Posts Tagged ‘web2.0’

The future of education (with an emphasis on science education)

August 4, 2009

I love where education is headed. This is a weird statement to make as a teacher; my income is currently based on the existence of relatively traditional schools. I could of course switch to tutoring, non-traditional educational institutions, become a consultant, or otherwise use my skills in related areas. But the truth is that I like working with high school students* and find the traditional setting perfectly acceptable. Yet I love the change that I see building up around me to invert some of what we now think of as schooling.

I recently mentioned Dan Meyer’s “Be less helpful” comment. It fits very well with the ideas of Modeling Physics (building from experiences and models of them with a big dose of Socratic Questioning), Peer Instruction, the recent explosion of the podcast (or vodcast) in education whether in chemistry or in general, and the flourishing of free online resources in the form of OpenCourseWareand textbooks (sorry for the physics centric link – follow links to go to the overall sites) or even whole Universities. Moving the basic transmission of ideas into a student centric space and focus the time in the institutional (social) setting for discussion, activities, and assessment (including more informal feedback style assessment similar to Eric Mazur’s Peer Instruction as well as formal tests). Its powerful stuff even if it isn’t really new. As I’m sure many people have noticed its really what a good literature class already does!

There are questions of course.

1. Can this inversion do anything about the smart under-achievers? Can such a switch motivate them to gain something from a podcast, video, or web site that they wouldn’t get a from a lecture, textbook, or teacher led activity?

2. Can this work in a setting with underprivileged students? The quantifiable data seems to say that this group isn’t doing much outside of class. If you combine that with the possible digital divide it might be rough. The flip side is that podcasts and audio are accessible with minimal and ubiquitous hardware. Plus playing them, or even a vodcast, might not seem quite a publicly nerdy as reading a book.

3. If perfect is the enemy of good and many teachers are at a good point right now is the benefit worth it? Purely thinking as a classroom teacher I find this the biggest question. It is not a matter of the amount of work but instead its a matter of having the transition from one style to the other disrupt the learning and lead to a result that is worse then either method. Or, to put things another way, is there enough buy in among all stakeholders that a teacher can safely learn these methods while doing them. Clearly this is a case by case basis.


Dan’s Ignite Presentation

July 28, 2009

Once again Dan Meyer has summed up one of a key insights into teaching in a pithy statement “Be less helpful!” I’m not sure what I can really add to it as its really the same inside as the one behind guided inquiry teaching, problem based learning, and even the ideas expressed by AP workshop presenters. His restatement is terrific and is something that I at least, and possible others, need to reconnect with every so often. If I can get an embeddable link I’m going to put it on my permanent videos page.

On the other hand I think I can usefully comment on the ending of his presentation. His audience is made up of open source aficionados and coders so his ending plea is quite appropriate but unneeded. We already have collaborative spaces for sharing teaching methods, teaching materials, and teachable media. Dan’s blog is a great example. We have blogs, Nings, wikis, forums, mailing lists (how quaint but effective), various social networking sites, and multiple author blogs if the idea is to get away from one person directing the conversation. Do we really need another site or app or communication method? We do need more interactivity between social groupings but that is not a technological problem.

Of course maybe I’m not getting his message. From Dan’s response in one comment I suspect the distinction is that he want’s collaboration on the media itself while I would be satisfied with expanding the use of collaboration about the media and easy access to the media. In particular I see little purpose in editing some media in such a way that the original is lost. If I have an edit that I believe is of general utility I should upload mine with citation to yours as the inspiration and let people compare, contrast, and critic them in context. Again, the value seems to be in building a useful size community not in a new technological fix.

Alternately he might be referring to the fact that most online communication still has to go through a text medium. The idea of being able to easily add comments to a post via audio or video might be terrific. If that’s what you were meaning then my hat is off to you Dan.

The futures so bright I’ve got to wear …

July 17, 2009


I am very much in favor of both the increasing access to information and increasing indexing/searchability of information that digital data and an interconnected web provides. As I posted earlier I generally am in favor of moving away from physical books and towards electronic ones that can incorporate linking, media, and annotation as well as potential cost savings. Similarly, I’d have to say that the technological tool that I would buy in a heart beat is the child of a Kindle and a Fujitsu 6012 with 4G access. The wearable computer in its different incarnations (notably Dr. Mann’s always on computer and a computer aided sixth sense) as well as many others are also interesting. For various reasons I’m never going to be on the bleeding edge of technology but I certainly don’t oppose it. Yet some outside discussion has brought up the fact that this earlier post is a fairly pessimistic view of the future of electronic texts.. I have to agree that it is.

So I’m stuck trying to figure out my pessimism. Most likely its really just an overreaction to some of the memes floating around. The overload of “blogging is dead/journalism is dead” that I was running across last week. While its an interesting discussion it tends to focus on the news aspect of the web which is, naturally enough, a segment that is dominated by a quick turn around time, always on mentality. Add a healthy, or not, dose of sites conflating the ideas of blogs and marketing as if the only reason to blog is to make money on it (either currently through ads or by marketing your “brand” and attracting business). Finally season generously with edtech blogs with an almost religious fervor concerning the benefits of web2.0 in education without much of a concern about anything other than getting people using the web2.0.

Even if I don’t have a smartphone (or even a pda) I think the trend towards more and more accessible and indexed data is a very big win overall. But while I feel that the pessimism of my earlier post was rather a passing mood there are certainly questions. For right now I’m going to let this trail off with a list of thoughts and little commentary.

– Why has Wikipedia avoided the tragedy of the commons while others (smaller) wikis often seem to suffer from it and wither away do to no one really adding significant content?
– Digital sharecropping (and perhaps the related digital subsistence farming). What does the Freemium model bring to a discussion of education?
– I wish I could still find a reference to the data I saw that showed the rate of increase of YouTube content increasing over time even as it becomes harder to reach any specific level of exposure/fame/hits/ success. Plus the related idea of average quality going down while total content increases.

* – the idea for the title of this post and the intro picture popped into my head through the association with digital data and digital lives. I am well aware of the grim and ironic nature of the song. There is no intentional reference to any digital-media-is-the-end-of-the-world type of theme!

Of online books

July 8, 2009

Uncertain Principles is having a little discussion of books and web publishing. Nothing really new; books have certain advantages because of the nonzero cost of creating them while web documents have different advantages due to their effectively zero cost to create. The comments bring up an interesting issue, why can’t you create a web site that mimics a book?

But your first argument that the book lays out the argument completely, coherently, contemporaneously, chiseled and channeled (great alliteration, huh?) isn’t a very good one. There’s no reason whatsoever why a web site – even a blog – couldn’t present this same thing.

You could write your book and when it’s done, post all of the chapters on your blog at once. How is this any different from writing a book and publishing it all at once?

You could have honed your arguments as you wrote just as with a trad. book. You could have consulted others as you wrote. You could have received editing advice as you wrote. It’s the same process right up until you either post the completed work online or you send it to be published. I see no difference.

Once published in either format, it’s the same book. It’s just as long online as it is published. It has just as many words, sentences, paragraphs and chapters. It has the same footnotes/end notes (except that they’re simply easier for the reader to track online than on a printed page). It can have an index and a glossary (although you sci-bloggers seem lamentably loathe to create such things!).

The problem is really one of expectations and technology. The web is currently a place of shorter pieces. It is a place of multi-tasking and short attention spans. The whole paradigm of the web fights against someone sitting down to digest a serious 200+ page manuscript. Even the best edited, well maintained and well thought out web book would tend to be swallowed up in the rapid pace of online discussion only to be dropped as a newer thing came along. Without the barrier to entry, and thus authority, built into the physical book there is little way or reason for a web book to stand against the noise.

Active versus Passive

June 30, 2009

I’m not sure what to make of yesterday’s interaction between my learning behavior and my son’s learning behavior.

He’s taking an online computer game design class using the FANG Java engine. Overall its proving to be a good experience but he had run into a stumbling block yesterday. He entered a program and found a more cryptic error instead of the common syntax errors. He tried a few things but was obviously frustrated. We talked about the error which seemed to help but at one point he stated that he wanted to just post a question in the class’s online forum to ask if anyone else had run into that error and, if so, how had they solved it.

I found myself completely opposed to this idea. In many respects its a good idea; don’t waste time reinventing the wheel, use the communities knowledge, ask for help so that when the problem comes up again you’ll know what to do. Its even, as he quickly informed me, exactly what I told him was the best method of solving his earlier problem with the class (issues with the Wimba tool that the class uses). He went ahead and wrote the post but didn’t post it until after he tried some of the things that I and my wife suggested (comparing his code to another student’s code, Googling the error message, rechecking some things in the book and the online docs). He found the problem and never posted the message.

Is it just me and my old school thinking that just posting a question and waiting for someone else to answer is too passive? Sometimes it is the best strategy but in this case he succeeded on his own with just some encouragement and direction even if, in many respects, what he ended up doing was asking the “local web” of knowledge in the form of me and my wife. We were a little less direct then a classmate would have been since we mostly provided methods of resolving the problem not specific solutions but its unclear that the distinction (or the general usefulness of the methods) sunk in.