Monday, April 12, 2010

The Future of Education, in the Palm of Your Hand

The cover story in April's issue of Fast Company, A Is for App: How Smartphones, Handheld Computers Sparked an Educational Revolution by Anya Kamenetz, is really interesting.  I'm always amazed that business magazines like Fast Company and Inc. seem to have a better understanding of the future of technology in education than those that focus intently on education

Kamenetz, the author of DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education, looks at how the abundance of cheap handheld technology is empowering kids worldwide.  A lot of it focuses on the creation and expansion of TeacherMate (a device I'd love to test out), but there's a lot of talk about the development and usage of this kind of technology around the world.

The story is illustrated with anecdotes from kids using a wide range of technology across the country: iPhones, netbooks, iPod Touch, XO laptops and the aforementioned TeacherMate.  The kids love their devices and explain how they're helping them learn: "I got the XO last year... We can do math games, and it teachers us times tables, subtraction, and adding.  I think I'm better at math because of the XO," said one young student from Alabama.

I like the idea of technology helping to make up for the limited skills of teachers, or at least filling in the gaps.  In the article, one educator explains that in Nepal, many English teachers don't know English very well, so these kinds of devices fill the gap.  I wish every elementary student would have access to something that could help them learn vital math skills.

The conclusions that Kamenetz draws--that these devices could ultimately mean a new role for teachers, but that it's still a hard sell here and now--are well-founded and worth discussion.  Read the article and share your thoughts in the comments.