A few of you may have read my post from late last week about trading in my Macbook Pro for an iPod Touch (aka iTouch). Starting last Friday night I closed my laptop and didn’t open it (with a few exceptions noted below) until Monday morning. My goal was to experience life with an iPod Touch as my primary connection to the online world. I started this experiment with this question in mind – “What would be a better primary learning device for high school students – a netbook or an iPod Touch?”
A few of you (especially Karen) might be wondering why I am just now, a week later, posting my findings. Well, Saturday afternoon I became a little distracted by installing a Mac Mini as an Apple Media Center in my family room and I wanted a few more days to pilot. I also wanted the chance to discuss my findings with a few colleagues and work and allow my thoughts to congeal with their in site and suggestions. So with any further audo, here’s are my results from piloting an iPod Touch as a primary learning device.
While I’ve had an iPhone for quite some time, having and iTouch was a little different. First of all, its a bit smaller and lighter. I actually like its form-factor a bit more than the iPhone. Just like the iPhone, the iTouch is a great tool for consuming video, audio, and even e-books. Another pro of the iTouch is that just like the iPhone its very simple to download and install applications. A simple stop by the iTunes App store will show anyone that there are tons of possible programs users can easily download on to the iTouch. Even the educational section has a vast variety of applications for any subject matter. For my own experiment I focused only on the free applications since school budgets are quite limited and more than likely many teachers I know will be asking students to download applications onto their own personal iTouches. A few of the applications I downloaded and enjoyed using for learning included Stanza, a simple to use e-book reader, Quick Graph, History Map, WordPress, Google Earth, and Evernote. As a science teacher one of my favorites was iSeismo, which allows users to turn their iPhone/iTouch into a seismometer. Very cool, hands-on, fairly authentic tool to simulate how earthquakes are measured! On a similar note I’m looking forward to Pasco’s release of their iPhone/iTouch app that will allow students to use these devices to make real-world scientific measurements with probeware.
As I piloted the iTouch this past week, a few big cons became immediately apparent – first of all, connectivity. The iTouch works phenomenally well as long as you have a wifi connection. Many of the applications I downloaded required some sort of internet connection. Without wifi these tools were powerless. Having had an iPhone I felt kind of dead in the water with my iTouch outside of work or my own home. While this is no different than having a laptop, the fact the iTouch is much more of a “pull device” than a “push device” the lack of a internet connection can become a bit cumbersome unless all the user needs to do is watch videos, listen to audio, or read an e-book. This brings me to another con, the iTouch is a very challenging device to use for creative pursuits. The lack of a camera or built-in microphone makes collecting images and sounds quite problematic. At the moment, many of our teachers use laptops to have students tell some sort of narrative or expository digital story. iTouches do not easily have this capability. However earlier this week, Wired posted some rumors about a camera and built-in microphone in the next generation iTouch. In spite of the fact these tools are missing, users can still be creative by accessing websites including wikis and blogs to add and edit text. It is though a bit more challenging than using a laptop due to the small keyboard and screen.
The results of my brief iTouch experiment are a bit of a mixed-bag. Part of me is impressed by the convenience and access these tiny little devices possess. The plethora of highly-usable apps is amazing. However, the diminutive size of these tools, along with the lack of a built-in camera and microphone can also be a bit of a hindrance. iTouches are amazing tools for watching video, listening to audio, and reading digital text in an e-book. All of these are great examples of how the iTouch can be used powerfully as a “pull device” where data in the form of video, audio, and text is pulled down and consumed on the iTouch. Unfortunately though, these devices struggle when users want to use the tool to produce some sort of digital content. The screen size, keyboard, processing power, and on-board tools just aren’t there. As a result, at this point in time I would say iTouches are not good replacements for laptops. A few readers might be wondering why I would even make that comparison. “Of course iTouches aren’t equivalent to laptops,” they might say. Well, at this point in time I know of many schools that are asking themselves, “Should we buy netbooks or iTouches?” To that question, I would respond netbook with one caveat. If your instructional plan focuses on using technology for creative exploits inside of the classroom where students are going to demonstrate learning through creating digtial artifacts, such as a movie, podcast, presentation, wiki page, or blog post then you and your students will be much happier with a netbook. However, if your instructional plan takes a novel approach and inverts the whole notion of schoolwork and homework where students use technology for learning at home through watching videos, listening to audio, or reading text while using class time for hands-on independent practice assignments then you will love a classroom full of iTouches.
Overall, I think the ideal situation would include a classroom set of a laptops, along with a set of iTouches for students to take home. Students could use the iTouches to watch lectures and screencasts, listen to audio lectures, and read e-books all at home. Meanwhile, during class time they could use laptops to demonstrate the knowledge they learned through creative digital projects that also provide them the opportunity to build 21st Century Skills. Chances are if you teach middle or high school that set of iTouches already exists and is sitting currently as “backpack contraband” in your student’s bookbags. As you plan for next year take a moment and think about how you could could commandeer these tools as student learning devices. Think about using video lectures, screencasts, podcasts, or showing your students how to download classic novels (for free) onto their iTouches. These devices are sitting in their pockets and are just waiting to be used.