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.