Friday, June 4, 2010

Should communication students get in touch with their inner iPod Touch?

What is it about us teachers working with technology that sometimes gets our knees a-knockin', and hearts a-poundin'?

I think that some of the nerves has to do with the idea of the traditional role of teacher, which used to be all about being the smartest person in the room and never saying, "I don't know."

We've all stood at the front of the classroom trying to fix the piece-of-crap remote control that's supposed to turn on the digital projector while 25 people watch you and think, "I paid tuition for this?"

On the other hand, technology is, by definition, something that gets embraced by younger people before older people know what it is, try it, or adopt it. This puts teachers - usually the oldest folks in the classroom - at a disadvantage in two areas: knowledge and classroom control.

Hence, the knee-jerk reaction to any electronic device that a student seems to be enjoying more than the class: "I don't know how that thing works, so get it out of here!"

This is normal. This manifests itself in everyone to some degree; it usually starts in your mid-30s, when you notice yourself thinking things like, "Those damn kids today have no respect!" when you see them staring passively at an invariably smaller screen than what you stared at when you were their age.

As a communications professional friend recently said to me, "I think I'm done trying to keep up with technology. All of this new stuff seems like crap to me."

Well, OK, but just don't apply for a job as a CreComm instructor at Red River College, OK?

Teach the teachers

Another example of this phenomenon, from Will Richardson's Weblogg-ed blog:
At a collection of school leaders and IT people, one of the participants told the group that his school had bought a number of iPads for teachers and that they had scheduled a chunk of training on how to use them.

Unfortunately for him, I had just read an exchange on Twitter where Gary Stager had made the point that I quickly made to the group: “You know, something like 1.3 million people have bought an iPad and I doubt any of them have gotten any “training” on how to use it.” The people in the room half chuckled, but one woman said “Our teachers won’t do anything with technology unless we give them training."


We’ve done the same thing to our teachers that we’re doing to our kids, namely conditioned them to wait for direction on what to learn, how to learn it, and how to show they’ve learned it.

As teachers - especially communications teachers - we need to make sure our students know the tools of the trade, so they're as useful to the people who hire them as they possibly can be. Our new grads' competitive advantage over "old veterans:" understanding how to use and harness new media and technology to benefit their client or employer.

And we also have to be prepared to jump into areas we don't understand and in which some students might be smarter and more experienced than us.

And we have to be prepared, at times anyway, to have no direction before we just do it. Thanks for the cliche, Nike!

The iPod Touch meets CreComm

Which brings us to Creative Communications, the program in which I teach.

It's no secret that I'm a big proponent of not just Apple products, but new technology in general.

I don't think new technology is any more important in life than, say, reading Moby-Dick, but it is probably more important to most employers that you are able to use mobile technology than it is for you to rattle off the complete works of Herman Melville.

So, one of the things that we - the CreComm faculty - have done is to propose that iPod Touches be added to the equipment list for first-year students.

In the heady era of the iPad, even the idea of adding iPod Touches to the equipment list seems a bit "too little, too late" for me, but you've gotta start somewhere, right? Baby steps:

You can't just go around adding stuff for students to buy, so here's how I've answered the question that needs to be answered in order to make it a reality: "Why iPod Touches?"

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Kentonist Manifesto. I just hope I do justice to Marx - Groucho, Harpo, and Chico.


Please allow me to explain the value of the iPod Touch, not just in my own classes, but across the program, because the device has an impact on virtually every part of our curriculum: from downloading Canadian Literature and posting podcasts to mobile blogging and tweeting.

The iPod Touch is an iPhone without the phone. The communications industry is moving to "touch" technology with app-based delivery - the iPod Touch is the ground-floor version of this technology and gives the biggest bang for the least buck.

The iPod Touch is good for mobile email, watching video, playing music, reading news apps, downloading and reading books, mobile blogging, recording podcasts, tweeting, monitoring RSS feeds (like the students' blogs), being plugged in to what's going on, and understanding the whole “app” landscape.

You require no wireless contract with a service provider (you can use Red River College’s Wi-Fi network for free), but the iPod Touch does not allow you to shoot video or photos, or to make phone calls.

You can see what the device looks like here on the Apple website.

Here's what I use my iPhone to do (note that the iPod Touch does most of this, but not photos/video/phone):
  • Take and send pictures;
  • Shoot and edit video and post it to YouTube;
  • Send and receive emails;
  • Use Twitter;
  • Download apps;
  • Get the news through apps and the Web (the NY Times, USA Today, BBC, the Globe and Mail, Telegraph, ITN, CBC Radio, NPR News, Time, Huffington Post, Consumer Reports);
  • Download books;
  • Record podcasts and radio shows (on the AudioBoo app, etc);
  • Watch video;
  • Text message;
  • Write and publish mobile blog posts (using the BlogPress app, etc.);
  • Play and create music;
  • Follow RSS feeds (all of the students' blogs);
  • Communicate with people
  • And even sometimes make a phone call.
(Note: if this seems familiar, I stole this list off of a previous blog post!)
Most apps are free to download. You can get a further sense of what the app technology allows a student to do here: 100 best free iPhone apps for college students.

These are just some of the ways I will use the iPod Touch in my classes, but we should make allowances for some instructors who don't yet know how they'll use it - because they themselves have not yet had a chance to try it out.

I should also note that this technology has become standard issue in colleges and universities across North America, including the University of Saskatchewan, which has its own app.


So, let's see how it goes.

And, by the way, Moby-Dick is available for free through more than one ebook app. Great book - you should download it.


  1. How are those shares in Apple treating you these days? lol

    Word has it (in my head, because I made it up!) that Apple is working on developing the new iShoes, so the disenchanted can watch videos while they walk and stare at their feet! They're even going to have a GPS function.


  2. Had I not just endured first year CreComm I would probably think that you are full of it. However, I must admit that an ipod touch would have been a great accessory for my first year of this program. (Plus I always felt so left out from the iphone kids...Ugh, jealousy.)

    Another thing they should consider is making CS4/5 a required purchase (Is there a student rate?!) as the college only stays open until midnight, and getting EP assignments done sometimes seems impossible without constant access to those programs...

    i'm going off on a tangent...

    I vote that first year's invest in the ipod touch.

  3. Even people who post negative comments here would basically agree with you, Kenton.
    Commenters read blogs and therefore likely write them as well. They are likely to embrace current and new technology and to want to get in touch with their inner iPod Touch -- if they did not do so eons ago.
    The non-bloggers and non-Touchers are silent in the blogosphere.


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