12 October 2011

Platform Agnostic

I'm nervous as I begin to write this, because it is truly not my goal to insult or upset anyone, especially people who are friends who I learn from every day, but... I think this is important...

My "messenger bag" weighs a lot. That's because it usually has multiple devices in it, which, is a pain, but, I consider myself an educator, and so, I can't just carry - when in work mode - the tools I like.

Sure, on my own, I'm a single device guy most of the time. For full disclosure I'll say that these days I usually carry an HTC Android phone. With it I can write (via MS Word or Google Docs), read (including via Kindle, Nook, Google Books), research, entertain myself (including Netflix, Hulu, YouTube). Its tiny, it fits in my pocket, I don't usually need a bigger screen, I have tons of apps - including the assistive technologies I need - every one free. But yes, if "dissertating" is part of my days work that is joined by an HP Touchsmart TabletPC, it is easier to edit via that real keyboard, and for dictating text nothing beats Windows7 Speech Recognition (though I am surely ready to check out Siri on the iPhone 4S), and the big screen lets me have both my advisor's comments and my document visible.

But, other times, other places. I have a Windows7 desktop I built (of course, @JamesSocol spec'd it for me) with multiple monitors for "big work." I have my MacBook Pro, which I really enjoy for some things - especially iMovie - if it only didn't get too damn hot to actually have in your lap (the MacBook Pro can boot to MacOS or Windows7). I have an iOS device, an Android Tablet, a Netbook... yes, it is absurd, but I have to be... actually I always have been "Platform Agnostic" in my work.

I'm not "Platform Agnostic" because I'm a crazed techie, I'm "Platform Agnostic" because I work in education, and education is about helping students prepare for any possible future, not my particular vision of a future. And I'm "Platform Agnostic" because I believe that we only prepare students for their possible futures by helping them learn to make intelligent choices, to think critically, and to build toolbelts of device choices and learning strategies which will support them across their lifespans.

Am I loyal to some products in my personal life? Sort of. I have many good reasons to prefer Firefox as a web browser, and I use it a lot with schools. Yet despite that I remain fully aware of what Chrome, Chromium, Opera, Safari, yes, even what Internet Explorer do. Have I come to like Android? Indeed I have, except, that I know that I desperately miss what Blackberry does with mail and messaging, and yeah, you know, if Apple were more open I know there are things in iOS that I really like. Do I love the TabletPC? Yes, mostly I do, but that doesn't really commit me to any brand the next time I want a carryable computer. And sure, I really do like Microsoft Word, for many reasons - especially because of WordTalk - but I use Google Docs more, and I use Open Office Writer a lot.

So when I work with kids, I'm not trying to fit them to a device or a software package, I'm instead trying to find the tools which they need - which they will be most comfortable with - to complete their task or tasks. This is the "Tool Crib" I talk about. This is what schools and classrooms need, a place filled with tools kids pick up as they need. If they don't have these kinds of choices in school they will never learn how to make effective choices when they leave school.

I'm not promoting anything, I'm not suggesting anything is "better" than anything else, I'm letting students learn to build their own toolbelts. I've always agreed with Neil Postman and Charlie Weingartner when they proposed to "prohibit teachers from asking any question they already know the answer to" (Teaching As a Subversive Activity, 1969), because I feel strongly that we can never really help kids become critical thinkers if "we" (the teachers) hold onto "the right answers" and "the right methods." Similarly, I do not think we can ever hope to raise kids who are critical tool users, choosers, and adapters if we control the idea of what "the right tool" is.

OK, I've pretty much said enough. See, I don't really care if you love Apple products or you love Google. Both are fine. And I'm pleased that you've taken the time to become an "Apple Distinguished Educator" or to have attended the Google Teacher Academy. It's even fine if you love your Microsoft shirt. But I don't think any of those labels or preferences should be obvious to your students. I don't think schools, classrooms, or educators should be "branded." I think we do ourselves a huge disservice when we tie ourselves - and thus our students' perceptions - to one kind of thing, when they will enter a world of technology we have no ability to predict.

- Ira Socol


Royan Lee said...

I absolutely agree. A beautifully definitive post.

Damian said...

+1 here. I have been banging on about platform agnosticism for ages, and this is the exact reason I get concerned whenever I read about the 'death of SMS' in favor of proprietary messaging systems like BBM or Apple's new thing, which I've been reading about more and more lately.

Piers Young said...

Very much agree too. I'm an Apple owner but not an evangelist - for 3 reasons.
a) different platforms have different benefits (as you say) - especially at the software level.
b) I think it is important for children to learn how to choose the tools they want. Part of that process is experimentation.
c) part of that process is also BYOT/seeing how easy it is to connect their setup to an organisations.

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