Sunday, February 21, 2010

Learning with a class set of ipod touches

intro-iphone-cutcopypaste-20090608 I know this isn’t anything terribly new.  Teachers around the world have brought sets of ipod touches into their classrooms.  This isn’t something our District has embraced yet.  I recently received an email from our Apple account rep with details on leasing a class set of ipod touches.  I forwarded the information to a middle and an elementary school principal who have previously expressed to me their interest in trying this approach to supporting student learning.

So what, we buy these, a teacher takes a risk and embraces these devices for their students.  What are the learning opportunities?  How does using these devices compare in terms of learning value to using a netbook or laptop?  Although I’ve seen some great examples of using ipods, touches, and cell phones in classrooms, I’m not sure that any of these devices replace the need for a laptop or some sort.  The small devices seem to me to have too many limitations to be able to replace a laptop.  But, I can see how they can serve as an additional learning device.

Sonya Woloshen is a relatively new teacher in our District who has thoroughly embraced the use of technology including ipods in her classroom.  I sat in on her grade 8 class last year to observe her students using ipods of various types including touches.  The kids brought their own PODs (personally owned devices) from home and shared them with each other.  Sonya had kids gather around ipods, viewing and listening to French phrases.  They also read aloud (in the hallway) French text and podcasted themselves into her ipod touch for her to review and mark later.  Later the kids gathered in groups of four around the seven ipod touches that were available and each group spent 10 minutes researching (on the Internet – it was a wireless classroom) a different topic related to a socials unit they were completing on Medieval times.  Then each group report out their findings to the whole class.  Everything seemed to be quite seamless and natural for the kids and Sonya.  I was quite impressed.  She was interviewed by Dave Truss about her views on PODs for a presentation he gave last year (included here).
I would like to provide good classroom examples to school principals in our District such as the two I mentioned earlier that are considering a 1:1 “project” with ipod touches.  In particular, I’m interested in classroom activities, assessments, methods, etc. that use ipod touches to support student learning connected to curriculum (embedded).  I am also interested in things teachers have tried that didn’t work.  Also, I would like to know what people found to be limiting about these devices when compared to what could be accomplished with laptops.

I know there are hundreds of educators out there that can share their experiences good and bad of trying to integrating the use of ipod touches into their classrooms to support student learning.  I would appreciate you taking a moment to share your learning with me (and others) here.  I’d love to be able to provide some good advice to school principals in my District.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

From Innovation to Adoption of Technology

I was having lunch with @gary_kern recently and we talked about the difference between innovation for and adoption of technology in education.  Innovation involves creating something new, a method, a model, a thing while adoption is the implementation or use of a method, model, or thing.  Gary and I talked about what to call an innovation involving the educational use of technology.  Is it a model, a program, a project, or something else?  The question is, “what will help us take an innovation to full adoption within schools?”  Does it matter what we call it?  Will calling it something like “a program” help people more easily connect with and adopt it?

When talking about an innovation, we often talk about it being transformative or causing a transformation.  For example in our School District we often refer to laptops for students in a one laptop per student configuration (embedded use of technology) as transformative to their learning.  Another might be that  the use of Blogs by students are transformative to journal writing (ability to write for a global audience rather than just their teacher or parents).  Also, my post Technology Powered Learning Environments refers to our learning portal (my43) which is "designed to transform the learning and work of our School District…" In other words I would say that something is innovative or transformative when it allows people to do things that could not otherwise be done without the use of the innovation.  The resulting change would be more than incrementally different – rather it may in some ways be completely different.

Let’s say the innovation we want to promote is blended learning where learning involves some face to face teaching, some use of technology in-class / –school, and some use of technology to learn from outside of the school.  Would you pilot this approach in a few schools and classrooms?  How would you take it system-wide?  How do you, with limited funding, get an entire system to shift from primarily a paper-based face to face model of teaching and learning to one that is fundamentally digital, blended, and flexible in terms of time and space?

What process do you use to move from innovation to adoption of technology in education?  Have you ever taken an innovation system-wide to all schools, classrooms, and students?  What were the results?


Sunday, February 7, 2010

How much technology is enough?

I spend a lot of time pondering the future these days and seem to be into books on futuring.  I just finished reading a very difficult book "The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization" by Thomas Homer-Dixon.  I have found the messages in this book to be rather troubling but messages that need to be heard.  The author researched the cause of civilization failure and parallels his findings to our modern society.  He shares fascinating stores about ancient Rome.  Access to a reliable source of energy (food, people, animals) played a significantly key role in their success.  They invested in technology to build amazing structures like the Coliseum.  Rome was an amazing society for hundreds of years.  What really caused their fall?  The author argues that complexity (technology) / size drove increasing demands for energy and when it became too difficult to secure energy, their collapse began.  Mind you, it took hundreds of years.  But think about our society today and our dependence on energy to fuel our technology and our lifestyle.  What if our energy sources enter the age of scarcity as increasingly futurists predict?  How will we power our technology, our economy, our society?  How quickly will things change without a reliable and affordable energy source?  Hmmm…

Have you ever wondered what really makes our society tick.  It’s free-market capitalist by design and it depends on constant growth.  It has really created possibilities for 100’s of millions of people to enjoy amazing comforts provided through technology.  We assume growth will continue, ‘cause if it doesn’t, the system won’t work and the unemployed or underemployed would sky rocket.  So, what creates growth?  Technology is a very significant driver of growth.  Companies, organizations invest capital in new technology to gain efficiencies, to transform work, and to create new work.  Old ways are “suddenly” not good enough.  Technology drives change, and it speeds it up.
“constant change and surprise are now inevitable”, p. 29.
That suggests that our society fueled by technology is destined for more change and surprise.  The surprise piece makes me wonder though, maybe worry.
“a world of relentless change and surprise, we must constantly reinvent our societies, ourselves, and our future”, p. 30.
We are certainly working hard at that aren’t we.  A question surfaced in my mind recently “how much technology is enough?”.  Is our drive to invent and use new technology heading us in the right direction?  Schools are increasingly adopting technology to enhance, assist, and transform teaching and learning.  I am a huge proponent of this in my District.  But, even I, a technology evangelist, wonder if there’s a limit (I know shocking isn’t it).

I advocate for technology to be in the classroom in the hands of kids.  Embed the technology for learning where most school-based learning occurs.  I recently watched this video called Distracted by Everything (sorry it wouldn’t embed here, just link).  Kids in the video claim to be able to (multitask) with their technology.  We talk about “digital natives” being able to work on their homework, watch TV, watch youtube, MSN / FB with 7 friends, and text on their cell phone simultaneously.  But can they, really?  What are they sacrificing?  Isn’t there a place for focus, on (gasp) one thing at a time?  Is it healthy to attempt to do so much at one time?  I also read somewhere recently that there is research that suggests humans can’t really multitask.  We can task-switch, and kids seem to be able to do this fairy well.  But just like with computers, there’s a limit and then it’s call “thrashing” and that’s when computers crash.  We don’t want our kids to “crash”…

But then I watched another video (I think Chris Kennedy tweeted it out @chrkennedy) that suggests to me that we haven’t reached the “enough” stage yet in K12.  Check out these youngsters in Moose Jaw, Canada.

These kids certainly have “enough” access to good technology and good teaching.  This is an inspiring story of how technology is woven into the fabric of learning. 

But, is there a limit to how much technology should change our lives, our learning?  I worry about how much people seem to be connecting now with FB, twitter, etc.  With iphones, blackberries, and other devices, people can stay connected practically 24x7.  Personally, I find time to unplug from my PLN and the technology.  Even if people think they’re okay staying so connected I think it might not be healthy over the long haul.  Perhaps the answer to my post’s question is “it depends”.  

Here’s a peek at the future of technology…  it’s cool for sure but where will it take us next?

Back to the Upside of Down.  I still wonder though on the grander scale if we are using technology to head into some uncharted and dangerous waters.  The author of Upside of Down talks about seismic events and technology is un underlying factor in how these may play out.  I think we need to be thoughtful and careful as we adopt new technology.  And remember, technology requires reliable access to energy (preferably clean energy).  Yes, change is inevitable, but let’s make sure the surprises it brings are good ones.