Experimenting With The Touch

I’ve mentioned a couple of times in this space – and in a few 140-word Twitter rantlets – about the test we’re about to run using the iPod Touch here in the overly-large school district.

For those interested in details, here are a few.

Right after spring break (which is next week around here), we will be giving a set of Touch devices to students in six classes (the teachers already have theirs) in six different schools for the remainder of the year.

While our planning group insists on calling this a “field assessment”, that sounds a little too corporate/military for my taste.

I prefer to call this an experiment. One in which we control for a few variables and then step back and see what happens.


Anyway, the devices will be spread into a variety of classrooms in two high schools (English and Tech Ed), two middle (English and Tech Ed), and two elementary (5th grade and ESL).

We’ll also be providing lots of support including tools to help the teachers and the school tech team manage the devices in a classroom setting.

While syncing one iPod to a computer is a snap, as you might imagine, syncing 25+ of them to one computer is a little more challenging. Plus all the other “what-ifs” that have been tossed around at our planning meetings.

Although some in our planning group would like to have the Touches locked down and cloned the way we do with student laptops, Apple offers no way to do that.

Probably because they designed the Touch to be a very personal communications tool.

However, the most important unknown is what are teachers planning to do with the units in their classes?

That was a major topic during a half-day meeting we held last week with the teachers, principals, and tech teams from the schools involved.

Lots of great ideas were discussed but I’m not sure anyone left knowing how these devices are going to be used. Certainly I expect the kids will surprise us.

Frankly, at this point we have many more questions than answers.

Maybe in eight weeks we will have at least a little better idea of whether and how the iPod Touch and similar handheld communications devices can be used in education. Or not.

In the meantime, as our experiment continues, I’ll offer a few updates and observations around here if you’d like to follow along. And if you have questions, feel free to leave them in the comments.

7 Comments Experimenting With The Touch

  1. brett

    Is there a twitter client on them (I guess if they are not locked down the kids could add one). Would be neat to have monitor a backchannel discussion that occurred during a class. Teachers could also share out documents via google docs. Student/teacher created podcasts/screencasts would be neat. Oh! the possibilities. I hope you continue to share out the questions and answers as they occur. Good luck.

  2. Mark

    How are you-all going to document the learning that takes place? Not the student learning, the teacher learning about how to teach with these things. They should all be blogging so we can track the lot of them in RSS and comment back to them with ideas. They should be sharing information with one another (and I don’t mean at quarterly “only say what we want you to say” meetings with the brass, or the stifled equivalent in SurveyMonkey). Just a suggestion, provided in short declarative sentences.

  3. Dave

    I think they key is going to be to teach the teachers and students as much as you can about the tool’s abilities, and then let them identify how those abilities can replace traditionally tedious parts of class.

    My hunch is that a device intended primarily for personal use towards long-distance social networking doesn’t really have a place in a classroom. Many of the best functions exist specifically to ease the problem of not having everyone you want to work with in the same room.

  4. Tim

    Brett: The devices will come with only the standard configuration. We’re assembling a list of possible apps (free, of course) that might be instructionally useful but it will be up to the teacher to decide what they actually use in class. Although I expect the kids will have their input into the matter.

  5. Tim

    Mark: I would love if the teachers involved in this project would blog their experiences, but you know the district’s attitude towards anyone posting ANYTHING outside of Blackboard. There are so many other issues surrounding this project that I skipped the suggestion. I am going to try recording some podcast discussions with them towards the end of the quarter.

    Incidentally, Mark has much more to say about this project on his blog.

  6. Tim

    Dave: I agree with your assessment that a personal device largely designed for personal communications doesn’t have much of a place in our traditional concept of the classroom. However, that traditional structure is in desperate need of changing, especially if we ever hope to make effective use of the billions in technology we already have, much less everything new being created.

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