iPod Touch in the Classroom

I’m sitting in a session at NCTIES about iPod Touches in the classroom.  The presenters represent an exciting project at Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools — using the handheld devices with middle school students.  I met the principal a few months ago at their school district opening, and they were very gong-ho, and I was very interested, because there were just beginning to imagine the possibilities.

They wanted a device, but they didn’t want to phone and they didn’t want to camera.

I’m interested in this, because of a comment that Vicki Davis said yesterday in her keynote, that she would rather have iPod Touches for her students than laptops.  I may well have misunderstood.  But I definitely jerked my knee when I heard it.

Now one of the developers is talking, his company located in RTP.  He says that part of the appeal of the iPod T is that a $200 device makes more sense than a $1000 laptop.  “It’s cheap!  It’s out there.”  Another advantage is development practicality.  Writing applications is much simpler, and it takes much less time than developing for computers.

One of the instructional tech people is talking now,  describing the teachers’ first experiences with the Touches.  She says that they got very excited fairly immediately, talking about the possibilities, which were all aimed at student learning.  They saw very little pushback from the teachers (average age is 47).  Even the community got excited.  Now understand, that this is Chapel Hill — very sophisticated community.

We don’t have to teach the kids how to operate it.  They figure it all out.  They can take their notes on their Touches, but they can’t write a paper.  They are now talking about specific apps.  It reminds me of the handheld thing, where they are listing all of the apps, each very cool, but would all of them serve your classroom.  How many of them apply to your class, your students.

I just asked, “What do you wish it would do?”  Entirely unfair, because they came in prepared to talk about what they are doing.  Here the answer was that it was doing everything they wanted and then some, and then started talking about the near future when they’ll be utilizing podcasting.  This is very exciting.  But I can’t help but be a bit hesitant about anything that does everything.  I know, I’m old and turning into a curmudgeon before my own eyes — and it isn’t pretty.

She said that they still need laptops and desktop computers.  I need to visit their school.  It’s just up the road.  I’d love to have my skepticism satisfied.

I guess my main objection is this — and I may have jotted this down in another conference blog entry, which I haven’t posted yet.  My fear is that people see this and hear all of this enthusiasm, and come back saying, “This is the solution to our 1:1 problem.  Cheaper way to go 1:1.

There are no shortcuts, folks!

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29 thoughts on “iPod Touch in the Classroom”

  1. I have piloted an iPod touch as a classroom teacher. I do not see it as a replacement at all for a laptop for several reasons:
    1) Closed platform. As a math teacher, I would like my students to use software such as Geometer’s Sketchpad. I don’t see it being ported to the app store anytime soon.
    2) Small screen: Geogebra and countless other java applets are not friendly to use with a smaller screen no matter how much you zoom in. There are also many plug-in limitations with the Touch.
    3) Typing: Typing on the Touch is mediocre at best. Typing in URLs is okay, but with so many Web 2.0 applications out there, students are going to be creating as much as they are viewing. Let’s not forget about typing research papers. Good luck with the Touch!

    Does the Touch have potential? Maybe. Is it a notebook replacement. Definitely not in my opinion.

  2. “He says that part of the appeal of the iPod T is that a $200 device makes more sense than a $1000 laptop.” This is a telling statement. I’d be hard-pressed to find a laptop that costs $1000. I’d have to go all the way up to the Studio XPS line from Dell before I find a Dell laptop that starts at or above $1000. There are 9 different laptops from Dell that start at $800 or under. This includes 6 different models 13.3″ or bigger. But that’s not the point. You can also get a 9″ Dell Mini for $250. Would a district be crazy to spend $50 less to get a Touch instead of a real laptop? In my opinion, absolutely.

    I’m sorry to those who think they are, but handhelds are not the future. Newtons weren’t the future, Axioms weren’t the future, and the iPod Touch is not the future. It’s a media player that lets people access a paired down internet. That’s it. Apple doesn’t want it to be any more than that.

    Educators who choose an iPod Touch over a laptop are short-changing their students.

    1. I agree mostly with what you say here, Russ. Especially when you consider the Netbooks (which I’m typing this on), which fall under $500 and considerably less. Yet, I still don’t think that we have found/invented the ideal education learning device, and I’m not sure that it won’t look more like a Touch than a Dell laptop. And I’ll reiterate that I saw some pretty amazing and valuable applications in that presentation.

      But I keep coming back to what Nicholas Negroponte said, when challenged about cell phones as learning tools. He said that, “..you can’t learn about the world through a keyhole.” Show me an iPod touch that’s the size of my Netbook, and I suspect I’m going to get real interested.

      1. As an iPhone owner for more than a year, I fail to see the appeal of the Touch in the classroom. What is it that the Touch does exactly that people find so useful? I really feel like I’m on the verge of that “aha moment”, I just need to be pushed there.

        Personally, I think the size/Instant-on OS of the Sony Vaio P is where we may be headed. It’s a real computer, with a truly portable size and an instant-on OS for common tasks. (The $900 price point is a turn-off, but that’s because it’s a Sony and runs Windows. Throw some Linux distro in a laptop that size and let a non-glamour company put it out and we could see something just like it for around $300.)

        1. I’d love for every student in my physics class to have a iPod Touch in the classroom, but not to replace a computer. The accelerometer in the Touch makes it an excellent piece of lab equipment. The only thing that would improve it would be if it had a camera. Being able to upload the data collected to GoogleDocs is great, but students still need a keyboard to write the lab report.

      2. I agree with the size thing. I think the only reason we have not yet seen an 8-10 inch tablet device from Apple with the iPhone style interface is that they are not ready to go there yet.

        If you’ll notice, Dell, HP and other PC makers are all jumping on the netbook bandwagon. Apple isn’t, at least not yet. Why?

        It can’t be that they haven’t thought about it. the iPhone interface would easily scale to a bigger screen, bigger processor and a usb port or two. In fact, it would probably work better. I could see the keyboard working very well if the keys were twice as big.

        No, there has to be another reason they haven’t made it yet. I think it must be profit margin per unit. I’ve read an article or two saying that Dell and the others are selling a lot of netbooks, but not making much on each one. Apple is doing well by selling high end stuff that brings in a tidy profit per unit. I think as prices continue to drop they will pull out a bigger tablet and call it . . . iSchool?

    2. I agree with you that laptops are currently comparable in price range to an I pod Touch, but I think used together the Ipod Touch and the laptop would be a powerful duo. Apple has created some amazing applications that could enrich classroom learning. Even if a school had a couple of Ipod Touches to check out they could provide a lot more opportunities to increase technology and learning.

  3. The fact that we are talking about handhelds in todays age is great. Where were we ten years ago? We were talking about simply having a computer in every classroom. Sure is fun playing with all of the new technology. It is nice to have options. A friend of mine has a class set of regular Ipods in his class and just raves about them. The students have really got a lot out of his class with the new technology. They are motivated and have taken responsibility for their learning. I won’t go into exactly how he uses them, but options are varied and many.
    It will be interesting to see what technology emerges as the leader in our generation. But let me pose this question…does new technology really improve test scores? I have yet to see research that exposed the answers to this question. I ask this not to be cynical but to examine exactly if the new technologies positively replace good old fashioned pen and paper.

    Rob Winner

  4. We don’t have the perfect software application to use for all our education needs. We sure aren’t going to find the perfect piece of hardware that will do it all either. I carry a cell phone, an ipod touch, one or two laptops, and a notebook and pen in my back pocket. Each one of these tools has an important job that can’t be done as well by another tool.

    I think that smart phones are a brilliant tool for the classroom, but even that wouldn’t be the best tool for every situation. It would take me 15 minutes to type out this comment on my full text keyboard. Are we looking for the educational equivalent of the Fountain of Youth for software or the Holy Grail of hardware?

  5. Just yesterday, I was reading the story about Cydia and other unauthorized application markets are opening up for the iPod Touch/Iphone.

    I’m thinking you will start seeing many more applications via the ‘gray’ market that will challenge the way Apple allows application into the App Store. As others have said, the thing missing from the iPod Touch/iPhone is a faster input method – aka BT keyboard or the link. I saw a proof on concept – and I’m sure we will see a mainstream app soon.


  6. It seems like we listen to this same story every few years:

    The _____ is a great, cheaper alternative to ________ . Most recently, I’ve seen pushes in several districts that attempt to fill in these blanks with interactive whiteboards and interactive tablets. Whole districts get caught up in this way of saving money and then you wind up with thousands of dollars of equipment collecting dust because it isn’t what the learners need nor the teachers are comfortable with.

    With the recent budget crises, I’d imagine this sort of thinking will become more and more prevalent. Sad, really.

  7. I think this is very interesting. I haven’t heard of using an iPod touch in the classroom before this. It’s good that they may be less expensive than a laptop. I read some of the other comments though and I agree that I’ve seen laptops that are around the same price or just a little higher. I decided to search more about this topic and came across another blog (http://mrjonesed.blogspot.com/2008/01/ipod-touch-in-classroom.html) that tells more about what exactly an iPod touch can do and the benefits. I like the fact that it has a bunch of different apps and allows students to create their own wikis to post assignments and find things that they are interested in. I was thinking a problem with the iPods would be typing being that the screen isn’t very big. I also found this site: http://learninginhand.com/ipod/touch.html. This explains more about this idea of “learning in hand.” I think if teachers become more familiar with the different types of technology that is out there, it will be easier to decide what is best for their own classes. For some teachers, they might see an iPod touch being more beneficial than a laptop and vice versa. Right now I’m taking classes online for Integrating Technology into the Classroom, so I am definitely interested in finding out more about new technology such as the iPod touch. Thanks for sharing this information from your session!

  8. I would love to see iPod touches in the classroom as a matter of fact I would love to see an array of technology available to students. Students should be given an opportunity to use many forms of technology while in school. Isnt that what they are there for? To learn the skills that will help them be successful outside the classroom walls. Unfortunately we do not live in a perfect world and I see this as a great solution for schools on a dwindling or non-existent budget. I would like to see schools actually stick with a product (software or hardware) for longer than a school year to decide wether it was a viable solution or a fad. Many schools abandon great ideas because it do not produce desired results right away. Give time, yes there will be some setbacks, but most likely you will not regret the decision. If the touches were implemented on a broad scale we would see many great apps becoming available. Developers and students would see then need and fill those needs so the touch could be used in any subject area. I think its a great idea that would put technology directly in the hands of students, but not replacing the pc. Thats what the labs are for right?

  9. Upon reflection over this material, I think that teachers will have the tools necessay to do a good job in the classroom. The cool thing about this new technology is that whenever there is a need, people will create something to fill that need. There are a lot of technologically brilliant people out there and the solution to today’s problems are just around the corner!

    Rob Winner

  10. The small screen size and the difficulty of typing are real drawbacks. Enter the NETBOOK! Typically available for ~$300, they do everything a regular sized laptop does.

  11. Hi David,
    We’ve used iPod Touches in class and as an input device they’re terrific. A teacher walking around the room checking off work that students have done, etc. into some Google Form they can’t be beat. But, as a replacement for a laptop, I think that you limit yourself with the tool. Especially now there are sub-300 dollar netbooks that accomplish much (I know not all) of what you’d want to do.

    Here’s an peek into what may be the best of both worlds:


  12. I believe that the iPod Touch has its advantages as well as disadvantages for the classroom. Besides the price, an iPod Touch can come in handy when a person moves around a lot and needs to be constantly in and out of places, with a constant need of internet connection and computer applications. On the other hand, as the author mentions, a person can’t type a paper using an iPod Touch, which in my opinion limits its use by a lot.

    Although the iPod Touch is much smaller, and a whole lot cheaper than a laptop, it also lacks some of the essential components that a student needs in order to do his or her duties as a student. For example, without a full-sized keyboard, a student is unable to type an adequate, full-length paper. Also, because the students are somewhat limited to what they can put on their devices.

    I believe the teacher is skeptical of the iPod Touch because it gives the students the ability to do anything that the iPod Touch offers suring classtime. Though they can do the same on a computer, computers can be blocked from certain applications; the iPod Touch cannnot. The iPod touch gives students more autonomy than the teacher because of the lack of blocked material. It puts students in control of what they do during their class time.

    The iPod Touch defiantly has both advantages and disadvantages. The author seems to have positive things to say about using the iPod touch, because it is cheaper and more convenient to use. There are also negative points about the iPod touch. You are not able to write papers or do any extensive typing on it. It is great for taking notes and doing small tasks, but everything that you can do on the iPod touch you can do on a laptop. It is true that the applications on the iPod touch are neat and fun to use, but I feel that they could be more of a distraction, because they are so small and they are fun to use. I would also be concerned with the health of the children in the long run. Looking at the small screens and typing on the small keyboard may or may not be good for the health and well being of the student.

  13. In districts where money to purchase technology is an issue, the extra money to purchase a netbook vs. an iPod Touch adds up quickly. We’re exploring the use of the iPod Touch to supplement learning at home. Not all of our students have access to computers at home, but with a class set of the iPod Touch students would be able to watch videos introducing new materials, listen to their science book that can be downloaded into iTunes, practice math facts, read into the iPod to practice fluency, listen to stories read by other students, create podcasts, etc., etc. Would it replace the MacBooks we use, definitely not, but it does give equal access to learning materials that are presently not available, Definitely!

  14. Part of the the problem with the iPod Touch is that there is no tactile feedback, which I have mentioned to friends as something I did not like about it. A few days later I was listening to Digital Campus episode 39 (http://digitalcampus.tv/2009/01/15/episode-36-tweeting-into-2009/)and found out that Stevie Wonder and other sight-impaired people have issues with touch screen interfaces as well. Just something else to think about as these interfaces become more popular.

  15. The ultimate would be a 1-2 or 1-3 ratio of Macbooks on carts for creation and all the things that computers are really good for.. even running windows if you like… and then place an ipod touch into the hands of every student. This new platform that has been created by the iphone is simply phenomenal for reading, listening and collaborating information. Some of the new Applications that have been created for ipod touch/iphone are simply amazing and very educationally relevant. You do the math on the above scenario and you are at about the same price that netbooks cost. With that scenario you can to much more with kids than you ever could with Netbooks. I have a Macbook and I have a dell netbook. The macbook runs circles around it and is able to easily create all of the content for the ipod touch/iphone.
    We are seeing large gains in Math with our ipod touch pilot. This stuff is very cool.

  16. I’m waiting for Apple to produce a larger shell screen for the ipod to plug into. Meaning, you use it as the touch (or phone) while mobile, then come home and snap it into a 12″ touch tablet that works the same way, but with a larger screen. Would be an inexpensive accessory (like cheap netbook price), could have 32gb of built in flash memory for apps that run better on the big screen.


  17. iPod Touches are expensive for what they are and many teachers who request them don’t know that they can be had far cheaper by buying refurbished. The issue of closed platform is an important one as well. There are serious limitations to what can be done with an iPod.

  18. Ipod touches are a great resource. Kids can take quizes on them nad the ipods can grade it send the scores back and then send the scores to the teachers. Kids can take notes also. When then are told to work on a papaer quietly they can listen to music while doing it to keep them from talking to others!

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