Exploring the use of iPads and mobile devices in education.
I've written in the past about the fact that one of the most underrated educational benefits of the iPad lies in it's ability to connect people. Whether through Facebook, Twitter, Facetime or others, mobile devices allow us to develop "learning communities" beyond the boundaries of any physical location. In giving workshops to educators and parents, I often highlight the concept of learning community as one of the most important advances of a 21st century education.
There are many fine examples of the benefits of online community and the creative ways they can be utilized in collaborative projects. One of the most stirring examples that I have found is the "Virtual Choir" by musical conductor, Eric Whitacre. In his Virtual Choir, Whitacre invited people to submit a YouTube video of themselves singing one of his compositions. He then wove them together into an amazingly innovative video - a "virtual choir".
It's an extremely emotional and soulful piece. If you haven't seen it, take a few minutes to watch it below:
Whenever I present this video at workshops it never fails to spark heated and controversial debate. Inevitably some people find it disturbing - "cold" or "chilling". Many take offense at the fact that it's a compilation of individuals sitting in their homes singing on their own. At one seminar that I gave to parents at a school in Hollywood many actually worked in the entertainment business (a surprise, I know). Music, they argued, should be a personal collaboration between people. The essence of that collaboration involves personal contact - seeing, hearing and connecting to others on a personal level. For some, technology wasn't a way of connecting people - quite the opposite. Technology actually stood as a barrier between people and created a situation where we communicate more and more through electronic devices instead of socializing in person Interestingly, many were texting on their phones during the presentation.
One person at the front of the audience then raised his hand and explained that he actually was a close friend of Eric Whitacre. "You don't understand", he explained, "that most of the singers couldn't ever have imagined working with Eric or singing in his choir. For most of them this was a dream come true and they were incredibly grateful of the opportunity to participate".
The Virtual Choir video became an online phenomenon. Eric Whitacre recently gave a talk at the TED conference where he explained how the video was created. His talk is contained in the video below (my apologies if you're on an iPad but I could only find a flash based video):
If connecting and collaborating through online learning communities is a principle feature of 21st century education, then this video represents a core debate about the use of technology in education. Is technology bringing us together or is it breaking us apart? Does the increasing use of technology make our students better digital, global citizens but reduce their ability to interact socially and emotionally?
So, what do you see? Do you see the chilling sight of hundreds of lonely people singing alone in their rooms or do you see an incredible weaving of musical souls collaborating from all corners of the globe to create an incredible piece of music? That question really represents the very essence and power of social networking.