Archive for January, 2009

Comfort in Constancy

January 28th, 2009

I suppose I should take comfort in the constancy that in every semeseter, I will find students who believe in “learning styles.” The comfort comes from knowing I have resources lined up to try to help. Like this post:

Learning Styles
Several of you have referred to “learning styles” in some of your posts and comments. I know it’s fashionable, but it’s also not supported by any credible scientific evidence.

And this one:

Learning Styles, Again
In order to justify the “Learning Style” theory, that individual student MUST show sigificant improvements across a wide variety of content areas delivered in a variety of modes and therein lies the rub. Whatever design this research takes, it must somehow tease out that causal relationship between the delivery mode and the outcome that’s independent from the repetition.

I even use it as an example of non-theory here:

Theory?! What Theory?!
My problem with it is that it seems so nonsensical that the likelihood of it actually being true is too remote for me to waste spend time with it. Logically, it just lacks a level of coherence that I need in order to take it seriously.

Yes, I know. A lot of people believe in learning styles. That’s fine. I’m happy they worship at that altar.

Education isn’t something I’m willing to take on faith.

Great Barrier Beliefs

January 27th, 2009

Before we get too far away from this subject, I wanted to share my take on what I think is wrong with our text’s take on barriers:

Four Barriers? Really?
In Solomon, Allen, and Resta, the first chapter does provide an interesting and abbreviated over view of the evolution of the computer in education spaces. There’s some good information in there.

To my mind, the logical flaw in this collection of barriers is — at its base — a confusion between level of technology and level of implementation. The pedagogical question is whether its better to use a few simple technologies very well or a lot of different technologies? There’s a certain logic that says more is better, but from an access standpoint, the more different technologies you use — and the higher the skill threshold necessary to use them well — the more likely it is that the teacher will exceed his or her own skill level with using that technology, or the student’s ability to access the content, or both.

It boils down to finding a mix of “access to content” and “access to people.” My personal view is that — from an educational standpoint — it’s better to provide access to people who can provide information, guidance, and insight. This access requires simple technology like email, web pages, blogs, and aggregators. In my opinion, educators are building barriers by insisting that content repositories must include high-tech and high-bandwidth options like video web conferencing, flash-based media, and archived digital video and audio.

Putting it another way, you wouldn’t go into a classroom anywhere in America and expect your students to have access to a lesson that was presented primarily in German. This is especially true if you, as teacher, don’t really speak German yourself but are relying on a phrase dictionary and pronunciation guide.

New Media

January 26th, 2009

Will Richardson has an interesting post from last week about how the way we use media is changing — The News According to Twitter.

How many of the technologies described in his video are banned from your classrooms?

Educational Access

January 26th, 2009

Last week, I asked a question about educational access and whether or not there was a problem. Most of the responses cite issues in relation to poverty and technology and how unfair it is to those who can’t afford computers and networks. A couple of people made reference to a broader context, but what about those who can’t access education because of poverty.

When we talk about access, we tend to focus on the “plug in” kind of access and we begin talking about how we’re never going to be able to use computers and networks effectively in the education because too many people can’t afford the technology at home. We tend to overlook the people who can’t afford access to even more fundamental technology like nutrition, transportation, and sleep.

How much can that kid learn today if breakfast was a slice of bread and butter or less?

How much access will the kid get who has to stay home and take care of a sick sibling because Mom has to work and she can’t send the sick one to daycare?

I’m not even going to get into the violence, abuse, alcohol, and crime issues that poverty engenders.

When we think about access, what we can do about it, and the differences between haves and have-nots, don’t get side-tracked by the text. Solomon is talking about digital equity, but that’s only one very small component.

The Relationship

January 26th, 2009

We’ve been tippy-toeing around this subject for a couple of weeks. Last year I wrote this post to explain my take on it.

Identity Maintenance
Technology is a Cultural diagnostic and Education is the process by which societal norms are maintained within that culture. Restated: Culture is the sum of its Techology. Education maintains the rules.

A lot of you wanted to make this question about a specific culture or some subculture without stepping back to take the high level view.

Here’s the in-a-nutshell summation:

“The future is here. It’s just not evenly distributed.” – William Gibson

Some of the things we’re talking about are significant for the notion of “are you in? or are you out?” How does one get to be a member of a Culture? And how do you get to leave? It’s a rather important issue because — as Joe Jackson once said, “Everybody hates a tourist. Especially one who thinks it’s all such a laugh.”

There’s the challenge. What’s the response?

Using History to Inform Practice

January 23rd, 2009

At the beginning of this course last year, I had a rather long critique of the Solomon intro:

The Perils of Publication
While many of the philosophical points raised in the introduction remain depressingly valid — actually showing almost no significant change — many of the descriptions of current condition depict a world that no longer exists.

Check it out while you’re waiting for your books to arrive. If you’ve received your books already, tell me what you think about this.

Defining Multimedia

January 23rd, 2009

Multimedia is one of those terms with slippery meanings. Until you start delving into it, it seems obvious what it is. As you seek to describe it, it has a tendency to slip away. Here is my take on it.

Multimedia refers to a collection of tools and techniques employed to blend two or more different communications modes into a single, unified message.

I confess that I have no source for this but use my experience with multimedia, its development, and its application to derive it.

For me the term does not mean some particular outcome but the process of constructing a message. I can’t point to a movie, or graphic, or video and say “Oh, that’s multimedia.” Rather, I look at the combination of video, speech, and text as a kind of meta-unit that might comprise a “multimedia production.”

These tools and techniques are endemic. For example, a textbook these days is rarely a literal text book. Our book for this class contains photographs and diagrams used to enhance the message of the words. Some texts have CD’s inside, or links to supporting websites. When a teacher stands in front of a class, s/he uses a variety of media — text, audio, graphical — to explicate the lesson’s meaning.

From that perspective, it’s important to understand not only the various kinds of media that can be combined but also how those media are used together to create a single message. Those are the subjects we’ll be exploring this semester as we discuss the various media archetypes.

Defining Culture

January 21st, 2009

What is culture and how do we define it. I had this to say last year and I think it’s still valid. Go read it.

On Culture
At the beginning of any collaborative endeavor, it’s important to begin to understand what we mean by the terminology. It’s relatively common for specific terms to carry a multitude of meanings and so it behooves us to agree on what we mean when we use them in the context of our discussions.

Tell me what you think.

Fundamental Questions

January 13th, 2009

As I began gearing up for the coming semester, I went into the archives to see what I thought about the subject last year. I don’t think my thinking has changed much, even though a lot has changed in the last year. While is might seem odd to some, I find it useful to occasionally check my benchmarks and see if any of them have shifted. They do shift and the way they shift can be interesting and informative.

These are some of the questions we’ll address in this course.

  • How have technologies shaped the economic, social, and political life and educational ideals and practices of our civilization?
  • Who were the major contributors to the creation of our “technological society”?
  • What have been the major positive and negative contributions of major technological innovations?
  • What might be the long-term positive and negative effects on education and society of today’s new technologies?
  • Who benefits most from new technologies?
  • What epistemologies are inherent in particular technologies? How do we know what we know?
  • What value biases (personal and political) are inherent in particular technologies?

In addition, I’d like to address some fundamental issues like

  • What is culture?
  • What’s the role of Education?
  • Is it a universal role acrosss cultures?
  • What constitutes technology?
  • Can culture exist without technology?
  • What constitutes ethical behavior? Is there a universal ethos?
  • Can you be ethical and be a teacher?

For a little more background on the All-You-Can-Eat Buffet we’re about to start on, see Pownces and Twitters and Nings, Oh My.

Multimedia, Schmultimedia

January 12th, 2009

Just show me the movie.

As a first assignment I’ve asked students in my Multimedia Design course to define multimedia. Until they’ve had a chance to respond, I’m going to hold off posting on that subject here. The challenge is to try to tease out the real meanings behind the edu-speak so that when we’re dealing with it, we all know what we’re talking about.

The term “podcast” is my soapbox issue du jour.

Educators have appropriated the term to mean something it’s not. When I hear of this or that teacher “making a podcast” and then “uploading it to WhateverBoard,” I cringe. A podcast is not a kind of file. A podcast is not digital audio. It’s not digital video. It’s not a pdf, or a ppt, or anything else that you load to a server to click on to see, hear, or read. A podcast is the process of delivering media via RSS enclosure tag. Period. No RSS, no podcast. Simple. Easy. Done.

Oh, sure, lots of podcasts have “download the episode here” links on their pages, but that’s a convenience factor. No podcaster — no real podcaster — puts up content without a feed.

But educators are using the term podcast to mean any digital file placed on a server for their students to download. There’s no RSS feed. There’s not even an acknowledgment that what they’re doing isn’t new, innovative, or particularly interesting, in most cases. We’ve had the capability to do digital downloads for over a decade now. Most people simply didn’t bother with it.

And here’s the problem with using the term “podcast” for “digital archive” and pretending it’s something new. It cuts you off the whole body of research into the use of media in educational settings. We’ve been studying how media can be used effectively for half a century. Anybody remember the term “audio-visual?”

What’s the diff between 16mm and mp4 from an educational viewpoint? Maybe only how dark you have to have your room in order to see it. And maybe the fact that mp4s can be delivered over the ‘net.

But from the standpoint of the message — the purpose of using that particular article of media to begin with — it’s pretty much the same whether it’s displayed on 16mm film, vhs tape, digital video disk, or mpeg. We need to keep this in mind. The purpose of using media in educational settings it not to use media. It’s to offer a message.

Furthermore, by using the term “podcast” to mean the content and not the delivery mode, we are abandoning the opportunity to explore the potential of RSS delivered media. While the argument that most people don’t understand RSS — or even know that it exists — is undoubtedly true, what it’s not is valid. Most people don’t know what carburation is — or even that it exists — but many people use it, or a product of it, almost every day. The people who are responsible to implement it have a fine understanding, but the people who drive the cars or ride the busses may never realize that it’s a process as well as a product.

The reality here is that RSS is computer code, which means it’s machine readable. That means it can be searched, parsed, filtered, and combined in ways that allow us to create specific content streams which might be tailored for specific use in a particular course or an educational experience. This course, for example, could be pulling from TED, IT Conversations, and a host of other resources to extract specific content pertinent to multimedia design in the classroom. It’s not. I haven’t built the tools to do it yet, and for all of the promise of the various feed merge and filter tools out there, the problem of finding the few specific grains of of sand on this particular beach rests on resolving some meta-data issues. This problem will be solved — or might be solved — should the people who need that functionality the most — educators — start agitating for it.

But as long as “podcast” means “digital archive” and not “delivery channel” then that’s one problem we’re not going to be solving soon.

Which is why terminology is important.

Now, pass the popcorn! I’m going to watch a movie.

Listen to: Multimedia, Schmultimedia