Friday, 27 January 2012

Innovations for mLearning: Hammer vs. Lego (part 3 of 4)

Guest post by: David Kruis

Shawn asked me to guest post this week, and as Director of Mobile Strategy at Desire2Learn, he suggested I explore some of the innovations in the mobile industry as they apply to education.  Of course it’s hard to not to immediately think about recent announcements by Apple and how they are entering the school textbook market by using iBooks, iPad apps, and desktop tools to help streamline the creation and delivery of textbooks.  While Apple is not the first ‘etextbook’ solution on the market (,,, etc), they certainly generate plenty of marketplace buzz, and know how to bring technology to the masses. 
 Many others have written about Apple’s entry, so I’m not going to spend much time on it.  I will say that their entry validates the opportunity technology (specifically mobile) has to address a wide range of challenges that exist in the education sector.  Cautionary note (and what my dad always told me): there’s the right tool for every job.  Too often technology is used like a hammer, and the nuances of education are far more complex to be addressed by a single tool or technology.  Those of us who spend our days (and perhaps too often nights) teaching and supporting learners know that we need to build and choose our tools wisely.  And Apple, like so many others, is simply adding to the available tool chest.

I find we have to scrape off the marketing hype of the ‘innovations’ that are so widely celebrated to really recognize the source of the success.  Innovators get the credit for commercializing the underlying research and inventions that empower their innovations.  All those failures throughout the research that led to the inventions that feed the innovations are forgotten or overlooked, outshone by the single success.  We all know we best learn through our mistakes, and if those are the foundations of our innovations, then failure is an area we need to invest.  Yes, invest in creating failure: governments should fund pure research, musicians should switch instruments, we should all learn a new language, and most importantly our kids should play with Lego.  It’s time we start building and using more tools like Lego – ones that help learners make mistakes create failures. 

This leads to a new project that I’m really excited about – a new tool that has the potential to help our kids make wonderful failures.  Raspberry Pi Foundation  is a UK based charity that is leveraging the last dozen or so years of technological innovations in mobile computing to create a computing platform.  It’s a tool that can be used to expose people to technology in ways which until now has become increasingly more difficult.  If you’re a tech buff, you may have already heard of this group, if you haven’t you need to take a look.  Think of what they are doing as somewhat akin to the modern day Lego.  They have created a building block of computing technology that will allow users (I’m thinking kids, but truly anyone) to explore, create, fail, and adapt in so many ways – all while keeping them excited and exposed to the technology that they see and interact with every day.  The Raspberry Pi Foundation is striving for cheap, accessible, programmable computers everywhere, and I’m most excited about how this can be used in education.  With teaching tools like these, we can expose students to more of the roots of computing technology.  While I support One Laptop per Child and similar initiatives to bring more technology into student’s hands, I feel these result in students learning how to use applications, not really exposing them to the underlying technology that enable those applications.  Nor do these mostly closed systems encourage users to experiment and create applications of their own.  Read up on Raspberry Pi, they are weeks away from launching the first version of hardware and I’m really looking forward to seeing how their tool evolves over time.  I expect that it will take up well deserved space in educator’s tool chests; I’ll certainly be adding it to mine.

One last thought. I’m currently reading Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work written by Matthew Crawford.  For those of you who are familiar with the book, it’s possible that tools like Raspberry Pi can expose an aspect of ‘craft’ that exists in modern day technology but in most cases hidden from the end user.  What’s really running under the hood of my iPad?

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