In August 2008, I wrote my master's thesis petitioning school officials to abandon $6,000+ interactive whiteboards and instead invest in tablet PCs (remember the clunky, twisty screens HP and Dell introduced in the late 2000's?) with wireless radio frequency cards to project teacher notes for 1/6 of the cost. Then, in January 2010, Apple announced the berth of an entire new genre in computing when they introduced the iPad the world. Paired with Apple TV and a cheap projector, an ed-tech arms race began that is still growing and gaining traction. As of February 1, 2015, there were 4,446 teachers on www.donorschoose.com asking for community assistance in purchasing iPads for their classrooms. Grant writers, teachers, librarians, administrators, district officials, and parent teacher organizations have all been scrambling to find funding to put personal computing devices in the classroom. The emerging challenge is to develop strategies for integrating personal technology to enhance the educational experience of students. In 2008, I was trying to convince officials that these devices were the future and that to take advantage of the technology revolution of the day, the education community would have to set aside a long held tradition of making research-based decisions and start to innovating (regardless of the mess it would inevitably produce). Today, I work in a STEM school that does just that. As a 1-to-1 iPad school, every student and teacher in our building has an iPad and we are quickly shifting from costly interactive whiteboards to Apple TVs with televisions (a savings of nearly $4000 per classroom). There still are not a ton of resources for thriving in a 1-to-1 environment, but we are making strides.
Now that the educational community has generally embraced the fact that personal technology is in the classroom for good, it is increasingly important that educational leaders quickly adapt to the new possibilities and start developing training that takes advantage of the global shifts that have occurred in the last decade. In a February 2015 Wired article, Chris Kohler explained that with a few recent releases, the three major video game manufactures have now officially ditched the TV requirement for gaming and are providing gamers with the ability to stream their games wirelessly to their personal devices from their consoles. This marks the end of a subtle technology shift that has been evolving since the iPhone was released in 2007. As the author notes, "(a recent study indicated that 2014) marked the first year in which Americans who own smartphones or tablets spent more time engaged with small screens than they did watching TV." This is a substantial shift.
What does it mean? It means more and more Americans are opting for personal entertainment over communal enjoyment. It means couples now consistently choose to consume entertainment that suits them individually rather than fighting over Downton Abby or Sunday Night Football. Effectively, American households are showing that we prefer to experience life with personalized components while still benefitting from the communal experience. We are figuring out that rather than fight with our spouse over the show on the big screen, we can essential have our cake and eat it too.
From the Living Room to the Classroom
The shift in how we consume digital entertainment reflects a movement that started in education more than two decades ago. Educational leaders have long touted the importance of differentiated instructional and assessment strategies. With the recent advances in personal computing, it is imperative that teachers develop solutions to use this powerful technology to enhance the learning process for students. By middle school, whether you are in a 1-to-1 environment or not, almost every classroom has at least a 1:4 ratio of internet devices to students. No longer do students rely on teachers to disseminate information they can not otherwise access. No longer is it possible for the teacher to pose as the ultimate expert. Students now bring with them the ability to access more information than any one person could possibly know. This does not mean that teachers are irrelevant, but it does mean that our role has shifted. We are now responsible to help students hone their ability to access, interpret, analyze, and apply information. In this endeavor, personal technology has become a nonnegotiable component of the learning process.
For the better part of the past century, educational psychologists have explained that students have multiple intelligences and that teachers must strive to accommodate a plethora of learning styles. The task of differentiation, while overwhelming and nearly impossible at times, has become relatively easy with personal technology. Using personal technology, teachers now have the ability to reach every student where they are. The kinesthetic learner can have a tactile experience, while the visual learner engages in a 3D animation; all this while the auditory learner listens to a podcast of the same content. Through technology enhanced personalization of learning, students are finally empowered to truly engage in learning through the means that best fits them without sacrificing the communal and sociological benefits of the classroom experience.
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