Teacher 2.0: There’s An App For That
Remember the tabletop video games of the 80s? I used to love to play Pac-Man and Asteroid on those tables. Kids today play games on tiny iPads and smart phones and game consoles, but there was something just so intriguing about playing with a whole table.
Apparently, that idea is morphing into the classroom. CNN reports that a study by Newcastle University (UK) took tabletop touch screen computers into classrooms for hands-on testing. The research team brought the tables into classrooms over the course of six weeks for lessons in geography, English and history. Projects were prepared for the students by five teachers to reflect what the children were currently learning in class. Although each table can handle up to six students, they were limited to two to four kids at a time for the study.
Each table had a collaborative writing program and an app called Digital Mysteries, which were designed specifically for tabletop PCs.
The researchers wanted to see if kids, and teachers, are ready for this kind of technology. The idea is seductive, but the pricetag is high. Table PC’s are commercially available – ranging from Lenovo’s 27 inch IdeaCenter for $1,699 to SMART Technologies 42-inch, 1080p tabletop display for $7,749. Although the prices will come down as the technology becomes more available, tabletop PCs would still represent a significant investment for schools.
So, what did they find?
As with any group work, some kids finished faster than others, some lost focus and some moved icons around on the screen to make it look like they were working. This pretty much sums up every instance of group work I ever attempted to wrangle kids into doing when I taught.
The researchers concluded that there still need to be improvements for the technology, the software, and the training for teachers. Some of the improvements suggested include more detail progress indicators for individual students, more flexibility for the teachers to control, change and pause the lessons, and an option for exporting the children’s work to be printed. There were also suggestions for more “teacher-friendly” apps and lots more planning and training.
“To make the most use of them teachers have to make them part of the classroom activity they have planned – not make it the lesson activity,” said Dr. Ahmed Kharrufa in a statement.
So, much like tabletop Pac-Man, these new computers are a lot of fun, and have great potential. But it is still going to take great teachers to make them work. So, we shouldn’t start thinking we can automate education. Hopefully, they have greater staying power than the video games did.
Now, because it wouldn’t be me if I didn’t point out the problems, let’s think of this. These tables would need to be either totally disconnected from the internet, or on an internal network only. My reason? When I taught high school and needed to do something “outside” the parameters of our school internet protection, the kids are the ones who showed me how to get around it. So, putting giant, flat, computers in the hands of these kids and expecting them to stay on target would be a bit ridiculous. Hopefully, before these tables become available and affordable, the schools will have addressed that problem as well.
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