Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Changing the game

Eighteen months ago my device of choice was the iPad. It was a running joke amongst some of my colleagues that mine never left my side. I was scornful of smart phones for the simple reason that, whilst they were great for doing things such as receiving email, they were hopeless when it came to sending it - a fault that the larger keyboard of the iPad helps to overcome. Consequently I took my iPad everywhere: It enabled me to reply to messages within minutes of receiving them; the calendar helped me keep track of meeting and appointments; it enabled me to carry (nearly) all of my textbooks around with me, along with various useful apps; it also gave me a means of sharing and editing documents on the go. I had started to find it indispensable.

The thing that has changed this, at least in part, is the iPhone 4s. Apple have referred to Siri as being a "Game changer" and I am inclined to agree - but not in the way most people think. In my opinion the "Personal Assistant" part of it is largely a gimmick - the really useful part is the voice recognition that is built into all apps using the standard keyboard. Of course voice recognition is nothing new - not even on smart phones - but it is the close integration here that makes the difference. On laptops voice recognition has gone out of favour in recent years largely due to the fact that, even at 98% accuracy, the time taken to correct mistakes makes it inconvenient compared to a traditional keyboard. But on a smart phone, with the inherent limitations of any keyboard small enough to fit on such a device, voice recognition suddenly makes document creation a reality (well, in a quiet environment it does). Sure, there are still mistakes that require correction (proof reading is essential if you are to avoid some of the embarrassing errors I've almost made!) but the time taken to correct them is small compared to how long it would take to type out the message on the phone's keyboard.

All of which brings me to an important point: ICT is currently changing extremely fast - both in terms of what we use it for and the way in which we use it to do the things we want. So why do ICT lessons in most school still focus on software packages which could very well be obsolete by the time our current pupils leave school? In my experience traditional ICT lessons are very uninspiring - the pupils who want to know already know and the ones that don't couldn't really care. Wouldn't it be better to use ICT lessons to discuss matters such as how ICT is shaping the world, its likely future and the dangers associated with ICT in a social context? Pupils can pick up all the other skills, such as spreadsheets and word processing, as and when they need them, such as when they need to start analysing data and plotting graphs in science, or to write up a laboratory report.

By the way, this Blog was dictated using Siri. (And only four mistakes - unless you happen to spot some I missed!)

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