iPods in the Classroom

According to Robert Craven, education technology coordinator for the Orange County Department of Education in California, iPods offer astounding possibilities for education. Administrators can record meetings, administer professional development activities, and keep contact information for every student and faculty member in the district. But the real benefits are for students, who use iPods to count calories, to record themselves reading, to make podcasts—even to get to the moon. School CIO asked him to elaborate on the popular gadget’s possibilities.

Q. What was your reaction the first time you saw an iPod?

When the original 5 GB version came out I thought it was interesting. Once I got my hands on one, however, I was blown away. I immediately tried to rationalize its use in education, to determine how we could move these into the classroom.

Q. What are the educational possibilities for the iPod?

From a teacher’s perspective, [the iPod] allows you to integrate audio seamlessly into the curriculum. Every class, you can use music to set the stage, immediately jump to any point in an audio book, or play a famous speech accessed from the Library of Congress. Video, audio, and images can be loaded on the iPod and provide an excellent manner for bringing a student who missed a day up to speed. Or perhaps a student is struggling with a concept; they can watch a video a number of times on the iPod to fully understand the content. ELL students struggling with vocabulary can have flash cards on [the iPod] to see an image, hear a word used in a sentence, and read the word in text—and do it as many times as they need to understand it.

Q. Tell me about some innovative ways teachers use iPods in Orange County.

We've seen great examples. In first grade, students are listening to their reading at their own pace then retelling the story using the voice recorder. Or the same young students do their 60-second timed reading, then the teacher creates a CD record for parents. A group of fifth to sixth graders is using [iPod] Nanos and the Nike kit [see www.apple.com/ipod/nike href="http://www.apple.com/ipod/nike"] to track the calories they burn during a day. In the upper grades, students are beginning to produce weekly podcast reviews of the content they studied during the week, which are then being used for review throughout the year. Students are using iPods to interview community members and create oral histories, including images. Others are making PSAs for small-form video delivery. It's been impressive how interested the students are in this, and they are taking [what they’ve learned] back to talk with their parents about it. We are next going to work with a younger group of students (second or third grade) on [a project to determine] how many steps it would take to get to the moon.

Q. Is it hard to keep students on task? Do they really just want to listen to Britney?

If the school has a set the students are using, you can keep only school content on it. In cases where our loaner lab is going to districts, they load some music the students bring in, but also content. And guess what? The students listen to both, and they take [the academic content] home and share what they are doing with Mom and Dad. So if they listen to a few minutes of Britney at school, but talk to Mom and Dad and show them what they are doing or learning at home, I think it’s a positive.

Q. Should CIOs be looking at the devices as a potential alternative to one-to-ones?

Can I get my hands on an iPhone before I answer that? I think iPods are as essential as digital cameras, video cameras, document cameras, and student response systems are, but I don't think there is yet an all-inclusive handheld that will be a viable alternative to a 1:1 laptop situation. Now, a year or so down the line that could change dramatically. What has been demonstrated with the iPhone holds great potential. A device similar to that, but perhaps a little larger, could be a real answer to creating scalable 1:1 situations. The touch screen interface, portability, sleek design, the wireless interface, these are all features we would love to see in a low-cost device. Being able to equip students with a six-by-eight-inch device that could handle video, photos, audio, web access—it would be amazing.

Susie Meserve is the former assistant editor of Technology & Learning.