If you ask me this is something that should have happen in 2004, the year we found the association for free, libre and open source software in education (FLOSSE). It didn’t happen in 2004. In a few coming years we have a much better chances for this to happen.
What I would like to see in the educational ICT market in 2012, is an easy to use information and communication (ICT) device that comes with an easy to use Linux.
Why this could revolutionize the use of ICT in education?
In a couple of months the Apple iPad will demonstrate that a simple ICT device that is excellent to do a couple of things — web browsing, email, photos, watching video, listening to music, playing games and reading ebooks — is all a large majority of people need. I am pretty sure that with an addition of audio/video phones calls this is all what 90% of pupils and student need in school and university work. These features of course already exist in most PCs used in schools and universities. The point is that even if the features are there, PCs are by no means “excellent” in these. PCs with the Windows or some desktop Linux are just terrible what it comes to user experience.
Today the user experience with ICT devices is so poor that all clever teachers simply do not let ICT to disturb their classes. A good teacher understands that ICT tools of our time are causing too much cognitive load, disturbance and waste of time. Because of this it is better: 1) not to get ICT in classroom and leave use of them only to computer labs, were the situation is manageable; or 2) to ask pupils to use ICT only at home.
Why I think there are today great chances to design ICT device that comes with Linux that has an excellent user experience?
The five keywords of the answer are:
- Maemo/Meego /Android
- Touch screen UIs
(1) The mobile devices are today the primary ICT devices for the majority of people. This is not the case only in developing world but also among wealthy people. We are fast moving from the PC/Internet world to the mobile internet world. When this is happening, those people who come to the world of ICT with the mobile experience will expect no-hassle user experience from more “advantaged” uses, too: something that is activity centered and as straight forward as making a phone call. This is especially the case with most young people. They are not interested in to “pimp” their PCs or to fight against computer viruses. They are interested in to write a school paper (or a blog posts / wiki-page), to take part in a collaborative knowledge building, to draw, to take a picture or a video, to keep in touch with their friends. The ICT may help them in this or not. If it does they will love it.
(2) The Sugar — the Linux distribution originally designed for the One Laptop per Child project’s laptop — seems to be progressing very well. The basic idea in Sugar is great. Their list of principles are just right. For instance: activities – not applications, emphasizing learning through doing, facilitating sharing and collaboration, collaborative learning through rich-media experience, the culture of free software is a powerful culture for learning etc.
(3) Maemo / Meego are open source, Linux projects developing platform for mobile devices. I have tested several version of Maemo and the user experience of the latest one — with touch screen — is really good. It’s not as good as in iPhone but it is close. Also Android’s — another touch-screen Linux for mobile devices — has pretty good user experience (I have just tested my friends’ devices a couple of times).
(4) Touch screen is a must. Especially if the devices are expected to be used by masses, like it is in the case of education. Anyone who ever have tested iPhone with children under age of 5 know the power of touch screen. With iPhone children are able to draw, watch movies etc. in less than 15 minutes. This does not happen with Windows / Linux PCs and mouse or touch pad. Why is this? It is the natural and instant interaction only possible by touching objects. We have practiced touching things for more than 200 000 years. For school use the device should come with a QWERTY-keyboard, but all the selections should take place through touch screen. It’s time to say good bye for mouse. Some devices also already come with touch screen and QWERTY.
(5) Mobile device with touch screen, QWERY and Linux with great user experience are important. The most important thing, however, is to have a superior web browser: something that makes the reading and writing with the web-forms a pleasant experience. Browsing should be fast and you should be able to adjust the experience for you needs. In input you should not loose your blog post if the connection cuts etc. Simple things but not obvious. Have Mozilla Firefox – it works, it is open source.