Touch devices 'back to the future' uh-oh

A website called bloomsapps keeps appearing in my Twitter feed as a recommended reference. So I took a look and was told on the front page that  "it is essential for educators to understand how to implement Blooms (sic) in the classroom using the apps that are available." Just why this is an educational imperative is not stated but it is linked to growing use of iOS devices in American school districts.


Bloom's Taxonomy and Anderson's revision, offer, at best, a set of considerations for teacher planning to ensure balanced cognitive provision. I don't believe there is any gold in there for looking at what children actually learn. A side note (not explored in this post is a general observation that I have about many educators focussing totally on the cognitive domain of Bloom's work and often not even thinking about the affective and psychomotor. Let alone the parallel nature of the 'top three' - see Anderson & Kraftwhol, 2001. Renaming does not show deep understanding of the revision ). But all of that is for another day/blog post.


Let's go back to the 1990s. Computers in classrooms (as opposed to touch devices in classrooms in 2011) were all the rage. So much potential and so much crap. Educational software was the discussion point of too many teacher conferences. And...having followed the #ulearn11 Twitter hashtag over the last three days I have a sinking feeling about the word apps being used in the same way. Too much talk about 'great apps', 'harvesting apps' and 'apps we must have'.


If the hopefully long dead Bailey's Book House and Milly's Maths House have not yet been awakened as zombies from their well-deserved graves by the voodoo priests of the iOS booster gang, then it is sadly not too far away I fear.


The missed opportunity often spoken about by Seymour Papert is well and truly missed when we consider money spent vs. learning gained from the classroom computer. 


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I suggest that many 'educational' touch app developers also do not know how to do this. They try to re-create school on a touch device. How many popular touch apps are 'latinesque? or bluntly put schoolesque?  


Now we bounce on to the touch device era without much overt consideration of learning potential (and money already spent). Having touch devices in a school does not equal learning facilitated by touch devices.


I believe that if it offers children nothing up front then it is a great app. My friend Marco Torres often retells his 'oscilloscope anecdote' in his presentations. 




Marco makes an overlooked but important point. Schools need to have devices like iPods and iPads in them because they offer apps like oscilloscopes, decibel meters and voice/video recording tools. All things that offer nothing to a child without skilled teacher input. I want lots of touch devices in our school because they are a means for us to have the tools which we could never afford to have. From musical instruments to science tools, these are the killer apps.

The power of the touch apps is not in the digital regurgitation of flashcards and maths games but in the blank page stuff. A good school art supply room will never be stocked with colouring books and paint by numbers kits. Good school touch devices should mirror that. Produce, don't consume. Explore, don't be shown. If a child can use the app at home then it probably belongs at home (with the colouring-in books and paint by numbers kits). The challenge to myself and others is to make sure the amazing power of touch devices amplifies learning at school rather than baby sitting kids through school.     


But who am I to tell you what to do?


So.... go for it. If you take a look at why you have/want iPods/iPads in your school and if you decide that rote maths and spelling learning in a 'digital' way is for you then buy them. All you have to do is rationalise the expense. I find that many schools who rationalise the expense on the basis of engaging children in maths and spelling apps also have charters and strategic plans which promote higher order thinking and student directed learning. Are these congruent?  


Write this in your charter; We believe in B.F. Skinner's thinking around behaviorism and are investing $XXXXXX.XX in touch devices to allow children to do and have reinforced what we want to teach.
This stuff is great for special needs and IEP kids - go for it. At every Case Conference we can find an app, and probably should do so. 


But is it why you want everyone to have touch device access? Do what you will in your own school, but don't just plan to buy some touch devices because they are the flavour of the month. The 1990s words of Mark Brown come back to me "computers are not inherently good" and neither are touch devices. 


We have been through the painful misunderstood rationale behind the  purchase of classroom computers, then laptops, then interactive whiteboards. Let's not do another round with touch devices.


There is a very real danger that current educational seduction with touch devices will rewind some advances in thinking about the pedagogical role of ICT.


Who is currently doing the big thinking on this? The amazing Dorothy Burt is. Funny how the 'app' and the 'App' have evolved. The Manaiakalani Project is all about, and successful because of, blank pages rather than cute apps made available on tap to her community. 


And a big nod to Chris in Room 22 - a true creative pioneer in the digital forest :)

1 comment:

  1. Oh hallelujah!! It comes back to knowing your core purpose, a vision and strategy. It comes back to aligning all practices to that vision and not buying into the apps that promote mediocrity, a digital version of the past. Schools spend so much money on things that are gadgets just because it is trendy and frankly they waste precious money and resourcing.

    I love gadgets and technology for achieving greatness in ways that could never be done in the past. I love the blank slate idea. Just think of the many ideas we could develop along these lines in Christchurch.

    Thanks for your insight Mike.

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