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Tag: ipod touch

Is That Thing a Computer?

As part of the planning for our iPod Touch experiment here in the overly-large school district we’ve been running many of the details past the Division Counsel (aka the district lawyer).

Why? Well, because… we always do that for anything out of the ordinary. It’s the American way.

Anyway, in one of the notes from the Counsel’s office she asked an interesting question: Is the iPod Touch a computer?

The query is all part of their effort to make sure that our plans keep the system in compliance with CIPA (Children’s Internet Protection Act), a federal law dictating student technology use in schools.

So, the first reflex would be to answer “yes, the Touch (and many similar devices) are computers”.

However, after rolling the question around in my warped little mind for a while, I recalled the motto of Sun Microsystems:network.jpg

The Network is the Computer

Which is an even more valid concept today than when they first started using it in the early 90’s.

After all, it’s been a long time since a device controlled by a microprocessor was worth much without a network connection.

So, I’m going out on a limb here and change my answer: No, the iPod Touch is not a computer.

A computer is all the people you can connect to and share information with using a networked device.

Do you think the lawyers will buy that?

No, me neither.

[Network image created at Top Twitter Friends]

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.

Learning in Your Pocket

It’s interesting how instructional technology gets into the classroom.

A lot of the choices are made by people other than teachers: principals, IT folks, tech specialists, superintendents.

But in my experience, the stuff that actually sticks around, the tools that actually get used and impact kids, is completely determined by teachers and their students.

Which brings us to our big boss who got an iPod Touch for Christmas (coincidentally so did his boss) and since then has been asking a lot of questions about how the devices could be used for teaching and learning.

As a result, many people in our office are now carrying Touches and a group has been tasked with creating a pilot project to put them in some schools.

While I think the iPod Touch could be an excellent learning tool (my iPhone certainly is), I’m also the resident curmudgeon about such things so naturally I have a few concerns about this initiative.

For one thing, in the discussions about the mechanics of using handheld devices with groups of students, it’s clear that many people around here are looking at the iPod Touch the same way they do our current laptops.

Almost exclusively we use computers as group technologies. We have a bunch of them in a lab and then bring in a bunch of kids to use them for some teacher-designed activity.

Or in schools that have laptop carts, we wheel them into a classroom, pass out the units, and then proceed, again largely with group activities.

However, the iPod Touch, and other pocket computing devices, are intended for personal use. They are designed to be customized, personalizing the user’s experience so, instead of everyone seeing the same desktop, we all see ourselves in the device.

In addition, many people in our group (as well as in the research I’ve done) seems to be trying to transfer our traditional classroom uses for computers onto these new device formats.

Of course, some of those applications may actually be appropriate (please, not the “blaster”-type learning games) but instead I think we need a new approach.

We need to come at this from the angle of how portable communications devices like the iPod Touch might be used to individualize instruction rather than continue to homogenize it.

And then there’s the matter of who we have on this planning group. Or rather, who’s not there: teachers and students.

In this case, that deficiency can be easily fixed.

We just need to find people who are already using these devices in our schools (our IT department sees several thousand a day on the network) and invite them to tell us how they use their iPod Touch.

Undoubtably they, especially the kids, will give us some insight we can’t get any other way.

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