Deploying the iPod Touch in a classroom

Put the case that you were piloting the widespread deployment of iPod Touches in a classroom.  You can assume the following:

  • Two sections of the same class will be taught in a 5-week period.  For the sake of argument–let’s call that course World Lit I, a 200-level course for both majors and nonmajors.
  • Both courses will teach the same syllabus, and, broadly, the same assignments.
  • In one section, every student and the instructor will have an iPod Touch.  In the other, not so much with the iPod Touch.
  • It’s definitely an iPod Touch, not an iPhone.  No cheating!  (Perhaps your governor has banned new cell phone contracts.)
  • You’re at a regional comprehensive public university.  You can assume the professor’s down for whatever, but you *cannot* magically assume s/he can throw significant amounts of resources at this one class.  (E.g., no fair coding an application in 2 months during a semester.)
  • Update: You can also assume that the default class location has good wireless access, and that the college has a Blackboard/Vista license, and so can support the new Blackboard app.

Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to accomplish two things:

  1. Showcase the tech, but *also*
  2. Meaningfully assess its utility in the classroom

What kinds of things would you like to see in the class?  What kinds of information would be useful to you in persuading colleagues to adopt / not adopt the iPod Touch?  What might you do to make the experiment a helpful one for everyone?

At present, let’s still call this hypothetical, but let’s also call the question a serious one.

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17 Responses to Deploying the iPod Touch in a classroom

  1. jww says:

    This is an exciting thought experiment, but I’m coming up dry. My initial responses — use the Touch to replace handouts, etc — seems like a dramatic underuse of the tech. I make all my handouts electronic only and show them on the screen in the front of the classroom; interested students will take notes on their own paper and print out the notes if they see the need.

    There’s probably something possible with online quizzes, presuming that the university has some courseware that manages online quizzes. Now you can do them in class; just like paper, only expensiver! Again, small benefit for big tech outlay.

    In the end, I can’t yet see them as more than dumb terminals in the students’ hands. They are screens only: I don’t see how to use the audio without making the experience very anti-social. I fear this is a limitation of my own visioneering, not of the technology.

    I’m not opposed to the idea, but I can’t quite see how 40 students staring at 40 3×4 inch screens could make for a better learning environment. I’ve already got the capability to show video and slides, etc: so how could *personal*, small screens help? (That’s a sincere question, by the way.)

    That said, I’m one major project away from buying a Touch for myself; as an instructional tool, I think there is some real potential. Plus, the iPod Touch is cool.

  2. jbj says:

    Thanks for these thoughts. For now, let me speak to the sincere question part:

    We have a certain amount of money that we spend every year to upgrade (and then maintain) so-called “smart” classrooms. Occasionally these are labs, with a terminal for every student, but more often they’re just regular classrooms with a workstation for the instructor, plus a VHS/DVD player, and a projector. And, of course, once you have “smart” classrooms and “traditional” classrooms, there’s a kind of zombie-like imperative to make all the classrooms “smart.”

    These are somewhat expensive to install and maintain (the bulbs on the projector are *insane*), and most people use them just to project presentation slides or movie clips. Plus, the default screens at our price point aren’t crisp for showing images or movies, especially not in sunlight. (And rooms in some buildings are nearly impossible to darken adequately.)

    In such an environment, it might be cheaper–and with better image quality–to just give everyone on campus an iPod Touch. Then, we could use the difference to trick out a few more classrooms. So, at a stroke, every classroom would become “smart” (because everyone would have a handheld wireless computer), and a certain number of classrooms could be re-invented in a variety of ways.

  3. Dan Russell says:

    In response to jww, personal screens are great for personal time and personal space. Bus/train rides, in bed with the TV off, waiting for your oil change, or, for the more adventurous, in the bathroom. Think about anywhere you might read a book; that’s where you can use your personal screen to watch or read class materials to supplement your studying. It’s no more anti-social than reading. Inside a classroom, however, this personal screen with headphones approach defeats the benefits of coming together in a classroom.

    A Wi-Fi-enabled iPod Touch is just as capable of cheating as an iPhone. Having access to the internet in the classroom means you have Google and Wikipedia at your fingertips. Simply fill in any benefits of a laptop (besides a nice, big keyboard for note-taking). Internet and Blackboard are already available on laptops, so it’s very similar. The iPod is also smaller and “cooler” than laptops.

    Students may be more engaged simply because they want to use the new toy to access Blackboard or carry materials for review.

    Question: does iTunes U play a part in this at all?

  4. jbj says:

    @Dan: I worry about the “new toy” factor, which in the short term might make the device look better than it really is in the long term.

    iTunes U could play a role in this, but it needn’t. That is one way that would be available to such a course for disseminating course materials.

  5. Micah says:

    You should probably look at Responseware for the iPod Touch. We just got a proposal for 25 Touches approved, and we’re going to use that ‘clicker’ technology to poll students in class regularly. If you haven’t seen Derek Bruff’s stuff, he’s worth looking at in terms of Student Response Systems and their utility.

  6. jww says:

    jbj: I know your pain with those “smart” classrooms. A colleague teaches “Shakespeare and Film” in one that is especially tricked out. Except that last summer the university decided it needed to install some “safety” lighting that is impossible to extinguish. That shines right on the screen. So his classroom experience just became, thanks to safety innovation, about half as useful. And we’ve all experienced the smart classroom with the jammed DVD player, or the hosed network, or the screen that won’t retract. Sometimes big technology is a big pain.

    However, I don’t think that means that small screens are the answer. They introduce a new kind of problem: “I forgot mine,” “my battery is dead,” “I can’t connect to the network,” “I dropped it and cracked the screen.” I don’t see how putting the technology into the hands of students reduces cost at all. I’d call it a wash.

    Dan Russell: I agree both that personal tech is cool personally and can get in the way in a group. The classroom is a social experience; there’s a reason why we like going to class but no one likes watching class on a TV (at least not when it is for a grade). But it sounds like the benefits you see are really just small-laptop benefits: nothing special for the iPod Touch. With it’s multi-touch, it seems like there’s *something* of benefit there.

    Micah: I’m not familiar with ‘clicker’ technology providing benefit to a literature classroom, and especially one with only, say, 50 students. Maybe I’m missing something there.

    Having said all that, I can see a one potential benefit, though I’m not sure if we’ve got all the software in place to do it quite yet. First, let me say that I really, really hate “computer classrooms.” There are few things that make classroom discussion harder than to fill the room with a bunch of fans and then interrupt all the sight lines. I hope I never teach in a classroom full of computers ever again. Personal laptops are a little better, but I’ve never experienced a classroom where laptop users are more than, say, 20% of the students.

    If everyone had a Touch, we could do some computer-y things without the noise of the fans and the sight lines all interrupted. I’m imagining some collaborative editing, or perhaps some small-group work where students are looking at a text and making notes together. Rather than, as usually happens, each student making some semi-abortive notes and hoping that the one student who does all the talking in the group will later do all the reporting to the rest of the class, _everyone_ in the group would have the full notes, _everyone_ would be equally empowered to report back and, most importantly, _everyone_ would feel like they were really getting something significant out of the small-group.

    I don’t know if Google Docs can handle live collaboration, of if there’s another site that could. I don’t know if the Touch can run Google Docs or whatever the necessary software might be. But I see that as a potential Really Cool Thing that the Touch could provide that wouldn’t be possible any other way.

    I’m still thinking about this: it’s a great question, jbj.

  7. jww says:

    Yikes. I might have gone a little overboard. Sorry there, folks.

  8. GLG says:

    Should the hypothetical chairman of the hypothetical department in which this hypothetical course will be hypothetically taught be concerned that the actual technology of this hypothetical course isn’t more fully better thought out at this point…hypothetically speaking, that is?


  9. jbj says:

    Actually, Mr. Chair, the scary thing is this a solid 2 months before I usually think about a summer course I’ve taught before!

    The *real* thing to worry about is that this hypothetical course would be the very last course I teach before a sabbatical. “Don’t bug me — go play with your iPods!”

  10. Derek Bruff says:

    Thanks for the shout out, Micah. I was going to write a long comment here about using iPod Touches as “super-clickers,” but I think jww’s idea near the end of his long comment above captures the main idea. When considering using these devices in the classroom, I think it’s helpful to think about what kind of out-of-class Web-based assignments (particularly ones using Web 2.0 tools) would be useful for students to complete, then imagine how it might work if students could work on those assignments during class when (a) the instructor is available to provide feedback and (b) the whole class is available for sharing, debriefing, and discussion.

    I wrote a series of blog posts a few weeks ago exploring uses of mobile devices in the classroom like this. You can see the whole series here. Parts 5 and 6 are probably most relevant to this discussion. I welcome additional thoughts on this topic!

    As for using clickers (the “old-fashioned” kind, not smart phones) in a literature class, I think the key is not to think about multiple-choice questions necessarily having single correct answers, as they must when they appear on exams. Instead, think of a multiple-choice question as a way to begin and frame a discussion, particularly one that involves critical thinking on the students’ part. By posing a clicker question that asks students, for instance, to select from a set of choices why they think an author handled a topic in a certain way, you’re asking all students (whether that’s 15 or 50 or 500) to commit to the answer choice they feel is best. This warms the students up for small-group or classwide discussions in which they discuss reasons for and against each of the answer choices.

    One could, of course, ask the same question and hear from a few student volunteers, but the level of participation and engagement among the students who don’t volunteer might not be the same.

  11. MrK says:

    I am working with this question right now, as I won a grant for technology innovation in my school division. 36 ipod touches, microphone enabled headsets, a laptop to configure them and a cart to store/charge. I have been reading everything I can find about integration of these devices (particularly at a high school level) and here are my thoughts and intended uses.

    In order for these devices to be useful, activities must be student-centered and novel. There is no point in buying them if you are simply going to upload the powerpoints you would normally show on a projector, although having a database of them on the device for instant research is a great idea. Apple also has an imaging software to make the devices function and look as you see fit, so there is SOME control of what students can/cannot do.

    There is now blogging software (wordpress) and content creation tools (impact edit and others) that allow this device to truly function as a content-creation tool. Students are adept at typing on the small screen, and I am willing to take a minor hit in assignment formatting to allow them the flexibility to complete assignments on these devices.

    Some of the major texts used for high school english in my division are now available as ebooks and audiobooks. For students that struggle with reading, they can listen to the book as they follow along with the words.

    I have purchased microphone enabled headsets for the touches, which will allow students to give voice-feedback and editing. I also plan to use the little devices for recording podcasts and tutorials.

    I have much more to say, but this is already a long post. Please comment or leave feedback on my website, as I want to hear more about what people think of this idea.

  12. George says:

    Do the students have the iPod Touches all term long both in and out of class? Or do they pick one up when they walk into the classroom and then put it back down when they leave?

    Are the changes coming to the iPhone software/firmware this summer also coming to the iPod Touch? (I’m not talking about the rumors of new devices; I mean the officially announced changes that will allow for things like peer-to-peer connectivity.)

  13. Jason says:

    George–sorry I missed this.

    At any rate, the iPod Touches would be theirs for the duration of the class.

    The software updates apply to both, with (as usual) a $10 charge for iPod users.

  14. George says:

    Okay, well that opens up some possibilities for peer-to-peer sharing of information…

    …and if there’s any software out there designed to help researchers wandering the stacks in the library, that’s a possibility…

    …I wonder it it’s possible to use an iPod Touch as a kind of “Super Clicker” for taking quick polls on things.

    I like this “hypothetical” situation, and I hope to come up with some better suggestions…

  15. We have created a wonderful application to allow students to create an application on the iPod touc

  16. I have looked at multiple solutions and I am noticing that the solution I would use is “Tegrity”. It allows the teacher to record class time and is availabe for students to review later. The best part is the students don’t have to have an iPhone/iPod Touch, unless they want one. This application allows users of all types of devices to access the content. Also as a former instructor in the U.S. Navy, I would not allow the devices in class to begin with. This would allow the students to interact with the teacher/professor, and then review later no matter what type of device they have.

  17. Pingback: Teaching Carnival - academhack - Thoughts on Technology and Higher Education

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