Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

Don’t be awed by enhanced access to administrative academic data – Look for pedagogic changes instead!

What is the ideal mobile application for college students armed with iPhones, wanting information related to THEIR college life, courses and interests? According to a telecommunications company like AT&T, the answer may be something similar to iStanford, an application whose development received $10,000 from AT&T as the winner of the “Big Mobile on Campus” contest last year:

Stanford iApps are being developed by current Stanford students Joseph Bernstein and Kayvon Beykpour, the co-founders of the startup Terriblyclever. Josh Quittner’s recent article for Time Magazine, “Can iStanford Take on Facebook Mobile?” reveals the new functionality of the Stanford iApps is due at least in part to unprecedented access granted to the student developers by the university’s IT administrators:

…the newest version, slated to arrive shortly, also allows students to add and drop courses, see the real-time whereabouts of the on-campus shuttle bus, review their own grades and course history and perform a variety of other administrative tasks that are normally accessible only over secure campus networks. That’s because, in an unusual move, Stanford’s IT folks allowed the developers to connect to core computer systems at Stanford.

“The key is they’re integrating [the iPhone app] with our central system,” said Tom Black, Stanford’s registrar, who noted that the team was held to the same level of scrutiny as an outside vendor. “Usually student apps aren’t allowed to go anywhere near that. We’re breaking some ground here.”

iStanford application functionalities sound like a partial implementation of the theoretical iPhone applications showcased in the short video “Connected” from Abilene Christian University, in Texas, published in mid-2008.

While real-time mobile access to course schedules and grades may be cool on an iPhone, such access does not represent a transformative difference or “great leap forward” beyond the access already provided to students at most universities via a WiFi equipped laptop. The “where am I” features of the iPhone with Google Maps tied to real-time campus shuttle bus locations are also cool sounding, but really– how big of a deal is this in terms of making college life much different than it is today? It’s handy to find out when a shuttle bus is coming by looking at your iPhone, but such knowledge hardly transforms the college learning experience.

More than mobile devices with greater access to existing administrative academic data, our K-12 schools, colleges and universities need educators with the pedagogic vision of Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams described in their article “Remixing Chemistry Class” in the Dec-Jan issue of ISTE’s Learning and Leading with Technology. (The article is password protected for members-only.) As high school chemistry teachers, they have “flipped” the normal sequence of lectures and homework for students, recording lectures for viewing via podcast/vodcast and spending time with students working on labs and problem sets face-to-face. They are implementing the precise advice I shared at the March 2006 SITE conference in my session “Powerful Blending: Using Web 2.0 to Interact, Create, and Assess.” When an instructor wants to provide a non-interactive lecture or learning experience, s/he is best advised to make that learning available asynchronously for downloadable, time and place shifted consumption by students. This avoids forced learning experiences in the upper left quadrant of this 2 x 2 grid or framework:

A Framework for Thinking Instructionally About Web 2.0 Tools

In their article, Bergmann and Sams explain their thinking this way:

We realized that our students most need us to be physically present when they are doing labs, working out problems, and wrestling with an assignment. Our physical presence is not necessary for the presentation of content, so we decided to flip the way we teach. Material that had traditionally been presented in an in-class lecture could be prerecorded and the students could watch the vodcast at home before class. Material that had traditionally been assigned as homework could be completed in class with the benefit of teacher assistance if needed.

WE do not believe that this model will eliminate the need for classroom instruction. Instead, we hope that by eliminating lectures, we can use class time for more student-centered and inquiry-based activities.

The news video “Educational Podcasting in Woodland Park, Colorado” posted to Google Video in January 2008 also tells the story Bergmann and Sams describe in their L&L article. I referenced this last month in the post, “Notes and Reflections on Dr. Z’s ISTE Webinar today, blended learning, and web 2.0.”

These types of pedagogic changes which involve blended learning are MUCH more exciting to me than simply improved mobile access to administrative data at a university like Stanford. Certainly Stanford IS setting a high bar for other educational organizations with Stanford on iTunes. Amidst discussion and excitement over the new iStanford iPhone application, however, I encourage everyone to avoid the tendency to be awed by something entirely NON-pedagogical. This is analogous to parents in our local school district getting excited because this year, for the first time ever, parents can log into “real-time” student grade data online:

Pinnacle Internet Viewer - Edmond Public Schools

My response to this is: BIG DEAL. Yes, of course the Stanford iPhone application is MUCH sexier and more fully featured than basic online grade access like our local K-12 school district provides, but my point is that news articles like Josh Quittner’s for Time make it sound like this application is the harbinger of a learning revolution. A learning revolution IS underway, and mobile devices are playing a key role in this revolution, but the revolution itself is not simply about digitizing our 19th century ways of “doing school.” To use the parlance of ACOT, these examples of digitized access to administrative information are simply “adoption” or “adaptation” levels of technology integration.

ACOT Technology Integration Stages

ACOT found that given a supportive environment, educators can and will progress through these stages to move into the more advanced “appropriation” and “invention” stages of technology integration, IF administrative leadership supports pedagogic change. The initial stages are natural and perhaps even required, but the key is educational constituents should NOT BE SATISFIED to simply see traditional learning tasks and teaching styles be digitized.

I’m sure lots of the 4000 current Stanford students with iPhones and iPods (“2,500 of the school’s 8,000 students have an iPhone; another 1,500 have the iPod Touch”) are interested in iStanford and the new access options it will provide. I’m guessing lots of those same students would be even more excited, however, if more of their professors and instructors utilized technologies in transformative ways to differentiate learning opportunities as well as assessment options, as the students in the “Digital Students @ Analog Schools” video explain.

I left the following as a response to the first commenter on this video:

Did you watch this entire video? The students are not making a justification for not working or learning. They are asking to be provided with CHOICES in the ways they learn, and the ways they demonstrate what they know. Have you spent time making a video as a class assignment, and been restricted on the length of the film you could create? This can be a very challenging process. Digital storytelling as the social studies teacher of these students, Marco Torres, taught them involves writing, storyboarding, rewriting, planning, as well as producing and editing. One of the main points of the video is that many instructors don’t give students any choices about learning modes or assessment options. Sometimes in life, certainly we don’t get choices. But more often, as educators we DO need to provide choices to students about how they show what they know, particularly when they could provide more transparent windows into their own understanding and knowledge/skill sets by using more authentic means of assessment than just a paper and pencil test.

In addition to supporting transformative pedagogic change, supported by technology in our schools, we need to be supporting the open educational resources (OER) movement for curriculum and textbooks. For more on OER, take time to listen to Karen Fasimpar’s presentation from NCCE last February on this topic.

Stanford’s new iApps are undoubtedly “cool.” We need much more than “cool” when it comes to the digital learning revolution, however. We need broad-based, pedagogic change! Thankfully, educators like Bergmann and Sams are demonstrating how blended learning CAN transform education constructively, in fundamentally different ways than our 19th century models. Now we need to encourage mainstream media authors like Josh Quittner to write about and amplify them so “the rest” of the country can learn about these blended learning strategies who are NOT reading blogs or L&L!

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One response to “Don’t be awed by enhanced access to administrative academic data – Look for pedagogic changes instead!”

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