What comes after Netbooks …

What comes after Netbooks should, in my view, should be a greater professional focus on Universal Design for Learning (UDL). This is not just at the individual level, but at the institutional level.

Form wikipedia – UDL is “an educational framework based on research in the learning sciences, including cognitive neuroscience, that guides the development of flexible learning environments that can accommodate individual learning differences.”

I’m about to argue that UDL and the networked individual will be the key to future success (or survival). However going off recent educational technology trends – success is a melon to be sliced in many ways.

Netbooks emerged in 2007, coinciding with the Labour government’s “digital education revolution”. With hindsight it’s clear that the various systems of education didn’t have enough staff able to take on the key role of ‘educational developer’. School roll-out focused more on bringing the neglected infrastructure up to speed and solving technical issues that developing UDL strategies. Most people with educational development skills and experience reside in Higher Education – which in 2007 was very dis-interested in K12’s imminent problem.

In schools, there were too few with UDL and information science skills able and/or willing to take up the immense challenge. Pior to 2007, educational development in schools was handled by small and specialised units such as the Department of Education’s CLI or OTEN. What followed were contractors and tenured IT staff  trying to make the Netbook environment work, in short time-frames, often reverting to the kind of locked down police-states they had presided over  previously.

Many roll-outs failed to acknowledge that widespread connectivity would increase though social networks or the boundaries between family, friends, workplace and school would become weaker (informal connectedness becomes normal). Netbooks didn’t adopt the could or any of this, instead most were issued as cut-down laptops with desktop rules, not increased personal autonomy.

A revolution has to begin, but one based one the autocratic ideals of the past has proven to fail time and time again where ever peer-to-peer relationships are more easily sustained – such as the Internet.

What comes next has to take into account a few realities that they can also easily be ignored or denied. Education remains resilient to softening hierarchical power-structures – and resistant to investing in people (less job security, increased less training, less support, more contracts, less personal autonomy and so on). This is most visible by the fact most office-types have smart phones, iPads and laptops and teachers do have nothing.

Learning is becoming flatter, with fewer reporting relations between learner and teacher. Learning is networked and at a distance, where personal endorsements matter more than scores. For example, when someone appears to be solving a ‘bit’ of the puzzle, others (also learners) will endorse it – giving it all important validation.

The question to be asked of those who will decide what next is simple. Does this solution provide networked individualism? If so, how does this choice enable networked families and networked learning where the ‘school’ and the ‘classroom’ are permeable?

Finally, the Internet by it’s nature is not one thing or headed in one direction. It is already the Internet of things far more indeterminant than any communications layer in human history. The little truth is that schools like to ‘look modern’ and so will probably buy iPads and try to fleet-manage them using the same approach they did Netbooks.

To me, information science is the most likely home for teaching and using UDL. Where the Netbook era obsessed over buzz word like digital citizen – this is one aspect of the greater whole needed to live and learn with the Internet. UDL is a role model for teacher and students alike. The good news is that UDL is not reactive to the ‘spikes’ of edutainment and radical sprooking that was associated with ‘innovation’ in the Netbook era. It’s actually quite a well known, researched and practiced thing.

The only issue is that teachers need to spend time learning how to do it. They need to develop the same kind of skills that Higher Education looks for in Educational Developers (who also teach). This was the issue all along with the digital-revolution. It failed to pay attention to research and front end loaded the ‘technology and tools’ which was easier, cheaper and faster that actually developing the knowledge base of staff.

Time and again this has shown to be fatal – the ones in education that achieved it – were the ones who accepted that knowledge is connected, spatially distributed and that it was difficult to draw a dividing line between personal and public-spheres of life – if you actually want to become a networked individual. Work, hobbies and passion become less formal in all respects and the value of listening to those at the top of the traditional hierarchies became less obvious.

What comes next – well for those who can’t move past talking about web2.0 – more of the same as there are plenty of ‘experts’ feeding off this dogma. For the smart-educational organisation – what comes next is has to to firstly grapple with who comes first – the goals of the organisation or the needs of the individuals. You kind of know what the Internet will choose.