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From High School to iSchool: 10 Questions for Travis Allen

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As the founder of Mobicip, I am privileged to witness and to be an enabler of sorts in the mobile learning movement that is transforming K-12 education today. I constantly run into people who advocate the change, and no one has been as passionate and as convincing as Travis Allen, the teenage founder of iSchoolInitiative. This is a follow up to the previous interview published in 2010.

1. The last time I did this interview, you had recently launched iSchool Initiative. How has your vision and initiative evolved over time?

Our vision has taken awhile to develop and we have definitely evolved over the last year. We are more focused on creating a movement and inspiring others to lead the change. At first we were just focused on learning more about the industry, and finding where we fit into the mix. Now, our vision is more focused on what can we provide and share with others to offer valuable content. We do not only want to be a service based organization, we also want to start creating content.

2. You have been working with school districts all over the US. You have been talking to the likes of Apple and Microsoft. Where do you see the biggest bottlenecks in mobile learning, on the school side, the industry side, or both?

The biggest road block to creating a paradigm shift is first and foremost in the mindset. Students, teachers, parents and many other Americans are not aware of the crisis our education is in. The challenge is how do we change that mindset and inspire people to create change. That is what we have set out to do. Some of the biggest issues with companies is that many of the content is device-focused, meaning you have to have their product to have the software work. This is difficult in education because everyone needs the same device to have the best results. We as a whole need to put more pressure on these companies to make it open and allow it to operate on multiple interfaces. I believe that whatever company owns the cross platform app market will own the space in education.

3. I have been amazed by your demonstration of how the iPad can dramatically change the life of a student today. The skeptical viewpoint is that you are just replacing one form of learning with another, without fundamentally altering the outcome. Your thoughts.

This is something our team focuses on heavily in our presentations. When we show how mobile devices are transforming education, we make sure that when we demonstrate these devices, we don't just talk about how it replaces many things such as books, calculators, pens, etc.; we show how it will enhance the learning experience. For example, when we show iStudiez Pro, a calendar agenda app, we discuss how it sends you text messages when assignments are due so its an agenda that keeps you in check. We even talk about the saving benefits of mobile learning in our "iPad Student Cost-Benefit Analysis," showing how you can save an average of $1600 as a college student. There are plenty of other examples of how this is going far beyond just replacing in education.

4. I live in California and I'm hearing about layoffs, furloughs and budget cuts all the time. Is it even practical to expect schools to invest in a paradigm change at a time like this?

Absolutely. Now, in these economic times, it is more important than ever to adopt this new way of thinking. While it seems like an expensive initial investment, it will save schools and students a lot of money over time, putting that money into better teachers. We need to prepare our students for the challenges they will face when they are in charge in order to get out of this economic crisis. If we don't invest in our schools and students now, we may never rise back to the top.

5. Tell me, in an ideal world, what a day in the life of a student today should be like today.

Learning liberated from the four walls and desk of a classroom, taking learning anywhere, at anytime. An excitement, excitement to learn, grow, go to class and explore the world around us. The classroom of today does not focus on technology, does not ban technology, but instead understands the value of it as a tool and how it can help 21st century students connect and learn in the information age. The classroom of today does not have hour long powerpoints, a teacher lecturing in front of 500 students, or is limited from 9-3. Instead, it is collaborative, engaging, students interacting with peers, teachers, and the world. Learning is reciprocal between student and teacher and students are empowered to pick the direction of their learning.

6. At the Mobile 2012 conference, Kathy Burdick and Matt Federoff hosted a lively debate on whether mobile learning should be introduced incrementally or in one fell swoop. Each had valid arguments to make. Whose side would you take?

I am a big believer of two steps forward one step back. We cannot sit around and make excuses of why we can't implement change yet. Things like "It is not secure yet," "We haven't found a way to control it," or "we will wait to see what the rest of the world does" are not going to get us anywhere. There are innovative solutions, like Mobicip for instance, for each of these so-called problems. We need to move forward quickly in order to successfully compete with the rest of the world. I will add to that though, that throwing a bunch of technology at a school is a terrible idea. A well thought out plan for executing a deployment, keeping in mind that there will be mistakes, is very important. Making sure that you have proper training for the faculty and students, proper infrastructure, and proper budgeting are all critical.

7. You mention in your presentation that a mobile learning project will break-even in the first year, and save money for schools in year two. Please break this down for me and explain in practical terms how that will be possible.

Our "iPad Student Cost-Benefit Analysis" Research shows that over the four years of college, a student can save an average of $1,600 dollars. This is possible by replacing textbooks, calculators, pens, paper and many other old school tools. That $1,600 is a conservative estimate and includes the price of buying a $500 iPad and the apps needed. Our University of 25,000 could save $34.4 million dollars the first year alone if we went to a truly digital route.

8. Tell me about the nationwide campaign that iSchoolInitiative is launching this year.

iSchool Initiative has presented to over 30,000 people directly in the past year alone. After going to all of these places, we wanted to hold our own conference but found it was expensive and hard to get people to come in. Being mobile learners, we decided to have a mobile conference instead and two months ago we decided to begin raising over $100,000 dollars to go on a huge national tour across the country. We will be going to over 21 cities between June 18th and August 2nd, presenting to more than 10,000 people. We expect this tour to be the first of many and see it as a catalyst for change in education all over America. I want to especially thank each of our sponsors, IT-oLogy, Kennesaw State University, Mobicip, ISTE, SIFE, GSMA, and uFundmovement for allowing us to create such a monumental event.

9. If there is one thing that you wish the campaign will accomplish, what would it be?

The goal of this tour is to bring America's education back to #1 again. We bring an excitement that I think is sorely needed in the education space. There has been talk of educational reform for a long time but I think it is time that the students of our nation have a say in the direction we head. I hope that students all over America get involved and realize that we no longer can wait around for others to fix our problem. Anyone at any age can make a difference and it will be up to us to lead and shape our world of tomorrow.

10. I know that your initiative has grown wings from when a student recorded his angst on YouTube. What do you credit the success of your initiative to?

Our success has direct correlation to the amazing individuals that we have surrounded ourselves with. We have had amazing mentors, parents, professors and friends that have supported us even when most thought it was impossible. It was these individuals who have kept us going and drove us to succeed even more. Our team members have stuck with this for over two years, even when we have been overbooked with classes and day jobs, and dedicated ourselves to this cause.

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 lead his team and developed a sound structure for his non-profit to expand.