“Technology integration” can mean many different things to many different people. Some folks advocating for “blended learning” these days intend to virtually chain students to screens and online computer aided instruction (CAI) systems for hours each day. (Hopefully those folks aren’t leading your school or state department of education.) While some CAI programs can be beneficial, a blended learning environment should mean much more than CAI “hosted in the cloud” and “served to mobile devices.” I wrote my first eBook, “Playing with Media: simple ideas for powerful sharing,” about the robust menu of communication, expression and assessment options which learners have today. I’m not a big advocate of CAI and “drill and kill” instruction. Our educational political climate favors those approaches, but they don’t make for great learning.

Thanks to a recent comment on my blog, I learned about the testing / drill and kill software program “Nearpod” for the iPod Touch. The website for Nearpod touts it as “A revolutionary tool for educators.” That claim seems highly exaggerated as well as dubious from the perspective a “Bloom’s digital taxonomy” educator. The following video provides an overview of the software program’s functionality. This isn’t “a revolutionary tool” or a tool which should be foremost on the mind of educators seeking to usher in “the learning revolution.” This is multiple choice drill and practice on a $300 per student iPod Touch.

Nearpod Education: Pilot program, Utah 2011 from Nearpod on Vimeo.

The photo below is a good visual summary of my response to these kinds of mobile, CAI products.

'Taylor Yawn' photo (c) 2008, Dave Fayram - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Should teachers have access to curriculum resources which provide for these kinds of realtime assessments? Sure. It will be nice when the use of these kinds of tools will be normal, rather than rare, in our classrooms. I’d love to be able to readily give my students quizzes on their mobile devices to solicit their current perceptions, understanding, and skills about topics we’re covering in class. I think mobile-friendly interfaces for quiz tools in learning management systems like Moodle will prove far more useful for teachers as well as students in the long run than siloed systems which do not easily integrate into an institution’s existing LMS, grading, and student information database. I don’t think products like Nearpod are bad, any more than a multiple choice examination is bad… but they should NOT define what we think of as “technology integration” or “revolutionary tools.”

Revolutionary educational technology tools are transformative. They permit us to do things we couldn’t do previously without technology. Are immediate quiz or test results transformative? Perhaps a little. But if they are, they’re certainly not transformative in the same ways student publishing platforms like blogs and wikis (platforms which support digital text sharing) can be. CAI tools, whether delivered on a mobile device or a laptop/desktop computer screens, shouldn’t get us NEARLY as excited as educators, parents, and community members as technology uses like collaborative online writing, student project publishing, student digital storytelling examples, etc. In too many schools and communities today, parents fall over themselves with excitement seeing interactive whiteboards installed in classrooms which DO enable digital content to enter the classroom… but within a predominant paradigm of teacher-directed instruction. Blended learning should empower students to access content and demonstrate their mastery of content with a variety of media and tools. Teachers SHOULD have access to just-in-time assessment tools, but that “tool” is just one resource among many in the digital toolbox of 21st century educators.

We need to regard educational technology tools like Nearpod with an informed perspective. This is part of what it means to have “digital vision” for our schools in 2011. An ‘informed perspective’ means being able to answer questions like these:

Do all students need to have access to mobile devices, which they not only use at school but also take home? Yes.

Should digital learning devices in student hands empower students to create as well as share a wide variety of digital media? Yes.

Should student wireless devices “connect to the cloud” and support customized as well as curricular-provided quizzes, tests, and other assessments? Yes.

Should we get more excited about digital testing tools in our classrooms than empowered student sharing and creativity? Absolutely not.

Taking a multiple choice test on an iPod Touch doesn’t qualify as “playing with media” any more than watching a Hollywood movie on Netflix does. (Neither qualifies.)

Images by Rachel Fryer

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  • Sara O’Hearn

    Hi Wesley, thanks for your interest in Nearpod and your post spotlighting our product. I understand your concern about traditional drill testing
    and in fact agree that it is not ideal in today’s teaching environment. Please
    let me clarify a few things:

    1. We are currently working with a very early iteration of
    this product, and are conducting our Fall 2011 pilot in order to learn directly
    from teachers what features we need to make this product work better than what’s
    currently available on the market.

    2. We are really excited to put the creative power in the hands
    of teachers and students themselves, and to move far beyond multiple choice
    questionnaires in the classroom. This is just what we are using as a starting
    point to learn through practical experience.

     

    Please contact me at sohearn@panareadigital if you would
    like to discuss further, I would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions.

     

    Sara O’Hearn

    Director of Content

    Panarea Digital

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