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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Geographer Looks at EdTech - Part 1 - the iPad

--- This post is the first in a ten part series examining top 2011 trends in education technology in the context of GIS and geography education. ---

I've only been writing about GIS/geography education for a few months now, so I'm not ready to identify a top ten of any kind for the year. Thankfully, I found Audrey Watters blog Hack Education (and podcast). She's been counting down the top ed tech themes of the year. I want to visit each one for two reasons: (1) to be sure those who are "heads down" in teaching GIS/geography are aware of these themes and (2) to add in my thoughts on how GIS/geography educators might take advantage of them.

10) The Year of the iPad

Audrey Watters identified the iPad in her top ten list of ed tech for 2011. Even those on the fringes of education probably heard about how schools were buying iPads for students. More importantly, there's been significant coverage of how students of all kinds (very young, K-12, college, with disabilities, etc.) can't keep their hand off the devices! Hardware to me is simply something on which to run software, so I'm far more interested in what learners do on the iPads, than that they love them.

One of the top learning apps for iOS devices, per many observers, is called Motion Math, from a company of roughly the same name, Motion Math Games. It teaches key ideas about number lines and fractions. To learn about fractions, students move/tilt the device to "bounce" the fraction to the right location (3/5 the way, 1/2 the way, etc.) along a bar. A score of 100% moves a student to the next level. The short video below explains it far better than I can.

Now, I've never played or studied with Motion Math, but I want to! Why?
  • It's active.
  • It's focused on a very specific sets of skills related to fractions.
  • There are hints to help you learn, not just get the right answer.
  • It's not scary.
Could you teach calculus this way? Probably not. How about geography facts? How could you use the interface of the iPad to create a compelling "game" beyond the old "What country is this?" and "Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?" ones from the previous generation of educational computer and video games? Most of the educational geography apps/games for mobile devices including the iPad  are simple rehashes of these older ideas. I'm looking forward to the "Motion Math of geography facts" as a first big step into iPad learning tools for geography.

But lets jump to another type of geographic learning that's possible on the iPad: geographic problem solving. Let's face it, that's what we hope geography and geographic technology learners will take away from their studies. Could the iPad teach that? Could it allow such analysis in the field, say on a street corner? Could software walk students through the steps: identify the problem, gather data, analyze data, suggest a possible answer (that's my version of the steps in geographic problem solving; here are Esri's). I can imagine some great, very free form activities that teach and allow students to practice these steps, using tools and data from, say, ArcGIS Online. Once a project is complete, the output and discussion could be shared with other students via blog, social media, etc.

I am very excited about what's possible. Are you building or have seen anything like the apps I've envisioned?