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Category — Search & Information Access

Paywalls – Some Newspapers on the Wrong Track?

Our mantra is free education for all.

So we are extremely partial to the resources that readers can access without shelling out their hard-earned cash. For that reason, we have watched closely, and with subsequent disappointment, the folks at the New York Times who appear destined to begin keeping some of their highly-valued content behind a paywall.

It seems that the Times might want to rethink that decision based on the recent data coming out of Europe and a similar step being taken by media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

The publishing titan and mastermind of the immensely popular Fox News recently began placing the London Times behind such a paywall and the results appear to be extremely negative. According to the Times arch-rival, the Guardian, Murdoch’s paper has “lost almost 90% of its online readership” since February. The site made registrations mandatory in June.

iStock_000009137974XSmallThe Murdoch process works this way: if you are not a registered user of the Times sites, you are “bounced” to a membership page where the reader must register to be able to view the content. According to published reports, just one in four readers bounced to the membership page proceed to sign up. The remainder take their curiosity and their interests and head for other media sources.

Overall, visits to the Times site have apparently fallen to 4.16% of UK “quality press online traffic.” Prior to the mandatory registration, the site saw a 15% visitation rate but sources indicate a “93% fall” in visits when compared with May.

Perhaps most importantly, 15,000 registrants have agreed to actually pay money. Contrast that number with the published stats of 1.2 million online unique visitors a day.

In simplest terms, experts predicted that readership would fall off by about 90% when the site moved to a paid-access model instead of free access. And the results appear to back that up.

Furthermore, there are approximately 150,000 Times print subscribers who receive an online registration free. That would mean a total subscription level of about 165,000 in total, again a far cry from the 1.2 million claimed.

With advertising sold on the basis of x number of viewers, it will be interesting to see the overall impact of the paywall experiment. Will the new revenues generated offset the loss in potential advertising rates based on only 165,000 potential unique visitors a day?

And what of the future? As some writers immediately postulated, the first wave of registrations “are likely to be the biggest burst that the paper gets.” In other words, it is likely all downhill on those numbers as the days progress.

In addition to the negative impact on ad rates, we have also noted that such firewalls will have a disastrous effect on blogging references. If we bloggers are unable to cite an article that our readers can further access, then we will simply will not be linking to it. And given that links represent the fuel that feeds any internet site, the paywall experiment could prove to be a dismal failure.

Yes we are biased – but it is with a sense of satisfaction that we note that charging for online news appears to be a thing of the past.

July 22, 2010   1 Comment

Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy, Ineptness, Ignorance, and More

It has been a while since we did a simple web walk and pointed readers to some interesting material and helpful resources. Today we offer readers four interesting link options, everything from Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy to a look at why ignorance does appear, in fact, to be bliss.

Digital Bloom’s Taxonomy

Almost a year ago we featured some of the work of Andrew Churches. The teacher and self-professed ICT enthusiast has taken the time to do a modern day mash up of one of education’s long-standing models for analyzing learning.

Bloom’s Taxonomy, developed in the 1950’s, clearly holds a place of reverence within the educational community. Using a hierarchical framework to express thinking and learning, Bloom’s offers a set of concepts that begins with what we call lower order thinking skills (LOTS) and then progressively builds to higher order thinking skills (HOTS).

edorigamiIn education, the best teachers have made it a point to bring their students to the HOTS level of the taxonomy whenever possible. The belief has always been that acquiring knowledge and comprehending information (LOTS) pales in comparison to being able to analyze, evaluate, and apply that knowledge.

Where Churches comes in is that he began examining the traditional theory against a backdrop of the new digital age and the use of technology in the classroom. From his efforts, educators began being able to associate specific digital techniques with the traditional categories set forth in the taxonomy.

While there is clearly still much to be done to clarify these associations and properly place digital technology tasks in each category, teachers at least now have a framework from which to start and dialogue from. In keeping with the open source movement that is defining the future of education, Churches has now published his work in e-book format over at Scribd.

Those wanting to see both the rationale and the depth of assessment Churches has employed will find a free resource, Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy (v212), at the site. The 44-page document is filled with information and is available for download, free, in multiple formats.

We highly recommend all teachers take the time to read this important document.

Among the Inept – Ignorance Is Bliss

An article that is now more than nine years old recently started getting tagged on As one great example of the challenge of filtering the wealth of material on the Internet, we missed the original article that takes a look at the behaviors demonstrated by people we might call incompetent.

In her article, Among the Inept, Researchers Discover, Ignorance Is Bliss, Erica Goode cites the research of Dr. David A. Dunning. In true tongue-in-cheek mode, Goode sets the tone for the article with the following intro:

debaird“There are many incompetent people in the world. Dr. David A. Dunning is haunted by the fear he might be one of them. Dr. Dunning, a professor of psychology at Cornell, worries about this because, according to his research, most incompetent people do not know that they are incompetent.

“On the contrary. People who do things badly, Dr. Dunning has found in studies conducted with a graduate student, Justin Kruger, are usually supremely confident of their abilities — more confident, in fact, than people who do things well.”

It seems “that the ignorant also tend to be the blissfully self-assured” because ultimately “the skills required for competence often are the same skills necessary to recognize competence.”

Given that education is a people-profession, the article is a must read for everyone working in the field, especially those working in administration. With a strong push to ensure that every classroom is staffed with a competent teacher, the research of Dunning offers great insight.

Especially in the case where feedback is absent or ambiguous – in such instances incompetents generally do not realize their level of ineptness.

Open Courseware Toolset

A summary resource that offers a list of links to open courseware materials is available at the web site Best College Rankings. The Ultimate Open Courseware Toolset: 60+ Directories, Search Engines, and Web Tools offers readers an extensive set of links to a wealth of materials now available on the web.

What makes the list so worthy is that it contains some individual tools but many of the links offered are actually to other sites or web pages that then feature more links to more resources. The site lists links in alphabetical order (not weighing in on good, better or best) and breaks the material into three distinct categories.

They begin with a list of directories of various open courseware projects. The list features 22 links (some offering lists of 100s of sites) to “books, video lectures, teaching tools and more, all labeled with the open courseware tag.”

The second category features 16 links to a number of search engines and archives while the third and final category focuses on 23 web tools “that can help teachers, parents and students.”

The sheer volume of material, however, reminds us of how important our own ability to filter Internet materials has become.

A Parental ADD Resource

Finally, in recent days we stumbled across the web site of Brenda Nicholson, ADD Student. The mother of 3 children with Attention Deficit Disorder, Nicholson is a trained ADD Coach who began learning about the disorder over 20 years ago.

Booksamillion.comSurprised that many educational professionals knew little about ADD, Nicholson found she needed to educate herself. Because of her experiences, she has set up the ADD student resource portal for parents and professionals alike.

One simple aspect that spoke volumes to us was her advice regarding students on medication. Instead of pluses and minuses regarding meds, she notes that the taking of medications at school has become a major issue for everyone involved: students, parents, and educators.

Another is her focus on diet as a method for minimizing issues with ADD children and managing their symptoms. While some of the information is on a cost basis (a 12 week email coaching program for parents), there is also a wealth of general info free for site visitors including subcategory links to specific areas such as ADD and Life Skills, Organization, School and Time Management.

Flickr photo courtesy of debaird.

February 26, 2009   1 Comment

The Digital Youth Project – Kids Need Time to “Hang Out,” “Mess Around” and “Geek Out”

The Digital Youth Project has released the results of an extensive study that offers a very thorough and revealing look at what our youngsters are doing online. Featuring four principal investigators, Peter Lyman, Mizuko (Mimi) Ito, Michael Carter, and Barrie Thorne, the study not only creates some useful category descriptors that will help any adult analyze online behaviors, it takes an in-depth look at the implications these behaviors have for parents as well as those who work in education.

First dividing online behavior into two basic arenas, “peer-driven” and “interest-driven,” the researchers go on to create three sub categories that help define specific behaviors. They range from “hanging out” (socializing) to “messing around” (tinkering, perhaps to the level of becoming a local technology or media expert) to “geeking out” (experiencing internet-inspired inquisitiveness).

BoingBoing.netCory Doctorow over at Boing Boing offers a superb snapshot of the key findings. The report “conclusions are sane, compassionate, and compelling,” notes Doctorow, “in a nutshell, the ‘serious’ stuff we all hope kids will do online (researching papers and so on) are only possible within a framework of ‘hanging out, messing around and geeking out’.”

He also goes on to summarize the most important point for parents and educators when it comes to the issue of time online. “That is to say, all the ‘time-wasting’ social stuff kids do online are key to their explorations and education online.”

For teachers, the section on geeking out is a must read though we wish that the Youth Project might have selected a different phrase to describe teen online behaviors related to learning. There is absolutely no similarity to the use of the term in the Youth Project report matching the traditional definition that is used in the urban setting.

Some Great Stories
Within the report there are many stories that parents and educators will want to hear. There is the tale of Zelan, a 16-year-old youth driven by economic necessity, tinkering and fixing a neighbor’s broken PlayStation 2 so as to have better access to games. Then there is the story of Mac Man, a 17-year-old boy, who after learning that some teachers were about to throw away their old computers took them off their hands. Mac Man not only fixed them, he started a computer club with the throwaway items.

Digital Youth ProjectAnd though we might cringe if it happened to be our child, we can at least chuckle at the story of Toni, a 25-year-old who emigrated from the Dominican Republic as a teen. Even though he was entirely dependent on libraries and schools for his computer access through high school, the young man “set up a small business selling Playboy pictures that he printed from library computers to his classmates.”

While such entrepreneurial tales represent a very small segment of the youth studied, they nonetheless articulate the concrete examples of the step from simply “hanging out” online to that of “messing around.” What makes these stories all the more compelling is the fact that most transcend socioeconomic barriers.

The report notes, “These are not privileged youth who are growing up in the Silicon Valley households of start-up capitalists. Instead, they are working-class kids who embody the street smarts of how to hustle for money” and were “able to translate their interest in tinkering and messing around into financial ventures that gave them a taste of what it might be like to pursue their own self-directed careers.”

Geeking Out
As we noted earlier, educators would do well to spend some time with the section on “geeking out.” The report describes the behavior as “the ability to engage with media and technology in an intense, autonomous, and interest-driven way.”

The concept is extremely important to kids that have access to the latest technology and a high-speed Internet conenction. In essence, the Internet can provide “access to an immense amount of information related to the particular interests” of a youngster. The intense commitment to or engagement with media or technology demands participation in “communities that traffic in these forms of expertise.” The report notes a “mode of learning that is peer-driven, but focused on gaining deep knowledge and expertise in specific areas of interest.”

EskimobloodTherefore, for our youth to geek out, they must not only have ongoing access to digital media, they must have a form of social network to help them facilitate their technology use. That network can come from family and friends but it can also come from other peers in on- and offline networking spaces. Therefore, geeking out “requires the time, space, and resources to experiment and follow interests in a self-directed way.”

In addition, the report notes that such behavior requires “access to specialized communities of expertise. Contrary to popular images of the socially isolated geek, almost all geeking out practices we observed are highly social and engaged, although not necessarily expressed as friendship-driven social practices.”

Impact on Education

It is interesting to note the specific learning properties that come as a result of interest-based communities. For the folks at Digital Youth, “Participation in the digital age means more than being able to access ‘serious’ online information and culture; it also means the ability to participate in social and recreational activities online.”

As a means to that end, public institutions can be important sites for enabling participation in these activities and enhancing their scope. Accordingly, educators should take careful note of the report suggestions.

“Social and recreational online activities are jumping-off points for experimenting with digital media creation and self-expression. Rather than seeing socializing and play as hostile to learning, educational programs could be positioned to step in and support moments when youth are motivated to move from friendship-driven to more interest-driven forms of new media use. This requires a cultural shift and a certain openness to experimentation and social exploration that is generally not characteristic of educational institutions.”

As but another aspect of the entire process, “fluent and expert use of new media requires more than simple, task-specific access to technology.” Therefore, the open-ended nature of the practice of geeking out, though extremely challenging for schools to implement, more accurately reflects the real world where it is extremely difficult to quantify and parcel up learning into distinct packages.

Another critical component is the feedback loop and how it changes from the traditional school format.

“Unlike what young people experience in school, where they are graded by a teacher in a position of authority, feedback in interest-driven groups is from peers and audiences who have a personal interest in their work and opinions. Among fellow creators and community members, the context is one of peer-based reciprocity, where participants can gain status and reputation but do not hold evaluative authority over one another.”

In these settings our youth are engaging in the use of specialized ‘elite’ vocabularies from either the gaming or social networking world. For example, in the online profile arena there is an “important literacy skill on both the friendship- and interest-driven sides” that can ultimately mobilize a genre of “popularity and coolness” as well as a certain level of geek credibility

In the gaming world where both teens and adults can establish their identity, there is the category defined by elite gamer status. In each of these arenas, “the focus of learning and engagement is not defined by institutional accountabilities but rather emerges from kids’ interests and everyday social communication.”

Adults could “still have an important role to play” but in such a setting “it is not a conventionally authoritative one. Unlike instructors in formal educational settings, however, these adults are passionate hobbyists and creators, and youth see them as experienced peers, not as people who have authority over them.”

In Summary
The report notes the similarities between community norms and what educators might call “learning goals” but it clearly denotes a new position for the adult who serves as an educator. Simply stated, schools are not known for allowing “plenty of unstructured time for kids to tinker and explore without being dominated by direct instruction.”

Eduardo HulshofInstead of classroom teachers, there would be lab teachers or leaders who would have a different responsibility, one that does not focus on assessing kids’ for competence. Instead, these adults would be “co-conspirators” practicing a “pedagogy of collegiality.”

The report takes the thought one step further to produce a whole new possible vision for public education, one that is full of incredible possibilities.

“Rather than thinking of public education as a burden that schools must shoulder on their own, what would it mean to think of public education as a responsibility of a more distributed network of people and institutions? And rather than assuming that education is primarily about preparing for jobs and careers, what would it mean to think of education as a process of guiding kids’ participation in public life more generally, a public life that includes social, recreational, and civic engagement?”

“And finally, what would it mean to enlist help in this endeavor from an engaged and diverse set of publics that are broader than what we traditionally think of as educational and civic institutions? In addition to publics that are dominated by adult interests, these publics should include those that are relevant and accessible to kids now, where they can find role models, recognition, friends, and collaborators who are co-participants in the journey of growing up in a digital age.”

Flickr photos courtesy of Eskimoblood, jsc, and Eduardo Hulshof.

November 24, 2008   No Comments

Time to Eliminate Taj Mahal School Building Projects

As education expenses continue to grow, strapped taxpayers have begun pushing back on state and local governments. In the tiny State of Maine, many school districts are finding that passing a school budget for the upcoming school year a sincere challenge.

Even the tiny town of Monmouth, home to one of Maine’s finest public school systems, has seen such a rebellion, leaving school officials without a school budget for 2008-09. With another school year set to begin in less than a month’s time, Monmouth finds itself in an extremely challenging position.

Massachusetts Taking a Stance Regarding School Building Projects
One of the areas adding to the current budget issues for many school districts is the repayment of funds for recent building projects. As school buildings age and the respective operating systems become out-of-date, capital improvements have become a greater portion of local school budgets in recent times.

mass.govIn many states, such projects also create great financial stress on state tax dollars. In Massachusetts, State Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill, is making a strong push towards ending what might be called an open-ended building environment.

Cahill specifically indicated he wanted to see an end to “Taj Mahal” high schools, a reference to local communities being unable to draw a line between what is truly necessary and what is a luxury or design for aesthetic purposes. As one method of limiting the state funding costs, Cahill wants to create a set of building designs that communities would have to select from. The treasurer asserts that such a step could help cut building projects by as much as 30 percent.

bloomberg.comGiven the recent stories of the new Newton North High School project, a $197.5 million building that easily created the aforementioned “Taj Mahal” image, it is easy to see why Cahill is taking such a stance. The Newton project clearly represents the fundamental debate point, a school community with a “wish list” of what parents and educators might want versus those items that are truly necessary or that a community can actually afford.

Such steps have already been put in place in the South (Florida, for example). The practice not only creates new school buildings in a cost effective manner, the result is a building that has been previously tested for functionality.

Consequences for Communities
One issue that will create a problem for Cahill is site choices. Whereas Florida offers a flat, ledge-free building environment, northern lands often represent unique challenges requiring buildings that must conform to site demands.

Still, Cahill believes a number of plans could be drawn up for suitable sites. Then, if communities were to apply for state funds, they would need to select one of the pre-approved designs to receive financial backing.

Towns refusing to select from one of the designs could face two distinct consequences. One might be simply a refusal from the state to help with funding the project. The second option for those communities refusing to select a pre-accepted plan could be the demand that schools renovate their existing facility rather than build new.

Bloomberg.comNot too surprisingly, Massachusetts’ architects have come out strongly against such a plan. Phrases such as cookie-cutter and one-size fits all have been thrown around liberally. Many have insisted that there is no such thing as a prototypical site and such a practice would eliminate the individual character that defines a community.

Those same opponents also question whether there would be any real savings.

Time Has Come
With architectural fees running around 10 percent for each project, it is easy to see that the school design business is a lucrative one for firms. And when a school district initially planning a $100 million project instead pushes the cost out to nearly $200 million as Newton did, the final building represents $15-$20 million in architectural fees alone.

Limiting the total structure to ensure that a project does not double in costs because of local desires is a must in today’s tax climate. A tremendous concern for taxpayers as well as for government officials is the fact that one is not looking at only repayment of the initial construction costs with such a project. These buildings must be heated, cooled, cleaned and maintained for many years to come, making the actual costs of such “Taj Mahal” designs a challenge for taxpayers for many years to come.

Providing sound designs that do not shortchange the educational environment for students isn’t just a prudent step for state officials, it is an essential one to ensure continued taxpayer support for education.

July 30, 2008   1 Comment

Do You Trust US News College Rankings?

In a competitive marketplace every authoritative ranking system gets gamed. If the ranking system gets popular it begins to influence the market it measures:

On the third page of the 42-page document, Baylor states that its overarching goal is to enter the top tier of institutions, as determined by U.S. News & World Report’s college rankings.

The U.S. News & World Report ranking system started out in 1983 as a survey of college presidents. Due to a rapid increase in authority, the rankings heavily favor private institutions, which are more aggressive at gaming the system. Some academic agencies even offering financial rewards to executives for successful gaming:

The Arizona Board of Regents approved a contract this year that will give Michael M. Crow, president of Arizona State University, a $10,000 bonus if the institution’s U.S. News rank rises.

As the rankings get gamed, the only thing US News can do is keep changing their ranking methodology, and become more secretive with the calculations. But given the importance of the rankings significant effort goes into analyzing and decoding the methodology and effects. Even US News complains about their own influence:

“We didn’t ask for this job. We didn’t ask to be the arbiter of higher education. The job has fallen to us.”

The National Survey of Student Engagement is an alternative ranking system, but it has failed to reach a critical mass because colleges that gamed US News don’t want to participate, and some colleges that did bad in US News see little purpose to any of these ranking systems.

But ultimately, should a private institution control these influential rankings? A popular book titled College Unranked highlights the harmful effects of college ranking systems, dozens of college presidents have boycotted the US News rankings, and the secretary of education’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education is recommending creating a similar public database to the one used by US News.

On September 25th Yale will host Beyond Ranking: Responding to the Call for Useful Information. How can something as important as education be reduced to a few meaningless numbers? How can students navigate the vast sea of educational options without some sort of ratings?

July 28, 2007   No Comments

More Books Are Coming Online in Ad Supported Format

In this video Brewster Kahle highlighted the importance of open and redundant access to information.

Project Gutenberg makes over 20,000 full books accessible online. Additional public domain books are available online via sites like Google Book Search, Creative Commons, and the Open Content Alliance.

Many published books created after 1922 are still under copyright and are inaccessible other than samples provided by services such as Amazon’s search inside this book service and Google’s Book Search. Many more books will soon come online in an ad supported format. John Wiley & Sons recently made a vast array of content avail Frommer’s, For Dummies, and Cliff Notes available online in an ad supported format. The WSJ reported that the sites make about $5 million dollars each.

Making content open and accessible is one of the quickest ways to gain relevancy and steal marketshare from older players, many of whom will start moving their catalogs online in an ad supported format in an attempt to stay relevant. As more content becomes freely available online the value of creating more content drops unless it garners significant attention or is associated with a trusted brand.

July 11, 2007   No Comments