I recently read with great interest in Assorted Stuff about another Virginia school district’s musing of using a relatively new tool in schools, the iPod Touch. For those not familiar, the iPod Touch (sometimes in these parts simply called an iTouch) is Apple’s most advanced iPod. It contains an iPhone-style touch screen, runs most all of the same software as the iPhone, but lacks a couple of the iPhone’s features. Since its introduction, Apple has released one revision that introduced sound-input via a corded microphone.
Tim’s experience is with a district far larger than our own, and I laughed outloud when I read their network guys see “thousands” of these on their network in a given day. Since they have WiFi, the iPod Touch is a very capable Internet-enabled tool. It has with it the world’s best mobile browser (Safari), plus a number of capable applications (from weather reports, movie listings, Wikipedia browsers, and of course, e-mail).
Internally, we have been thinking about the iPod Touch and its use in the classroom as well. You know, it wasn’t designed for education. But hearing one of the keynote speakers at the EdTech conference earlier this month, he put me at ease with that. “No one is going to design something just for education. It’s designed for the consumer, but coupled with your creativity, many of these tools can have a place inside the school.” Okay, he didn’t say that specifically, but that was the gist.
I have real concerns about management. But I also have concerns about how we all view these devices before we even think about deploying them. Tim’s advice of seeking input from teachers and students in addition to IT staff will be paramount to doing it right. Are they computer replacements? And if you can do everything with a laptop that you can do with an iPod Touch, isn’t the laptop the better tool? What’s the advantage of iPod Touch?
I foresee the iPod Touch as an alternative tool: we have to stop thinking about “what can I do with a laptop” and focus more on instructional design. In some scenarios where you might want to use a laptop, the iPod Touch would be a viable alternative. The iPod is good for looking things up, and consuming “content” (e.g. podcasts, video). The laptop is superior at communication and collection (i.e., writing, recording audio, broadcasting video). If you want a one tool fits all, the laptop wins. If you want to diversify your budget spending with more tools then the iPod Touch might be a possibility.
The real power is working with students to empower them to be responsible for their own learning and knowing. Having the Web in your pocket is powerful stuff, if you know how to use it effectively. But it also begs the question of having to memorize facts, figures, and dates–still mainstays in today’s education. When so many answers to questions live in your pocket, what’s next?
I feel the tools have arrived before we’re all ready for them, but I look forward to where the tools will evolve next. What we really can’t do is just wait around and miss the opportunities that these tools present in helping students become better problem solvers, managers of knowledge, and creative thinkers.