I can identify two broad categories into which new software and hardware tools fit, especially in educational settings. The first category is tools that do things that are way out there, but someone has taken the time to develop it and it unfolds tons of new possibilities. From the past 15-20 years I would say that in this category fits things such as the iPhone, iOS, the iPad, the Wii, the XBOX Kinect, ColdFusion, Flash, Java, AOL, Facebook, Twitter, etc. The creators and designers probably had ideas about end products that may emerge from use of their tools, but the possibilities that were opened up have proven to be quite endless.
_The second broad category are tools that take many separate components that can be cumbersome to pull together and weaves them into a singular space, allowing people to do what they already wanted to do in a more accessible way. I see this category existing most often in education settings, where tools are used to make prior tasks more efficient, but not necessarily revolutionize the way things are done (as is the case in the first category). Things in this category include interactive white boards (i.e. SMART or Promethean Boards), web sites and e-texts with analytics and data tracking, instant response systems, content or learning management systems, etc.. Now, I realize that how these tools are used can vary from setting to setting and person to person, but that is usually a result of the beliefs and practices of the institution or the person, not a result of the tools' projected influence.
Given limited time and resources (as was my case) I think that finding a balance of the two categories is extremely important. Working full time and also being in graduate school does not allow me to run a separate company that is doing prototyping, R&D, development, marketing, and distribution on the scale that the tools mentioned in the first paragraph required to be as successful as they have been. To the same end, coming up with something that only solves one small problem or is only applicable to a limited audience is not going to be worth the time taken out of an already busy day to produce something to be proud of.
_The video above was made using Explain Everything, but when I first started thinking about the app I did not think that this was a possible use.
I think there are two things to try and achieve with any app geared for an educational setting. First, in the short term it should solve an existing problem or have some other immediately accessible entry point for users. Second, it should not be so limited in scope that the short term possibilities don't eliminate unthought of possibilities.
When thinking about Explain Everything, I personally wanted to be able to make screencasts on my iPad. But I also knew that screencasting as an educational tool had not hit any major strides at that point, despite the many amazing tools available for creating screencasts (including Jing, my personal favorite). Recently, there has been a lot more attention projected towards teachers and students creating screencasts, though much of that has been due t the rising popularity of the Khan Academy and flipped classrooms. I am still quite skeptical of the proven increased learning and understanding that comes via a 'flipped class' but I will say that if something comes out that starts to get people thinking differently about lecture-based, information delivery, and drill-based learning, then I am ok with that outcome.
Header photo by Robert S. Donovan