Pods permit learning on the move

24th November 2006 at 00:00
Apple's music system and podcasts are sold as learning tools. But how effective are they?

Ipods, podcasting, vodcasting and now podlearning - if you cannot keep up with the jargon then you are just not in the target market. The sleek, ubiquitous iPod is being hailed as the new answer to engaging students with learning: teenagers love them and teachers are embracing them.

ICT companies are lining up to offer schools schemes to use iPods for teaching, despite questions about the relative expense and limited uses for the technology.

"You see a student sitting on the bus with their iPod on - everyone thinks they are listening to Will Young, but they are actually doing their French homework," said Mike Damiano, from Etech.

Technology provider Etech has pupils at six British schools using iPods to download lessons, messages and homework planners from their school sites.

Another company, Podclass, is set to go one step further. If pupils view their video lessons on their iPods, and then pass an online quiz, they will be rewarded with credits to buy music and movies from Apple's iTunes store.

Apple has been marketing the iPod as a school learning tool, although, at pound;129, the iPod nano is one of the more expensive MP3 music players on the market. The video iPod costs from pound;189 to pound;259 depending on its power.

Emma Duke-Williams, a senior lecturer in educational technology at Portsmouth university, said recording lessons for iPods would take a lot of time and distributing them would be expensive if pupils were required to use Apple's proprietary technology.

Other MP3 players could read a greater range of audio and video files and could hook directly into schools' wireless networks to send and receive information.

Some schools are running their own iPod projects. Disaffected teenagers at schools in south Gloucestershire have been loaned iPods to allow them to keep in touch with their teachers while on work placements.

Tony Booth, in charge of the pound;4,000 project for the Kingswood schools partnership, said the iPods' calendar and image capacity meant using them in education was more than just a fad.

He said: "Essentially, they are the student's notebook, but they are more reliable in many ways than bits of paper. The technology will adapt, but schools need to keep up-to-date with the things young people like."

Kingswood pupils can access a "virtual learning environment", while teaching resources, including video clips, are available to help them.

Teachers are also able to send the pupils reminders.

Dr Andrew King, head of ICT at Testbourne school in Hampshire, is testing Etech's Studywiz system and iPods with dyslexic pupils.

He acknowledged the expense of iPods, and that they could not be used in as many ways as WAP phones or personal digital organisers. But he said teachers were still uneasy about any technology they had difficulty controlling, for example, passing notes in class by text message.

Government guidance, widely regarded as outdated, discourages mobile phone use. This is a hangover from the time when negative health effects had not been completely ruled out. Most important, Dr King said, was the iPod's dominance of the youth market. IPods, he said, had a "cool factor" among teenagers with which other technology simply could not compete.

KIDS KEEP MP3s COSY

When Janet Cook started knitting more than 50 years ago, she would make tea cosies in her spare time. Today, as the craft experiences a boom in schools, she has found herself teaching pupils to make cosies of a 21st century kind - for their iPods. Janet and her sister, Mave Downton, who started a knitting club at Rough Hay primary in Darlaston, West Midlands, were dismayed that the skill had somehow "skipped a generation". The acting headteacher, Anne-Marie Reese, jumped at the idea of knitting lessons. The class is already over-subscribed.

The British Hand Knitting Confederation, which promotes knitting in schools, said it hears from at least six new clubs every month. Christine Kingdom, spokeswoman for the confederation, said: "Knitting is very much about accessories at the moment and therefore it is ideal as the projects are small and useable."

She also stressed the educational and emotional benefits of knitting, such as improved concentration and hand-eye co-ordination.

More information about setting up a knitting club can be found at www.bhkc.co.uk.

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