Oh, The Irony!

Student with HeadphonesTime's Up: Put Down Your iPods appeared in December 5th's Philadelphia Inquirer. The writer, Melanie Burney, explains how teachers and students in the Philadelphia area are using handheld technology. The article tells about the use of "Palm Pilots," iPods, blogs, and podcasting.

The Inquirer article is a fairly short read, but has some great ideas I can't help but quote:

  • "With gadgets that students typically use to hear music or play games, educators are changing the face of education, starting with the youngest. They believe that with the technology, they can better engage students and boost achievement."
  • "Technology 'should make teachers' jobs easier and learning more meaningful,'" according to Ken Hartman, director of academic affairs for eLearning at Drexel University.
  • "Some teachers have found unexpected benefits in handheld computers. Students help one another with assignments, improving interpersonal skills and helping introverted pupils thrive in group settings."
  • "'It's very challenging to keep their attention these days. The days of textbooks are over,'" says fifth grade teacher Domenick Renzi.
The article mentions that the Lower Merion School District has started a podcast for teacher professional development called Podologue. The first episode explores the role of technology in differentiated instruction. I've listened and the host has a genuine and professional sounding voice, so it's pleasant to listen to. [Click here to listen or subscribe to Podologue in iTunes.] Oh, and what a cool district to teach in--they are starting a project where some teachers will be given video iPods!

Five-hundred-eighty miles away, the Indianapolis Star ran iPod Popularity Stirs Tech Debate in the Classroom a day after the Inquirer piece was published. Lisa Renze-Rhodes' byline for the article is "Many metro-area schools bar the device, but others tolerate or even tout its use." The newspaper did a survey of 70 public schools in the area and and found that more than 50 have banned electronic devices during the school day. The Star gives a sampling of polices, ranging from confiscation of handheld devices to leaving up to teacher discretion. I worry about teacher discretion because too many teachers don't understand how the devices can be used for learning. The middle school where my former fifth graders attend leave it up to teacher discretion. Unfortunately, teacher discretion tends to be "you can use handhelds in other classrooms, but not mine."

At least one principal gets it. The Star quotes Robert Albano: "Part of our professional responsibility is to understand what each generation brings into our school building. Utilizing electronic devices (is) appealing to this generation. Our responsibility is to be on the edge, to take risks." Robert's school allows some use of MP3 players.

What's the big deal about allowing music players? High school student Michael Farah told the Star that listening music at school mirrors how he studies elsewhere. He is quoted, "If you want to get something done and you have your headphones on, it's pretty unlikely somebody will bother you."

Again, some adults just don't get it: another administrator says, "Study halls are to be used for studying. Students are not allowed to sleep (or) listen to music." It sounds as if he thinks listening to music is the same thing as sleeping! Hopefully this administrator reads the quote from Michael, the multi-tasking high school student.

iPod Popularity Stirs Tech Debate in Classroom goes on to say that schools are concerned about theft and about keeping order--that's why they ban electronic devices. It's certainly ironic when some schools are exploring ways to fund projects that give handheld devices to students while other schools are taking them out of students' hands.