Today’s students are media savvy and lightyears ahead of classes 10 or even five years ago in terms of the technology they have access to. The Internet has become a primary means of communication and obtaining information, mobile phones can take photos, make videos and play MP3s, and iPods have become the best selling digital audio players in history. With so much technology at the fingertips of young learners, it makes sense to utilize these tools, rather than work against them. While one institution might ban iPods outright, seeing them as merely a disturbance or a distraction, another institution might go the opposite direction and incorporate iPods into students’ learning.
iPods have gained in popularity for use in schools and colleges around the world. An iPod has four primary functions: playing audio, storing computer files, displaying pictures and videos, and recording audio.
There is no denying that current trends in technology have the potential to aid education. Personal audio and video players give educators the chance to reach out to students and engage them on a whole new level.
iPods can be used in the classroom in a variety of ways. Firstly, there are podcasts. A podcast is really just a trendy name used to refer to a lengthy audio file that isn’t a song. Podcasts are supposedly distributed over the Internet using syndication feeds, but the term has come to refer to audio files in general. In terms of education, podcasts can be created by students and teachers and given to students to inspire learning on the go. Listening to a podcast can be done anywhere: on the school bus, in the bedroom or while walking through town. A podcast is also somehow more appealing to many students than being buried in books and lecture notes.
Audiobooks have been around for years. An audiobook is a spoken-word recording of a book. You probably have a few on cassette or CD lying somewhere around the house. There’s no doubt that children enjoy listening to audiobooks. Many children prefer listening to the books rather than reading them. With the popularity of iPods and digital audio players, why not take advantage of this and offer audiobooks to students to play back on their MP3 players? While relatively few text books are available as audiobooks, there are works by the likes of Mark Twain, William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens that could easily be uploaded to an iPod. A book could be listened to every day on the way to and from school.
The newer iPod models have the ability to display images. What better way to inject new life into a science project or a history lesson than by providing images for the students to look at. These images could be integrated into lessons, provided for homework assignments or simply used to add an extra element to a lesson. It makes the students more involved in the classes than by merely displaying images on an overhead projector. The idea is to bring students back into the education experience by engaging them and meeting them on their level.
The most up-to-date iPods can playback videos. While perhaps watching a full-length video on an iPod would not suit the classroom, there is enormous potential for giving out homework assignments that incorporate, for example, documentaries for history lessons or video sketches for language classes. Again, such resources inspire students to study in their own time and this encourages them to want to learn. Videos are often shown in school lessons as they are effective learning tools, so it’s a logical step to give students the opportunity to watch videos outside of school.
All this talk of videos and podcasts and we have drifted from the original point of the iPod: to play music. There is no reason why music cannot be incorporated into the learning experience. From listening to foreign-language songs to improve language skills to a history lesson that incorporates hearing the sounds of instruments used in Mediaeval times, music can play a major part in how children learn.
So that’s how iPods can be used in classrooms, but is it practical? After all, there is still the issue that not every child has an iPod and that while they are affordable, an iPod is still an expense that not all parents would be keen to justify. Furthermore, how can you incorporate iPods into learning without excluding those students who do not have them? These are just a few of the issues that schools and colleges must face.
One way of making the iPod learning experience universal for all students was explored by Duke University in North Carolina, United States. Duke’s iPod initiative initially involved giving free iPods to freshmen. This was met with an overwhelmingly positive response and was praised by students, parents and teachers alike. The move was implemented in 2004 to encourage “creative uses of technology in education and campus life”. Other educational institutions in the US soon followed suit.
Two years later and Duke announced that it would stop giving free iPods to new students, instead opting to loan the iPods or sell them at the subsidized price of $99. Although students were no longer being gifted free iPods, the move was still met with a positive response, although critics were quick to suggest that the iPods would do nothing more than facilitate students’ abilities to download and listen to music.
One professor at Duke gave an assignment requiring his students to create a podcast rather than a written paper. The university found that the students actually produced more work and did more research than if they had been assigned a regular written paper. The students swapped their podcasts and listened to each others work, adding a whole new element to the process of fulfilling the assignment.
At Louisa-Muscatine Elementary School in Letts, Iowa, iPods are used to help children with special needs. On test days, it used to be that some students would require the help of a paraprofessional to read the questions to them in a separate classroom. The students can now listen to and read the questions on an iPod, helping the students to work independently without the need for assistance.
Meanwhile, at West Tisbury School, Massachusetts, iPods and a range of multimedia tools have been used to transform the stale learning environment of yesteryear’s language labs into modern education hubs that encourage students to participate in classes. iPods and voice recorders are used to make lessons fun, veering away from the age-old technique of cramming students behind recording cubicles and slapping oversized headphones on their heads.
The Dentistry School of the University of Michigan has experimented with incorporating iPods into the learning experience, finding that about two-thirds of students actually prefer learning with audio-only content than with video files, highlighting the mobility and ease with which audio content can be accessed on the move.
A number of universities are now making available recordings of lectures that can be downloaded by students or anyone else around the world. These lectures can be made available as podcasts through iTunes or another platform. While on the subject of iTunes, the service also gives people access to biographical content, although at the moment this is restricted to musicians.
Apple is well aware of these uses for iPods and is ever keen to facilitate the learning experience. On the Apple website (www.apple.com/au/education/ipod/lessons/) there is a collection of educator-created lesson plans provided to be used as inspiration for beginning to use iPods in the classroom. The examples come from educators who have already taken the plunge and incorporated iPod into math lessons, history lessons, language classes and more.
There’s no doubt that iPods can be used to facilitate learning, but the key element is to ensure that the privilege is not abused and is used effectively. iPods are, first and foremost, devices for entertainment and so it’s vital that students are taught why iPods are being used in class. Also worth bearing in mind is that with all the buzz surrounding Apple and its creations, the iPod is not the only digital-media player around. It may not even be the best and cheapest.
US schools have paved the way for iPods to be used in education and so there is no reason why Asian educational institutions cannot follow suit.
By MC for Education Living
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