If you want to make something popular these days, it seems like all you have to do is throw a little ‘i’ before your product or idea. Clearly, Apple has expertly created this hype with their iconic mastery of product branding. How did the ‘i’ become so popular? The consensus is that the original lowercase ‘i’ that first showed up in Apple’s iMac stood for ‘Internet,’ yet many people have come to associate the ‘i’ with the word ‘individual.’ It makes sense to me: Apple’s iPod, iPhone, iPad, and iLife products can all be highly personalized for the user. That personalization is the reason I fell in love with my first iPod so many years ago: I could carry my entire personal music library with me to listen to whenever and wherever I wanted. It was a powerful idea that quickly translated to my classroom due to the personalized tools and resources students could have access to, wherever and whenever they needed them. Mobile learning devices like the iPod and iPad have absolutely transformed how I use technology to accommodate exceptional students of all abilities. I have become an advocate for mobile learning devices because of the plethora of opportunities they offer students in the classroom. And it seems that I am not the only one that feels that way.
Last year’s release of the iPad helped make mobile learning devices a very trendy topic of discussion in education. Schools quickly jumped on the iBandwagon in droves that Apple certainly wasn’t expecting (hence the late arrival of the Volume Purchase Program). Twitter exploded with questions from educators about how to incorporate the new technology into their classrooms. The Blogosphere filled up with list after list of “Best Apps to (fill in the blank).” Wikis were created to post lessons, tutorials, and experiences. This abundance of new resources is important, valid growth and I’m more than thrilled that educators want students to have access to these devices in their classrooms. I believe that there are numerous ways that these devices can help educators be better educators, and help students be better students; and I think that we can start to leverage technology in schools to be more than just an activity. It is my hope that the all of these “i” conversations going on will spark a greater interest in using technology to help individualize and improve instruction for all students.
In the field of special education, the word ‘individualize’ is not an option, it is the law. As a special educator, I look at students’ strengths and weaknesses and use that information to create an Individualized Education Plan that accommodates their individual learning styles and needs. Everyday I experience how that plan helps to create just the right lesson, with just the right technology tools to produce a successful learning opportunity for the student. Personalizing instruction for students creates a very powerful learning environment, and it is one that should be experienced by all students. So, why are we not doing this for every student?
One of the most obvious reasons schools are not currently providing personalized plans of instruction for every student is the sheer overwhelming difficulty of the task. We have high expectations of teachers: we ask them to deliver quality instructional programs that meet the different needs of students, to plan and execute engaging lessons, and to collect meaningful data and assessments so that they can start the cycle all over again. The demand to do that for a classroom of 25+ students viewed as individuals, and not a group, can simply be outside the capacity of one teacher. How can teachers possibly be expected to plan the perfect lesson for every student, every day? How can schools provide enough teachers and resources to meet the individual needs of every student? Will there ever be enough time to identify every student’s individual needs and still provide quality personalized instruction for each one? How much will it cost and where will the money come from? These are valid questions that will require schools to think outside the traditional classroom experience for solutions.
Technology may not be the answer, but it certainly is an idea. How can the hype of mobile learning devices translate into a meaningful classroom tool? How can schools start leveraging technology to better plan personalized instruction for students? How can technology help collect data on students so teachers can ensure that all students are successful learners? How can teachers use technology to plan for each student individually and still have time do provide a high level of quality instruction? How can technology help provide personalized learning experiences? These are all ideas worth exploring, and one school is doing just that.
In New York City, a pilot program called the School of One is exploring customized educational programs for students of all abilities. The program is focused on an individualized learning platform that is made up of a student profile, a series of high quality lesson banks, and a learning algorithm. The algorithm helps to match the student’s needs with an appropriate lesson, in an appropriate modality, for every student. The overall goal is to use technology to allow teachers more time to provide quality and effective instruction and at the same time offer students more opportunities to be successful learners. There is an interesting podcast on Freakonomics Radio about how the School of One is a customized experience like Pandora Radio, entitled “How is a Bad Radio Station Like the Public School System?” While the School of One relies heavily on technology to identify individual student needs and daily progress, it is important to note that it doesn’t mean students are using an electronic device all day long; students have the option to learn in a modality that works for them, whether it is through a one-to-one tutor, a hand-ons demonstration, or cooperative group learning activity (among other options). The School of One’s individualized learning platform is a fantastic example of how technology can lead to a change in how we customize education for all students.
How many educators are thinking like the School of One? How many schools are just using technology as an activity, and not a tool? With the release of iPad 2 right around the corner, I hope that schools are looking past all of the “i” hype and are trying to find innovative ways to use mobile learning devices to help individualize instruction for all students.