Mobile devices in education – damp squib?

Five years ago, everyone was going mobile. Tech blogs were full of advice to adopt a ‘mobile first’ development strategy. In education, the debate raged between the purist all-iPad camp and the libertarian BYOD brigade.

So who won? Neither.

desktop vs mobile

At Yacapaca, we have a unique perspective. Millions of users, years of history. Rather than rush in, we started patiently collecting session data. Browsers automatically declare their parameters to web services so they can be served with an interface that fits the device. Here are the data, broken down by academic year.

And you can see what’s changed; almost nothing.

Mobile use has crept up slightly over the years; it’s mostly teachers checking student results. Students use almost exclusively desktops or laptops (we cannot distinguish between these in our data).

Why is it that as the rest of the world went mobile, education did not? Is this just education lagging behind the curve as usual? On this occasion, I don’t think it is.

One factor that was much debated 5 years ago was cost. Small cheap tablets vs. big expensive PCs. Even better, BYOD is free! Except that turned out not to be the case. At £100 each, Chromebooks are now four times cheaper than the cheapest iPads. BYOD suffers from high support costs, and large hidden productivity costs, as teachers and technicians have to adapt to a range of devices they cannot control.

But I don’t think cost was the deciding factor. Students’ primary output is the written, or typed, word. While it is true that you can create text on a mobile device, that’s really not what they were designed for. Primarily they are consumption devices, not production devices. Keyboards make them much more productive. Those who can touch type are wildly more productive.

As the excitement dies down, we’re asking what works. And it is not mobile. The trend, such as it is, is so minor that it will take another 20 years before we would see any significant change in usage. Long before then, some new wave of technology will have swept the whole debate into the dustbin of history, but that’s for another blog post, and another time.

This quintessential British value should be the basis of our whole curriculum

British values: Rule of law? Individual liberty? Mutual respect? Democracy? Yeah, yeah. Every country from Albania to Zambia claims those. Even insofar as they are true, they are certainly not uniquely British.

So, what is? What really differentiates us from the Germans, Americans, Russians and Chinese? To my mind, it’s… Continue reading

Do they really get it, or are they just giving me the correct answer?

This article by Dr Niki Kaiser was originally posted on the Kaye Chem Notebook. I wanted to share it with you in the context of ‘future-ready education’. It is no longer enough to teach knowledge, even if that is sufficient to pass an exam. To succeed in the future, our students need a deep and intuitive understanding of their subject. Few writers address this with either the clarity or the practical teaching background Niki does.



One of the topics I most like to teach in chemistry is ionization energies: explaining their relative magnitudes, and outlining the consequent evidence for a shell structure in atoms. Students must draw on a range of fundamental ideas to master the new concepts that I introduce to them and, although they tend to struggle at first, they eventually “get it”, and the joy that they Continue reading

An A-level in Good Character? Yes, we can do that.

The Battle of Waterloo, it is said*, was won on the playing fields of Eton. Building character, not imparting knowledge, was traditionally seen as the primary task of the British public school and, subsequently, its state-funded inheritors. The quintessential attitude was sportsmanship. Not winning or losing, but playing the game right.


As time went on knowledge and skills came to be valued equally, as they should be, but somehow that pendulum just kept on swinging and now Continue reading

What Second Life teaches us about chatbots in education


Do you remember the virtual reality environment Second Life? Seven years ago it had over 20M users and it was being hyped as the place where we would all soon transact our business and social lives. Now gone and forgotten.

Well, not quite. Second Life continues to deliver real value in applications such as town planning, or the teaching of History. Their journey has been a classic example of Continue reading