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Independent studies question if "platform agnostic" exists

What was the one-word stumbling block most encountered by educators in their digital learning efforts during the 2013-2014 school year? The issue likely to repeat itself into 2015 and beyond? One where a false sense of security leads many school systems down the same troublesome path?Infographic.jpg




Back to my days as a K-12 administrator, I’ve heard the term “platform agnostic” used by software and content publishers to comfort school leaders to sign the purchase order. Over the years, we’ve heard the same thing from hardware manufacturers as greater variety in operating systems meant there were more choices, but also more possible problems for schools.


No matter how effective an instructional resource may be, when a student’s device is unable to correctly display and work with that content, teaching and learning are compromised. And while many companies have used the term “device [or] platform agnostic” the truth is not all stand up to that test.


The Backstory


Last summer, a major urban school system began planning for a large 1:1 deployment. One of their requirements was with a particular social studies curriculum. Although dozens of hardware vendors introduced an array of choices, every one of them claimed to be compatible. Yet when we tested the online LMS in different platforms, we kept experiencing multiple errors. Chapter openers, lesson videos, organizational tools….even games….didn’t work on several platforms that were simultaneously being told were “compatible” with the district’s choices. Clearly the definition of “compatible” differed between buyer and seller. Schools expect 100% compatibility to provide the greatest access to learning.


Having won that 1:1 learning deployment with Intel and Microsoft, our three companies discussed this issue and felt that clear, objective data on this subject was clearly lacking in our industry. As a result, we engaged an independent research firm – Principled Technologies – to examine this compatibility question.


Over the past few months, their team developed learning progressions – specific examples of how technology may be used at different grade levels over a course of the school day. It would include resources from academic publishers, online resources and specific applications. Different tests would examine Windows 8.1 as well as iOS, Android http://facts.pt/1yNFu7g and Chrome OS options http://facts.pt/1iFBpNr.


The Results


Their studies finally confirmed what many of us had known. Windows 8.1 provided the most compatible access to the content and tools, more so than the other operating systems. Compatibility issues around Flash and HTML 5 created problems on iOS and Android devices, many of which could not be solved with work-arounds like Flash-based browsers (including Puffin). Some of the sites even warned users in advance when logging in on select devices that they may encounter compatibility issues.


Chrome OS devices also ran into compatibility issues, particularly around Java. The most surprising facet of the report was that the Chromebook tested was unable to properly view a location in 3D in Google Maps.


All of the devices tested and the corresponding operating systems can be effectively used in education. I personally hope this study isn’t interpreted to suggest otherwise. But as a selection resource, schools should be aware of compatibility issues, and make sure it is part of their process. We want educators to enter any agreement with their eyes fully open, knowing what they can and cannot do with their devices.


Over the past year, consortiums PARCC and Smarter Balanced have gone to great lengths to offer the most open-standards-based online testing. They are working with testing firms to ensure compatible access across a wide range of devices and operating systems. But this may be creating a false sense of security to educators. “If my digital testing is compatible with the device, it must be good enough, right?”



by on ‎08-07-2014 05:00 AM

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About the Author
  • Jim Vanides is responsible for the vision, strategy, design, and implementation of education technology innovation initiatives. His focus is the effective use of technology to create powerful learning experiences that help students around the world succeed. He has been instrumental in launching over 1200 primary, secondary, and higher education projects in 41 countries, including the HP Catalyst Initiative - a 15-country network of 60+ education organizations exploring innovations in STEM(+) learning and teaching. In addition to his work at HP, Jim teaches an online course for Montana State University on the Science of Sound, a masters-level, conceptual physics course for teachers in grades 5 through 8. Jim’s past work at HP has included engineering design, engineering management, and program management in R&D, Manufacturing, and Business Development. He holds a BS in Engineering and a MA in Education, both from Stanford University.
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