Thursday, October 11, 2007


iPods in school

I’ve written before about computer technology in classrooms, here, about using high-tech white-boards, here, about giving laptops to high-school kids, andhere, about using blogging as a teaching tool. Two related items have come up in the news lately.

On Tuesday’s All Things Considered, NPR talked with law professor Daniel Coyne, who tries to discourage laptop use in his classroom. Professor Coyne says that the laptops are seldom used to take notes for class — in fact, some actually have a note-pad next to their laptops for that — and that the web-surfing, email, and instant messaging that they are used for distracts the students from the lecture and discussion.

The problem, of course, is that once the technology is available, it’s hard to control what it gets used for.

And Tuesday’s New York Times tell us of schools using iPods educationally, while at the same time limiting their use for entertainment:

A ban on iPods is so strictly enforced at José Martí Middle School that as many as three a week are confiscated from students — and returned only to their parents.

But even as students have been told to leave their iPods at home, the school here in Hudson County has been handing out the portable digital players to help bilingual students with limited English ability sharpen their vocabulary and grammar by singing along to popular songs.

Next month, the Union City district will give out 300 iPods at its schools as part of a $130,000 experiment in one of New Jersey’s poorest urban school systems. The effort has spurred a handful of other districts in the state, including the ones in Perth Amboy and South Brunswick, to start their own iPod programs in the last year, and the project has drawn the attention of educators from Westchester County to Monrovia, Calif.

The spread of iPods into classrooms comes at a time when many school districts across the country have outlawed the portable players from their buildings — along with cellphones and DVD players — because they pose a distraction, or worse, to students. In some cases, students have been caught cheating on tests by loading answers, mathematical formulas and notes onto their iPods.

But some schools are rethinking the iPod bans as they try to co-opt the devices for educational purposes. Last month, the Perth Amboy district bought 40 iPods for students to use in bilingual classes that are modeled after those in Union City. In South Brunswick, 20 iPods were used last spring in French and Spanish classes. And in North Plainfield, N.J., the district has supplied iPods to science teachers to illustrate chemistry concepts, and it is considering allowing students in those classes to use iPods that they have brought from home.

What a great way to use the technology to help kids learn! I’m sure it’s not without its problems, and it’s probably difficult to make sure that the students stick to the lessons. But if you give them a lesson in a way that they find fun, they’re bound to be more accepting of it, and will likely learn more from it.

I find it interesting that, while there were complaints from teachers of not knowing how to work the white-boards and the laptops into the lesson plan, that seems not to be an issue with the iPods. That may be because the usage has been planned into the iPod programs from the start — no one just dropped a case of iPods on a teacher’s desk, and said, “Here ya go; figure out what to do with these.”

And that highlights my point in the other posts: as we adopt computer technology into classrooms, the adoption has to come with planning and teacher training. Show the teachers what they can do with this stuff, make sure they’re prepared for it, and, by and large, they’ll embrace it and the students will benefit. Otherwise, they’re just expensive paperweights.


The Ridger, FCD said...

The Defense Language Institute uses iPods for training - they're very useful, I understand.

Dr. Momentum said...

What struck me about the NYT article was that the technology creeps into the classroom regardless. I work in educational technology research and I am often faced with people who scoff at the availability of technology, or whether kids and teachers will accept new technology. Technology in the classroom is not a question, it is a fact.

The question is "how do we most effectively use that technology?"

This article illustrates that the technology will be used whether we have research and curriculum or not.

I can't help but think if we'd had a more education-research-friendly and education-technology-friendly administration in power for the last 7 years, we'd be ahead of this game. But we saw an attitude shift towards readin', ritin', and rithmetic -- and testing, testing, testing -- a while back. And underfunded mandates. And underfunding research.

How's that working out for us?

If this country really believes education is a problem, they have to start acting like it is a problem and apply some science. The Federation of American Scientists has listed the problem of education as one of its focuses. Currently they are encouraging research into the effect of games on learning. I don't know if that is the answer, but I think it's good to see the problem taken seriously by scientists and good to see that perhaps there is a shift away from technophobia.

On your issue of teacher training, it's interestingly timed as our center is, this week, trying to determine the demand for teacher training workshops and whether we can handle that demand and acheive our research goals.