Apps Herald Cross Platform Learning Revolution

Computers in classrooms have been more of an evolution rather than a revolution over the last 20 years.  However, the evolution of the Internet, in its own right, has ensured that the rate of evolutionary change for computers in classrooms is now accelerating at an exponential rate. Coupled with the fact that technology in the form of tablets like the iPad has caught up with the potential that the Internet offers education; it now is truly possible to regard the next few years as potentially revolutionary for teaching and learning.

Revolution can sound too radical for many, but the potential for an educational greater good can hardly be overstated.  For me, the potential that the plethora of new apps and technologies offer education, especially when combined with ubiquitous WiFi or high speed internet, is mouth watering.  At the centre of this is the ability to capture student voice. Students have talked in class since the time of Socrates.  A lot of it would have been off task, but in the not too distant past, the good along with the irrelevant was for ever lost to the ether. Now we have the opportunity to harness this lost learning with tools that enable us to capture student voice and then use this content as a student generated resource for further learning.

The evolving app based world we are currently entering into is enabling educators to cheaply create bespoke suites of tools that meet the personalised needs of their students.  What is more, many of the apps that appear on their mobile learning devices have a web based counterpart. Often the app is free as is the web based service.  The benefit to learning is that students have multiple modes of access to the tools that enable them to demonstrate their learning, in this case to capture and publish their voice.  The opportunities for sharing learning are becoming ubiquitous, location and time independent.  School is always on, open and accessible as a result.

The app based/ web based parallel model offered over differing devices, is opening the closed eco systems of the physical devices too.  It is the app and their web counterparts that offer the opportunity for learning and increasingly the technology it sits on becomes almost invisible. The classroom will become platform independent.  In other words a suite of carefully chosen applications will render considerations over what brand of mobile device to purchase, meaningless.  It is the apps that facilitate the learning not the physical device.  The hope here is that the tools of creation become as transparent as the humble pencil.  We have spent far too long focussing on the technology, the pencil in this analogy, and the content has often suffered as a result.

Good examples of the app based/web based parallels are tools such as Voicethread.  Voicethread is a great tool to get students to share their thoughts, share their observations and to listen and react to the other contributions of their peers.

In this same vein tools such as Audioboo and Fotobabble both offer an app based version of their bigger web based counterpart.  Students can create the content on their mlearning device, which when complete is posted to the web version of the tool.  As more developers see the potential that touch based devices can offer, more and more apps linked to web site variants are being developed.   Once uploaded to the website mothership all of the above apps then enable the content to be shared via embedding into wikis and blogs etc.

Whilst only being an app at this stage, tools such as VoiceReader or Speak it! Will read any text off of the screen and wrap this up into an audio file which can be emailed out of the device for storage or sharing, even uploading to Audioboo for embedding (once converted to .mp3)

Educreations offers a free app that enables students to create tutorials or demos as a screen capture with annotations on their iPad.  Using it students can explain what they understand and once completed, can be uploaded to the Educreations site.  Once on the web the students’ creations can be shared via embedding for their peers to evaluate or learn from.  The list of examples such as those above, is almost endless and this is the point.  These great tools, their ease of use and their web facing portals have created an environment where we can cater to the needs of every individual in class effortlessly and cheaply.  Over time the range of apps, the stores and markets they reside on will increase and in tandem their web based variants will flourish, the services they offer will become more nuanced, we truly are on the cusp of a global education revolution.  Bring it on.

Bio: David Kinane

David has been a specialist in the e-learning field of education since 1999.  He has presented at conferences in Europe, Australia and New Zealand.  He has worked as an e-learning facilitator for the University of Auckland, has managed several ICTPD cluster contracts and is currently an independent e-learning consultant working in schools and for commercial clients all over New Zealand.  He is a regular contributor to Interface Magazine.
Skype: dakinane Twitter: @dakinane

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