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Chromebook boosting classrooms

After allaying its critics, Chromebook has been labelled by educators as the essential classroom tool. In a recent study by Acer – European Schoolnet Educational Netbook Pilot of 2010, 74% of European based teachers who participated in the study believed that netbooks in classrooms will allow students personalised learning, and 89% of all teachers believe that netbooks will add value to improving computer literacy.

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According to Peter Lacey, Education Lead for Acer Africa, the question is not if the Chromebook will enter South African classrooms, but when and how. Selborne Primary School based in East London decided to partner with Acer to introduce the Google Chromebook as part of their classroom learnings early in 2013. Through the Acer Premier Partner Program, Acer Africa has managed to successfully provide technology solutions to over 120 schools across its network. The success, according to Lacey lies in the fully customisable solutions that Google and its platforms provide.

After comparing several solutions, the school’s governing body decided that the Google platform will be the best vehicle to move the school into the next phase of its technology journey. Sarah Friend, Grade Seven teacher at Selborne explains that, “ease of use is probably the stand out feature for me. This allows each pupil to use the device according to their unique learning ability.” According to Lacey this is what makes the Chromebook unique to any other netbook.  “The Chromebook supports the learning material of a school’s current curriculum while allowing a pupil to expand this learning with additional online tools via the safe and secure Device Management System (DMS) and it’s always up to date.”  The robust build of the device and selection of applications allows both educator and pupil to get the most out of the learning process. A recent study supports this claim reporting that more than 60% of students have indicated that their learning experience is enhanced by the Google Chromebook. “As an IT administrator of the school, I can manage our Chromebooks, the learning material and other Chrome devices, from a cloud-based Admin console or DMS,” says Friend.

“Since its introduction to the South African market, late in 2013, the Chromebook has had a clear and lasting value add in the local education sector,” says Alister Payne, MD of Google Cloud Solutions. Payne refers to the advancements of technology in the classroom as Tequity, or Tech Equity. “Bringing tech into the learning environment creates an enhanced learning experience.” According to Payne, Tequity reaches further than only the physical accessibility of devices, but the convenience of accessing information via a device as well as the simplicity thereof. Lacey elaborates on this point by conveying that technology should never be introduced to a classroom to replace educators, but rather to aid the facilitator to support pupils during the exploration and curation process. “This is the future of learning,” says Lacey. “Students become content creators rather than content consumers.” With a plethora of applications and collaborative tools at their disposal, each student consumes learning material according to their capabilities, making it a lasting experience. “There are different apps for everything from dissecting a grasshopper to taking a tour through ancient Egypt. Google Chromebook is an essential and interactive tool for the 20th century learner” says Lacey. By making this paradigm shift more emphasis is placed on exploring and comprehending content rather, than following a graded curriculum based outcome.

Another feature that is unique to Google Chromebook is the mobility. Students are able to work on group projects whether they are in the same room or not. Additionally, teachers are also able to evaluate how individuals contributed to group projects. Via the Google Classroom Assignment application, teachers schedule assignments on any subject and are able to track its project. Peter Lacey, Education Lead for Acer Africa add that this in turn creates a paperless classroom, creating a greener learning environment.

Although the adoption of the Chromebook in local classroom cannot be disputed, there are still a fair amount of concerns. These concerns are echoed in the Acer – European Schoolnet Educational Netbook Pilot where the three main objections to the Chromebook was the lack of support, distracted learners and limited access to internet. Even though the first two concerns have been discredited in the last five years, the latter is still a valid objection in our local environment.

The integration of Chromebooks in the Selborne classrooms have dissipated original fears which included the lack of support, distracted learners and limited access to internet. “The five year project has seen Acer invest in the Google Ecosystem Support Base in South Africa, and in this time learners have showed increased engagement,” says Lacey. “Although access to internet remains a concern in rural areas, urban areas are well serviced, and the current number of adopted schools will continue to increase.” Lacey concludes by saying that with government’s commitment to further reduce data costs the country is on the cusp of a connectivity explosion which will filter through to schools and allow for easier access to e-learning.

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Online retail gets real

After decades of experience in selling online, retailers still seek out the secret of reaching the digital consumer, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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It’s been 23 years since the first pizza and the first bunch of flowers was sold online. One would think, after all this time, that retailers would know exactly what works, and exactly how the digital consumer thinks.

Yet, in shopping-mad South Africa, only 4% of adults regularly shop online. One could blame high data costs, low levels of tech-savviness, or lack of trust. However, that doesn’t explain why a population where more than a quarter of people have a debit or credit card and almost 40% of people use the Internet is staying away.

The new Online Retail in South Africa 2019 study, conducted by World Wide Worx with the support of Visa and Platinum Seed, reveals that growth is in fact healthy, but is still coming off a low base. This year, the total sale of retail products online is expected to pass the R14-billion mark, making up 1.4% of total retail.

This figure represents 25% growth over 2017, and comes after the same rate of growth was seen in 2017. At this rate, it is clear that online retail is going mainstream, driven by aggressive marketing, and new shopping channels like mobile shopping. 

But it is equally clear that not all retailers are getting it right. According to the study, the unwillingness of business to reinvest revenue in developing their online presence is one of the main barriers to long-term success. Only one in five companies surveyed invested more than 20% of their online turnover back into their online store. Over half invested less than 10% back.

On the surface, the industry looks healthy, as a surprisingly high 71% of online retailers surveyed say they are profitable. But this brings to mind the early days of Amazon.com, in 1996, when founder Jeff Bezos was asked when it would become profitable.

He declared that it would not be profitable for at least another five years. And if it did, he said, it would be in big trouble. He meant that it was so important for long-term sustainability that Amazon reinvest all its revenues in customer systems, that it could not afford to look for short-term profits.

According to the South African study, the single most critical factor in the success of online retail activities is customer service. A vast majority, 98% of respondents, regarded it as important. This positions customer service as the very heart of online retail. For Amazon, investment back into systems that would streamline customer service became the key to the world’s digital wallets.

In South Africa online still make up a small proportion of overall retail, but for the first time we see the promise of a broader range of businesses in terms of category, size, turnover and employee numbers. This is a sign that our local market is beginning to mature. 

Clothing and apparel is the fastest growing sector, but is also the sector with the highest turnover of businesses. It illustrates the dangers of a low barrier to entry: the survival rate of online stores in this sector is probably directly opposite to the ease of setting up an online apparel store.

A fast-growing category that was fairly low on the agenda in the past, alcohol, tobacco and vaping, has benefited from the increased online supply of vapes, juices and accessories. It also suggests that smoking bans, and the change in the legal status of marijuana during the survey, may have boosted demand. 

In the coming weeks, we can expect online retail to fall under the spotlight as never before. Black Friday, a shopping tradition imported “wholesale” from the United States, is expected to become the biggest online shopping day of the year in South Africa, as it is in the USA.

Initially, it was just a gimmick in South Africa, attempting to cash in on what was a purely American tradition of insane sales on the Friday after Thanksgiving Day, which occurs on the third Thursday of November every year. It is followed by Cyber Monday, making the entire weekend one of major promotions and great bargains.

It has grown every year in South Africa since its first introduction about six years ago, and last year it broke into the mainstream, with numerous high profile retailers embracing it, and many consumers experiencing it for the first time. 

It is now positioned as the prime bargain day of the year for consumers, and many wait in anticipation for it, as they do in the USA. Along with Cyber Monday, it provides an excuse for retailers to go all out in their marketing, and for consumers to storm the display shelves or web pages. South African shoppers, clearly, are easily enticed by bargains.

Word of mouth around Black Friday has also grown massively in the past two years, driven by both media and shoppers who have found ridiculous bargains. As news spreads that the most ridiculous of the bargains are to be had online, even those who were reticent of digital shopping will be tempted to convert.

The Online Retail in SA 2019 report has shown over the years that, as people become more experienced in using the Internet, their propensity to shop online increases. This is part of the World Wide Worx model known as the Digital Participation Curve. The key missing factor in the Curve is that most retailers do not know how to convert that propensity into actual online shopping behaviour. Black Friday will be one of the keys to conversion.

Carry on reading to find out about the online retailers of the year.

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Reliable satellite Internet?

MzansiSat, a satellite-Internet business, aims to beam Internet connections to places in South Africa which don’t have access to cabled and mobile network infrastructure, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Stellenbosch-based MzansiSat promises to provide cheap wholesale Internet to Internet Service Providers for as little as R25 per Gigabyte. Providers who offer more expensive Internet services could benefit greatly from partnering with MzansiSat, says the company. 

“Using MzansiSat, we hope that we can carry over cost-savings benefits to the consumer,” says Victor Stephanopoli, MzansiSat chief operating officer.

The company, which has been spun off from StellSat, has been looking to increase its investor portfolio while it waits for spectrum approval. The additional investment will allow MzansiSat’s satellite to operate in more regions across Africa.

The MzansiSat satellite is being built by Thales Alenia Space, a French company which is also acting as technical partner to MzansiSat. In addition to building the satellite, Thales Alenia Space will also be assisting MzansiSat in coordinating the launch. The company intends to launch the satellite into the 56°E orbital slot in a geostationary orbit, which enables communication almost anywhere in Africa. The launch is expected to happen in 2022. 

The satellite will have 76 transponders, 48 of which will be Ku-band and 28 C-band. Ku-band is all about high-speed performance, while C-band deals with weather-resistance. The design intention is for customers of MzansiSat to choose between very cheap, reliable data and very fast, power-efficient data. 

C-band is an older technology, which makes bandwidth cheaper and almost never affected by rain but requires bigger dishes and slower bandwidth compared to Ku-band connections. On the other hand, Ku-band is faster, experiences less microwave interference, and requires less power to run – but is less reliable with bad weather conditions.

MzansiSat’s potential military applications are significant, due to the nature of the military being mobile and possibly in remote areas without connectivity.  Connectivity everywhere would be potentially be life-saving.

Consumers in remote areas will benefit, even though satellite is higher in latency than fibre and LTE connections. While this level of latency is high (a fifth of a second in theory), satellite connections are still adequate for browsing the Internet and watching online content. 

The Internet of Things (IoT) may see the benefits of satellite Internet before consumers do. The applications of IoT in agriculture are vast, from hydration sensors to soil nutrient testers, and can be realised with an Internet connection which is available in a remote area.

Stephanopoli says that e-learning in remote areas can also benefit from MzansiSat’s presence, as many school resources are becoming readily available online. 

“Through our network, the learning experience can be beamed into classrooms across the country to substitute or complement local resources within the South African schooling system.”

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