Sunday, June 9, 2013

Marshal McLuhan and hot and cold media and other thoughts for eLearning

Marshal McLuhan and hot and cold media.
In building a blended eLearning resource for online learning, it behoves us (you don’t get to use that word often) to take a look over our shoulders at Marshal McLuhan’s work on media in the sixties.
Radio vs. TV. We find that students are often more inclined to download course materials as an Mp3 audio filer rather than as a MP4 Video.
McLuhan had this taped. Radio is a cool medium. It does not require our total attention. For eLearning this may not seem like something we want but we have to look beyond the immediate. The Mp3 file may be listened to multiple times as the student drives to work, goes for a work out in the Jim etc.
Video on the other hand is a hot medium it requires total engagement and its difficult to combine absorbing this material with driving a car for instance.
So use video sparingly. Use it as a welcome to the course maybe and to demonstrate specific content for which it is the most compact way of presenting it.
Present it in small chunks, and if possible allow the user to alter the speed of playback.
The next piece of McLuhan is the idea that the medium is the message. And associated with it, the idea that the content of any medium is always another medium. This one plays into our practice in two ways; the first is to be aware of what we are saying by our choice of delivery system. If I prescribe the exact sequence in which you will peruse the learning content I am giving you, I may think that I am making informed and sensible choices on your behalf as to what is the most appropriate sequence in which to consume my content. You on the other hand may see it as an arrogant and inflexible set of assumptions as to just how ignorant the learner is.
The second  concept here, that the content of any medium is another medium is more straightforward to apply. If my video is just me speaking, then the video content is audio. If my audio is me reading from a prepared script, then the content is text.

Maybe we are in a position to cut out some of the media middlemen.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Thoughts after watching “a day made of glass” and the “Microsoft Productivity future vision” pieces.


Thoughts after watching “a day made of glass” and the “Microsoft Productivity future vision” pieces.

Education is about building internalized models of reality. These models are then used to inform our actions with respect to possible futures.

In the corning model, a model of light mixing was played with in a very high tech way on a light table. This example was presumably chosen as content which would be immediately clear when you saw it on the video clip.  The learning involved a group collaborating to explore a cool educational artefact. As a model of collaborative and group education it was a nice example.  The park scene showing the dinosaurs was another easy pick up with its reference to the movie Jurassic park.  

The Microsoft educational vision was weaker. Although the whole tone of the video was corporate, the educational segment showed drill and kill math teaching with 20 year old graphics of a Bear.  The use of high tech to avoid the effort of opening the fridge door… How cool/pointless was that?

Education is a conversation. It is a communication. It is articulated structured and may contain Satori moments, but at the end of the day it’s a two way flow of information.  The corning vision showed an enriched channel with more interactions going in more directions.

My vote Corning: +1, Microsoft: try again.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Moocing into the future



There has been a lot of comment about MOOC providers such as Udacity or Coursera being a disruptive technology in the filed of higher ed, and this is hard to argue with, although the process is likely to be more protracted than many commentators think.  However just because change is taking place, it doesn't mean that we have to be antediluvian about it.
I know this is a weak analogy, but I'm sure that when the motor car came out there were some people complaining about the effect the innovation was going to have on the lives of ostlers, grooms and dung collectors.
We don't know where new online and automated forms of education will take us.  What we do know, is that they have the potential to take us someplace very far from the current state of affairs.  This potential may involve some creative destruction, and toppling of sacred cows, but it is up to us to steer it towards the creative the innovative and the good, and away from the banal and the mass market.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A short thought on MOOCS


There are a number of different versions of MOOC and I would suggest that the versions promoted by George Siemens, and Stephen Downs et al, are the most interesting. I have taken part in some of these, and they are a loo sly organized scrum of people generating and discussing content around some core theme. Very much a collaborative and distributed effort which at times has much of the characteristics of an extended research conference.
The very recent development of Massive enrollment courses from such sites as Alison, Coursera and Udacity, are somewhat different, and strike me as being a somewhat transitional use of technology, like early plastics trying to look like more traditional materials and failing.
I have taken part in courses from all of the above. If one views these courses in the traditional manner, then the ability to respond to students is extremely limited, they scale very poorly, and the fall out rates are horrendous. However if you view them as something more akin to an encyclopedia, or revision notes for a topic, then the idea of casual usage of the material, without taking all the tests or listening to all the lectures becomes more understandable, and provides a new model for learning.
When I taught physics at university level, I used to tell my students that there was a very similar course available on line through MIT's open course-ware initiative. I said that if there were topics where my students found my presentation confusing that I recommended Prof Lewin's treatment as an alternative. As he was paid more than me, and had been teaching the material for longer, it could potentially be clearer. My students responded well to this.
So I think we should view these courses as another tool to use in our teaching, playing a role similar to that of an academic library where you went to look for other books on a subject to either explore it further or get a better explanation. All contributing to the ultimate task of dispelling ignorance.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Thoughts on teaching math with calculators.


I teach some elementary math’s to adult learners, and I am mandated to teach them how to use a calculator. 
When I produce the calculators about ½ way through the course I ask them what a calculator is for. I then explain that it is for when the calculations get to big to do by hand, and we then move on to calculate some really big numbers, like the amount of sand on the local beach, the number of snowflakes that fell in the last big storm, the number of breaths they have taken so far in their lives etc.  I use the calculator to introduce the idea of estimating and approximating, and we then try to make an estimate of how good our answers are.  The idea is that, now you have the skills, the calculator opens up a whole new vista of doable problems.
That’s for my mainstream students. For some of the students, maybe two in a hundred, I teach more specific calculator use, when I have decided that these are students who don’t have the ability at this time of mastering the skills of hand calculation. This may be an innate deficit, or it may be the product of years of confrontational math education resulting in the student being terrified by the prospect of looking at numbers in any constructive manner whatsoever.
These are the students for whom the calculator will become the mathematical equivalent of dragon dictate, and just as dragon dictate can open up the world of generating texts to individuals who would be unable to write or use a keyboard, I see the calculator as giving access to mathematical results to people who would otherwise be incapable of getting there.
Finally to mention some specific skills. I teach adding fractions by cross multiplying and reducing the result. I explain that there are other methods which they may already know, but that I am avoiding them because they don’t always work, and we don’t have time to go through all the special cases.
I do this, not because I’m short on time, but because often I find students abandoned their attempts to understand fractions at the LCD/LCM stage. Fractions are key, and I explain that these operations are important because if they come to algebra many of the same methods will work. 
I spend almost a full class on the concept of dividing by a half.
I teach long multiplication, again stressing that this is a method which will go forward into algebra, and I teach long division in the same way for the same reasons.
The key in all of this is that I am teaching skills which will continue to be of value, both in general life, and in the students further math’s careers, should they care to pursue them.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Instructional design and Tacit learning


These are terms which hover around the borderland between education and training.  Instructional design came originally from a military need to train lots of people quickly to a uniform standard in the Second World War, and a desire to take educational theory and use it to produce a effective framework for people trained to a specific set of competences. Gagne is a key name here. Within that context, Tacit knowledge is the collection of nonverbal learning that SME’s (Subject matter experts) gain from experience which can be difficult to encode into a formal description of the specified learning outcomes of a course.
Once we step out of that context it becomes more difficult. I see education proceeding from very well defined learning goals, such the ability to tie a shoe lace, or to add decimal numbers up two places of decimals at primary level, through less concrete goals at secondary level such as “Students will understand the causes of the civil war”.  As education proceeds through third level, we encounter the sort of concepts embodied in the idea of a liberal education, or Newman’s idea of a university. Here packing what is being learnt into a Specified Learning Objectives framework becomes less appropriate.
I am referring by analogy to this type of learning also as Tacit learning, and in particular I am  thinking of the kind of skills which we develop as a professional, which are open ended, and don’t have set limits.  Good teachers, I think, don’t stop learning when they are qualified, and learn from a diverse set of sources including their students, and their practice.
This is an area of learning for which I can find few instructional design models, and which I am interested in exploring further.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Searching for assesment


This piece is a result of reading this blog post http://opencontent.org/blog/archives/2237
There has recently been a considerable amount of controversy about employers asking for job candidates Facebook credentials in order to find out what sort of people they were, and what sort of things they got up to. 
The critical issue seems to revolve about the distinction between a users public and private life.
In practice we may be judged by the company we keep.  This issue is particularly apt because Facebook is primarily a social network, and unless I am a policeman, and my friends are mostly journalists, it’s not totally clear that this information is relevant to an employer.
Be that as it may, David Wiley of Bringham Young University  has come up with another scary evaluation metric.  How about letting your employer, or your prospective college, see your search history?  Using “Big Data” tools, this could give either power broker a deep insight into whom they are potentially entering into a long term relationship with.
I think, with a moment’s thought, that this one too comes into the too much information category, and would fail European data protection legislation on the basis of informed consent and need to know grounds.  It would also leave a potential employer open to charges of discrimination, by providing them with information on which to make a discriminatory decision.
The problem again comes in because of the umbrella nature of such a request. It grabs everything, and a lot of it is outside the scope of any possible legitimate use of the data.

Now how about if I am asking my students to do research?  Suppose I’m asking them to document their web journey in search of enlightenment on the subject using membranes to provide high altitude diesel trains with oxygen enriched air for combustion.
In this case, it could be legitimate, and could provide a valuable anti plagiarism tool.  It shows how long they were on task, It shows how efficiently they used the web, and it shows how successful they were while they were doing it.
I could potentially have a number of target websites which I expected them to find, and I could evaluate them on a richer metric which could combine time on task with success in locating information, and a subjective assessment of their search methodology. 
Because the search could be seen as coursework, and could be limited to a defined time period, we could avoid the privacy issues, which down check the more general histories covered above.   As for an employer, I could ask the candidate in advance to provide a transcript of an hour spent researching the company prior to the interview.  This could be an effective test of their skills and prior knowledge in the field.