Spent a tiring but interesting couple of days this month at the TCEA (Texas Computer Education Association) annual conference in Austin. All the buzz was about iPads and other mobile devices, which are actually going to proliferate in schools pretty fast, looks like.
But sorry to say, I saw few examples yet of mobile applications that do much really new in terms of improving education. Mostly they’re just another way to get to 1:1 computing, so far. Not that this is bad, but surely such revolutionary technology can do more?
The same week, ISTE’s publication Learning & Leading asked for submissions on whether iPads will revolutionize education. My article arguing “no” will appear in a forthcoming issue – I’ll post it here when it appears. But that got me thinking: “When does technology ever really change education, as opposed to just shifting old material to a new medium?” And walking TCEA I think I found one example where it does.
Herff Jones/Nystrom, a map publisher founded in 1903, decided they needed an online offering. But they had the imagination and nerve not just to post HTML or PDF versions to the web and say “OK, now we’re online,” but to really think through how technology could add value. So they aligned with Google Earth to make the maps 3D, interactive, collaborative, layered, and loaded with content. They call the result StrataLogica. Kids can spin the globe, drill into any area for rich details about history and geography, then share their discoveries with other students in their classroom and beyond. StrataLogica uses the computer and the web to deliver a new experience that will actually spark much more learning than any flat map. If this application doesn’t pop up in social studies classrooms pretty quickly, I’ll be very surprised.
Let’s give educators better reasons to buy and use technology than the “wow” factor, or even than “It’s cheaper than paper.” Buying nothing new is cheaper still. Give schools and kids learning improvement that only technology can create, on the other hand, and you might just see adoptions even in this climate. It’s not easy, but it’s possible – a century-old map company figured it out!