BOY, do I want an iphone! So, what does that have to do with education?

July 28, 2007

I can recite the iphone commercial for you word for word. I can call it up in my mind’s eye with HD detail at any given time. Ever since Steve Jobs pulled the phone out of his pocket in January, I have been salivating like pavlov’s dogs in anticipation. A dagger went through my heart when I realized that I have a year left on my cell phone contract with Verizon (I know- what is a mac guy doing with such a mac-unfriendly cell phone?) and that the ONLY way I could acquire the object of my desire was to pay through the nose for the phone and the early termination fee for my current provider and go with AT&T, the sole provider.

Needless to say, I’ll be on the sidelines when the iphone makes it’s debut on Friday. I’ll just keep telling myself that I’m waiting for all the bugs to be worked out of the first version before I make the switch (yeah, right…)

In doing my research on the iphone and smartphones in general, I have realized that the “holy grail” of the convergence device is within reach. Very, very soon we will all be blogging and surfing through our smartphone (they’re going to have to come up with a better name than that) as well as organizing our lives, taking our family photos and videos, and generally keeping in touch with the world.

Now- here is where I see it fitting into education. For years, the buzz word has been 1:1 for laptops and students in schools. Millions and millions of dollars have been spent to purchase these machines by school districts in the hope that students will increase their engagement in lesson material by using the technology. We are overlooking ONE VERY IMPORTANT FACT.

Just ask your classes, as I did, how many own a computer made in the last 5 years at home, and watch about 50-70% of the hands go up. Of those, if you ask about internet connection, you will find that many of them are still on dialup. Now, ask them to show you their cell phones- you will be run over in the crush of pride to show you the latest text-messaging/IM-ing MP3 playing video rendering techno-wonder that they have conned their parents into buying them (or using their considerable disposable income to buy).

THIS IS WHERE THE 1:1 WILL HAPPEN, NOT WITH A LAPTOP! Very soon schools won’t have to worry about providing wireless access to the internet or acceptable use policies or filtering- the students will have their own hand held supercomputer with them at all times that they connect directly through their service provider. Do you realize that the only place PDA’s are marketed anymore is schools who have taken action to PROHIBIT the very AGENTS OF CHANGE that they desire? By banning the cell phone rather than harnessing their awesome potential for connecting teacher and student and student to student all over the world, we are really not seeing the forest for the trees! Most of the civilized world has moved on to the smart phone era and left non-integrated devices behind like the dinosaurs they are. Of course, the smartphone will take a while to match the processing capacity of a computer, but let’s face it- most of the benefit of technology in education comes from the collaborative and information-gathering features of technology, not from running programs.

Imagine a world where classes were connected by mobile IM- students could ask questions, collaborate on assignments, interact with other students all over the world. When the teacher is explaining a concept, students could be looking up supplementary information on their browsers right at their seats (not taking up any school bandwith!). Teachers could send out assignments, announcements with a click of a button and instantly reach their students.

I know that many people will be quick to point out the bad things that kids can do with this type of technology- I really is up to us to teach them how to use it correctly and responsibly. Besides, if no one told me how to use a pencil in kindergarten, I might have surmised that it was a weapon! We haven’t banned pencils (sharp pointed sticks able to write the most hateful words) in the classroom of 2007 have we?


Gearing up for a new year

July 28, 2007

It is so nice to lose track of time over the Summer!  As teachers, we all tend to live second to second between the months of August and May, but it really is necessary to take some time to focus on other things.  As I bring my mind around to the task at hand and the upcoming school year, I find myself contemplating our schoolwide discouragement of cell phone and mp3 player use.

If the launch of the iphone has taught us anything, it is that we can never go back to the days of no technology in the world.  We are on a path that will bring the ends of the earth closer and closer by making communication easier and personal communicators ubiquitous.  I  am going to try some things this year that will challenge the norms at my school, and while I do not wish to defy the rules, my gut tells me that some direction change is necessary.

1.  I am going to make myself available to my students after hours by leaving my cell phone logged in to yahoo messenger so that they can text me questions or comments up until 8pm.  Many times students are not motivated to work after school because they think (erroneously) that Teachers put their feet up and do nothing after the bell rings.  I will be there for them to support their learning outside of the classroom.

2.  I will make podcasts of my daily lessons available on my class blog.  No longer will anyone ask “what goes on in band class?”.  Students, Parents, Teachers, and Administrators will be able to call up exactly what transpired in my classroom.  I think it will be the ultimate lesson plan, and allow students to reference what concepts were taught on their own time.

3.  I will make my classes responsible for responding to the question “What did you learn today?” by constructing daily (or weekly) wikis that they will be responsible for filling in.  My lesson plan or concept map will be there and they will log in to edit adding their own knowledge gained from the lesson and from their own research.

These three steps I think are critical in making students accountable for learning.  We can no longer throw information at them and rely on repetition to get it to stick.  Truly, students must begin to study music and not just take band.  Won’t you join me?  I’d love to hear your comments on what you resolve to do in the new school year.