Monday, September 28, 2009

When, Where, What, How and Why?

When considering the traditions of educating students, the all too common notions of when to educate, where to educate, what information to deliver, how and why to deliver it as part of the education process was pretty much a wrote process that never changed, year by year.

“Too early in the AM to be awake”,

“off to school”,

“same old stuff that was taught last year”,

“same old textbook, just the back part this time” and

“why bother shoving all this at us if we never will use it after graduation”

seemed to be the common curses shared between my friends and I as we walked to school in Flint each day back in the 70’s. You know that time – when Hippie culture waned, the birth of Disco, the Vietnam war concluded, moonshots ended and we couldn’t wait for the 80’s to “get here” for some inexplicable reason.

So much has changed since then with the education process, whether considering for-profit or public schools that to sit in a classroom of just a few decades ago would seem an ethereal, disorienting experience when compared to a typical classroom today.

Information technology developments have had perhaps the greatest influence on changes with education in the classroom. In writing that term “classroom”, am chagrined as I think what does it mean to be in a “classroom”, circa 2009? Nowadays, with connected, mobile learning solutions, the “classroom” is actually just about anywhere! And it is important to note that the pace of change with information technology parallels the pace of change with curriculum and how it is delivered. I believe they are intimately linked.

IT has changed the landscape through ever more portable computing power that easily fits in the palm of your hand and “interconnected” communications via regular cell phone calls, micro-blogging, text messaging, web surfing, social networking sites, etc.. The ability to share information effortlessly around the world is limited only by the expense of a “smart” cell phone and the intention to use it.

Just a casual glance at current technology available for students and classrooms illustrates some obvious capabilities and benefits for students, whether K-12 grade levels or attending colleges, universities or trade schools.

Readily available smartphones and wireless connected netbooks have liberated students from having to coordinate their entire learning process to specific times and locale where their paper-based content can be reviewed. My iPhone can be used for the “quick hit”, as a referential tool for lookup on subject matter on the internet or for navigating a course on iTunes U – checkout Apple’s mobile learning solutions. The first part of this webpage deals with the devices and the bottom of the page deals specifically with iTunes U for education institutions. Many higher level education institutions are already established on iTunes U with their courses and training videos. Here at Holly Area Schools, we’re pursuing the K-12 front on iTunes U. “Going to school” now breaks the mold with mobile learning solutions, as learning can occur anywhere the content can be retrieved, stored and played back.

Now let’s look at “What” and “How” – just one solution changing the norm, is the eBook reader. The thrust of eBook readers in the past several years has the potential to turn content that was always static due to its method of delivery, to a dynamic and engaging experience for students. Note a recent excerpt from a Computerworld article on eBooks. The eBook market has huge transformational potential for displacing traditional textbooks with an interactive experience for students when reading or listening to a textbook. That’s right; I did say “listening to a textbook”. Use of eBook readers across all grade levels can truly individualize the learning experience, regardless of the learning capabilities of the student. It is much more effective for educators to customize a set of parameters for an eBook that can be targeted for specific learning needs of students, even if they have learning or physical disabilities. There are great opportunities for development of new solutions which allow an educator to easily select from a library of preset parameters of an eBook, to deliver precisely the needed visual and audible format for each student. Development of such solutions might also incorporate State dictated GLCE’s, i.e. “Grade Level Content Expectations”.

The “Why” of adopting current, state of the art technology in the education process naturally deals with enhanced student achievement and the resultant improvements in their standardized test scores. Not simply buying into “technology at any cost”, the adoption of eBooks for instance, would greatly reduce the TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) investment when compared to traditional textbooks. This assumes that textbook manufacturers will adopt eBook price structures that reflect the decreased cost of textbook duplication in an eBook format. The added benefit of eBook readers is to also have access to periodicals and newspapers simply on-demand.

Matt Mello, Director of Technology, Holly Area Schools

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