Friday, January 29, 2010

iPad for homework iWonder?

The hyperbole has died down and in the cold light of day the iPad looks like iPod Touch Maxi. But the question I have is will these e-Readers like the Kindle and the new iPad be any help in getting homework done?

First let’s look at the case for the iPad as a homework/school helper.

1) At only 1.5lb weight the iPad is light and could easily be carried to school.
2) Intuitive interface makes for a easy learning curve and productivity gains straight off the bat
3) Perfect interface to watch video and listen to audio. With the promise of video chats this could be a fantastic tutor device.

Now the obvious down side

1) Because the device is limited to no flash then most web based apps will not work and most web based video will not be usable
2) Multi purpose device means distractions are only a touch away and it’s hard enough now to get kids to concentrate on homework.

I can see a scenario where this iPad could become a fantastic device for tutoring and homework help but I think this is still some way off. If I had a wish-list for the device that could really help with homework it would have the following

1) Built in Camera and Microphone for video chats with tutors
2) Full multi-tasking to enable video chat, whiteboard and textbooks all to be used at the same time.
3) Voice dictation software to enable student to talk to the device (I know a stretch but this is a wish-list)
4) Full web enabled technologies i.e. Silverlight and Flash
5) Custom Built shared whiteboard web class software.

None of these extra wish-list items are really out of the question and the technology already exists to perform all these. But the will and the market is the real question.
As for the Kindle this is without doubt the best e-Reader on the market. I can see this device replacing textbooks in the next few years but I believe there is still a few advancements advancements needed. This device could become the student/study device and with integrated class room and tutor software could achieve most of my wish-list requirements. The Kindle will be priced at less then $100 this time next year and will have a bigger screen and much more content. Amazon doesn’t want to get into the hardware market and compete with Apple they want to create a cheap e-Reader which is the best device to use for reading books this will enable them t control the burgeoning market for eBooks and become the dominate force into the future. The Kindles will become subsidized devices which all school kids will end up with in there bags.

Kindle Wish-List to create a fantastic student device

1) Touch screen
2) Bigger Screen with Back lit option
3) Much Cheaper about $100
4) Integrated School Books and Class/Tutor software built in
5) Bluetooth enabled to allow in class homework sharing and marking.
6) Big improvement on writing interface to enable it become the replacement for all school materials
7) Web Enabled with option to go full screen color.

With the Kindle wish-list we could see this device take over classrooms across the country and there is almost a guaranteed market every year then among the millions who attend classes everyday. Remember you heard it here first.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Bill Gates agrees with us that education is moving online

How is that for an endorsement, Bill Gates today in his annual letter from his Foundation. He outlined how he believes that education is about to be driven online and that this will bring great benefits to everyone. This is where Bill Gates goes to learn about new things and he seems to think the time is now right for an explosion in interest and demand for new educational services online.
Right well we weren’t exactly mentioned by Bill Gates but he’s preaching the exact same message as us.

Education is that last great bastion of community that has yet to really feel the power of the web. Services are getting made and are available now that could really help education today but the establishment have been slow to adopt them. These services are struggling to get noticed and struggling to get the education establishment interest in them. The problem is with the system really as the emphasis is just not there on software and technology as an education enabler. Software is seen as a cost and until it can be viewed by the schools and education department as a great tool for helping students and controlling costs, the first question will always be “How much is this going to cost us?”

Well Bill has a plan that non-profit and corporate forces will collide and make the perfect educational resource available to all for free or near free. Personally I just don’t see it. I think the model has to be more pragmatic than that. A drive on costs to get them as low as possible will enable providers to produce quality online material and courses that can be offered to schools and students for very little. At the moment there are services available now that offer great online courses in subjects for as little as $25 per year, but I believe going forward this will just get cheaper and cheaper until it becomes so competitive and price conscious that we’ll be paying less than $10 a year soon.

I agree with Bill when he says that there is yet a single “great” resource available but this is because no real big players have entered the market yet. This will change and existing players will get better, cheaper and offer more. It’s great to see the exposure that online education is getting and I just hope that this debate truly begins and a spotlight can be shone on the services that offer a great service at a reasonable fee that are in the market trying to drum up interest now.

Can Twitter Teach our Kids Math?

Well at this stage twitter is becoming mainstream. We have to accept twitter is probably going to be here to stay. I posed the question “Can Twitter Teach our Kids Math?” which is a bit of a stretch but I believe it can definitely help.
Twitter to the uninitiated is a simple SMS-like messaging service that allows people to connect and follow the messages posted by people and companys and in turn post (or Tweet) their own status. It is used in a few different ways but mainly by people who just want to keep in touch with people and organisations.
Sounds simple and it really is that simple there is a little bit more to it but basically not much more. But let’s see if we can come up with a scenario where twitter could be used in an educational situation. Imagine if all the students “followed” the teacher on twitter and could get updates and homework tips and results and personal mentoring all on twitter, it’d be a bit cool right? Imagine too if the parents could also follow the school and get updates on school closures and events and their kids progress, again cool right? This would be a super easy way to stay up-to date with what is happening in school and best of all it’s free to everyone concerned. Not particularly innovative just quick and easy movement of information.
Twitter could be great as a communications service in school as described above but it still doesn’t teach our kids. Well we could also offer anonymous free tutor help. I’m actually surprised a service like this doesn’t already exist (well I can’t find one) that allows a person tweet a specific problem to a service and get back an instant-ish response, not sure how the business model would work but hey twitter hasn’t figured one out yet either. Or how about a twitter service where people can post up homework help and advice again surprised the book publishers haven’t cottoned on to this one yet either.
Everyone knows that education is delivered and received by talking and reading well twitter is just a new method of communication and can easily then be included into the mix of education successfully and will succeed and fail in the exact same way as all communication does now. If it succeeds just remember where you heard it first, if it fails blame twitter ;-)

Monday, January 4, 2010

24/7 Math Homework Help

In my day math homework was something you did straight after school so you could get out to your friends. If you got stuck you were well stuck. You could ask your parents but all you would get back is blank stares. Ask you brothers or sisters and they'd laugh at you. You could search the internet...hang on that wasn't invented yet.
I often think kids have it harder in so many areas of life nowadays but getting math homework help is not one of them. The internet is a great resource to help (and cheat) with your homework. If you didn't bother with your homework and you have 20 minutes in the morning to get it done in a hurry the internet is a lifesaver. Not really the recommended scenario for getting your homework done but now possible, but used right the internet and web tutor services are a fantastic resource.
Math homework help services on the internet now mean expert advice on the exact concepts you are working on are just a click away 24/7. This is a great boon but also removes the standard excuse of the student. “I couldn’t understand it and no one at home can help” ah well yes there is it’s called the internet. Many teachers first reaction to web based tutor services is fear and to dismiss them. But really teachers can use good web homework tutors to really enforce a math lesson.
Imagine the scenario the teacher runs an hour long class on polynomials and sets homework based on the chapter in the textbook. But also refers all the students to a web tutor service offering a customized lesson with examples on the exact same chapter if they need help. Now some students always struggle to get the subject in school and for a host of reasons might not get it first time. But now at home these students get the chance to review the topic at their own speed and have an expert tutor on hand to help if they get stuck. The teacher benefits because any student arriving into class without the homework done better have a really good excuse, the student benefits because they have an expert at home on tap to help and it really empowers them to take control of their own education.
This scenario is happening everyday in schools across the country with services that already exist. All I’d say to students is don’t be afraid to try them as most if not all are free for a trial period or really inexpensive. It is much better to get a service that covers your exact textbook rather than a generic one as you will always get the exact help you need. Teachers please embrace web based tutors because they do not seek to replace you but to improve the situation for everyone. They do not just give the students the answers to math problems but try to reinforce the concepts that you introduced in class.