Inspiration for Leaders

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Highlights from NYSCATE Mobile Learning Conference, Part One: Kicking off with a Moral Imperative

(Before I share this series of posts, please note that during my participation in this day long conference, I saw all of two laptops, and I had one.)

The opening session: John Landis, Development Executive with Apple, Discusses the Mobility Revolution.

John’s anchor question for the session was not so much about the iPad, at least at first. The idea we’re playing with is why does any mobile device make sense in education? At some point a tongue in cheek (or perhaps not) observation was made that throwing devices to faculty members without changing anything else makes for a “more expensive crappy teacher.” We all responded with a knowing and reserved chuckle.

John’s presentation used some familiar scenarios to illustrate a potent new reality: the fact that we track kids based on “flash card math facts” rather than their enduring understandings of math concepts (concept vs. mechanics); the fact that for some, memorization is a barrier in the classroom, and even the highest esteemed of his fellow (former) Chemistry-professor colleagues refer to a periodic table chart hanging over their desk. The point he was trying to make: memorization, or “facts”, should not be a barrier of achievement.
Think back to before Gutenberg, when only the wealthy or the church had access to written knowledge. Everything changed about the human condition in two decades after that revolution, and perhaps we are at an equally momentous tipping point in our history - the time when mobile internet access will outpace traditional internet access by 2014. In this scenario, the problems stem not from too little information, but too much, and teachers of all levels are being called to shift their value from “information expert” to “concept shepherd.”
John’s perhaps bold assertion - the value of a teacher is no longer to deliver content. Period. Content is “free, ubiquitous, and powerful. Content is no longer locked up in the professor’s head, and it’s not scarce anymore.”

The real value of an educator is about “meaning-making, contextualizing. Making the content make sense to you and your particular frame of reference.”

Hence why mobile devices make perfect sense in education: the iPad, illustrative of all mobile devices, is “content”, not technology. “It’s a piece of glass”. And this particular piece of glass has a unique grip on the market perhaps for the following value propositions:

-Growing library of ebooks: trade, professional, and textbook titles available that are more than just text, but interactive video and audio

-Universal access. The attention to detail so that every user can use the iPad or laptop is evident in the fabric of the machine. I personally did not realize that the iiPad will read to you in 30 languages; the user need simply change the base language pack which will change the voiceover as well. It is the only touch screen device accessible to the blind community, and point to point videoconferencing can be used for sign language interpretation as well via Facetime.

-The “apps”, of course, speak for themselves:
Ex. Shakespeare in Bits – since Shakespeare was really not meant to be read, but watched and listened to, this app visually displays what’s going on in the text and provides contextual feedback.
Ex. Science – The Elements. Completely up to date; not dependent upon “static dead tree resources.”
Ex. Note taking – multiple apps make your notes become multimedia events.
Ex. Art Authority – an app that replaces 13 textbooks. Contains artwork, commentary, and historical relationships.
Ex. eClicker – free app on Ipad that is a “student response system”.
Ex. Content authoring (Garageband, etc.) IMovie
Ex. Free app for Khan Academy.

Despite the attention to the device, and the apps that give that device meaning and purpose, John concluded that this whole discussion about mobile devices is not about technology, but about opportunity. Thinking in those terms makes the device implementation less about the technology, and more of a “moral imperative” that rests on the shoulders of districts who should treat these decisions as ethical, and not technical.

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