Will 3G Lead the Revolution?

March 12, 2010 · Posted in iPhone, Teaching 2.0 · Comment 

I just ordered an iPad.

I already have an iPhone. An iPhone on a 3G network is an immensely powerful tool, capable of doing just about anything I need to do on a day-to-day basis anywhere I want to do it unless that thing includes Flash, which I hope will die soon anyway and free up our processors and bandwidth for useful tasks.

The iPhone is a disruptive technology when applied to the context of K-12 schools. Schools can control what happens on their Wi-Fi networks, but they can’t control what happens on a publicly-accessible 3G network. A YouTube video that I can’t watch over my local SD’s network plays just fine on my iPhone from the same location. Schools can restrict searches, block Twitter, and prevent access to certain sites on their own networks but not on my phone’s 3G network. With 3G, I have the same access to the world in school that I have everywhere else.

The typical school reaction to a technology that it can’t control is to ban it. But students and teachers are increasingly walking into classrooms with 3G devices in their pockets intent on using them for productive purposes. They’re engaged with their technology, and that engagement can be (should be) worked into productive time spent on research, collaboration, and real-world experience. Schools can’t control 3G technologies, and they shouldn’t try. It doesn’t impact their bandwidth, their IT expenses, or their capital outlay. If students access inappropriate materials, it’s their problem and not the school’s. Deal with it, as we always have when students do inappropriate things.

But back to the iPad. Schools can somewhat justify banning cell phones because talking on the phone to a friend is not always a productive use of time and can be very distracting to others. Smart phones are still phones (although I very rarely use mine as one) and so somewhat logically fall under the same impulse to banish them from schools. But iPads are horses of an entirely different color. They aren’t phones at all (yet, anyway)–they’re very mobile, highly connected, and easily accessible computers that will work on 3G networks in some configurations. They’ll make field trips into entirely new experiences. Students already have them. Let them–encourage them–to bring them in and use them. Make sure to play your role as an educator wisely and help students understand what’s appropriate and what’s not, and when it’s OK to tweet, watch a video, or find a simulation game.

Join the revolution. It’s happening everywhere but in schools.

UPDATE: A question by way of Twitter asks who will pay for 3G access. If a student walks into your classroom with an iPhone, 3G access is already paid for. They’re bringing their own bandwidth. I can walk into my local AT&T store and buy a $199 3G-capable netbook. Why wouldn’t I bring that to school and use it the same way I use it everywhere else?

Clip to Evernote

Several Days After The World Changed

December 15, 2008 · Posted in iPhone, Teaching 2.0 · Comment 

In my last post I addressed the sense of empowerment that I felt from using my iPhone 3G. My enthusiasm has not waned in the slightest. Quite to the contrary–I find it more useful every day. Given that experience, it was inevitable that I should begin thinking about the possibilities of using an iPhone in K-12 education.

The promise for a device like the iPhone in K12 education is limitless. It’s not at all difficult to imagine the way it would transform field trips, project-based lessons, and collaboration. The problem, however, is obvious–you need to sign an expensive cell phone contract in order to use one. Unless a teacher or a well-heeled student with unlimited minutes is feeling generous, the likelihood that an iPhone will appear in a classroom is remote.

However, Apple makes another device with much the same appeal as the iPhone–the iPod Touch. As a wi-fi device, it can function on school or public networks, saving documents for later perusal and running much of the same software that runs on the iPhone. It can load and view and, to a limited but growing extent, edit Office documents. It’s capable of loading and viewing very high resolution documents from the Library of Congress and other reliable educational sources. You can add dictionaries, translators, conversion programs, and other useful utilities. You can download and view movies, podcasts and electronic books on a variety of educational topics. With the addition of an inexpensive microphone, it’s a voice recorder. Add a VOiP program such TruPhone and you can make free phone calls over the wireless network to anywhere in the world. (Sister school, anyone?) As is, it makes an intriguing and engaging teaching and learning tool. It’s missing just two elements that would make it a viable replacment for laptop computers in many cases–a camera and GPS capabilities.

An iPod Touch with GPS would be able to make full use of incredible tools such as Google Earth and Google Maps on a school network. It would allow accurate geotagging of pictures (taken with the hoped-for camera), data gathered on a field trip or information from a sister school. The camera would give students an opportunity to gather data for posters, web pages, slide shows, and other place-based projects and transmit them over a wi-fi network to anywhere in the world. The possibilities are endless.

Either way you look at it–a GPS/camera enabled iPod Touch or a phone-disabled iPhone–this is a device that would have as much of an impact on K-12 education as the original Apple desktop computer did back in 1978. I hope someone is listening out there…

The Day the World Changed

October 28, 2008 · Posted in culture, iPhone · 5 Comments 

I did something the other day that I have never done before in my life.

I put my cell phone in my pocket.

A little background information is in order here. I’m not a phone person. I prefer to communicate by e-mail or messaging. I don’t feel a need to always be in contact. In fact, I like having times during my day when no one can find me. I tried Twitter for a few months and came away thinking “so what?” I have a Facebook page, but I mainly use it to do something called “poking” which I really don’t fully understand. I got my first cell phone when my oldest son started driving. I only turned it on when he was away from the house. Other times it was turned off and either buried in my pack or sitting at home on the kitchen table. Once or twice I ordered pizza with it.

Oh–and one more piece of important information. The cell phone I put in my pocket the other day was an iPhone 3G.

The world changed for me when I was sitting alone at a neighborhood Subway eating a tuna sub and reading the New York Times on my iPhone. I ran across an interesting article on behavioral economics–an interest of my other son’s–and I sent the article to him using my iPhone. It was later that I fully realized what I had done. I was reading the current issue of the Times in a little shop in Fairbanks, Alaska. I sent an e-mail to a student in Wyoming. I didn’t need to look for a network. I didn’t need to fuss with multiple applications on my phone. The icons and text were big enough for me to read and the buttons were big enough for me to touch. It just worked.

Since then I haven’t been able to allow my iPhone to get very far away from me. It has very little to do with the fact that it’s a phone. It has more to do with the fact that I can locate my position using GPS, fly around the world with Google Earth, look up a word that I should really know (the last one was solipsism), check the political polls, read a bit of news, check and send e-mail, look at some photos, play a movie, find out what song is playing on the radio (Shazam!), play a game or two, and even phone my family. And I can do it easily.

The implications for education are enormous. Field trips take on a whole new meaning. Emergency contacts are a tap away. Content residing on my phone can be played on a TV. I think this is the device I have always been waiting for. It didn’t take long for it to change my world.

My iPhone now resides in my pocket, always turned on. Someone might call me…