iPod as an education tool: year one reflections

Our school has recently finished the first year of our iPod initiative. This program issues iPods to students for use in classrooms and for educational purposes. I had my perceptions and observations of the program, but felt that it is important to get the perceptions and observations from the students. As the first year of the program we only issued the iPods to Freshman students and during their English classes the Freshman completed a survey I created with the recommendations from others in our technology department. The survey has multiple goals; primary of which is to assess the students ease of use and type of use. This is because the success of the program is for the benefit of the students. The second main goal was to understand the level of use by the various disciplines. After all, the success of the program is dependent on teacher incorporation. In general the results were positive, reassuring, and helpful in planning for next year.

Student previous technology experience and growth of knowledge:

In breaking down the program the first item of my concern is student technology knowledge. Prior to the start of this program my assumption and perception of student technology knowledge is that students already know how to use such technologies and can figure out programs through repeated use. I based part of my assumption on my perceptions of the students in my classroom. I began using podcasting and blogging as a tool for education two years ago. I consider myself a digital native, I grew-up with Apple IIe, Oregon Trail, and the original Nintendo. I taught myself how to use the websites and software commonly included in Web 2.0 applications. When I introduced these applications to my class, it never occurred to me to teach the students how to use the websites. It took a short time for my students to became proficient in these application and shortly after that other teachers became curious about how I my students used such tools. I noticed that with many teachers the first question was how long it took me to teach my students how to use the sites and applications. It was only then I reflected on my assumption and actions, or lack of.

Based on these experience I held the same assumption with the iPods: students know how to use such technology and with time they will figure out more practical uses through experience. The results of the student survey supported my theory. The average student response was in agreement or strong agreement that they previously have used an iPod or MP3 player. While not as high statistically, student response was also between agree and strongly agree for comfortable using various technologies and instant messaging. Students also supported my belief that repeated use allows for comfort in applications. It is no surprise that the viewing and downloading of video and audio files received a high comfort rating. What is encouraging is the increase in comfort in using the flash drive component of the iPod. Previous technology experience identifies flash drive use with a 3.81 rating our of 5. In the growth of technical knowledge category using the iPods as a portable flash drive earned a 4.18 rating out of 5. While this is not a statically substantial increase, it shows that positive growth occurs. As a school that prides itself on the student technology use, the growth of student technical knowledge in the Freshman year is a step in the right direction.

Types of use in the classroom:

More important to me was how students use iPods and in what classes. The top five uses, according to the ratings, are 1) viewing presentations and/or images, 2) portable hard drive, 3) view text or written documents, 4) listen to audio for foreign language classes, and 5) as an audio recording device. All of these scored above 2.75 out of a 5 point scale demonstrating regular use over the course of the grading period. The use of the iPod as a portable hard drive and to view presentations, such as Power Points, scored on a regular monthly use. These results mirror those aspects the students feel are most beneficial. An overwhelming majority felt the using the iPod to view presentations and as a portable hard drive is a benefit. A majority of students also felt listening to educational audio and viewing text is a benefit. Surprising to me, recording audio did not meet a majority level as a benefit, but I feel that is because of the lack of awareness by teachers on how to use this tool rather than anything else.

Year two:

Our school has already taken the steps to prepare for the program next year. While the students demonstrated how they feel an iPod is best used in education and that they are comfortable with the technology, they also relayed to us that not all of the teachers are comfortable. To educate the teachers and increase a comfort level for them our school is offering two training session this summer. I will present the first workshop next week, before NECC, and one after the conference in the middle in July. I feel that summer training sessions are great for several reasons. The first is that excuses are more difficult to form when the stress of lesson planning and grading are absent. Another is that optional, summer sessions allow those willing to take the time to prepare for the success of such programs to demonstrate this desire. I hesitate to require such sessions, because then you often get people who do not care about the program. We will be following up on these summer sessions during our in-service week prior to the start of school and with sessions through out the school year as well.

I have created a wiki, password is education, to aid these workshop and I will keep you updated as to the results of these workshop. I would love to hear your comments on using iPods as an educational tool and invited you to contribute your ideas to the wiki.

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