I work with schools deploying iPod Touch-based 1: 1 learning programs for their students. That is how I heard about a high-school student campaigning for the use of technology in education. I believe his voice should be heard, and this interview is my contribution towards that end.
For the benefit of people who are not aware, what is iSchool Initiative?
iSchool Initiative is a student-led non-profit organization dedicated to bringing technology to the classroom. We have three objectives – raising awareness for the technological needs of the classroom, providing collaborative research on the use of technology in the classroom, and guiding schools in the implementation of this technology.
Can you describe that "aha" moment when you came up with this concept?
After receiving an iPhone for Christmas in 2008 I began exploring the use of applications, and particularly how I could use them to help with my school work. I was amazed at all the many wonderful things I was discovering. One day, I was using my iPhone in class when something hit me. What if everyone in my class had one of these? What possibilities would there be then? In my excitement and desire to share my discovery with everyone, I made a YouTube video to share what I had found. I called it the iSchool Initiative. From that point on, I expanded the concept, did my research, and found out that this idea was catching on. Thus the iSchool Initiative was formed.
What is your vision and goal for iSchool Initiative?
The iSchool Initiative is established as the go-to place for educators, schools and students interested in developing and utilizing cutting-edge technology in classrooms. Our goal is to develop a global brand known to every school, educator and student around the world. We want the iSchool Initiative to be a reliable source people rely on to learn about the best-of-the-best in educational hardware and software!
Have you faced skepticism due to your age? What is your response to naysayers?
Absolutely. Naysayers are everywhere, many of my friends included. Many see my age as a hindrance on running a non-profit and bringing about the change I am striving for. Many also say that what I am attempting to accomplish is impossible.
Age is my advantage. I am my own target audience and I understand what my generation wants and needs better than the older generations. I am in the perfect position, using my lack of wisdom to my advantage. The older you get, the more impossible you think something may be and the more society tells you that you can't achieve it. I am under the impression that anything is possible and if I put my mind to it I can make it happen.
We know that several schools and administrators are big fans of iSchool Initiative. Did this come as a surprise to you?
At first yes. When I originally made my first YouTube video I thought nothing of it and saw it as just some idea I had. Watching it grow and seeing the feedback I received was nonetheless inspiring. After doing more research and developing my concept more, I realized I had really stumbled upon something here.
Can technology solve the problems with education today? Will replacing a backpack with a computer solve all the problems?
Technology can solve a lot of the problems in education, but it is not a fix-all solution. The thing people need to remember is when to use technology and when to not use it. We at iSchool Initiative are trying to help solve this by researching as students ourselves as to what works and what doesn't. I can tell you first hand, my iPhone and iPad have changed my college life for the better, helping me stay organized and improving my grades significantly.
Studies about 1: 1 learning programs have been inconclusive on the benefits of such programs. As a student, what is your perspective on that? What are we missing in the big picture?
I believe what is missing is the student perspective. Most of the time, students are told how they should learn and what they should use to do it. Creativity is key and students need to learn how they could enjoy learning. Again, this is why I believe so strongly in iSchool Initiative. People have been waiting for students to rise up and take initiative to do something about their own education. In short, while 1: 1 programs are indeed effective, what is missing is more help and ideas from students.
As a student, do you find teachers and administrators in schools receptive to the change you are advocating?
Some welcome it, while others reject it. I will tell you from personal experience, about 1 out of 5 of my college professors are against using technology in the classroom . The professors who are opposed to it have good reasons, saying they have way too many students on Facebook than taking notes. While this is an issue there are ways around this. I believe that if students are not paying attention in class, they will pay the consequences later. However, after showing professors how I use my iPad in class to take notes, etc. they allow me to use my devices and are excited to see what I can do. (I tend to show off my iPad a lot and most of the time, it makes whomever I am showing it to want to go buy one!)
iSchool Initiative is a non-profit. How do you intend to work with likes of Apple / Google and app developers?
Apple and Google, in my opinion, provide the best and cheapest tools to improve education. We at iSchool Initiative are advocating their products to schools and would like to eventually work directly with these companies to help schools receive discounts for their tools. We are also partnering with applications developers who have great educational applications. We brand their apps with the iSchool stamp of approval in order to help students, educators and schools know where to find the best educational apps.
In your mind, what should the classroom of 2015 look like?
Paperless, efficient, with room for creativity, uniqueness, and fun. A classroom should be the place for students to open their minds and also express themselves. A class in 2015 should not be printing anything and be using devices like the iPad for almost everything. While writing on paper would still be necessary, much can be done with technology and more efficiently.
Thanks for the great questions!
Travis Allen was interviewed by Suren Ramasubbu over phone and email.
As a high-school student, Travis Allen developed a non-profit helping schools learn how to incorporate technology in their classrooms. He is now a college student at Kennesaw State University managing a 15-member student team who run seminars, market the initiative, develop applications, and maintain a social network of schools and students. Travis has created team management sites, runs a popular blog, helped hundreds of students learn, and created YouTube videos inspiring tens of thousands of students and educators. He has successfully led his team and developed a sound structure for his non-profit to expand.