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How do we get to the Learner as Customer?

Jon Mott hit a chord here with his post on the institution as customer rather than the learner as customer.

As I posted here on Michael Feldstein’s blog, I think that ultimately there needs to be a change in the way schools (Higer Ed and K-12) purchase technology for their communities in order to liberate the marketplace to build solutions that satisfy the end-user (instructor or learner).

The Web 2.0 marketplace is filled with great solutions that generally focus on one feature or at least one concept.  Flickr does photos.  YouTube does videos.  Delicious does bookmarks.  WordPress does blogs.  Disqus does comments.  Digg does news aggregation.  Wikispaces does wikis.  Second Life provides 3D worlds.  Facebook does sharing with friends.  What this produces (besides too many logins) is an environment where teams of people are pursuing excellence at one element of information production and sharing.  The overall effect is that in the last 3 to 4 years the web has gone from a place where companies put up their marketing/info websites and you can buy stuff on ebay, to a place where people are participants in the largest groundswell of information production in human history.

In order to liberate this kind of marketplace for the academic environment, individuals must be encouraged to use products that work for them.  The idea that the school can purchase one single solution and force everyone to use it needs to go the way of the dodo.  We need to move the mentality of decision makers from “What are the consequences of forcing everyone to use this?” to “How can we provide more opportunities for our teachers and learners to find solutions that work for them?”

How do we turn the learner into the customer?  Any comments, suggestions?

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.

Schools Need to Take Control of their Online Identity

Jeff Utecht made a great post here discussing the implications of students out there on the social web creating an online identity for their school.  They create Facebook groups, leave comments everywhere on MySpace, edit wiki pages, and even put up their own websites that represent their school in certain lights.  These disaggregated snippets form a dialogue out on the web that schools are completely ignoring.  Teachers and administrators need to be on the internet and the social web to take part in the discussion, at the very least to be aware of what is being said.

If you are an administrator or teacher, I’d be happy to talk to you about this.  You can also post at

RSS, Information and Education

The Newspaper is all but dead.  The responsibility of reading just one major metropolitan newspaper is long over.  Instead, the internet is teeming with publishers of both text and multimedia.  The immediate future is syndication over the internet, with individuals seeking out and customizing their own multimedia news sources, sharing them with friends and family, and publishing them over the internet.  Educators need to be actively involved in coaching young people to seek good information, keep themselves informed, and share and publish information online as a form of dialog between them, their friends, and the rest of society.

Netvibes, Pageflakes, and Google Reader are competing neck and neck to offer a top browser-based product that performs the best at RSS (Really Simple Syndication, an alternate form of viewing the material that has tags that other programs can understand and import) aggregation, organization, sharing, and publication.   They are the tools of choice for blog readers – the task of a blog reader is to stay abreast of enormous numbers of blogs.  It’s a job that’s as much filtering out poor sources, choosing relevant articles, and pushing good articles on others as it is reading.  It’s no relaxed reading the paper.

Oddly enough, the death of newspapers was part suicide.  They became less able to create new and original content through good (expensive) journalism by treating that practice as what stood between them and maximum profits.  Meanwhile, they got more adept and rehashing whatever came through the wire.  Now, there’s an ocean of news out there but not a drop to drink save a few bastions of integrity.

Enter blogosphere.

Fortunately, a lot of bloggers are in the thick of industries or locations newsworthy, and they put out content for free as a mode of self-expression or community building.  Watchdog organizations and activists can now publish instantaneously and at little cost.  In a way, we’re just getting rid of the middle man.

Unfortunately, the blogosphere is not full of skilled writers trained in the scruples of effective and moral journalism.  That middle man, the journalist, was the filter.  People trusted that the local paper of any decent sized town would inform them of all relevant information at the local, state, national, and perhaps even global level.  The responsibility was to read one paper.   Filtering done for you.

Now that every day citizens in their jobs and their locations and their activities are becoming both the content producers and the content filters, there’s more responsibility for intelligent information processing than ever.  Educators have to take more responsibility for teaching the student ways to cope with infinite information, ways to discern the quality of information, and ways to interpret and use that information.

Here Comes Everybody: Gin, Television, and Social Surplus repost

Ok folks, I’m rarely going to use any reader-capital to repost.  But I really like this speech.

Gin, Television, and Social Surplus

Netbooks Will Have No Clothes, Too: The Lack of Social Computing Tools for the Classroom

Reading about NetBooks in EdWeek, I found it odd that laptop manufacturers are still talking about the quantity of computers and the glory of the 1:1 computer/child ratio.  Studies and anecdotal evidence demonstrate that there is no positive influence on learning outcomes, a la The Laptop Revolution Has No Clothes.  You can find videos of college students confessing they “facebook through every class.”  In public education, the measure of success is often the purchase of new technology even as schools sink.  Principals show off shiny new computers and computer labs as if this is a proxy for increased performance.

In addition, the education zeitgeist seems to be pushing relevant and targeted “content.”  Instead of looking at a boring old textbook, the student can get their learning materials in the form of cocoa puff commercials.  However, changing the content’s entertainment value does not address the lack of interaction and educational social computing.  People don’t want to just use the internet to look up articles and watch videos, they want to interact and publish.  In this vein, schools are not just behind – they are a non-start, they’re not even in the race.

The discussion needs to move from the quantity of computers, to the quality of programs written specifically for educational interactions.  Social Computing needs to happen to facilitate asynchronous communication and collaboration, as well as real-time classroom tools to address information asymmetries, differentiation, and data insights and reporting.

We’re working on these problems at Inigral, so if you have any ideas let us know!

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.

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. 

Best Practices for Educators Using Facebook

I gave a presentation at Classroom 2.0 Live this past weekend about best practices for educators using facebook. Here’s the presentation, Driving Engagement and Belonging with Facebook, if you want to have a look.

Driving Engagement and Belonging with Facebook

Right click the link above and open it in a different window.  The presentation uses the Courses application on facebook towards the end.

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