One of the little tasks I have over the summer holiday is to figure out next years strategy for computing across the school. Specifically, how we can leverage software and services to maximise the benefit to learning and teaching from the rather splendid investment made in hardware infrastructure as part of the new build.
To help I started with a set of guidelines, based around some principles, to help guide the decision process. Hopefully these will also help others understand where things are coming from.
Principles are important (especially if you can keep to them). This section sets out a set of principles that have been used to help guide the process of forming this strategy.
1. Keep things simple. Training and the impact of change can be costly. Simple things that get used are more valuable than complex stuff that doesn’t. Related to this, consistent solutions are often better than better solutions[i].
2. Use commodity stuff wherever possible. What needs a custom solution today can be done with commodity stuff tomorrow. It usually makes sense to wait for tomorrow. The benefits of large customer base and the associated multipliers of scale will typically outweigh the benefits of a solution customised for a niche market. We’re not experts in running technology infrastructure; so we’ll partner with those that are.
3. Education is preparation for life. So we will endeavour to ensure education reflects life outside the education bubble wherever that’s appropriate. Likewise, we believe that education doesn’t need specialist ‘education technology’ to support it[ii].
4. Life is risky. Learning how to manage risks is an important life skill so we don’t want 100% insulation. Where there is risk and risky behaviour we’ll try and architect so that it remains close. Pushing risks underground is more risky than acknowledging them and holding them close.
5. Boundaries are blurred. Working and learning don’t happen just within the physical space of TOA. More than acknowledging; enabling, supporting and promoting learning and working anywhere are important outcomes for our technology strategy.
6. Computing can be deployed such that costs elsewhere are reduced. Computing can also been seen purely as a cost to be minimised. We’ll aim for a balance that recognises that education has typically treated computing more as a cost and less as an opportunity.
7. Software is more important than hardware. Or: it’s not what you have it’s what you do with it that matters.
8. Open solutions are better than closed. ‘Nuff said.
[i] Tim Bray has some related thoughts on this at http://www.tbray.org/ongoing/When/201x/2010/01/02/Doing-It-Wrong
[ii] As an illustration: a reasonably recent trend in the commercial sector has been the commercialisation of IT (characterised by the support for consumer devices, like the Apple iPhone, as part of IT systems). A similar trend is expected in education: the consumerisation of education.