Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Semantic Web and Universal Design

W3c semantic web stackImage via WikipediaI have been looking at PopcornJS this morning. PopcornJS allows programmers to build in triggerable events in the code delivering a video in a webpage. What problems does that solve? One of the things we are wrestling with at the college is accessibility. According to ADA 508, all videos have to be captioned. We have grants for captioning videos. I have always thought that we should be doing more. If we follow the principles of Universal Design, we are not only making media accessible, but we are crafting learning modules and objects for their maximum interactivity and, what I feel is the next step, connectivity. Videos and other learning content represent another opportunity to link students to subject matter experts and other students. We can integrate learning modules with knowledge networks. One avenue of exploration is HTML5 and the semantic web. We can do more than just caption videos - we can take the metadata, the code in that accompanies the video and package it with a transcript of the video to trigger events and things like live links to Twitter, Flickr, Google Maps & Translate, Wikipedia, etc. PopcornJS is the code that will allow us to do this. There is an interesting page and demo on PopcornJS.

This is what the internet should be doing. There are too many tools like this available for us to accept content from publishers that is not accessible. Publishers will often supply textbooks and supplementary content that does not meet ADA guidelines. Educators and instructional designers should be taking the lead in the colleges using techniques like PopcornJS and not waiting for the commercial publishers to catch up. They have no interest in meeting ADA guidelines because they are not the ones that have to deal with the consequences. In my quest to make the internet a happier, shinier place, I am not calling for a boycott of those companies but suggesting a solution. Colleges could pool their resources (programmers, beta-testers, and content creators) to help move this project along much in the same way the Sakai project is supported. The commercial uses for something like PopcornJS are obvious - someone looks up and watches a surfing video in YouTube. The video opens in a page with a map of the area where the video was filmed, a link to the TripAdvisor page on the area, the Twitter feed about the surf from the locals, and of course, more targeted marketing. But imagine taking that page as a teacher or instructional designer and building in other learning modules, maps, translations and connections.

Colleges should be setting the standards for media and the semantic web to, at minimum, ensure accessibility. We should go farther and develop guidelines for content around interactivity and connectivity. The semantic web and projects like PopcornJS represent another opportunity to open up education. What do we call these? Semantic knowledge guidelines?
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Friday, January 28, 2011

Rethinking Education from Mike Wesch

Michael Wesch - Pop!Tech 2009 - Camden, MEImage by poptech via FlickrMike Wesch posted this video to YouTube via his channel. I like his work. I have been in classrooms that size before, and he seems to make his work just as much about that class as the rest of the world. I love that he starts this out with a quote from McLuhan who becomes more relevant as information and networks expand and deepen. I am really interested in assessing user-created content like Wikipedia, collaborative projects, and personal blogs. This kind of content is no longer the information of the future but what is happening today. Creating content via social media and networks is a different project than a 20-page research paper with a single author. The kind of culture that sustained that kind of academic research is shrinking and yet, that is what we are training students to do: to publish in journals that will no longer exist in the form they are currently in IF they will even exist at all. What Wesch's videos do is get people thinking about what we need to do as teachers and students to participate in this "new" culture. One of his first videos "A vision of students today," was seen by some faculty I showed it to as depressing and confrontational. It depends on your perspective, I guess. Another faculty member I was working with saw it as a wake-up call - a joyful, liberating call and we rewrote her syllabus to include the tools the students were actually using. In other words, it is painfully obvious that the media we are using to teach is woefully out-dated and becoming irrelevant. The only people who are going to go on and make a living writing 20-page papers are people who are going to go on to make other students write 20-page papers or publish in journals that publish 20-page papers. And why would you assess every subject the same way? We are missing an opportunity to help students become life-long, creative participants in knowledge creation.

I am interested in your response to Wesch's work. Feel free to comment: where do you think assessment is going to go in the world of collaborative authorship and social media?

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Saturday, January 22, 2011

OER, Open Textbooks, and Innovation

Aristarchus's 3rd century BC calculations on t...Image via WikipediaIn a recent blog posting from Cable Green, he posted a note on the new grant from the Dept. of Labor which is requiring an open license on all materials built for the grant, which means that the author is attributed but the work is open for others to copy, adapt and distribute. This is "in order to further the goal of career training and education and to encourage innovation..."

 "Innovation" is a fairly recent word. The Oxford has it back to only 1553 in English; "the alteration of what is established by the introduction of new elements or forms." It is from the Latin "innovare" meaning "to change" or "renew." It doesn't, interestingly enough, imply inventing things out of thin air. It was not always the compliment that it is today. Overly ambitious people, it was thought, were the kind who introduced novelties. As the progression of change in world culture heats up exponentially, we recognize the differences between useful innovation and the mere novelties even if it takes a generation or two.

How does innovation happen? There are a number of theories out there - one that has been popular for a few millenium is the idea of the "Lone Genius." Before the 1780s or so it was based on the idea that an authority, that is "The Authority," often divinely inspired, would spontaneously have a really great idea (consider here of Aristarchus or Leonardo). In the Romantic Era, the "lone genius" was inspired and often slightly insane. He had to be a tortured outsider, (e.g. Coleridge or Frankenstein). But there are a lot of ideas that unfold out of a community. I tend to think that a culture of innovation arises out of necessity (the village needs more food) and then someone looks at other problems the village has (seasonal flooding) and then has an intuitive leap that brings the two problems together into a solution (irrigation). What is the difference between that village and the village that failed? Maybe it is because there are also cultures of dormancy - where folks try to innovate using the same paradigms and tools as they have always used but try to apply them to a radically new problem. Sometimes that is okay for quite a long while. We are basically sending satellites into orbit with 18th century physics. It is working so why not? It will continue to work until we are faced with a larger problem that requires a very accurate definition of gravity.

So what does this have to do with Open Education Resources and open textbooks? One way of looking at the problem of open textbooks is to look at technologies, formats (open and proprietary), and distribution systems.  This is the old way. This is textbook authoring as a product. Products require support from corporations, distributors, editors, vettors, etc. In other words it is centered on the object rather than the act. Where is the innovation? The innovation in all of this is quietly going on around us in colleges like College of the Redwoods where the Math dept. saw the problem of Math textbooks and brought existing technologies together into their community (their department). The innovation is coming from places like Wikieducator where the tools are being created not just to create textbooks, but to facilitate the community needed for the real innovations to come.

At College of the Redwoods, the instructors knew that there was no textbook currently out there that would serve the specific needs of their students: those needs are not just financial although Humboldt County is in pretty dire straights much like the rest of California. Those needs are also the preparedness of the students based on what is happening in the local high schools, and the needs of local business and industry. There is no one but the department that could ultimately vet a textbook to meet those problems other than the community that is experiencing them.

It is my sincere hope that the direction that the OER community is going is not to figure out how to continue to traditionally silo knowledge and information but to inspire the creativity and facilitate the community-building necessary to solve one of the most important problems of our time: access to education. We need more research on how to facilitate open textbook creation on college campuses. There are successful models out there. Lets find out how they work.

I am interested in your feedback on what you think helps create a culture of innovation on campuses today or give us some of your favorite examples of grassroots learning and home-rolled open education resources.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning

Blended LearningImage via Wikipedia
This report Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development  Policy and Program Studies Service is an interesting contribution to the "no significant difference" phenomena in distance education. I like that this report does not attribute success in online learning to any media but to the teaching and learning practices.

A systematic search of the research literature from 1996 through July 2008 identified more than a thousand empirical studies of online learning. Analysts screened these studies to find those that

  • contrasted an online to a face-to-face condition,
  • measured student learning outcomes,
  • used a rigorous research design, and
  • provided adequate information to calculate an effect size.
As a result of this screening, 50 independent effects were identified that could be subjected to meta-analysis. The meta-analysis found that, on average, students in online learning conditions performed modestly better than those receiving face-to-face instruction. The difference between student outcomes for online and face-to-face classes—measured as the difference between treatment and control means, divided by the pooled standard deviation—was larger in those studies contrasting conditions that blended elements of online and face-to-face instruction with conditions taught entirely face-to-face. Analysts noted that these blended conditions often included additional learning time and instructional elements not received by students in control conditions. This finding suggests that the positive effects associated with blended learning should not be attributed to the media, per se. An unexpected finding was the small number of rigorous published studies contrasting online and face-to-face learning conditions for K–12 students. In light of this small corpus, caution is required in generalizing to the K–12 population because the results are derived for the most part from studies in other settings (e.g., medical training, higher education).
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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Open Education Resources - Free Math Textbooks

Infinitesimal Calculus 5Image via WikipediaCable Green was featured in the Chronicle of Higher Education in an article called "State of Washington to Offer Online Materials as Texts" by Martha Ann Overland. I loved the article because it promotes all of the things I am so excited about in education right now: free, openly licensed textbooks, open education resources, and the creation of communities that are creating freely accessible learning materials. It is a well-written and balanced article that discusses the promise and possibilities of OER as well as the problems

I was surprised to see that they were having problems finding math resources: "During a recent meeting of mathematics professors and librarians who are designing the courseware for Washington's algebra, precalculus, and statistics courses, it was clear that no one was completely satisfied with what could be found online." 

I work at College of the Redwoods where the Math department has created a couple of textbooks and I received an email from David Nelson who is the project manager for the Florida Distance Learning Consortium to let me know about the free pre-algebra textbooks at the Stitz-Zeager website (this looks like an excellent collection).

There is also a free webinar happening on Thurs. Jan. 13th on a free online math textbook at The Stitz-Zeager Open Access Precalculus Project.

There are links to College of the Redwoods open math textbooks in this post here:
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Saturday, January 08, 2011

Guido Europeaantje on Twitter and professional development.

Guido's students3 @europeaantjeImage by eltpics via Flickr
Guido is an EFL teacher in Seville, Spain. He coordinates the teens’ department of the school where he works and conducts teacher-training workshops. After more than 10 years of experience his professional development has started taking giant steps forward again thanks to the power of Twitter.
He gave an over-view of Twitter in his workshop called "Twitter: Turn 140 Characters into a Virtual Staffroom." He compares Twitter (for teachers) as a virtual staffroom where teachers can get together, share resources and ideas. 
I love that he gets that Twitter is about networks. There are too many users out there who think that it is a "microblog" or a one-way push of information. He emphasized, as we do here, the importance of following and following someone back - i.e network building. 
Guido writes that "Many educators worldwide connect on Twitter. This workshop is meant for teachers who are unfamiliar with Twitter or who aren´t very active on it (yet). The short messaging system Twitter can be turned into a huge virtual staffroom where teachers from around the world meet, communicate, support each other and share teaching tips, resources, weblinks and opinions. Come and discover some tools and tricks to help you keep up with “what´s happening” on Twitter."
Guido promotes Twitter as a personal learning network. "It is a communication tool. You have to interact with people." It is a medium for sharing. 

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Thursday, January 06, 2011

Universal Customer Support Dice

DicepoolImage by Dru! via FlickrMost technology problems happen at random, why shouldn't your tech support answers be random as well? That is the idea behind the 12-sided Universal Customer Support Die. A customer calls, you roll the die, and you have an answer for any eventuality! Download the file, cut and assemble the die, and you have the foundation for your own customer support business
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