I just got an iTouch to learn how all those apps and mobile technologies in general are being used for education. An iTouch is like an iPhone but without the phone part. It connects through free wireless wherever it is available and is much cheaper than the iPhone because it doesn't require a subscription with AT&T. Its allure are the "apps" (applications) that users download through iTunes. Many of them are free, others cost money. For example, one GPS mapping app costs $1.99. It allows you to track your travel path, map it and share it online. Another app that's completely free(!), Carbon Tracker, allows you to track your personal carbon footprint. The Monterey Bay Aquarium offers a free app that recommends up-to-date and location specific safe seafood. Potentially great tools for a class that deals with environmental issues.
So far, learning how to work the machine has been very intuitive. It is really possible to learn how to navigate the iTouch without ever reading the manual as long as you are comfortable pushing buttons over and over again to see what they do. Navigating the iTouch is different than using a computer or a phone. Yet, there are just enough affordances and references to what most computer users already know from other technologies, that allow quick mastery of the system. I was able to add some apps, set up my email and connect to wireless networks within minutes of turning the iTouch on for the first time. The apps pretty much make up the entire interface. Each of those icons is an application that does something. There are the usual suspect like a calculator, browser, calendar and email which are already installed. All new apps that you download, come with their own icon that shows up on the screen when you turn on your iTouch.
I am really intrigued by this process of intuitively figuring out a new digital technology. I can see how the problem solving skills from playing games come in handy. Periodically, I get flashbacks from my brief addiction to the computer game Myst. Years ago I spent hours on end trying to make my way through various puzzles as a digital explorer. I am convinced that this experience was key in teaching me the skills that are so often required of us today: learning through exploring, making mistakes, persevering, and constantly figuring out new puzzles.
So far, I've tried out a few apps. The map is pretty exciting. It allows you to locate yourself wherever you are as long as there is a wireless connection. I've also uploaded a Facebook app and tried out blogging. The screen and the typing are still a bit too small for comfortable writing, but I am getting better at it and you can zoom in by dragging your fingers apart on the screen.
This website recommends 50 apps for teaching, such as Atom in a Box, that helps visualize the Hydrogenic atomic orbitals; iPresident, which provides details on all of the Presidents of the United States of America; Classics, which gets you access to some of the classics of literature, and allows you to read them just like a real book; and School of Rock, which teaches students the fundamentals of music. In my view, this has exciting potential for learning and engaging students long distance as well as in the classroom. I am looking forward to trying out these apps.
The Learning Garden Expansion Continues!
1 week ago