Voice from the Industry

From BASIC to HTML5 – Teaching in the World of BYOD

It does not seem possible that it has been a third of a century since I worked with Enn Pajur, the then-principal of Sharbot Lake High School, to install the first computer in an Eastern Ontario school in September of 1978. Being involved in the evolution since then has been fascinating. Those 4K Commodore PETs with their chiclet keyboards and audio tape recorders are a far cry from the 16-gigabyte tablets used by so many kids today. Surprisingly, both were priced about the same, and the impact on education of both is huge.

With BASIC built-in, high school students had their first hands-on experience with computers and some dabbled with programming. With the exception of a few simple math tutorials and some word games, there really was not any educational software. Teachers were very creative, but in those early days, it was teaching about computers, not through them.

The Apple II, its younger sibling the Apple IIGS and the later versions of Macintosh brought color, sound, and animation. Products like HyperCard provided the first user-friendly development tools for subject matter experts, teachers, and students. From the mid-eighties to the late nineties, PCs flooded into schools and great educational software emerged.

From about 1998 to the spring of 2010 we saw the impact of the Internet, Learning Management Systems (LMS), and the introduction of tools that allowed teachers to more readily bring their content online.

Microsoft PowerPoint became the standard way that content was presented in many classrooms. When teachers started to make their classroom and other courses available online, they went searching for tools that would turn their existing presentation content into compelling eLearning objects. They found a number of packages that converted PowerPoint to Flash and our Impatica for PowerPoint, which converts PowerPoint into a highly compressed file that uses our proprietary Java player. With simply a drag and drop, their narrated PowerPoint presentations became streamable, SCORM-compliant learning objects that could be added to course catalogs within an LMS. Students with Flash or Java-enabled browsers could easily access these courses over the Internet.

Then in April 2010 the world changed. Shortly after the launch of the iPad, Steve Jobs published an open letter on Flash. HTML5 now had the backing of the biggest innovator of our lifetime. It instantly became a legitimate and viable technology to replace Flash. It offered a single, standard, and plug-in free way to deliver sophisticated content to both computers and mobile devices. When Microsoft began shipping IE 9 with HTML5 support and Adobe announced that it was discontinuing development of the Flash player for mobile web browsers, it became inevitable. HTML5 is the new standard web delivery mechanism for educational and other content.

Universities, colleges, K-12 schools, and other organizations have been flooded with iPads. The way we work and consume content has been changed forever. Tablets are ideal devices for mobile learning; however, there is neither Flash nor Java on the iPad.

This is not just about the iPad and other iOS devices. In the third quarter of 2011, companies other than Apple manufactured approximately one-third of the tablets shipped. Those numbers might be somewhat skewed by HP’s entry and quick retreat from the market as well as some channel fill activity, but the numbers are significant and cannot be ignored. The entry of the Amazon Kindle Fire into the market in Q4 at less than $200 means that tens of millions more people can now afford to purchase a tablet.

School districts are suffering financially, and more and more, as Michael Flood pointed out in his June 2011 View From the Industry article, are embracing a “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) strategy. While it makes sense that students should be able to use their own devices, the centralized control is gone. Teachers need to find a way to guide and control the use of these devices and enhance the learning experience.

Since Steve Jobs issued his open letter on Flash, there has been a lot of discussion about HTML5. Is it ready? Does it work? What will I need to give up? Yes, it is ready and deployed in all new browsers and devices. It works extremely well on both mobile devices and PCs. Tools are coming to the market that allow rapid development of content, so nothing will need to be given up.

Our company has announced Impatica for PowerPoint Version 5. With this desktop tool, existing PowerPoint presentations are converted into SCORM-compliant learning objects that play everywhere. If the student has an HTML5-enabled device or browser, our player will take advantage of those capabilities. In a departure for us, as we always have used a Java applet, Version 5 comes with a Flash player for situations where HTML5 is not available. Content developers can really Build Once and Deliver Everywhere!

So what does all of this mean for teachers? The new reality is BYOD, HTML5, LMSs, thousands of educational apps, digital books, social networking, and lots of local teacher-made content. While it presents some challenges, this new world brings huge opportunities for teachers.

Teachers have had such an impact on us all. For my friend Woz, it was his Grade 5 teacher. For Greg Cessna (Hot Off the Press: Teachers Matter the Most!, Voice From the Industry, April 2011), it was his seventh-grade chemistry teacher. For me it was my second year economics professor. Their influence and direction cannot be lost in this new age. Teachers will, as they always have, bring this home for their students and make it real for them!

Software like Impatica’s allows teachers to use tools they already have to create exciting content based on work they have completed as part of their existing classroom preparation. They can add their voice and custom content to existing apps and Internet links. Using this new technology, classroom teachers will affect many more students even more profoundly than the way Woz, Greg, me, and millions of other students have been influenced in the past.

Students can create content that teachers can post online for secure viewing by the students’ family members and classmates, regardless if their access is from an older PC or the newest mobile device.

It has been a long time since Enn Pajur and I installed those first PETs. While the path has not been a straight one, I am extremely excited about where we are today. HTML5 has been universally embraced by the industry. School districts can now make long-term investment decisions. Students can bring their own devices to the party. Teachers can connect with them 24/7, delivering their own voice, personality, and knowledge.

Michael Doyle is the Chairman and CEO of Impatica Inc. He is a g raduate of Business Administration from the Eastern Ontario Institute of Technology. He started his career as a Systems Engineer with IBM Corporation and co-founded Impatica in 1998. He has founded several other high technology companies, including Computer Innovations, Nabu, JIT Learning Products, and the Kanata High Technology Training Association. In addition to several other private and public boards, Mr. Doyle served as a member of Canada’s National Advisory Council on the Information Highway and on the Minister’s Council on Educational Technology. He may be reached at mdoyle@impatica.com.