Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Poducation Shmoducation: The Expanding Role of Technology in Schools and its Detractors

Duke’s Digital Initiative caused quite a stir when it was unveiled because on the surface you were just giving out iPods to students. People's experience with iPods are mostly about being fashionable, having fun and listening to music. “What a waste of money on these spoiled, rich kids! It’s a marketing gimmick!”

As with any innovation, you need to pilot and learn from your customers, which is what Duke is doing. They began with giving out iPods to all students and are now phasing in support and course integration for innovative ways to use this technology. Here are some ways they are using the iPods now:

  • Recruiting podcasts
  • Downloadable Lectures
  • Digital Dictionaries and Encyclopedias
  • Digital Textbooks
  • Digitized Notetaking
  • “iTunes U” podcasting
Companies like VangoNotes are being spawned to service initiatives like this. VangoNotes promotes their product as “You’re busy. We get it.” It is designed for students who can now listen to notes and books anywhere. I can’t believe I had to use a listening library with actual records on turntables when I went to music school.

There are challenges to trying to innovate like this. Michigan is trying to distribute iPods statewide to students and it has become a political football. Democrats in the state view this as distributing new tools for learning while Republicans say there have been no comprehensive studies regarding effects on learning. I guess this goes with the "there is no such thing as global warming" argument. It is hard to push for budgets with innovative ideas when you have a $600 million deficit. iPods are an easy target to axe. Arguments like these though will look silly a decade from now when devices like iPods are ubiquitous in education.

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