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Get Savvy with Interactive (Rich) Media.

Rich Media is different from typical media in the sense that it has some point of interactivity. (To be honest, I’m not sure if Rich or Interactive is the preferred nomenclature.) Advertisers are all over this. The web is increasingly splattered with flashy little ad widgets inducing you to click on them.

Teachers like to rant about the failing attention spans of young people. Never mind that they’ve been doing that since the classroom was invented, instead lets pay attention to the fact that teachers can now upgrade the delivery of their material.

The pedagogy behind this lies on three central tenants – chunking, inquiry-based learning, safe self-remediation. Material can be broken down into bites manageable by our 8 minute attention spans. Students can explore information as they develop questions. And, students capable of monitoring their understanding can interact with the material more to be sure they do understand it without revealing to their peers that they needed a little extra help.

Teachers: not so savvy with Rich Media. Of course, this will change over time. Online services are popping up to get this show on the road. Of the services available, I recommend Omnisio to make interactive media out of your PowerPoints and Apture to make it out of your texts. These are basic start points to get you on the road to interactive media.

Omnisio allows you to chunk a video with slides and allows both the author and users to make comment bubbles on the fly. Your video, in addition to supporting the jumping from one slide to another, will now become an interactive discussion.

Apture allows hyperlinks in online text to become an interactive, inquiry-based learning object. Links pop up embedded content, from simple text to rich media in itself. Students browsing your articles or blog can jump from perusal to in depth understanding just by following the click trail.

In general, there is a scale of interactivity and the simple ability to fast forward, rewind, speed up and slow down is a huge advantage to the static continuum of information delivery in the classroom. Of course, technology can also offer more sophisticated ways to monitor understanding and get richer and more interactive. But if I was trying to set you off on a path to building a Massively Multiplayer Onling Role Playing Game you’d probably not start.

Feeds in the Educational Context

Vicki Davis speculated here that FriendFeed’s new groups feature meant that you could keep a feed running for your class.  True.  But, why would you want to?  (<- rhetorical)  And, if you’re designing educational technology, why include a feed as a feature?

In that Psychology of Facebook class at Stanford I was taking, we talked a lot about explaining the compelling nature of the Social Web to people that “just don’t get it.”  (Like, your mom or people that only email when their forwarding pictures of LOLcats.)  So, I figured I’d give it a go.

You should develop a CourseFeed because:

1.    Interpersonal attraction amongst students.  “Attraction” here is not sexual, it’s the general gravitational pull of one person upon another, and according to psychology that’s highly correlated to familiarity with a person.  For instance, I’m attracted to Vicki Davis not because I’d like to take her on a date to the Olive Garden, but because she occupies my RSS reader, my Twitter, and my Facebook status updates.  Everywhere I go online, I see her.  If I walked into a digital bar in Second Life, I’d probably go over to her table first and make fun of all the other avatars that I’m not familiar with.  Students spend half a semester just getting comfortable with one another.  This would be greatly accelerated with a CourseFeed.

2.    Aggregating casually shared content, asynchronously.  Schools still haven’t figured this one out – the world has moved from a “synchronous” model where everyone has to be present at the same time, to an “asynchronous” one where I do my bit at my convenience and you do your bit at yours.  As is, if you are going to share something with the class, they all need to be in class.  Absent ones – they won’t know.  Ones that aren’t paying attention, they won’t get it.  I know, I know, they stiffs in the administration pay for some system you don’t use that can handle some asynchronous information distribution. But, students don’t log in so it’s useless.   But they don’t log in because the content there is generally formal and unidirectional (coming from you, cough (boring) cough).  Kids want to share and publish themselves.  They’re doing it everywhere online and guess what, right now you nor your class are included in the fun.

There are my reasons.  Take’em or leave em.  Oh, and follow me on FriendFeed, I’m lonely over there.   Oops, one more thing, join the Classroom 2.0 Room.

Courses on Facebook Guide for Instructors

It’s no secret that I stepped out of the classroom momentarily to jump at entrepreneurial pursuits on the internet.  My team and I are working on trying to create products that can manage casual, social yet academic relationships on opening social networks.  Our product, Courses on Facebook, has had over 200 thousand users just in the past 8 months.

By far my most popular post has been about Facebook; it was a guide for instructors thinking about using Facebook.  I figured I’d put up a guide on how to use our product more specifically.  Students have entered over 500 instructors and their email addresses and we’re about to email them.  I want them to have some idea what they are getting into.

So, here it is:

Courses on Facebook: A Guide for Instructors

If your campus has a buzz about Facebook, feel free to email me at mpstaton (that at sign I can’t use here so I don’t get spammed)  I’d be happy to talk shop and arrange a training.  I can even bring Facebook, the actual company, into the mix.

Facebook atop Top Tools for Learning?

John Curry, a professor of Instructional Technology at Oklahoma State University, listed his top ten tools for learning.  What I find very hearting about the list is that so few are actually an enterprise tool sold to educational institutions.  The rest are products targeting the general public for nothing specific to learning.  How is it that the tools most helpful to pedagogy do not have a pedagogical theorist’s underpinnings?

* Facebook
* Google
* Google Reader
* Garage Band
* iTunes
* Google Scholar
* Wink
* Blogs (in general)
* Desire2Learn
* Wikispaces
* Voicethread
* MyLabSchool
* Meebo

My theory on why educators and students prefer the consumer internet to enterprise solutions is the way they are created.

Enterprise solutions generally start with a political and bureaucratic process resulting with a requirements document that has too much in it.  The company works to meet those requirements, and by nature its delivered late and does half what was promised and typically doesn’t really function for a good while.  If they deliver the contracted item, they don’t make any more money if people actually like/use/come back to the site.

The consumer internet starts with a couple of dudes who put up something sticky and then use comprehensive user data to build a coherent user experience around a handful of major features.  They have to pay attention to user activation and retention to survive.  In fact, they must build something so compelling that users like it so much they go refer other people to the site.  What this should mean to education and educators is that consumer internet companies are a much more capable model of software development to build something that’s nice to use and is always up.

Incentive pay plans, value-add, and technology.

Having been a recipient of incentive pay, I say with a straight face that we must move forward with incentive pay programs.

One of the huge shortfalls of the education system is the non relationship between aptitude/ performance with advancement in either wage or influence. A small bonus of a few thousand dollars won’t be as determinant as either making teaching more exclusive or empowering teachers to have influence outside the classroom. However, any recognition of hard work is going to make those that work hard more satisfying.  The biggest problem with the Houston program was the secrecy. Knowing what goes into the calculation and acknowledging it measures what its supposed to be measuring could only help to motivate.

The biggest barrier to incentive pay moving forward will be the controversy around a single critque: a summative, end of year, half day, multiple-choice test every few years is simply not going to be an altogether accurate measure of a teacher’s value-add.   At least, not accurate enough to be adding the high stakes of unequal distribution of incentive pay.  The ultimate opportunity for educational technology will be to provide tools that serve as a much better reading of the value added to each individual student by each individual teacher. It will of course never be even close to being close. There are too many other unmeasurable variables. However, it could certainly be dramatically improved by a little ingenuity.   A good article on this is at Education Next.

Bang for the Public Buck

Like all massive disasters, this has to take place in New York City.  ARIS, the Achievement Reporting and Innovation System, is New York City’s web-based portal for NYC school teachers and students.  It is a case study that unfortunately typifies the experience of public education in technology.  While I generally encourage educational institutions to move towards technology, I can’t help but abhor the incompetence in how they go about it. 

First, those that sit on the school board have no idea what it costs to build a web application and thus the district is bound to get completely ripped off.  ARIS was built for the NYC public schools for a sum of $80 million dollars.  That’s a lot of money for IT infrastructure, even on a per student basis. 

Second, due to the giant pain of the “sales cycle” in education, all but the most cumbersome businesses wouldn’t even touch the market with a ten foot pole.  The company contracted to build ARIS was none other than IBM, and the result was precisely what one might expect: it’s down a lot, it’s painfully slow, it’s ugly, and few people use it outside of top-down mandates.   

This amidst enormous budget cuts – of course educators and administrators are angry  

Public Education is not taking cues from the rest of the world.  If it was, they would let young (cheap) technologists have at it.  Almost all the good web technology came out a few people sitting in their room tinkering, and within a year or two they created something useful, fast, and sometimes even pretty. 

Innovation almost never comes from the institutional players; it comes from small teams of people that pop up out of nowhere with something groundbreaking.  If education wants any piece of that action, they need to learn to skip the big money and the big companies and make room for all the little players out there trying to make products that make a difference to teachers and students.

Recommendation: Every district should set up a small committee with discretionary funds that can purchase or license technology on a whim with the specific objective of moving fast with smaller amounts of money. 

Apple is the Sleeping Giant

Little did we know, Apple has great resources for teaching that are completely under the radar.  Sure, we all know about I Tunes U.  But did we know about Apple Learning Interchange?  It blows Yahoo! Teachers out of the water in terms of content sharing. 

iTunes U is also very silently moving towards being the most effective content delivery tool on the planet for educators and academics trying to broadcast to either the whole world or just their students.  The best part – its subsidized by the movie industry.  Genius.  More than soon, teachers will be able to whip up a multimedia podcast using Podcast Producer, load it to a server, and share it with students at the click of a few buttons.  If it’s good, other instructors will find it as well. 

Data Interoperability Framework

So, in an earlier post I was proposing that schools use their Student Information Systems to make their data readable in XML. It turns out that SIS makers have been working on this, as usual in an overly-complicated, clunky, and proprietary way. But, they seem to have given it some serious thought. There are two standards organizations, one for higher ed, IMS Global, and one for k12, SIF. Of course, this doesn’t mean schools will make this data available to the entrepreneurial cowboys bent on revolutionizing education through AJAX, even though that’s what they should do because that’s the only way to help drive innovation in this industry on a hill.

Observations from the Bottom Up.

It’s not every day that some of the leading edubloggers give a noob a shout, but today both Michael Feldstein and Stephen Downes gave me air time. Downes even challenged me to write a little more often, so I thought I’d relay a depiction of a trend of which I seem to be a part.

There’s a lot of excitement for new internet products in education; in specific Web 2.0, scalable, affordable, interactive, usable, interoperable, and dependable products. This excitement didn’t come from administrators having shrimp and cocktail meetings with Blackboard, WebCT and D2L. It came from instructors seeing their students use products like Myspace, which suddenly made 100 million people publishers, and Facebook, which proved that it is possible to make highly scalable social networks while respecting privacy, and Ning, which made private social networks a few mouse clicks away. And let’s not forget those that came before – Friendster, Livejournal, and even Geocities – which managed to prove that young people are more than eager to leave Generation X and Why behind and move on to read/write, participatory, multimedia technoanarchademocratic culture.

Yes, Generation You has graduated and handed up their cultural tools to instructors, who are just now starting to realize the educational power of the read/write web. I will summarize this power in a single sentence: The web has the power to transform the work of a student shared with an audience of one teacher into a publication for all classmates, friends, peers, and the rest of the entire world. The entire set of excuses for apathy and lackadaisical efforts are no longer valid. The students’ work matters. It is no longer the practice, it is the event. It is no longer a 12 year audition, it’s a play in which everyone takes part and everyone has tickets.

Even till now, educational institutions have given poorly run technology firms hosting poorly made technology a monopoly of browser-based inter-school interaction. Each interaction is publishable only at the class level. Schools pay too much for not enough.

Conspicuously absent in all of this is the Silicon Valley entrepreneurial engine. Education is a locked gate, a closed door. It’s run by firms like Blackboard with BS patents and investors tied to Washington (Carlyle Group, so I hear).

This is on the verge of changing. There’s a silent movement boiling up. As long as instructors everywhere start demanding change, it will happen. Slowly, but surely. Forbidden Cities are opening their gates. Technlogies like Rails, CakePHP, and Django are letting kids with laptops build entire suites to solve problems in education. put out William Li at Berkeley and Oycas! put out by Arash Sanieyan from come to mind. These still don’t have much traction, but that’s because interests are still too entrenched and barriers are still too high. So, professors and teachers need to keep working their way around archaic systems, and start becoming vocal about the contrasts between systems that are locked in and closed and ones that seem to be readily available on the web.

Hey, a man can dream, can’t he? Join Educators Using Facebook if you are on Facebook.

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