Last week’s Learning Through Technology conference in Glasgow offered many unusual experiences, not least of which was watching my brother Alasdair addressing the various teachers, learning technologists and civil servants from the podium. As a child Alasdair used to wind me up so much that when I was five I threw a welly at his head, smashing our living room window; he’s now a minister in the Scottish government. I enjoyed his speech, particularly the Yes, Minister reference. ( “Did you not feel like David Milliband, though?”, my mother asked me a few days later.)
It was also interesting to hear many people from the education sector saying that schools, universities and colleges should turn to Facebook or Apple to realise the potential of technology for them, rather than devising their own e-learning solutions. Why bother with other devices, one primary school teacher cried, when the iPad is just so good? And why go to the trouble of creating and supporting your own virtual learning environment when Facebook have done most of the hard work already?
Yes, the Apple devices are wonderful, particularly when it comes to accessibility; Facebook offers unprecedented opportunities for collaboration. But if education invests in, say, the iPad as a learning tool and another device comes along 2 years later that’s easier to use and cheaper, what happens then? And what happens if overnight Apple doubles the price of the app that you’ve just built your curriculum around? And isn’t it putting the cart before the horse slightly to talk about what’s already on offer, rather than about what our learners might actually need?
These are massive corporations whose main purpose is to deliver large dividends for their shareholders. (Facebook and Apple’s profits in the final quarter of 2012 were £41 million and $8.2 billion, respectively.) Would we be as keen to hand over control of our learning to Tesco, or Starbucks, or RBS?