Thursday, January 20, 2011

Enhancing the learning experience with technology

A story on the GOOD.is site about the use of iPads in the classroom got me thinking. In my role as the Chief Information Officer for Peirce College in Philadelphia, part of my position is to evaluate and follow trends in technology, and identify products and services that can enhance the learning experience for our students. You may recall that we released the first version of our mobile apps this summer.

One of the trends that seems to get much publicity is schools and institutions of higher learning aligning themselves with the hottest or newest technology that is sweeping the consumer market. I'm talking about those schools giving students the slate form factor devices (iPad, Kindle, Nook, etc).

But what happens when schools rush to adopt the hottest new technologies without fully evaluating the needs of the customer or the IT infrastructure? According to CIO.com, “falling prey to fadware” qualifies as one of the top five “IT brain fails.”

This is an emerging market, and each new device has shortcomings that may or may not be evident in the rush to fulfill the perception and the brief moment in the limelight. The needs of the students, ability for faculty to easily provide content, and the ability for infrastructure support in the institution need to be accounted for.

Two years ago, several colleges, including Arizona State University, were chosen by Amazon to take part in a study on the use of the Kindle in the classroom. Students in the study provided feedback that some of the basic needs for a student could not be met. Highlighting, annotations, adequate screen resolution, ability to display complex illustrations and graphics, as well as saving and retrieving files, fell far short of Amazon’s expectations for success.

Now, some of those same schools have moved to the iPad. George Santayana, the famous philosopher, is attributed with the quote, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” I feel that in the not too distant future, I will be reading that some of those schools are moving yet again, this time away from the iPad.

While several Learning Management Systems, like Blackboard, Desire2Learn, and others have a mobile platform that is designed for the iPad, this popular tablet lacks several key components that would make it a better solution for students and educators alike. Without the long-needed addition of a camera, USB, replaceable battery, and even more important, Flash and pen-based annotation, the iPad is destined to join the legacy of the Kindle in these, and many other institutions.

The Blackberry PlaybookSamsung Galaxy; dual-screen KNO; and Android powered Acer tablets, Dell Streak, or Asus tablets are all slate devices worthy of evaluation for students, faculty, and IT departments.

Peirce has already released its iPhone and Andriod applications, with the Blackberry and iPad soon to follow. We are looking forward to getting a KNO and several other devices for internal evaluation.

Sometime soon, I will write about our experiences with these new devices, and look to our students and faculty for feedback, long before we align ourselves with any slate solution.