Plus ça change…

When I first got involved in educational IT back in the 1990s, every primary school in the UK seemed to have a computer sitting at the back of the classroom. It was a nasty-looking beige box – just like PCs were in those days. However, in that unassuming box was a world of wonderful stuff. It was called a Window Box, and it was a PC that came pre-installed with all the apps that some bright spark had decided were needed to cover the UK primary education curriculum.

Of course, in those days, it was all about the installed applications. They were pre-installed because no busy teacher wanted to go through the pain of identifying the good software titles, and then getting them all installed and working without conflicts (remember .dll hell?), and most primary schools didn’t have access to an administrator to set everything up for them.

Being a Windows PC, it needed all kinds of elaborate systems running just to ensure it never went wrong. But the end result was a box full of applications which could be easily launched from a familiar desktop. And teachers loved the simplicity of that system – at least until things went wrong. It was a Windows PC after all!

Inevitably times changed: schools turned to networks to increase the numbers of computers available and improve their student-to-computer ratios, meagre IT resources were consumed buying hardware capable of running the latest bloated versions of Windows and Office, and for a generation, IT became learning to use PowerPoint and Word – even for the wide-eyed children at primary school. Things were never quite the same again.

At Airhead, however, we never lost sight of the impact that such a simple concept could have. So we set out to bring some of that magic back – but in a manner that truly befitted the 21st century.

Instead of putting the effort into creating a system around a single machine, we put our effort into the cloud. The apps and resources would all be web-based, and so would our platform for accessing them. And instead of providing a limited set of applications, we made the platform social so users could add new apps they discover and share them with the world.

If a teacher had travelled forward in time from 1995 to 2013 they probably wouldn’t have recognised much about the technology confronting them. Computers have transformed into sleek glassy things with no obvious physical controls, controlled with mere gestures, and which send and receive data magically without wires! Schools are now expected to support users across a diverse set of devices, not just on one beige box in the corner. And students and staff need access to resources 24/7, from home and when out and about.

Despite the huge technological changes, the aims of end users are surprisingly similar: they want stuff that’s useful and an easy way of getting to it. Indeed, with the ever-increasing pace of life, and the exponential growth in the amount of stuff there is, they need some rocket fuel to make it easier and faster than ever to navigate through it all.

And that’s exactly what Airhead gives you.

At Airhead we obviously spend a lot of time thinking about technology. But most ordinary users don’t actually want to experience the technology at all. It’s what the technology allows them to do, and what it provides access to that’s important. Ideally, they’d want the technology to disappear and allow them to just experience their content, or get on with the tasks at hand, whether it’s work or play.

And that’s one of the things that people love about Airhead – and something we designed into the product from its earliest inception. It’s so easy to use they don’t need to think about the technology. Instead they can spend their time and energy exploring our ever-growing library of apps and resources to take whatever they’re working on to the next level.

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