Tapping into the natural curiosities of our students with apps to explore information
The advent of mobile devices like iPads and smart phones have ushered in a new heightened era of information for our 21st Century students. With a swipe of a fingertip, endless amounts of information become available to us instantaneously as it streams 24/7 through our devices and into our lives . Access to information at this rate is a double-edged sword: At times a bombardment of messages, information can clutter our lives, leading to increased habits of multi-tasking, and letting go of a critical stance to information in favor of “more” stuff. On the other hand, we now have access to perspectives, events, societies, phenomena, and knowledge from around the globe. Such knowledge adds to our cultural and intellectual wealth when applied in creative ways.
For our students, Google is the main portal to the world of information. As a self-professed Google-lover, I understand the power of an advanced search engine. Do my students? Well…we’re working on that. Rather than sending students to “Google it,” I’d like to suggest a handful of apps designed for the iPad that foster academic exploration of topics, inquiries, and contexts appropriate for all content area learning. These apps utilize multiple modes of media to enhance and engage. Articles, videos, and resources are easily shared through the app feature, allowing for easy adaptation for BYOD projects where students may access the information from personal devices, including laptops, desktops, and mobile devices. I suggest utilizing these tools when introducing new topics or units to students. In a Flipped or VESTED classroom, these tools fit well into initial previewing and building background knowledge.
The following iTunes apps allow students the opportunity to explore a myriad of topics and content areas, engaging them through authentic connections to the world around them and utilizing mobile technology to access information in rapid time:
According to Apple, iTunes U is the world’s largest collection of free educational content. Users can access courses from the world’s leading universities. In addition to participating in a course through readings downloaded into iBook, videos, assignments, and podcasts, students can also select from over 500,000 free lectures, videos, and podcasts. Teachers may utilize iTunes U as a tool to introduce a new concept or unit. For example, students may view a demonstration of a heat engine as an introduction to thermodynamics for an upcoming physics unit. Professor David Hoxley of La Trobe University has an entire classical physics course in iTunes U complete with video demonstrations and podcasts.
Other contributors to iTunes U include:
- Cambridge University
- Harvard University
- Library of Congress
- Oxford University
Khan Academy’s popularity is largely due to its simple, direct, and concrete illustrations of difficult subjects and complex concepts. Like iTunes U, students can subscribe to courses to continue their exploration into a specific discipline, topic, or skill.
These resources are valuable tools to provide students with opportunities to explore content related topics whether in a flipped, blended, or traditional classroom. Inviting them to explore these resources through their own curiosities supports their natural learning tendencies, allowing for a personalized learning experience. As online learning platforms continue to expand and evolve, soon, public education will need to consider how best to meet the needs of learners who can feasibly enroll him or herself in a free online course and master the content on their own through their own devices rather than the traditional educational setting. Public institutions have begun to integrate iTunes U courses into a traditional setting by creating unique courses for students to enroll in for a personalized experience.
But, it’s about baby steps and becoming comfortable with the sheer amount of information available, learning to control and manage the continual stream, and then become producers of solutions and innovations. iTunes U, Khan, and TED are leading facilitators of information collection and production.