Digital Road Trip works closely with schools, colleges and local authority advisory teams to develop digital creativity skills and confidence. The team works with Macs, digital cameras, music, keyboards, guitars and video cameras to educate and inspire.
Macworld caught up with Digital Road Trip's Julian Coultas to find out more about the workshops and Macs in education.
Q. Can you explain what Digital Road Trip is all about?
The Digital Road Trip idea is all about digital creative workshops - journeys - being shared by teachers and pupils. These journeys are creative experiences - put crudely - making stuff on Macs etc. But making in an informed way, developing visual and aural language skills.
Many educators think that kids are "digital natives" - you know, born scrolling, coding and twittering. The reality is that they may "Facebook" 5 hours a day, but many don't how to compose a digital photo, can't storyboard a sequence of ideas, and as a result a lot of (but not all) digital content created in schools is very poor.
The Mac has democratised production processes, so everybody has access to making stuff, but that doesn't mean that what is made is any good. Education is moving through a fascinating regrouping phase, where many teachers are having to learn how to make sense of digital content creation, both as a means of supporting learning and for its own end.
DRT is simply the name for my work as an Apple Distinguished Educator. It's bit of a pompous title (ADE), but it does help open the odd door - actually most of the doors I go through are a bit odd. Apple has about 180 ADE's in the UK. Most are working in schools, some like me are freelance.
So I work in this space and travel helping teachers and Local Authorities develop their digital skills/knowledge/expertise.
Q. And does it involve a regular group or do you get specific people in for each visit?
I travel where I can get the work. Sometimes it is directly for Apple and occasionally for people like the BBC. Mostly, it is with Local Authorities, schools etc. I work all over the UK. I have Macbook mobile Classroom in a pellicase and an Apple TimeCapsule used as shared drive, like a little server.
Q. And do those visits cover a range of ages?
5-19 although I have worked with undergraduate and silver surfers too. So any age really.
Q. Generally what kind of response to you get?
Well that depends. Kids love Macs and so much of the response comes from the fun Mac experience, as opposed to my delivery. I am passionate and enthusiastic as most Mac users are, so that probably helps.
Network techies are often very nervous of me because they don't tend to get the whole Mac thing. Some see it as a bit of a threat. This is slowly changing and as the iPod generation of young people take up technical roles, they are more amenable to the platform.
Q. Is one group more responsive than others?
The biggest opportunity for Apple is the Government's Building Schools for The Future program and Academies. Many of these new builds have embraced Apple as a new pathway for change and development. These environments are usually very open to Apple, iLife and the iPod Touch as part of a tool kit for transformation.
Q. Is there one area you cover that students prefer?
Well in terms of Apple apps....
Photobooth is possibly the most amazing way to say hello, literally, to a Mac. This week I've started two different sessions with Photobooth. One with slightly nervous secondary school teachers and the other with young highly confident primary school pupils. Both had exactly the same response - fun laughter, fascination and intrigue - what better way to be introduced to the Mac.
GarageBand, though, is my personal fave application. Having struggled with teachers using loads of other music apps over the years, GB is Apple at its best. Taking a complex process (working with Audio and Midi), making it simple, accessible and yet creating an app with depth for those more intense digital roadtrips ;-)
Q. And do you try and cover a range of interests when you visit anywhere or do you concentrate on one area?
My activities tend to be directed by the school or LA, but I'm obsessed with literacy of all forms. The convergence of text, image, sound and moving image. This is where the sparks fly and kids switch on. So I guess it's those points of convergence that are easier to get to with digital technology that I tend to drive towards!
Q. Are Macs an area you try to specialise in?
As an ADE, I do try to keep up. I'm working with the iPod Touch a lot at the minute. It is an unbelievable experience in terms of the industrial output of new apps. It's impossible to keep up. At times I just have to guess what to explore and hope I'm going down the right route. The Touch has been a slow burn in education, but I think it is about to go stella.
Q. Why do you think education and Macs often go hand in hand?
Apple's education market share isn't what it should be. But this is changing. Macs simplify complex processes. If things are easier to do then they are more likely to get done. A lot needs to be done in education.
Q. Close up particularly, do you see children getting to grips with Macs easily and intuitively?
To be honest, kids move from one tool and OS to another with very few problems in terms of navigating and playing. Making "things" is another story. The Mac OS is less visible than Windows, although I'm keen to test drive and make something on Windows 7.0. I've heard good things. But the bottom line is productivity. Apple have the iLife to pro apps pathway and learners do get to grips with it quickly.
Q. And how do teachers and educators generally respond?
For many Art, Music and Media teachers, the Mac has made a big difference and they are confident ICT users. For less confident teachers, they find some comfort with the simplicity of the Mac platform, especially the integrated nature of iLife.
For many teachers, the first time they successfully make something digitally, will have big impact on their choice of hardware. So there are many PC based teachers who think that they will have to learn everything from scratch if they switch. There is a lot of initial resistance because teachers are busy people. However, switcher teachers are some of the most vociferous Mac users.
Q. Do schools, academies and colleges contact you or do you go looking for work?
Well it's a bit of both. As a freelancer if you do a good job you will undoubtedly get referrals. However, I guess like all freelancers, you can be really busy, so busy that you don't have time to ensure you have future work in place. If anybody has an app for resolving that, I'd pay for it!
Q. Is word of mouth a contributing factor?
Yes absolutely - You can't really ring a school and say "Do you want a Mac workshop!" Nearly everything is on referral.
Q. Does Apple play a role in what you do?
Yep, I was fortunate to work in the Apple UK Education team for 5 years and so I have strong links there. Without this it would have been impossible for me to do what I do today.
Q. Finally, what can we expect from Digital Road Trips in 2010?
Ha! Well I'm doing a lot more with the iPod touch in the classroom. We are planning to run some kind of iPod touch conference, possibly in Manchester. The great thing about working in the Mac industry is that you can never second guess where you'll be in a years time and what you will be involved in.