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Education goes app

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Amid South Africa’s textbook crisis, two new printed guides to educational apps send a signal that the world is moving on, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

The ironies in inequality have seldom been so stark. As the education crisis deepens for the South African government, the Department of Basic Education and teachers and learners in isolated parts of the country, more privileged schools have never been more spoiled for choice.

While many don’t even have classrooms, the most pressing issue facing the privileged is in which direction to take the evolution of the classroom. Do we embrace iPads immediately across all subjects or phase them in? Which form of flipped learning should we embrace combining teaching with general Internet tools, or with a mix of apps and textbooks?

An alarming reality lurks behind such privilege, however: the majority of schools considering technology-based enhancement of classrooms are clueless about where to start. Whether they are considering embracing smartboards, iPads or cellphone teaching and learning tools, they tend to be doing so because it is expected, rather than because the educational process itself requires it. And, because flipped learning the blend of traditional teaching with technology aids is still a matter for debate around the world, there are no clear and agreed guidelines, rules and processes that will ensure success in achieving teaching goals.

This is most obvious in the embrace of tablet-based teaching and learning: the quest for appropriate apps is haphazard, and sometimes teachers even create their own apps to ensure they meet curriculum demands. The greatest need, it turned out, was not the technology itself, but resources to guide teachers through best use of the technology.

In the absence of such resources, the most common debate about tablets at schools was whether they should embrace the Apple iPad, or an Android tablet that would allow a greater range of hardware choices, as well as far cheaper devices.

Now, an initiative by South African Apple distributors Core Group has settled the debate for many. It’s educational arm, Think Ahead Education Solutions, has produced two guides to teaching and learning apps that cuts down dramatically on the complexity of app selection.

First off the presses and yes, these are printed books was The Primary School Education App Guide, providing a comprehensive and categorised guide to apps for the iPad, iPhone and even iPod Touch. It splits apps between those for Grades 1,2 and 3, and for Grades 4, 5 and 6. Each listed app, in turn, indicates the device at which it is aimed, the price and a brief summary.

It’s not focused only on the more dull aspects of education either. For the youngest children, it includes the likes of bedtime stories and games on the one hand, and literacy and ebook reading apps on the other. For older kids, Eco Footprint, Mr Thorne Does Phonics and fraction Math underline the serious intentions of the guide.

The guide was a revelation for many teachers, who had been wrestling with home-made versions of app guides produced randomly by colleagues over the past year or so. The moment high school teachers laid eyes on it, Core was met with a chorus of demand for an equivalent guide.

They duly obliged, and The Secondary School Education App Guide is out double the size of the Primary version. Again, the apps are split into two groups, for Grades 7, 8 and 9, and grades 10, 11 and 12. They are further divided into subject categories, specifically for Maths, English, Physical Science and Life Science, and categorised according to their fit with the national curriculum.

These are textbooks that represent the beginning of a true educational revolution in South Africa one that is happening despite the incompetence of officialdom to resolve the educational crisis, rather than being thanks to their efforts.

More important, they provide educators at the more fortunate schools with the tools they need to escape from dependence on the whims of party political appointees. They represent what is possible in education, rather than what we are forced to accept because it was foisted upon us by unthinking bureaucrats.

While they also represent the tools that will for the foreseeable future be out of reach of those still waiting for textbooks, they also send a signal to Government that the world is moving on while it dithers with our future.

* Arthur Goldstuck is editor-in-chief of Gadget. Follow him on Twitter at @art2gee

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Millennials turning 40: NOW will you stop targeting them?

It’s one of the most overused terms in youth marketing, and probably the most inaccurate, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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One of the most irritating buzzwords embraced by marketers in recent years is the term “millennial”. Most are clueless about its true meaning, and use it as a supposedly cool synonym for “young adults”. The flaw in this targeting – and the word “flaw” here is like calling the Grand Canyon a trench – is that it utterly ignores the meaning of the term. “Millennials” are formally defined as anyone born from 1980 to 2000, meaning they have typically come of age after the dawn of the millennium, or during the 21st century.

Think about that for a moment. Next year, the millennial will be formally defined as anyone aged from 20 to 40. So here you have an entire advertising, marketing and public relations industry hanging onto a cool definition, while in effect arguing that 40-year-olds are youths who want the same thing as newly-minted university graduates or job entrants.

When the communications industry discovers just how embarrassing its glib use of the term really is, it will no doubt pivot – millennial-speak for “changing your business model when it proves to be a disaster, but you still appear to be cool” – to the next big thing in generational theory.

That next big thing is currently Generation Z, or people born after the turn of the century. It’s very convenient to lump them all together and claim they have a different set of values and expectations to those who went before. Allegedly, they are engaged in a quest for experience, compared to millennials – the 19-year-olds and 39-olds alike – supposedly all on a quest for relevance.

In reality, all are part of Generation #, latching onto the latest hashtag trend that sweeps social media, desperate to go viral if they are producers of social content, desperate to have caught onto the trend before their peers.

The irony is that marketers’ quest for cutting edge target markets is, in reality, a hangover from the days when there was no such thing as generational theory, and marketing was all about clearly defined target markets. In the era of big data and mass personalization, that idea seems rather quaint.

Indeed, according to Grant Lapping, managing director of DataCore Media, it no longer matters who brands think their target market is.

“The reason for this is simple: with the technology and data digital marketers have access to today, we no longer need to limit our potential target audience to a set of personas or segments derived through customer research. While this type of customer segmentation was – and remains – important for engagements across traditional above-the-line engagements in mass media, digital marketing gives us the tools we need to target customers on a far more granular and personalised level.

“Where customer research gives us an indication of who the audience is, data can tell us exactly what they want and how they may behave.”

Netflix, he points out, is an example of a company that is changing its industry by avoiding audience segmentation, once the holy grail of entertainment.

In other words, it understands that 20-year-olds and 40-year-olds are very different – but so is everyone in between.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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AI, IoT, and language of bees can save the world

A groundbreaking project is combining artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things to learn the language of bees, and save the planet, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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It is early afternoon and hundreds of bees are returning to a hive somewhere near Reading in England. They are no different to millions of bees anywhere else in the world, bringing the nectar of flowers back to their queen.

But the hive to which they bring their tribute is no ordinary apiary.

Look closer, and one spots a network of wires leading into the structure. They connect up to a cluster of sensors, and run into a box beneath the hive carrying the logo of a company called Arnia: a name synonymous with hive monitoring systems for the past decade. The Arnia sensors monitor colony acoustics, brood temperature, humidity, hive weight, bee counts and weather conditions around the apiary.

On the back of the hive, a second box is emblazoned with the logo of BuzzBox. It is a solar-powered, Wi-Fi device that transmits audio, temperature, and humidity signals, includes a theft alarm, and acts as a mini weather station.

In combination, the cluster of instruments provides an instant picture of the health of the bee hive. But that is only the beginning.

What we are looking at is a beehive connected to the Internet of Things: connected devices and sensors that collect data from the environment and send it into the cloud, where it can be analysed and used to monitor that environment or help improve biodiversity, which in turn improves crop and food production.

The hives are integrated into the World Bee Project, a global honey bee monitoring initiative. Its mission is to “inform and implement actions to improve pollinator habitats, create more sustainable ecosystems, and improve food security, nutrition and livelihoods by establishing a globally-coordinated monitoring programme for honeybees and eventually for key pollinator groups”.

The World Bee Project is working with database software leader Oracle to transmit massive volume of data collected from its hives into the Oracle Cloud. Here it is combined with numerous other data sources, from weather patterns to pollen counts across the ecosystem in which the bees collect the nectar they turn into honey. Then, artificial intelligence software – with the assistance of human analysts – is used to interpret the behaviour of the hive, and patterns of flight, and from there assess the ecosystem.

Click here to read more about how the Internet of Things is used to interpret the language of bees.

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