More features ≠ better software

For technology to make a real difference in education, we must start choosing quality over quantity.
— Byron Scaf, CEO Stile Education
By Byron Scaf

By Byron Scaf

When the iPhone was unveiled in 2007, it wasn’t the first or even the most full-featured smartphone. Personal Digital Assistants, or PDAs as they were then generally known, and BlackBerry devices had been around for a long time before Apple’s phone entered the market. However, they remained an inaccessible piece of technology for the greater public except for business users and a few tech enthusiasts. The iPhone was a game changer because 'it just works'.

Apple didn’t pretend that the iPhone had anywhere near the number of features of the Blackberry – in fact, it didn’t even offer the simple ability to copy and paste for years. It didn’t do as much stuff, but what it did, it did well.

The iPhone delivered quality, not quantity.

iPads are now the leading tablet in Australian classrooms for the same reason: delivering the power of the internet and cutting edge technology to your fingertips in a sleek, reliable package that everyone from toddlers to octogenarians (and beyond!) can use.

So why do we continue to subject our teachers and students to “Blackberry-esque" apps?

Frankly, the current generation of learning management systems and their kin leave a lot to be desired. They are typically slow and clunky, prioritising the needs of administrators over the needs of teachers and students. They are jam-packed full of features, buttons, knobs and dials, most of which are seldom used or even understood by the vast majority of their users. They are not intuitive. They are uninspiring. They are BlackBerrys.

The result? They simply don’t get used. School leadership is forced to spend time trying to get teaching staff to use these tools, only to see teachers either avoid them entirely, or do the minimum required to get you off their backs. These expensive platforms become nothing more than complicated file sharing systems – hardly something you could say is improving educational outcomes.

For technology to make a real difference in education we must start putting aside the idea of 'getting value' if 'value' means sacrificing usability. Rather, we must start selecting tools that 'just work'. Doing so will empower teachers to enhance their students' education, just like the iPhone empowered hundreds of millions by placing the internet in the palm of their hands.