So,recognizing that with the grant funds I have found (I haven’t won or actually applied yet) that the iPod Touch might be the best device that I can afford to give every student, I want to look at the pedagogical implications.
I have written before in this space several times about different content area applications. I even have a set of video tutorials that you can watch if you like. However, despite my love for apps, I am not sure that apps are the route we will need to go. There are a number of reasons. First, apps are somewhat isolated and limited, especially with the limited multitasking ability in iOS. This is especially true of educational apps, as they do not often have the same fudning that the big game and productivity developers do. Second, apps can get expensive very fast. At my last school, we spent about $75 on 95 apps (many were free). Each time you purchase an app, you can install it on 5 devices. So, assuming I have 1200 devices, I would need 240 licenses. 240 licenses is $18,000 above the amount of money in the grant.
There are some apps that will still be vital. One in particular is the WordPress app, since every student will have a blog on litteacher.com as part of the grant request. There are some other free apps that are excellent and will be utilized as well.
So, if we are not looking to apps to organize our content for us, then where fo we look? The mobile web. The mobile web is getting better everyday. If you want an example, go to http://m.youtube.com on an iPod Touch or mobile phone with a webkit based browser (iPhone, Android, WebOS, and some WinMo and Symbian phones via apps). Google is amazing at creating HTML5 applications that are accessible on any platform and feel like native apps. The Youtube mobile site is better and has more features than the YouTube application on the iPod Touch. The future is the web itself, as standards like HTML5 and CSS3 become more powerful, and developers become more skilled, what’s available on the web will only increase.
So, if we have liberated content from Apple’s walled garden that is the App Store, then shouldn’t we also liberate the content from being owned by the teacher and transfer it to the students? In a traditional modality of teaching, a traditional transfers knowledge, often via lecture, to the students. If you’re reading this blog, I doubt you subscribe to this philosophy if for no other reason than I speak out against it so often.
The iPods give us a change to more easily empower the students to be in charge of their own learning. For example, say a class is working on learning about Truman’s campaign in the Civil War. A lecturer might explain what happened to the students. If the students have textbooks, the teacher might ask them to read what and decide what is most important. Unfortunately, they are all reading the same watered-down version of history. With a few conditions met (namely that the students have been taught how to find good information online and can evaluate a website easily), the iPods can make this lesson much more interesting and relevant to the students. For example, the students take 10 minutes to individually research Truman’s campaign after a brief introductory discussion with the whole class. Then, the students meet in groups to discuss and justify what they feel the most salient and important aspects are. They have to come to a consensus with they then teach to the rest of the class. The students then have ownership of the learning and the content “belongs” to everywhere, not just the teacher or the textbook publisher.
There are some advantages that I see to the iPods over the laptops. First and most important is that they do not inhibit conversation or collaboration in the least. They are easy to put down or to look over. With a laptop or even sometimes a textbook, it is hard to have a conversation or make eye contact. Second, the iPods are extremely portable, so if the students have to move around the building or classroom, there is no issue. Third, on a full charge, the iPod should last the whole day without students scrambling for power outlets. This is important since they are in short supply here. Fourth, there is very little learning curve. Within minutes, kids can be using the device to learn. I won’t forget seeing John C. Carver sitting at a table at TeachMeet Nashville gently teaching a pair of older teachers how to use his new iPod. The teachers were instantly engaged; the kids can be too if we let them. Fourth, I will make sure every kid has an email (probably Google Apps for Education) account, which will make it very easy for teachers to share resources.
There are some challenges as well. Typing is slow and inhibited on such a small device. Content creation is limited as well. However, if my choice is nothing or the iPods (which it is at the moment), I’m definitely going to do everything I can to make it happen because I feel like it can help make an important pedagogical shift toput learning back in the hands of the students.
I’d be very curious to hear your insights on how to best implement iPods in the classroom and what you see as the most important advantages and disadvantages.