Sometimes frustration in the status quo can lead to a game-changing idea.
Two and a half years ago, Travis Allen was a high-school student and, as he calls himself, a "digital native" who was frustrated by his teachers' insistence on turning in assignments on paper and not being allowed to take notes digitally during class. He had a vision of doing all of his class work digitally, a vision that became concrete once he acquired his first iPhone. Travis recorded a YouTube video describing how the iPhone's touchscreen and available apps could make books, scientific calculators, paper and pens, atlases and other common schoolroom implements obsolete.
That video was the birth of what Allen dubbed the iSchool Initiative. Now halfway through his junior year at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, Allen embodies his vision of the "mobile learner." He attends class carrying just his iPad, and says he doesn't even own a pen or a pad of paper.
He also finds himself running a growing organization and flying around the country — and even around the world — to talk about how other students can use technology to liberate themselves and their education.
The growth of mobile technology over the past few years has been the game-changer that makes the iSchool Initiative vision of the mobile learner possible. "You don't need anything else, just the device and the apps," he tells MNN.
As the iSchool Initiative has grown, Allen has taken his message on the road, giving keynote presentations and workshops about mobile learning at more than four dozen schools and conferences in 13 states.
"The keynotes are motivational and inspirational," he says. "They plant the seeds of an idea: the idea for change, that we must rebuild and retool our educational model." The workshops are more hands-on, teaching educators and school administrators — and some students — how the iPad and various apps can be used in science, math, health and media classes. Through those educators, "We're trying to inspire millions to adopt a 21st-century classroom," he says.
Allen's work has attracted some notable attention. Last month, he was invited to Google's annual Zeitgeist Conference, where he was honored as one of 10 winners of Google's Young Minds competition, which recognizes 18- to 24-year-olds who are helping to change the world for the better. He had submitted another video showcasing the iSchool Initiative to be chosen for the competition.
While at the Google conference in Arizona, Allen met many people who might be able to help him take the iSchool Initiative to the next level, including Richard Branson, Deepak Chopra, musician will.i.am and the CEOs of Google, Comcast and other companies.
"It was definitely one of the biggest milestones for our organization, and one of the most amazing experiences of my life," he recalls.
In addition to energizing students' education, Allen says that using an iPad or other tablet computer actually saves families money since it replaces office supplies, laptops, cameras, video and audio recorders, calculators and more. "If you buy an iPad as a college student, you'll have saved over $3,100 over the course of your schooling," he says. iSchool will publish a case study detailing those savings in January.
And while the iPad is an electronic device and uses electricity, Allen says it is "much better for the environment" because it can replace so many other things. iSchool is working on a second case study detailing the environmental savings of mobile learning.
While many students are taking the next few weeks off for the holidays, Allen is, at this moment, in Tanzania, where he will be working with some universities on implementing the tools he so strongly advocates. "Africa is leapfrogging us," he says, referring to a growing mobile communications networks in countries that may not have ever had wide availability of even land-line communications. "They have incredible potential because they don't need to build infrastructure." He brought 15 mobile devices with him to give to college students and get them excited about their education potential.
And in 2012, the iSchool Initiative will really take off, Allen says. "We have 25 active team members and a corporate structure. Starting in January, we'll be running it like a company." They plan on doing many more presentations and will soon roll out their own iPad app, an iBook and a student-led conference.
That's not bad for an organization that started with an idea and no budget. "I was able to market and spread my campaign totally for free through social media. We've made ripple effects across the country and the world with no funding so far."