Using iPods in The Classroom

If you have read my last few posts, you probably know that I am in the process of getting my administration and board of education to approve a grant application that would put an iPod Touch in the hands of every students. While I would much prefer to go 1:1 with Macbooks (Yes, I wish I was working at #vanmeter.), the grant is only for a maximum of $250,000. With 100 teachers and close to 1,100 students, I would guess that I would need at least $1.5 million to get a laptop program under way. $1 million for the laptops themselves, the rest for government required monitoring solutions, insurance, and training.

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 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 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.

8 comments to Using iPods in The Classroom

  • Ben K.
    Twitter: learnteachtech

    You make awesome points in your writing. I agree with all of them.

    That said, why not consider 5 laptops for each classroom? Or, not using Apple, go with Netbooks. You can’t get 1:1 but you can get 2:1 or even 1.5:1 depending on deals you get.

    It doesn’t sound like you are relying on traditional applications and are going more web-based. In that case, the apps on the iPod Touch or MacBook are irrelevant.

    Plus with a netbook you get a camera that make the learning much more engaging, used correctly.

    I love my iPod Touch and would not like to give it up. However, in my classroom, we couldn’t do the majority of things we do without an actual computer in front of them.

    Just something to consider. Feel free to push back all you want. I love learning from other bloggers.

  • Jason T Bedell
    Twitter: jasontbedell

    Thanks for the ideas Ben. I fully sympathize with the challenges that come with content creation on the iPod and would much prefer laptops. The issue with only 5 laptops per room is that, while it can make a great impact, I am not sure if it would have a real impact on pedagogy. Most teachers here have 2 computers in their rooms (admittedly old and slow computers), but they are mostly used for word-processing or individual students looking things up occasionally. I real have my heart set on 1-to-1 ubiquitous access because of its ability to really change how things are done. I could possibly even get $200 netbooks, but they generally are such junk (at least the ones I have used) that I would rather avoid them.
    I spoke with an Apple rep today and they will give us a 10% discount, so I can include 50 Kodak Zi8 cameras and an upgrade to my hosting so every student can have their own blog, another reason iPods are necessary.
    Jason T Bedell´s last blog post ..Using iPods in The Classroom

  • ktenkely
    Twitter: ktenkely

    I think the biggest advantage to the iPod is the mobility. They are so easy to stick in a pocket so that learning can go anywhere! What ages will be using the iPods?

    I wrote a magazine last year about the benefits of iPods in education you can get it for free here:
    ktenkely´s last blog post ..JASON Science- Eco Defenders

  • Jason Bedell
    Twitter: jasontbedell

    Thanks. I’ll check out the magazine. Grades 6-8 will hopefully get them. You must be the most dedicated blogger I know. I don’t know how you sleep with as much as support other edu-bloggers.

  • ktenkely
    Twitter: ktenkely

    That will be great for 6-8 grade! I do sleep…at least 8 hours or I would leave totally different kind of comments, cranky kind of comments!
    ktenkely´s last blog post ..JASON Science- Eco Defenders

  • David R. Wetzel
    Twitter: drwetzel

    Things you may want to consider about iPods are management and technical issues include how to name the iPods, recharging , syncing, accessories, play-lists, transferring apps, iTunes account, and many more.

    A few recommended ” Dos” tailored for a classroom set of iPod Touches

    Secure Storage – security is the key to using them for a long time. Unfortunately schools have become the target for theft of electronic devices, this problem requires serious consideration.

    Syncing – ensures that all iPod Touches have the same software and supporting applications. This leads to the important fact that all iPods being used should be synced using the same computer to avoid any differences which may occur between computers.

    Names – each iPod Touch should have its own unique name. Examples are – Science 01, Algebra 01, General Math 01, Physical Science 01, etc. Why is this important? When syncing each iPod Touch with a computer it will be easier to ensure each iPod is loaded with the correct software and applications.
    David R. Wetzel´s last blog post ..Stimulating Critical Thinking through a Technological Lens

  • David R. Wetzel
    Twitter: drwetzel

    There are many electronic tools for teaching and learning math and science in schools; however, the iPod Touch offers the opportunity for “Learning-in-Hand.”

    These management and technical issues include how to name the iPods, recharging , syncing, accessories, play-lists, transferring apps, iTunes account, and many more.

    Like all technology tools, do not forget about the classroom management issue.
    David R. Wetzel´s last blog post ..Stimulating Critical Thinking through a Technological Lens

  • Angela
    Twitter: larsonious

    I currently have 12 iPod touch in my classroom, purchased through grants. I had the same desire/feeling you had. There is a lot you need to think about before you decide to go this direction. Syncing is horrible! It takes forever and the only answer is purchasing a cart which cost more than the iPods by double! Even though we have wireless and our iPods are hooked up we still have days where our handhelds get kicked out. I’m currently trying to get a grant for iPads, not sure that is the answer. We all really need 1:1!

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