Three Game Changing Tools That Will Transform Education

I'm blessed with the opportunity to send my children to a private school that uses both the community and many of the creative and technological tools possible to educate. There is no resource they are not afraid to use and I love them for it. I've seen them ask a parent with DJ skills to teach music curation or deploy an Iranian Grandparent to further explore the conflict in that region. The school my children attend has everything they need to be successful through leadership that thinks beyond limits or boundaries. This spirit transfers to our own home where my wife and I utilize a "surround sound" digital approach to compliment what my kids receive during the school day..

With this as a backdrop I am constantly thinking about non-traditional tools that I believe will have a significant impact on the future of education. Much like my own kids' school, I think about how to educate my children outside of the four traditional walls of a classroom. What's cool is that there's some great technology out there that allows for an expansion of the four walls of a traditional classroom. Here are three tools to consider:

Microsoft Xbox

Microsoft's best in-road into the hearts and most importantly the minds of educating young people is to extend all the digital real estate they now control in our homes. Truth is, the Xbox gaming system has the ability to be so much more than a place to battle opponents or strum our plastic guitars. As an effort to combat the lack of students studying computing subjects, Microsoft launched Kodu Game Lab. Kodu is a visual programming language for kids described as an "end to end creative environment for designing, building and playing your own new games." Kodu was originally launched for the Xbox but today has expanded to include the PC. This new educational breakthrough from Redmond, WA obviously makes Louise Dorrian happy. Miss Dorrian is a music teacher at Lodge Park Technology College in Corby, Northamptonshire (UK) and she uses Xbox in her teaching environment. "... I am very interested in how technology can be used to engage students and to make learning fun," she says via email. "One particular project which I am involved in at the moment is using an Xbox to develop students singing skills and also their confidence when performing in front of their peers. The students have responded very positively to the project and are very keen to sing using the Xbox! I think one of the reasons the project is successful is because the Xbox is something students can relate to and something they view as a fun activity, which releases the pressure of formal assessment. This isn't to say that the students aren't learning and developing their skills, of course they are, but this method seems to put students at ease more and get the enjoyment factor whilst being a valid learning experience at the same time." Further details of the project can be found at louisedorrian.spaces.live.com

Promethean ActivBoard Mobile System

When I grew up and went to school at Palo Alto -- even though this area was becoming a tech hotbed, we still learned the old fashioned way with chalkboards, permanently mounted to a wall painted a dull green. Today my kids literally have the world at their fingertips with these very cool interactive whiteboards they all call "Promethean boards" but in fact are officially called "ActivBoards." Rumor has it, the company, Promethean is about to come out with a rolling version of these ActivBoards, the ActivBoard Mobile System. And truth is, I can officially confirm the rumor as Promethean is a client of mine! It's like a technological adaptation of the one-room schoolhouse. Only this is a one-room-school house on wheels. The new Promethean ActivBoard Mobile System allows a Spanish teacher to switch hats in the middle of the day and become a Math teacher and not have to be bound by the same actual classroom. Think of the opportunities when you have the ability to open up the experience and become a mobile classroom.

One of the things that warms my heart is when I drive by my kids school and see them outside, under a tree, with a teacher. During what they call "short term," kids are encouraged to take classes based on their passions. It is not out of the ordinary to see an entire group of students, outside, practicing Tai Chi. The Promethean ActivBoard Mobile System will allow all teachers, even those in less open enviroments to be more mobile and creative with their classrooms.

Apple iPad

Since the moment the iPad arrived in my home, my kids have been glued to this device. My 9th grader is already envisioning a high school career with no heavy textbooks. Think of the kids backs that will be saved when they can carry all their textbooks around in a 1.5 pound device!. For publishers this sets up an opportunity for students and teachers to "rent" iPad textbooks not to mention create books that literally "fly off the page." Starting in the fall semester of 2010 Seton Hill University in Greensburgh, PA will give each full time student at the Catholic liberal arts college an iPad. "Those big heavy textbooks that kids go around with in their backpacks are going to be a thing of the past," said Mary Ann Gawelek vice president of academic affairs at Seton Hill said in Wired . For Apple this marks a return to education; a space they had a 50% share of in the 1980's. These days they hover at only 20% and many say this product will be their entry back into a very different market, but one that caters Apple. The blogosphere is alive and on fire with iPad + Educational communities geared toward creating the conversation around the iPad. There seems to be a genuine excitement over this device despite some of the initial challenges we were hearing. At George Washington University, students and faculty have been frustrated by not being able to get on the college campus network. Seton Hill has had to quadruple its bandwidth, extend wireless coverage and train staff. According to The Chronicle, the new technology program will cost each student an additional $500 in fees.

Despite what many would see as extreme and disruptive measures to prepare for the iPad, Seton Hill is taking the right steps to accommodate for a game-changing device. Sure they had to ramp up their pipes but if it weren't the iPad it surely would have been another device. The future looks bright for students and faculty who will be a big part of the growth of a new category in personal computing.

It's hard to imagine what my daughter's class of 2020 will be doing in their Senior year of high school. It is certain that the introduction of digital and social technologies has developed an entire new world of mind-blowing possibilities. I watch her whiz through my recently purchased iPad with ease I hadn't even seen with my much older teen. In one short week, she has already read two books, drawn some great sketches and become a pretty competitive scrabble player, all on the iPad. Her world in 2020 will look very different and be full of promise. My only hope is that she continues to take that spirit of technology and education and love of learning without walls to the next level.

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