On Personalization

Ipad girl
CC Licensed Photo Shared by Flickr user Micah Sittig

Today I attended a very interesting presentation by a member of the AssistiveWare team. AssistiveWare develops some of the most simple yet revolutionary hardware and software for OS X and iOS. The things they are doing for physically and intellectually disabled persons is nothing short of rockin’. One app in particular caught everyone’s eye, Proloquo2Go, a mouthful to say but full of enormous potential pedagogically.

Proloquo2Go provides for the user a huge database of words+icons which you can select to turn into written or spoken sentences. You can customize, edit, and continually add to this database using your iDevice’s camera. Forget Special Ed., this is an app for everyone.

Sure, others exist that do similar things, but the people at AssistiveWare seem to get that aesthetics, portability, and intuitiveness are essential criteria for a successful technology in this day and age.

Of course, one of their main markets is the educational sphere. Oh how useful and maybe even a little transformative this tool could be. But we’re not ready. I don’t mean that this app and all the other technologies AssistiveWare makes will not continue to transform many people’s lives, it’s that we’re not ready yet in our systems. Here’s why.

We’re not comfortable yet with the idea of students using genuinely personal devices. Personal, as in, your laptop or your Blackberry or your iPad 2. Do you want to share your iPhone, or login to it every time you use it? I don’t mind people using mine (jeez, I let my children get all manner of kid goobies all over it), but I don’t want to put it back in a shared locked cupboard and go home without it. That’s preposterous.

Our smart phones and tablets are astonishing in many delightful ways, but in terms of the apps that you really use as tools (Evernote, Dropbox, Grocery Gadget, Bento, Echofon, Things, Reeder – these are all in my apps hall of fame), these are not possible without customization and personalization.

Proloquo2Go is great, but it’s downright beautiful if customizable to change and adapt to the user’s needs. Without this, it would be used as a novelty in our schools.

The road to ubiquitous wifi and mobile/soft-walled learning is fraught with many common, as well as unexpected, challenges. I’m not even trying to attest that it’s necessarily the best path.

What I am saying is that the potential of iPods and iPads in particular can only soar if kids can customize them to match their own needs.

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6 Comments

  1. Hi, my name is Jennifer and I am a student at the University of South Alabama. I am an Elementary Education major. The app Proloquo2Go sounds pretty cool. I agree with you though that the education world is not ready for it. The app is awesome when the person owns the iPad and he/she can take it everywhere but it would not be that useful for student when he/she has to keep the iPad at school. This is a very good post, I enjoyed reading it. Thanks!

  2. Agreed it’s a great app but WHY does it have to be so expensive? We are starting an iPod project in one of special Ed classes and it’s taken so much to scrap together the money for the tools. Now how do we come up with the cash for the app?

  3. Hi Royan,

    Can you tell me more about “if customizable to change and adapt to the user’s needs. Without this, it would be used as a novelty in our schools.” – I’d like to understand the context?

    Do you mean that a single app on a shared device would customize itself to each student because the school system isn’t ready for 1:1? How would this work if a student couldn’t login to the app? How would the app know who the student was and personalize the content? (Or in a shared class, what about a class-wide content group with additional subsets of content being shared within smaller groups and individual “chunks” of content being personalized?)

    Can you explain this bit “What I am saying is that the potential of iPods and iPads in particular can only soar if kids can customize them to match their own needs.”?

    Thank you.

    – Ian

    1. Hi Ian,

      The problem is that our schools are still in the mode of…

      -Tech collected in one place
      -To be shared by possibly hundreds of students
      -Centralized administrative control
      -General fear of personalized devices (hello idevices).

      An iPad or iPod needs to be customized to the user to be powerful. An app like proloquo2go would balance the power in our schools that still value the written word over other means of communication. In a place where one kid could take charge of it 24-7, the ‘smart kid’ and ‘dumb kid’ game we sometimes play would, matched with the right pedagogy, change the playing field.

  4. So do you mean that in your context, you’d be sharing a device between many kids. An app (or a suite of apps) needs to recognize individual users and customize content to be truly useful?

    – Ian

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