Friday, August 24, 2007

Textbooks, are they needed?

And so the debate continues to rage. Stephen Downes responds to my position on the question of whether schools should buy textbooks or laptops.

School Textbooks, Yes or No ~ Stephen's Web ~ by Stephen Downes
I don't think it's radical at all. The money we spend on textbooks is wasted. We could put the same content onto websites, we could do it for free (because it's not like our academics are paid much of anything by publishers as it is) and the kids would be more comfortable with it.
In rereading my comments I believe I need to further elaborate on my position. I really agree that buying textbooks is a waste of money. They represent second source materials that, especially with social studies books, are watered down so as to be unoffensive to anyone. Does that mean the government should buy laptops for every student, or even require that parents buy them for their school-age children? No, being the father of three children I know how children unknowingly can be irresponsible. Let's face it, you drop a book on the ground you can pick it up and it still works. You drop a laptop on the ground and the chances it will still work diminish.

Please note, though, I said "if you drop a book on the ground...". I didn't say "textbook." There is a wealth of first source books that teachers can now draw upon to use in their lesson plans. And I am not precluding the use of technology in the classroom and at home, but don't go pouring money into buying laptops for students.

Wow! I'm getting it from both sides, and once again I think its because I didn't express myself well. So here goes again.

To Manish's point, I am not against reading. In fact I argued that perhaps instead of textbooks teachers should use first-source books that were written by individuals who are tackling a particular topic and not trying to cover the spectrum of a curriculum. Now there are instances where, I think, textbooks are the way to go, specifically mathematics.

To Stephen's point, no technology is full-proof and while the OLPC computer is relatively inexpensive I can foresee a world of trouble when parents decide that it is not "good enough" for their child and have to buy something better. Thus, just like the sneakers wars, you see kids and their parents get into an ever escalating computer wars requiring kids to have the best laptop possible. Unfortunately, I tend to view government bureaucracies with disdain (having worked in one for three years) and I can envision school districts deciding that the OLPC computer is not enough and the budget for their purchases balloon ever upward. There is already a simmering taxpayer revolt against the money spent by school districts, I fear this would add to that revolt.

Now, I will say that flash memory drives maybe a useful alternative. I've written previously about their value as an alternative to participant guides in the corporate learning world. I could envision buying these and loading them with wiki software preloaded with links to images, video, audio, and yes, reading material that the child could use in school on classroom computers, study hall computers, and home computers.

By God, I love a lively debate!

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

School textbooks, yes or no

There is a tremor within the blogosphere over the issue of school textbooks or to be more precise whether schools should continue to purchase them or re-channel the money to purchase "laptops and digital curriculum materials for students and teachers." Wesley Freyer appears to have fired the first shot with his post A call for a textbook purchasing moratorium. I'm looking at this from several different angles and I'm at a loss on where I stand on this.

As an instructional designer who creates training for corporations and government entities I see the textbooks we create--politely called "participant guides"--as close to useless. The standard approach is to take the PowerPoint slides used by the facilitator and output it with lines underneath for notetaking. I've always considered these as a waste of paper. I have advocated in the past that if we are going to go this route, then we should create them electronically and place them on an inexpensive jump drive. At least we are not overtly damaging the environment.

As a parent of three school-age children I would not want to think about the number of laptops the schools would have had to buy my children over the years. Being a proponent of technology, albeit a frugal one, I have obtained four previously-owned laptops for my children to use and only one is still working. Children are tough on laptops, just as they are tough on everything they own. A book can survive being dropped off the side of a bed a whole lot better than a computer.

Of course what makes a revolutionary, a revolutionary is his or her unbending resolution to the cause. So we have Stephen Downes disagreeing with Vicki Davis who argues that "I personally have to underline, write, rewrite, take notes in the margin and work with the text."

Stephen responds:
Now I use a computer to do this - and it's an important skill to have. Yes, some people still do it the old way. They shouldn't. And some people today just cut and paste from electronic texts. They shouldn't do that either - they are robbing themselves of their own learning if they do that.
That's a bit too radical for me. But I understand his viewpoint there needs to be a concerted effort to break old habits and I think Vicki is making that effort. I tend to agree with George Sieman who states:
I'm not convinced that technology is deterministic - i.e. that we must inexorably trudge the path down which it leads. The real call is one of systemic change - what needs to change to better prepare our students for tomorrow's world? Technology will no doubt play a part, but I'm not convinced that it must correspondingly be the tool through which the change is enacted.
Frankly, I would like to see schools stop spending money on textbooks simply because they are bland beyond compare, watered down so as not to offend anyone. Often control over what to purchase is not in the hands of the teacher, where it should lie, and instead is controlled by state boards of education who are often pressured by special interest groups.

Often the textbooks are so bad, teachers are forced to improvise and at times they improvise well. You go "electronic" as Wesley proposes will not resolve the problem. Textbooks will just migrate to e-books, the costs will probably remain the same, but the textbook publishers will just pocket the savings from not having to buy ink or paper.

The answer is not easy, but at the risk of sounding like someone who has been left on the wrong side of the digital divide, I think pencils, pens, paper, and books need to remain a piece of the overall educational puzzle. Let's not forget, these items were the first technologies introduced into the learning environment.

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Cosmos revisited

I forgot just how great the Carl Sagan documentary Cosmos was until I watched this 8 minute clip about evolution that I found at the blog Neatorama.

I haven't seen it since its first airing back in 1980, but ithis short clip makes me want to watch the whole thing again.

Friday, August 17, 2007

On Forgetting What We Learned

Quick blog item in response to a posting by Jay Cross. Jay was in Seattle last week for the 7th annual Gnomedex, a conference of "the world's leading bloggers, podcasters, and tech-savvy enthusiasts. On commenting about staying over for the unconference, Jay had this to say:

Internet Time Blog :: Forgetful in Seattle
tomorrow, raines cohen and kaliya hamlin are convening an unconference to process the official event. i just rearranged my flights so i can attend. instant replay may become de rigueur if people understand the mechanics of the forgetting curve. if you don’t reinforce what you learn, more than half of it will be gone a day or two later.

(Image from Jay Cross's Internet Time Blog)
This leaves me to wonder about learning retention rates in elearning courses. Let's face it, most entities that are investing in elearning are doing it on the cheap. By going the elearning route it saves them from having to a) send learners away to a classroom; b) feed them at the class; c) pay for trainers to appear; d) take SMEs away from their main productive job to deliver training, etc., etc.

Unfortunately, when they do go the elearning route, they often want to do that on the cheap, creating simple page-turners, possibly with narration and images, and a set of 10 or 20 multiple-choice questions at the end to validate that learning occurred.

Don't get me wrong I'm alright with that, it helps pay my bills, but it got me wondering how it would be possible to re-enforce learning from elearning courses. I figure there is a couple ways.
  1. The first way might be to require the learner to retake the full course the next day to re-enforce what has been learned. This would be the simplest course, although it kind of smacks of brainwashing rather than facilitating learning.
  2. Require the learner to retake the post-test to see how much of the previous day's learning stuck and then send the learner back to review the content that has been lost overnight, and only that content. This is technologically feasible, but I'm not sure all LMS's are up to the task.
  3. The unconference approach seems to be the best bet, although I'm not convinced that higher-ups would buy into this.
The concept of elearning has been sold as an anytime, anywhere learning experience, which means every learner is entering and exiting the "classroom" at different times never even knowing if anyone else is in the classroom at the same time. But suppose you add a concept of an annual unconference on the topic is scheduled (either virtually or real-time) for everyone who has attended a specific elearning session. Let them discuss existing gaps and misunderstandings in their knowledge base amongst one another and generally support one another in filling those gaps and resolving those misunderstandings. Rather than sitting and listening to a facilitator they are building their own knowledge bases with the assistance of SMEs who only sit and listen, speaking up only to redirect conversations that appear to be going astray.

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Clicking through the lecture

Is this a piece of technology that the corporate world might want to consider for those lengthy lecture-driven presentations that often pass as training?

University of Delaware Responds to Classroom Clickers
Clickers are small wireless keypads that allow students to respond electronically to instructor questions at various points during class. They're generally especially useful in large lecture classes, where keeping all students engaged and at a similar level of understanding can be challenging.
According to the the article, students respond to prepared questions. I could foresee this as an opportunity for learners who would not normally wish to admit that they are not totally clear on a point, to "speak up" anonymously and let the presenter know that they need to focus some more time on the topic. If the presenter does not have the time to slow down on their presentation, the clicker device employed at the University of Delaware provides an opportunity for follow-up afterward.
Clicker responses are anonymous in class but are tracked by a device number, which is linked to a particular student. Some faculty members, for example, give a small amount of course credit to students for clicker responses.
Further review:

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

eLearning: More Than Just Page Turners

Curse you Stephen Downes! (he says tongue-in-cheek.) Every day I plan to start my day by browsing my learning blogs in Google Reader and I never seem to be able to get past Stephen's posts. Today he pointed me to Mark Bethelemy's post: The King is Dead – Long Live the King
For most (corporate) consumers of elearning, content means self-study modules, that sit in some sort of delivery system. In academic and formal education settings e-learning has a completely different connotation – involving collaboration, assessment, eportfolios etc – which is beginning to filter into the corporate space, but very slowly.
I've often thought about this and how page-turning elearning that resides inside the LMS firewall may not be conducive to facilitating lasting change. (I hate the term "change," but I use it for lack of a better word at this time.) As Mark points out, there is not freedom to branch, no ability to search, and unless specifically requested (and paid for) no ability to output the learning materials for later learning.

In an earlier post in May I had opined that
The LMS will function only as a registrant and as an assesor; all learning content will be housed on a separate server that can be accessed at any time without prior registration. The employee will be able to customize his or her PLE anyway they wish by dragging and dropping video, audio, whatever on to their page. Like Netvibes or Google, they can have multiple tabs on their PLE to divy up content.
This is very similar, but more limited then, Mark's comments:
  1. Allowing users to connect with other people who are using the materials – perhaps creating reviews, adding ratings or making recommendations – is more a function of the delivery system rather than the content (unless the content is totally embedded into the delivery system pages). We do need an alternative model for learning management systems (as proposed by Tony Karrer a while back) I've long argued for a model based on that of the successful ecommerce providers such as Amazon, where the learning content is the product. The reviews and ratings would provide critical metadata for the learners.

  2. Allowing materials to be targeted to particular users based on prior history, on stated preferences or on management requirements is exactly the Amazon model. It would provide a combined performance support and knowledge provision system. If combined with user generated content and a means of finding other people in the organisation with similar interests you then have an extremely powerful and effective learning marketing system – where learning can become an integral part of the organisational culture, rather than just an add-on.
In hind sight I might have read Tony's post on the future of LMS back in January and it subconsciously influenced my May post (belated hat tip to Tony!).

I could go on and on, but I have already budgeted 45 minutes to reading Mark's post, posting a replay at his site, and then drafting this post. Which means I will have to delay any further blog reading until this evening. But it was well worth it.

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Solid tips for Synchronous 3T

This article on 10 tips to facilitate Online Training for Online Faculty. My favorite:
Provide multiple ways of learning for multiple learning styles. Faculty going through training to teach online will come from a variety of academic disciplines and will have predilections in their thought processes reflective of their fields. So, have training modules produced as full text descriptions, narrated animations, step-by-step graphics, and quick checklists so that learners can use whichever one resonates with them.
In training, I think the corporate and government world all too often forget about providing performance support tools. We figure, "Hey, they got a participant's guide. What else do they want?"

Monday, August 06, 2007

Trends in the Living Networks: Launching the Web 2.0 Framework

Once again, Jay Cross points me to a blog post that totally blows me out of the water with its clarity of purpose. He pointed me to Ross Dawson's Trends in the Living Networks: Launching the Web 2.0 Framework. (Just follow the link above to read Ross's description and to download the full four-slide presentation.)

It truly does summarize the role and elements of the Web 2.0 phase of the Internet better then I could ever achieve. Ross captures it all in three slides. It took me 15 slides. I am humbled by greatness.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Following the links...

So this morning I started reading my learning-related blogs and I didn't get far into my read before I was off for a half-hour following the links. I began at my Google Reader and I started at Stephen Downes' feed titled "Going After Grandma!" What caught my eye was the first line that read:
I think I like the term 'Platform of personal Expression' (PPE) better than 'Personal learning Environment'...
Being extremely interested in personal learning environments I continued reading his post. Which, unfortunately turned into a rant against an extremely long post by Wayne Hodgins who was responding to another long blog post by David Berlind at ZDNET regarding the inventor of the blog and the role of APIs in making publishing on the web transparent enough that your grandmother can do it.

By following the bread crumb trail from Stephen's post to Wayne Hodgins post and on to David Berlind's post I probably learned a lot more about the history of web publishing and the future of APIs, but in doing so I expended more than an hour by following the link of a single blog post. And if you count the time expended composing this post to my own web log, it will be probably an hour and a half. I've learned a great deal on a single topic simply by keying in on a phrase that is a focal point in my learning: "personal learning environment."

As I write this I am extending my research as I seek out links to connect people to concepts that they might not be fully aware of, such as "personal learning environments." This means I'm branching off even further. In the end one blog post in Google Reader took me to eight different sites (roughly). There was no curriculum, no formal lesson plan, just plain, old-fashioned curiosity fired up by a single phrase. In essence, informal learning. My path looked like this:
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