The news that Raspberry Pi 2.0 will run a free-to-education version of Windows 10 has set Ed Tech social media channels ablaze. And justifiably so – this is undoubtedly a major milestone in the transition from education technology for productivity training to using technology as a platform for learning to be inventive, creative and entrepreneurial.
Raspberry Pi had the same effect on the education market, albeit at much lower volume, that OLPC XO had – it opened a new category of low-cost devices for learning. The flood of competitors to Raspberry Pi was inevitable, and now the latest version – 2.0 – goes on sale.
Processor performance and memory get a boost, and its great that they’ve retained backwards compatibility with older versions.
But the feature that has caught the attention of many is that it will be able to run a version of Windows 10.
The big question – which I’m certain will be hotly debated in the coming months is “why”. On the one hand, one could argue that simplifying the interface will open it up to a wider audience – one that is intimidated by ‘rustic’ feel of Raspbian, and command-line-prompts. On the other hand, one could argue that this new category requires an altogether different type of operating system, custom built for Internet of Things. Wired Magazine, amongst others, comment that Microsoft (like Google etc) want to win the IoT space and has at last recognised that the grassroots efforts of hobbyists are where the products of the future will come from.
However, the reality is that the vast majority of IoT implementations in schools – with Raspberry Pi and its competitors products – are not really IoT at all. They tend to be M2M projects – where a machine talks to another machine, for example a sensor tells a remote Arduino device to trigger a relay that opens a valve and waters a plant at the optimal time. M2M only becomes IoT when multiple M2M systems are strung together with a services layer above it, as Atmel describe in this example from Healthcare –
So, Microsoft’s most significant play in this space is likely to be another type of Windows – Windows in the cloud, or Azure. This could potentially provide the services umbrella that brings together M2M scenarios for learning and the operations of schools.
There’s another ‘but’ though – and its a big one. Many teachers are still finding it hard to implement basic productivity technologies, so how are we going to reach a wider audience with products like the Raspberry Pi? Will it make any difference to the vast majority of teachers that a Raspberry Pi can now run Windows, when so few teachers are confident with neatly packaged technology? How can the learning curves be shortened for teachers – and industry specialists – so that students can realise their inventive potential? What will it take to build a groundswell of teachers that really understand not only the importance of technology in the modern world, but are inspired to play an entirely new game.
The march towards invention based learning is gathering significant pace, and regardless of the device’s reception with a wider audience, Raspberry Pi running Windows is a significant milestone and something to be celebrated.