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Category — Technology

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

Taped Lectures – Better than the Real Thing, Part 2

Our credibility being of utmost importance to us, today we return to a prior post: “Taped Lectures – Better than the Real Thing?

We were taken to task to by one of the researchers, Dani McKinney, who had the following to say:

Tama Leaver“It is difficult for an author to know how to comment when the author of the blog did not actually read the paper that he is discussing. In fact, the effect of having the podcast only appears when the students in that condition worked considerably harder than those in the live-lecture condition. The effect completely disappears when the podcasts are merely listened to. To see the advantage, the students had to take notes of the podcast AND listen to it more than once. So, far from being able to replace professors, the podcasts might give students the benefit of being able to listen to the lecture more than once, and the ability to get the notes more accurately.

Please don’t comment on specific conclusions the paper makes by reading the abstract alone. That’s similar to attending the first week of class and the last week of class and expecting to get an A….”

Our Integrity

First and foremost, in writing about the results of a new study from Dani McKinney, Jennifer L. Dycka and Elise S. Lubera, iTunes University and the Classroom: Can Podcasts Replace Professors?, we acknowledged writing about the findings based upon the summary abstract. We chose to write about the topic based upon the fact that taped lectures were very timely given some of our prior posts. We also wrote using only the abstract because access to the full article was on a fee basis and not published using the creative commons approach that we have espoused (perhaps we have simply become spoiled).

To ensure we were not making assumptions, we did not speculate as to how it was possible for students listening to a podcast of a lecture to exceed the performance of those who attended the lecture in person. Whatever those reasons might have been, we did point out that if students listening to a podcast could even match the performances of those who attended in person, then greater consideration should be given to the less expensive, podcast option.

Replicating lectures at 100s of colleges then bringing students from far and wide to individual locations represents one of the biggest reasons for the current cost of higher education. Many online education advocates have begun speculating that a lecture repository could in fact replace the current delivery model and therefore reduce the costs of higher education significantly.

The Research

We noted that the basic experiment was quite simple. We wrote:

Tama LeaverThe researchers wanted to test the effectiveness of taped lectures and contrast that with the performance of those students who attended class and heard the same lecture in person.

To determine the effectiveness, the researchers created two distinct groups. One group of undergraduate general psychology students listened to a 25-min lecture given in person by a professor using PowerPoint slides. Students were provided handouts in the form of copies of the slides to enhance note-taking. A second group of undergraduate psychology students listened to the same lecture in a podcast. T hey too were provided the same PowerPoint handouts.

One week after the different group sessions, students took an exam on lecture content. In what most would deem a startling development, “students in the podcast condition who took notes while listening to the podcast scored significantly higher than the lecture condition.”

Accordingly, based on the comments of the researcher, we need to add, “To see the advantage, the students had to take notes of the podcast AND listen to it more than once.”

In contrast to our support of others who had already postulated that professors could in fact be replaced, Ms. McKinney notes: “So, far from being able to replace professors, the podcasts might give students the benefit of being able to listen to the lecture more than once, and the ability to get the notes more accurately.”

More Appropriate Assertion

WikipediaGiven the feedback, a more appropriate assertion might be that it is time for all colleges to provide students access to podcasts of each professor’s lecture. That way, highly-motivated individuals would seemingly have access to the best of both worlds, the chance to hear an in-person lecture and later gain greater clarity by virtue of the opportunity to listen to the presentation a second or third time.

In fact, given the current costs of higher education, it would seem that students ought to demand such of their institutions. But at the same time, the added words of the researcher will do nothing to dissuade the current critics who insist that a podcast could in fact replace a professor provided a student has sufficient work habits.

In closing, we return to the words of Ms. McKinney:

“So, far from being able to replace professors, the podcasts might give students the benefit of being able to listen to the lecture more than once, and the ability to get the notes more accurately.”

That said, our guess is that being present to hear a lecture would still be considered exceedingly overrated by those prior critics. Because, unless a professor were in fact willing to repeat the lecture upon request by students, the opportunity to listen more than once and thus gain more accurate notes simply is not possible under the current delivery model.

Which brings us full circle, back to the original title of our article, “Taped Lectures – Better than the Real Thing?”

Flickr photos courtesy of Tama Leaver and Leaver again.

February 22, 2009   1 Comment

Salim Ismail Discusses Singularity University

Amidst a serious economic downturn, a small group of visionaries has launched a new educational venture called Singularity University. Singularity Co-founded by inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil, X Prize chairman and CEO Peter Diamandis, and former Yahoo Brickhouse head Salim Ismail, Singularity University represents a new academic institution that has little in common with a traditional university.

From the time-frames of the designed programs to the scope of the curriculum, Singularity University will go where no other university has ever gone. Featuring three intensive programs, the founders are seeking to eliminate some of the current pre-conceived boundaries surrounding a number of the cutting-edge technology disciplines.

Looking to weave a course of study that slides across 10 varied fields, the university curriculum features such extremely disparate tracks as: future studies and forecasting, biotechnology and bioinformatics, nanotechnology, AI, robotics, and cognitive computing, and finance and entrepreneurship.

Enormous Talent Assembled
Ray KurzweilKurzweil believes the school, named after the theories he expressed in his best-selling book The Singularity is Near, will have the unique ability to bring together leaders from these various fields. Once together, these individuals then would have the chance to collectively approach some of the world’s greatest challenges (global hunger, pandemics, and climate change, etc.).

Singularity University will kick off their work this summer with about 30 students. Utilizing the NASA Ames Center, the program will co-exist with another cutting edge entity, the International Space University which is expected to host 120 students at the same complex.

The faculty list is extremely impressive. Among those committed to teach are Will Wright, The Sims and Spore creator; Cal Berkeley professor and 2006 Nobel Prize winner George Smoot; fellow Berkeley staff member Dan Kammen; Stephanie Langhoff, NASA Ames’ chief scientist; and the legendary Vint Cerf.

Interview with Salim Ismail

For a more in-depth look at the new school we turn to one of the founders and current Executive Director of Singularity University. The successful consultant founded such companies as PubSub and Confabb and recently spent a year at Yahoo as a Vice President and Head of Brickhouse where he worked on Yahoo Pipes, Yahoo Live and Fire Eagle.
Salim Ismail photo by Dave Sifry
Can you give our readers some brief background information on you and how it is that you became involved with the concept of Singularity University?

I’ve been fascinated by innovation ever since learning about quantum mechanics during my university degree. I then got into computers and in the last 10 years I’ve been involved in eight early stage companies. In 2007, I joined Yahoo to build out and run their incubator called Brickhouse. While running Brickhouse I set up a relationship between Yahoo and NASA, and that led to them (SU) inviting me to the founding meeting of SU on September 20, 2008. From the beginning, I was inspired by the vision and the team. When they asked me to head it up, I didn’t blink.

Starting a new university from scratch can never be considered a small task but starting a new university that is the antithesis of the traditional university structure would seem to be even more challenging, especially in these economic times. Can you talk a little bit about the “Founders Circle” and the process of raising start-up capital for such a ground breaking concept?

A key to getting SU up and running is that we’ve licensed the IP and pedagogy of the International Space University, which has very successfully run a graduate program for 20 years. Many of our Founders are at the leading edge of these technologies and saw the need for such an institution to better understand and manage where these disciplines are headed. I believe we’ve had excellent success in these tough times for the following reasons:

  1. we’re using and copying a proven model (from ISU);
  2. we’re trying to help understand a crucial set of rapidly advancing areas;
  3. we’re trying to create leaders who can use this knowledge to address some of the grand challenges facing humanity (e.g climate change, energy, information management etc);
  4. the challenges we’re facing today only highlight the need for an institution like ours, and many of our backers have the vision to see that.

FoundersThe talent you have assembled is extraordinary, from the management team to the board of trustees to the teaching faculty. Can you give our readers a sense of how it is that you have been able to bring together so much talent in such a short time?

Like the donors, many of the leading academic thinkers around the world see the need for such an institution which complements the deep academic teaching of existing universities. We’ve had an extraordinarily positive reaction from them, and very gracious commitments of their time to help with the curriculum and in attracting other leaders.

In selecting faculty, have you set forth specific guidelines regarding those who would be from the business/tech working sector versus those who would be classified as academics (university professors, teachers, etc.)?

We don’t have formal specific guidelines, but we are definitely aiming for a diverse mix of lecturers from both business and academia. We have faculty coming from Stanford, MIT and other leading academic institutions as well as leading companies like Google, Microsoft and others, both locally and from around the world.

Your site speaks to a “First-of-Its-Kind Curriculum” that features ten different academic tracks. Can you explain how you folks came to agree upon these ten specific tracks of study including the process used and the rationale for those tracks?

About a month ago, we held a curriculum planning meeting with about sixty people, including many of the faculty that you see listed on the site. At that meeting we collectively agreed on the ten tracks and currently have a draft version of what will be taught per track – this will of course evolve considerably before the summer program starts. The tracks were determined by examining which technologies and disciplines are considered to be advancing at an exponential pace. Track 1 is about how best to manage, predict and measure these domains, tracks 2-6 are considered the core set, tracks 7 and 8 are areas of application for these core technologies, and tracks 9 and 10 are supporting tracks that we considered crucial to give a framework for how best to take it out into the world.

Larry Page Likewise, the academic objectives are broken into six specific categories (assemble, teach, focus on humanity, network, spin out, and communicate). Can you talk a little bit about the formulation process for these objectives?

I think this is largely self-explanatory. We want to get together leading thinkers, get them up to speed on the state of the art of these rapidly accelerating fields and arm them with a set of tools and the right contacts to address the big challenges facing humanity today. We feel these objectives are appropriate to help deliver the mission of SU. Larry Page, at our founding meeting, gave an inspiring talk and suggested that the students graduating from SU had a unique perspective and should focus on the grand challenges facing humanity. That formed some of the foundation for the objectives.

You will be offering three separate programs at the outset, a 10-week summer Graduate Studies Program, a 10-day Executive Program and a 3-day Executive Program. Can you give our readers a brief overview of the coursework and the respective objectives that will form the basis of each of these separate programs? Can we assume the price of $25,000 quoted at CNet is accurate for the 10-week? Have prices been set for the others?

The $25k is indeed for the Graduate Studies Program, but it’s actually nine weeks. The 3 and 10-day courses will distill content from the 9-week program and is intended for executives and government officials. We haven’t established the fee for those yet. For example, the CEO of a semiconductor company might come to the 3-day program to better understand the latest state of networks and computing, and get an ‘over-the-horizon’ radar view of what will affect his or her industry.

The agenda for the 10-week program was described by the folks at CNet as “not for the faint of heart.” In addition, in that article, Mr. Diamandis is quoted as saying, Peter Diamandis“If we do our job correctly” students “will meet, (discover their) common visions, and start companies together.” One of the most impressive aspects of this venture is the lofty goals that have been set forth but is it really possible that in just ten weeks time such relationships could be formed?

A very important question… it is relevant here to again note that we have licensed the model of this curriculum from the International Space University which has very successfully run such an interdisciplinary program for 21 years – today, many of the heads of the world’s space agencies are graduates of ISU. We will adapt their model to our curriculum, but it gives us a proven structure from which to start, and will indeed be a very intensive program. For example, ISU has found that in 9 weeks, a 120-person student body can form quite deep relationships and everyone gets to know everyone else. We will start with 30 students in year one and expand to 120 in the second year.

February 19, 2009   Comments Off on Salim Ismail Discusses Singularity University

Jeopardy, Millionaire – Famed Television Game Shows in the Classroom

Teacher designable versions of Jeopardy and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire now available online.

Every week night, roughly 10 million folks tune in to Jeopardy to test their knowledge base as well as watch three contestants display their intellectual prowess. And in the early 2000s, a like number tuned in to the immensely popular Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.

 howieluvzus The popularity of these games has certainly spawned a number of educational knock offs, including simple low tech blackboard versions, that seek to bring the fun aspects of the game to the educational setting but focus the questions and answers on specific learning topics covered in the classroom. But as technology grows, one has been expecting that there would come a time where a free web version of these popular games would become available for teachers.

Such is the case as both game formats are available for teachers at Each was designed to eliminate the word “kill” from the “drill and kill” phrase that is generally used to describe education that focuses on knowledge retention.

Each is created for teacher use in the classroom as a SmartBoard review game. What makes the games so appealing is that they are available for download as well as online use and are PC and MAC compatible. They are also free.

Each will demand some teacher time upfront but as with all computer-based developments, once created, the games can be saved as well as modified and edited at a later time. Most importantly, the web-based nature means that the games may be shared with other teachers easily and can be assigned to students for homework.

With the Jeopardy version, teachers can create their own categories, 25 individualized answers, and even assign varying point levels to each category and/or answer. There is no need for playing with PowerPoint templates, the typical method by which such games have been created and shared in the past.

The site archives games created online into the Jeopardy Game Library, specifying the name of the game and the creator (if provided), the number of questions in the game, and when the game was created. That means that teachers can either play the game online or download it to play offline at a later time. It also means you can modify any existing game and then save it – the site will create a brand new game file for everyone’s future use.

All of the same aspects hold true for the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire game except it is designed to match the popular television format featuring 15 questions and 4 choices for answers. The site also features a library of available games, availability to work online or off with either a PC or MAC, and again is completely free.

 jacorbett70 Great Fun

The key of course is that both games can create outstanding review opportunities and reinforcement of the specific learning tasks teachers deem most important while bringing some enjoyment to what can be a tedious process.

In other words, a great chance to do that all important drilling at the same time that one finds ways to build a student’s zest for learning.

Editors note: The site also offers “Our Speed Match Review Game,” “FlashBoard Review Game Generator,” and some basic classroom management tools.

Flickr photos courtesy of howieluvzus and jacorbett70.

February 12, 2009   No Comments

Cell Phones – Time to Lift the Ban on Mobiles in the School Setting?

Needless to say, the general consensus regarding cell phones and schools is that the two simply do not mix. However, a new study from across the pond gives strong indication that schools should give greater consideration to putting these handheld mobile devices to work.

The Current View
When it comes to cell phones and schools, the current position is that these mobile devices have no place in the school setting. At, we found the following rather emphatic assessment:

Distractions such as cell phones don’t belong in school…. Cell phones in school are an unnecessary distraction that takes time away from teachers and can be a source in cheating…. I’m sorry to tell you this, but if you think students will not be texting each other while a teacher is teaching, you’re dead wrong…. Cell phones have become a huge problem.

And as yet another indication of how professors view these wondrous little devices, we turn to a story that appeared in the NY Times.

Halfway through the semester in his market research course at Roanoke College last fall, only moments after announcing a policy of zero tolerance for cellphone use in the classroom, Prof. Ali Nazemi heard a telltale ring. Then he spotted a young man named Neil Noland fumbling with his phone, trying to turn it off before being caught.

“Neil, can I see that phone?” Professor Nazemi said, more in a command than a question. The student surrendered it. Professor Nazemi opened his briefcase, produced a hammer and proceeded to smash the offending device. Throughout the classroom, student faces went ashen.

“How am I going to call my Mom now?” Neil asked. As Professor Nazemi refused to answer, a classmate offered, “Dude, you can sue.”

Let’s be clear about one thing. Ali Nazemi is a hero. Ali Nazemi deserves the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Mobile Phones and Learning in Secondary Schools
However, Elizabeth Hartnell-Young and Nadja Heym of the Learning Sciences Research Institute at the University of Nottingham recently released a research report that would seem to contradict that current viewpoint. While How mobile phones help learning in secondary schools may not be a ringing endorsement of cell phone use for educational purposes, it certainly offers an interesting take on the potential use of these mobile devices to enhance the educational setting.

compujerameyThe study followed teachers in three schools who began exploring ways to use students’ personal phones as well as additional borrowed smart phones. Though in each case there were existing school policies banning mobile phones in class, students were given permission to use cell phones for a wide array of activities.

The study focused on the basic question: Is there a positive side to mobile phones in schools and if so, how might they be used to support learning? The researchers came away with a yes verdict and offered some specific ways in which cell phone technology could support learning.

A partial list of the ways that teachers used the devices included:

  • Timing experiments with stopwatch
  • Photographing apparatus and results of experiments for reports
  • Photographing development of design models for eportfolios
  • Photographing texts/whiteboards for future review
  • Bluetoothing project material between group members
  • Receiving SMS & email reminders from teachers
  • Synchronizing calendar/timetable and setting reminders
  • Connecting remotely to school learning platform
  • Recording a teacher reading a poem for revision
  • Accessing revision sites on the Internet
  • Creating short narrative movies
  • Downloading and listening to foreign language podcasts
  • Logging into the school email system
  • Using GPS to identify locations
  • Transferring files between school and home

Attitudinal Shifts

Mark WarnerAs one might expect, students were at first quite surprised by the notion that mobile phones could actually be used for learning. Because of their prior use pattern, the phones were deemed items associated with socializing.

In addition, the use of the cell phone technology in the classroom served as a great motivator for students. Almost all students reported greater enjoyment in projects and felt more motivated. In one school, the results indicated that the phone use in the classroom helped students both in their social and learning environments, thereby increasing student confidence and their work ethic.

One key element supporting the use of mobile phones over other handheld learning devices is that most students already own mobile phones. Therefore, the allowance of cell phones was a step towards student ownership and greater personalization of learning. The fact that students used the devices outside of school and in social settings meant they also tended to bring a set of skills to the classroom by virtue of their own experimentation with their phone. In addition, the phones allowed for a reduction in the number of devices to carry – many students reported using them in place of their calculator.

themarinaNoting the current concerns, the researchers assert that the eventual aim should be to replace policies that involve blanket bans on the devices. That said, they noted the supervision-related challenges associated with cell phones and therefore noted that whole-school changes should not occur at the outset. Instead, the researchers note a gradual shift would be more appropriate, one that could coincide with behavioral changes when the alignment of mobile devices with purposeful learning occurred. Ultimately, the researchers suggest that mobile phones could in fact come to be perceived as natural in the school setting as any other technology.


As for mobile technology having the potential to positively impact education, the researchers offered an assessment that contrasts significantly with the view of FabZone or Prof. Ali Nazemi.

In every case, other teachers became interested and involved, and the project teachers decided to continue using mobile phones. These champions of change have shown that, with good planning and anticipating class management and technical issues, using mobile phones can be a very productive way to augment access to tools for computing, communication and photography. As one student said ‘It is good to use new technologies. It prepares us for the future as we will be using mobile phones more and more.’

Full copies of the report are available in word format and in PDF.

Flickr photos courtesy of Justin Baeder, Mark Warner, themarina, and compujeramey

February 8, 2009   43 Comments

Taped Lectures – Better than the Real Thing?

OK, this online learning concept may now have another feather in its cap. We recently discussed the notion of video lecture series being available online, a step that could ultimately render the traditional face-to-face lecture option obsolete.

tama leaverIn a rather interesting development, Dani McKinney, Jennifer L. Dycka and Elise S. Lubera have released the results of a new study. In iTunes University and the Classroom: Can Podcasts Replace Professors?, the researchers take a look at student test results depending on whether the student attended a specific classroom lecture or listened to the lecture as a podcast.

The Research

The experiment was quite simple. The researchers wanted to test the effectiveness of taped lectures and contrast that with the performance of those students who attended class and heard the same lecture in person.

To determine the effectiveness, the researchers created two distinct groups. One group of undergraduate general psychology students listened to a 25-min lecture given in person by a professor using PowerPoint slides. Students were provided handouts in the form of copies of the slides to enhance note-taking. A second group of undergraduate psychology students listened to the same lecture in a podcast. They too were provided the same PowerPoint handouts.

One week after the different group sessions, students took an exam on lecture content. In what most would deem a startling development, “students in the podcast condition who took notes while listening to the podcast scored significantly higher than the lecture condition.”

Another Blow to High Cost Education?

We noted previously the potential outcome of high-caliber lecture repositories becoming available online. We quoted John Robb, who offered this simple caveat in regards to online lectures, especially if the taped version were delivered by the best in the field.

“There is no need to recreate the lecture with tens of thousands of less qualified/exceptional teachers” if there is at least one exceptional version available online.

Critics have long held onto the fact that being there and hearing the lecture in person, face-to-face, trumps any taped offering. The work of McKinney, et al, certainly undercuts that assertion.

Eli HodappUnfortunately, in an ironic twist for us, the folks at ScienceDirect have not caught on to the opensource education movement. To be able to read the full article regarding the study one must shell out $31.50.

So we have not been able to discern what McKinney postulates as rationale for the students listening to a podcast to perform better than those students hearing the lecture in person.

But the abstract alone confirms that as education gives careful consideration as to how best to implement technology, things change when the focus is on steps to make education more affordable. Because, if lectures and the accompanying power point slides available on iTunes produce even similar academic outcomes as traditional face-to-face lecture formats, then the enormous potential cost savings from taped online versions would in fact render the current educational model obsolete.

Flickr photos courtesy of Tama Leaver and Eli Hodapp.

February 1, 2009   9 Comments

John Robb on “The Education Bubble” and the Opportunities Provided

John Robb, the author of Brave New War, recently speculated on the future of American education at Global Guerillas.

His first noteworthy point centers upon his assessment of the current educational process. Referring to our current form as an admixture of industrial and artisan processes, Robb correctly notes that “the quantities of product (graduates) produced and the facilities resemble industrial processes” even as the “actual production is most closely akin to artisanship (with guilds, no less!).”

Amazon.comSuch a reference mirrors one of the age-old questions for educators. Is teaching a science or an art? It also raises one of the ongoing and legitimate criticisms of the current educational structure, one that actually follows the factory assembly line model.

Higher Education

Robb spends little time on that notion, instead shifting immediately to the costs of education and the failure of schools, at all levels, to significantly increase student performances despite enormous funding increases. Here again, Robb is dead on, and his description of the process as “an albatross of cost and stagnating quality” is certainly consistent with those who are concerned with the failure of public schools to significantly improve student performance.  

But Robb saves his strongest criticisms for higher education. Beginning with the costs for collegiate education, expenses that have increased 4.39 times faster than inflation over the last three decades, Robb indicates that higher education is no longer affordable for most households, especially as median family incomes stagnate.

Robb offers the following interesting assertion:

“Worse, there is reason to believe that costs of higher education (direct costs and lost income) are now nearly equal (in net present value) to the additional lifetime income derived from having a degree.  Since nearly all of the value of an education has been extracted by the producer, to the detriment of the customer, this situation has all the earmarks of a bubble.”

Unlike the Housing Bubble
While the current situation involving higher education has all the makings of matching the recent housing bubble, instead of the downturn facing the housing sector Robb sees the higher education bubble as offering immense opportunity to introduce educational improvements.  

At the heart of those improvements is the greater use of technology and the “ability of collaborative online education to replace much, if not most of in person teaching.” As many others have noted, there are some specific improvements afforded by greater use of technology in education:

  • Lectures – Robb notes that video lecture series, along with associated learning materials, for many courses at some of the best universities in the world are now available online. He rightly notes that such an option allows students to get the very best lecture available (“There is no need to recreate the lecture with tens of thousands of less qualified/exceptional teachers”). mrploughWhy attend another university when the very best lectures are available free.
  • Application – Robb adds the push towards just-in-time information processes. Operating online with a JIT focus, we “can train kids to adults in complicated and complex tasks in a fraction of the time other methods require.” Such an approach is the complete antithesis of our current approach, one that features a broad array of subjects and concepts with the idea that students learn certain materials just-in-case there may be a need to know sometime in the future.  
  • Collaboration – Robb notes the shifting of the business world from in-person work to a greater emphasis in online collaboration. Instead, at the university level, we continue the age old push to have face-to-face contact, with all students and the professor being present at the same time and in the same place. The idea of moving aspects online still is not “central to the educational world.”

We have discussed many of these notions in our prior work, including a lecture repository, just-in-time learning, and the need for education to begin to embrace the concept of social networking. We have also shared with readers David Wiley’s assessment that higher education as it currently is structured is “Dangerously Close to Becoming Irrelevant.”

Education’s Shift to a Fully Online Environment
While some may see his suggestions as radical, Robb is unequivocal as to the future of education.

“The shift towards online education as the norm and in-person as the exception will arrive,” he writes, “however, the path is unclear.  It is currently blocked by guilds/unions, inertia, credentialism, and romantic notions.” 

As noted, if we are indeed in a higher education bubble, the current economic downturn could well become one of the key catalysts for a radical shift in educational delivery. Robb suggests that the need for local governments to balance their budgets in the face of dwindling revenues will demand extensive cost-cutting measures. Those cost-cutting steps will have to include reduced monies for education, often the single biggest local expense, forcing higher education to pursue more cost-effective delivery methods (online courses).

If we are in the midst of a real higher education bubble, schools will likely see a dwindling student population. Here, Robb speculates on a amazing option. What if MIT or Harvard decided to “offer full credentials to online students at a tiny fraction of the cost of being in attendance.”  He postulates that the result just might be “ten million students enroll in the first year to attend Harvard’s virtual world.”

metaweb20Of course, yet another option involves an entirely different take, one that features the opensource movement. If in-person education continues to be too expensive but no institution is able to step forward to create a major online brand, the entire world of education shifts. “A massive open source effort develops,” writes Robb, leading to the creation of “virtual worlds and other online courseware that rivals the best universities.”

In the third scenario there would be a need for a new credentialing agency. Of course one quick answer could be a continued move towards standardized testing and students demonstrating, by their performance on such tests, that their education in fact does match what one might have received in the more traditional college setting.  

The Future of Education
At the heart of Robb’s notions is the need for a “productive educational system that produces high quality graduates” but does so “at a small fraction (an order of magnitude less) of the current costs.” In addition, moving to online, just-in-time formats, would perhaps offer the kind of flexibility that is needed if workers, and our educational systems, are “to meet the challenges of a rapidly mutating global economy.”  

Robb even goes so far as to toss around a potential cost of $20.00 a month. While that seems a bit beyond the realm of possibility, the rest offers strong food for thought.

In fact, he might have hit one more proverbial nail on the head. While his ideas as to where education could head have been speculated by others before, his idea that the current higher ed financial crisis could be a catalyst for major change seems dead on.

In fact, in our history, once it has become clear that we can do something as well if not better at far less cost, the entrepreneurial spirit has taken off. Tougher financial times always place a demand on innovation, making us wonder:

Will education continue to be immune?

Or will technology finally intercede and lead one of the last bastions of our society to finally consider new, more cost-effective models?

Flickr photos courtesy of mrplough and metaweb.

January 29, 2009   1 Comment

At MIT – The Slow Death of the Classroom Lecture

Jodi Hilton, writing for the New York Times, begins her discussion of a fundamental change in the teaching methodology for the introductory physics course at MIT thus:

“For as long as anyone can remember, introductory physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was taught in a vast windowless amphitheater known by its number, 26-100.”

True of Most Large Universities
DrgandyThe sentence was striking as I did not attend MIT. But as a math major and physics minor, the image of 26-100 was the same as that of Bennett Hall and the extraordinarily large amphitheater-like lecture room that was my home thirty plus years ago.

I do not know how many students the room could seat – but somewhere between three and four hundred would not have been an exaggeration. And it was full for first semester physics and calculus, and it was nearly full for the second semester of those courses.

And while additional semesters were often held there, beginning with the third semester of each those courses they could have been held in smaller halls. That was because of the winnowing out of those who simply did not have what it took to be able to survive the demands as structured.

According to Hilton, at MIT it was “as many as 300 freshmen” who sat in 26-100 who “anxiously took notes while the professor covered multiple blackboards with mathematical formulas and explained the principles of Newtonian mechanics and electromagnetism.”

A Monumental Change
Today, MIT has replaced the traditional large introductory lecture course with smaller classes. As befitting the latest in teaching methodology, the course is now taught with a hands-on, interactive, and collaborative learning approach.

Hilton is quick to point out that M.I.T. is not alone in the change. At Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, North Carolina State University, the University of Maryland, the University of Colorado at Boulder and Harvard, physicists “have been pioneering teaching methods drawn from research showing that most students learn fundamental concepts more successfully, and are better able to apply them, through interactive, collaborative, student-centered learning.”

However, high school physics teachers will likely find the new format at MIT beyond the realm of comprehension. Hilton describes:

“Today they meet in high-tech classrooms, where about 80 students sit at 13 round tables equipped with networked computers.

“Instead of blackboards, the walls are covered with white boards and huge display screens. Circulating with a team of teaching assistants, the professor makes brief presentations of general principles and engages the students as they work out related concepts in small groups.

“Teachers and students conduct experiments together. The room buzzes. Conferring with tablemates, calling out questions and jumping up to write formulas on the white boards are all encouraged.”

TEALThe new approach at M.I.T. is called TEAL (Technology-Enhanced Active Learning) and the two classrooms cost around $2.5 million each.

The Day the Lecture Died
Once upon a time, the process of teaching physics at MIT (and elsewhere) involved a well-prepared lecture, delivered by a subject matter expert. If the professor was special, he not only was an expert, he had a little shtick that made the entire 50 minute ordeal a little less painful.

Of course, another name for the format was sit and get. Interaction with the professor was nonexistent, questions of understanding and of curiosity took place back at the dorm when fellow classmates attempted to piece together the information they had been presented.

Of course that process worked because the students made it work. At least for those who could make it work. As I noted before, surviving deep into these programs was a sign of intellectual prowess – not everyone was able to do so.

Hilton quotes Eric Mazur, a physicist at Harvard, regarding the prior practice:

infidelic“The people who wanted to understand,” Professor Mazur is quoted, “had the discipline, the urge, to sit down afterwards and say, ‘Let me figure this out.’ ”

Maybe at Harvard or MIT they could all figure it out eventually with effort. That was not true for everyone at my state college.

Mazur indicates the majority of students need a much different approach.

“Just as you can’t become a marathon runner by watching marathons on TV, likewise for science, you have to go through the thought processes of doing science and not just watch your instructor do it.”

Teachers Mimic

Of course the other piece of the puzzle is that some of the students exposed to the prior methodology went on to become teachers (yours truly). When those individuals began teaching such courses they did what most would expect, they used the very same methodologies that they had been exposed to.

Yes, the very methods that led to attrition at the collegiate level, a weeding out of students who had not made the grade, often were used with students of even lesser skill level.

Fortunately today we know better – we know that “sit and get” is not a great classroom strategy.

PinelifeYet in classrooms without the requisite technology, the white boards and the assistants, it can be easy to fall back on the lecture format. In fact, the more sophisticated the material, the more difficult it is to stay away from the lecture format.

And With Change

Of course, while it was exciting to read about the positive changes at MIT, there was one small piece of the article that stood out in enormous contrast. It in fact leaped from the screen as I read.

“Of the core science curriculum required of all freshmen, only introductory physics follows the new method. Math, biology and chemistry are still taught through large lecture classes and small recitations.”

And even within the physics department, the “debate over teaching methods continues. Younger professors tend to be more enthusiastic about TEAL than veterans who have been perfecting their lectures for decades.”

But, even at MIT, it is only a slow death.

Flickr photos courtesy of drgandy, infidelic and pinelife.

January 14, 2009   3 Comments

The Power of Video Games and Virtual Worlds

If anyone ever had any doubt as to how technology could actually impact the world of education, this report from NBC News should put an end to any hesitation. Imagine if we spent the same amount of funding and provided an exciting real world environment for careers beyond those featuring the military.

After getting over the shock and disappointment of seeing the army sex up war, I immediately returned to one of my longstanding beliefs. If video games and virtual worlds could cause two nineteen-year-olds to consider joining the army and face deployment to Iraq, putting life and limb on the line, imagine what appropriately-designed programming with similar levels of funding could do to motivate our young people for other meaningful careers.

Something like a simulator to excite students about becoming a pilot, or a virtual world that takes children to the bottom of the sea to explore, or perhaps another technological offering that allows other students to make a virtual trip beyond the boundaries of our planet …..

Just imagine what we could accomplish with such an effort.

In fact, dare I say it, with such a process we just might turn schools into a place where children want to be day in and day out. A place that is exciting because of what is available to them, a place where no one would consider dropping out because of what they would miss.

Just imagine.

January 8, 2009   2 Comments

My Computer Ate My Homework – Really!

Sometimes you think you have heard it all only to realize that in actuality you just no longer have serious ingenuity.

Teachers, professors, and bosses – check this out, because it is ingenious! And apparently, it is not new by any means.

File Destructor

“Welcome to File Destructor 2.0.

Want to play games on your Playstation but got a deadline for an exam or report that didn’t match your gaming ambitions?

Then you have come to the right place.

Send trashed files and blame your faulty computer, instead of confessing that you are a lazy bum who just wants to play videogames.”

Yep its a tool to create a fictitious file – pretty ingenious to start with but there is of course more. There is the ability to cover your tracks in true, modern technological fashion.

You can even choose the extension type, something such as, presentation.ppt, fourth_quarter_results.xls, and final_exam.doc, along with a desired file size. It even works for both Mac and PC platforms.

All the while offering the technological equivalent of that age-old excuse, “My dog ate my homework.”

January 7, 2009   1 Comment