Tricorder in Hand

In high school and into college, a friend of mine piqued my interest in a sci-fi television series called Star Trek: the Next Generation, and like the original series, the characters living aboard the Enterprise used small, hand-held computers called tricorders. According to the Wikipedia, this device was focused on sensing, computing, and recording things.

More recently, I visited Mrs. Kass’ classroom at GMS and students were learning about the quilt designs used during the time of the Underground Railroad to communicate. A whole collection of designs were used, and some can be seen here. While originally unplanned, students were using their iPads to “record” these patterns as they came up on the projection via the Promethean board. Designs would be used later in an upcoming project.

Having the tool in hand, students could immediately utilize the camera to record these images. Earlier in the week, Mrs. Kass’ students from her science class were doing something similar, recording images of their environment. Students collected a number of fascinating things from around the school, in areas just beyond the tennis courts. Mrs. Leiderman led the expedition, and later shared with students her own foraging artifacts in the form of bugs and flowers that have gone to form the virtual pages of several ebooks.

This is interesting. A small, hand-held device can be used, almost just like in StarTrek, to sense, compute, and record things. These examples have been light on sensing (and perhaps, fitness trackers or the new Apple Watch might be better examples of how we will use technology to sense things), and the computing part happens too, but more often later in the classroom as students re-mix the recorded photographs in a way that helps them better understand what was captured.

I recently learned that some teachers were exploring research that articulated what can go wrong with an iPad deployment, as published in a research article about a school iPad deployment in another state. For anyone who might point out what could go wrong with behavior, perhaps even amplified bad behavior with a powerful sensor, computer, and recorder, the potential for deeper learning using such a device will likely always outweigh the negatives. I don’t really care so much that the iPads I see in our classrooms remind me of the future foretold in StarTrek, but sometimes you have to marvel at how that vision from just a few years ago has the potential to change the ways in which we get to learn and grow.