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iPod Touches in the classroom

The Salisbury Post tells the story of how a school district in North Carolina got its start with mobile devices in the classroom – in this case, iPod Touches narrower than “a deck of cards,” weighing a little over 4 ounces, and putting “the complete works of Shakespeare, movies, a dictionary, thesaurus and encyclopedia, SAT preparation materials, the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, USA Today, the Weather Channel and educational games” in the palms of North Rowan High School freshmen’s hands. What I found especially interesting in the story the possibility of a spatial element to improving student engagement. One student told writer Maggie Blackwell that it really helps when what’s being taught isn’t across the room, it’s right in his hand, and when it’s “right here,” there’s less distraction, more ownership. The ownership part of that comes from the district tech director, Phil Hardin, who told Blackwell it’s not about putting technology in students’ hands (“that way, they would just be spectators,” he said) but rather how they learn with it and demonstrate that learning (so that they come to “own the knowledge”). They use the iTouches to do research, listen to podcast book reviews, play educational games such as “Word Warp” during class transitions, etc. “One of the first projects the teachers developed spanned all subjects. Students learned about philosophers in history and science. They talked about Euclid and Pythagoras in math and Julius Caesar in English.” Everything the students needed was available through the iTouches. Maybe attendance is a measure of student engagement: “In the month since iPods were introduced, absences have dropped 4.6%,” Blackwell reports. Tardies have also dropped. The devices are configured to work only on the class network. [See also “From ‘digital disconnect’ to mobile learning.”]

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