Calculator prices

Yesterday, I did some quick back-of-the-envelope and claimed that Flip cameras are similar in relative cost to pocket calculators in the mid-late 1970s. That is: around the time when pocket calculators became ubiquitous, and changed the way we did arithmetic forever.

Poking around the Bank of England’s inflation calculator, and the ONS’s earnings data, it looks to me like the relative cost of the iPad is more like that of calculators circa 1973. That is: the iPad is the Sinclair Cambridge of ubiquitous mobile personal computing. We’ve gone from ‘no decent tablets at any price’ to ‘good enough and a week’s wages’ in a single step.

This is the context in which one should assess Fraser Speirs school’s iPad project. By the early 80s, schools were buying calculators for every class, and by the mid-80s we were mandating specific models for exams. With that precedent set, I suspect tablet adoption will be faster.

Is the iPad the Casio fx82 of 2015?


Day two of the Media and Learning conference in Brussels. Yesterday’s opening plenary was reserved for the politicians and policy-makers, and as a practitioner I frankly didn’t understand very much. This morning we kicked off with Paul Ashton talking his habitual sense. Today: dragging us through a precaffeinated morning to think about assessment, which is much more like the sort of worry we should be having as a community.

Here’s another one: scale.

We’re seeing lots of presentations which are pimping specific projects. Mine was one of them, though to be fair I did try (perhaps not very successfully) to draw out some general lessons from four years of SciCast. But mostly we’re glimpsing inspiring and exciting projects from classrooms and lecture theatres across Europe.

We’re grappling with what we think represents a ‘good’ project, and shuffling our way along to think about best practice. Along the way, lots of learners are having enriched experiences, or whatever it is we’re offering them.

What I find interesting is how many projects represent personal practice – how many rely on a key individual to enable the media experience. We’re seeing lots of inspirational individuals, and it’s easy to imagine their students’ excitement.

OK, so: how do we extend these opportunities to every learner?

There are a few scalable ideas here, notably the overall Medea winner, BBC News’ wonderful School Report project. Of course I’d be remiss not to mention SciCast, and the FIS BookClub is a cracking third example. But in general, we’re looking at small-scale projects that are probing and proving techniques. They’re not even designed to scale – they’re not at that point in the development of their concept, nor of the sector.

Time to change that, folks. Let’s not be timid – if we’re confident we have a good project, let’s work out how to roll it out across the region, the country, all of Europe. Let’s put the opportunity in front of every learner, not just the lucky minority.

Turns out I should have paid more attention to the politicians yesterday.

“User Generated Content”

I’m in Brussels at the Media & Learning conference, partly as a former MEDEA Award finalist, but also because I rather enjoy this sort of opportunity to contextualise and to think. I don’t do many conferences, and this one’s slightly (oddly?) outside my remit, so it’s a useful experience.

This afternoon I was talking about SciCast and exploring some of the lessons we’ve learned from it over the years, but one of the things that stuck out was my fellow presenters in the session referring to ‘user-generated content’. I may have reacted slightly badly to the phrase, and a couple of people picked up on Deborah Arnold’s use of my substitute, so I figure it’s worth rehashing the argument.

Frankly, I thought Mark Pilgrim had dealt with this more than four years ago:

“user-generated content”: a new form of online scam in which you make all the content, and we keep all the money.


In the geek media circles I sometimes inhabit the term seems long dead, but at this conference I’m shocked to find it’s still routine parlance. Here’s why I don’t use the phrase in relation to SciCast: every single word is wrong.

User: people who make media published by my project aren’t users, they’re partners, contributors, guests, … ‘user’ has a sneering connotation of low-life disregard, but contributors are the lifeblood of the project. They’re the crucial actors, not me. They’re the centre of it, not me. They’re the active participants: they’re not meekly passive “users”. Ugh.

Generated: You think the ‘users’ simply ‘generate’ stuff? They press a button and media pops out? No – they slave over their work, pouring heart and soul into it, making it an expression of themselves and their values. I sweat blood over my writing and my films, and my contributors do too. They certainly don’t ‘generate’ it.

Content: what the hell is ‘content’? These ‘users’ aren’t ‘generating’ ‘content’: they’re real people, putting serious effort into proper films, writing, photography, artwork, music.

Every single aspect of ‘user generated content’ belittles the central contribution we’re asking our contributors to make.

The danger goes beyond linguistic niceties: if we allow the phrase to become familiar, we might start believing it. We might start assuming that one ‘user’ is interchangeable with another, that one piece of ‘content’ can be swapped for five alternatives, that if we want more, we simply wait for it to be ‘generated.’

Our audiences and partners deserve more respect than that. They’re putting the effort in, and the least we can do is thank them for it, recognise their dedication, and make them feel valued.

I don’t much like “contributed media” either, but at least it’s not rude to the people who matter most.

[edit: Martin Austwick takes me to task, though from my reading we actually agree that it’s attitude that’s important rather than semantics. For the record, the thing I thought I’d be picked up on was referring to ‘my contributors’ – the audience don’t belong to me, if anything the platform I provide belongs to them.]