the fact that the Windows OS currently runs 91% of PCs in the world, Microsoft would also point out that most extant digital content and tools are PC- and Microsoft Windows-compatible; re-writing them for new OS environments would be prohibitively expensive. Hardware advances make ever-more-powerful equipment available at ever-lower prices. Users continue to load their PCs with large applications that require significant processing power, and to store their content files locally on cheap external drives. Obviously, say the Microsoft proponents, users want and need continued advances to the PC operating system to facilitate processing PC-generated content.

Not so fast, says Google. People want to be liberated from their desks, and data want to be liberated from their local hard drives. If data storage and data processing, content creation, and content access tools and files can all live reliably and conveniently in the Internet cloud, then users can be anywhere and still be productive. Huge CPUs and massive hard drives are meaningless, because everything happens on the Internet. So Google is betting that what users really want and need is a browser-based operating system that will make for easy access to online tools, secure data storage, and powerful search and retrieval.

Then there’s Apple. In 2009, Apple will have released upgrades to both Macintosh OS X and its Web browser, Safari. But the real news from Apple was the huge upgrade to the iPhone OS. Apple has always placed great emphasis on the user experience, and on how its technology can empower users in new ways. They see personal computing as of equivalent benefit to one’s personal and work activities. They recognized the importance of communication early on, and have been driving toward a personal communications-and-computing device since the early 1990s. The iPhone OS 3.0 might be the next move toward a communicator OS.

The philosophical contest that is going to play out among these three companies and their customers will have everything to do with how people use information. E-Learning professionals have a huge stake in the outcome. In the near term, are current content libraries, development tools, and administrative systems compatible with these new technologies? Will content have to be changed as a result of impending system upgrades? It’s not too soon to talk with IT and your tech vendors so that you can begin your planning now.

The real impact is a bit further out. No one approach is going to satisfy everyone, every company, or every industry. Each approach will require different thinking by learning designers, because each operating system comes with its own hardware requirements and user types. What type(s) of content consumers and content creators comprise your learning audience? The way you think about content and users is different from the way IT thinks – do you and your IT counterparts have a meeting of the minds about user requirements? How would each of these OS environments help or hinder user productivity? How would each of these OS environments help or hinder user learning? How will this alter your learning experience designs?

And, as your extra credit assignment: while you’re volunteering at the local school, give some thought to how this latest round of technology upgrades might be used by school-age learners. Don’t worry – the kids will be happy to help you figure it out.

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