Thursday, June 11, 2009

Mobile Phone Tipping Point in Education?

This week Apple announced the release of their new iphone 3G s which has a substantially reduced cost, twice as fast with some applications and a raft of extra functionality.
This will undoubtedly drive Apple's competitors in the mobile phone market to design devices that are competitive in their functionality and cost.
This is great news for educators as finally there is a hand held device that has powerful computer capabilities that can run over a phone network or private wireless networks.
In many ways these recent developments challenge the notion of one laptop per school student and creates affordable learning opportunities in technology genre that has been embraced by school students across the world.

Just imagine combining the functionality of Google Wave with iphone technology. Students could easily communicate with their peers around the world using Google Wave's translation technology, at the same time, developing an understanding of the language used by their peers in other countries--all on an iphone.
Classrooms can now be a connected learning space that extends seamlessly outside of school hours and grounds. It provides opportunities for a whole new approach to homework, collaboration and media/Web literacies. Teachers can now be considered "cool", "totally sick", deadly, or whatever the terminology of the day is/will be, as they will/should be using the technology of today's digital native.

So what are the challenges? In Australia there are very few external incentives/rewards for school teachers to enter into what has become a self initiated continuous professional development (PD) cycle. They already have heavy work commitments and finding time to undertake a self directed, or minimally supported PD activities is difficult, and at times, impossible.
There is no doubt that teachers need to be provided with time to research and explore a wide variety of digital pedagogies and high on this list should be Project-Based Learning (PBL) as this is the most effective way to engage students and to develop their 21st Century skills and attributes. There are now sufficient examples of how this can work and evidence of its effectiveness. Alexander's Kitchen Garden Foundation and the Edible School Yard trialled at the Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkley California are just two examples of how the PBL approach can work. There are many others across the world, particularly those that concentrate on Maths and Science.
The new connected technology provides the "glue" that makes this type of collaborative learning possible, seamless and transparent to the learning.

Perhaps the major challenge is that of Web filtering approaches guided by a risk aversion response to government Public Policy. I've discussed this complex issue previously in this Blog and choose not to cover old ground. However, when the school students walk away from the school grounds the possibilities (and dangers) open up and students have considerably more flexibility at low cost with the large numbers of free wireless hotspots springing up around Australian cities.
Increasing the number and regionality of these hotspots should be part of the Australia's Federal Government approach to the much anticipated roll out of high-speed broadband across the nation.

As new connected technology breaks down the idea of a physical school environment and classrooms as the only places students learn, the possibilities of Personal Learning Environments becomes a possibility for school aged children. If we believe that children need to have a compulsory school like structure to learn what they need to be successful then we might think that the idea of a self-directed approach to learning for children is an impossibility. This is indeed true if school is a place where students are forced to attend and then presented with learning materials and pedagogical approaches more akin to the 19th rather than the 21st Century. If on the other hand we believe that by engaging learners with real world learning and the team production of artifacts that are valued in the real world, PLEs may be a distinct possibility, particularly if teachers become partners and mentors in the learning process.
It is a difficult gulf for many educators (and Governments) to see across, but there are distinct possibilities and new generation technologies like the Apple iphone make the possibilities a reality.

Friday, June 05, 2009

GoAnimate: a double edged sword

In May 2008 GoAnimate, a browser-based automated animation tool, was launched. This product brings digital story telling to anyone who is connected to the Web. Here's a product promotion that tells some of the story:

Okay, it is easy to use and incredibly powerful, and would take most kids virtually no time to master. And kids are the problem here. The look and feel is cartoon like and very definitely going to be very attractive to young people below the age of 18. This product has tremendous potential for motivating school students and developing their creativity.

The problem with using this technology is the amount and accessibility of inappropriate content for minors. In Australia it is highly unlikely that we would be able to allow to use this fantastic technology in our schools because of the unsuitable content it makes available to our students.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Gaming in Education: are we reaching a "tipping point"?

Prensky, Kearsley and others have been suggesting for some time that Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPG) will be the future of education.
There have been a couple of problems with this suggestion becoming a reality.
The high cost of game development and the need to have massive audiences to be able to recoup costs has posed some problems in terms of convincing gaming companies to risk their venture capital.
Along with the cost has been student reluctance to engage with something that sounds like it has an educational context.

It seems as this is all about to change with 360Ed entering the educational market and targeting high volume core learning outcomes in the US.
This eSchool News article explains how 360De have used popular MMORPG technology and methodology to develop a game that concentrates on developing content knowledge and 21st Century skills side by side.

As technological developments shorten and simplify game development, opportunities will appear for what promises to be a massive market.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

A glimpse of the Future in Web Communication/Collaboration

Ever thought about what Web communication/collaboration might look like in the future? Are you tired of switching between MSN, email, Wikis, Blogs and Twitter?
The following video gives you a glimpse of the near future--and it is something else.
I hope you enjoy it as much as I did--Thanks To Stephen Downes and Michael Feldstein for sharing this amazing story/product.