Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Microsoft vs. Google - The Education Edition (Round 2)

Universities used to maintain their own power supply. Google Apps Education Edition wants to take all the trouble of maintaining that power supply off your hands. Schools suffer from costly (both financially and time-wise) IT systems: emails, directory, storage, and databases. Google wants to leverage its own systems on behalf of schools.

Google Education Edition provides:
-Mail, gtalk
-Google Docs: online document, spreadsheet, presentation, creation and sharing
-Google Forms
-Google sites – team website creation with videos, images, gadgets, and documents integration
-Google Video (secure and private video sharing – 10 GB free)
-Google personalized start page
-shared calendars
-free for students, faculty, staff, alumni (with no advertising)
-6.5gf of mail quotas
-at @school.edu
-24x7 support
-access to extensibility APIs integrate with your system

Real time collaboration:
One of the most powerful things that Google provides is real-time sharing and access to documents, presentations, spreadsheets, and sites from anywhere, on any device. Multiple people can collaborate on one document at the same time. “Stop attaching and start sharing.”

YouTube has surpassed Yahoo as the 2nd most used search engine. Google Video is provided as part of the Education Edition package. The fact that students are turning to video for both knowledge content and creation gives Google a leg up.

Time and financial savings:
Google apps is a free system that allows schools to outsource all their systems: email, directory, storage, servers, and database.

Education Edition provides APIs to integrate with your system. They have also newly provided an integration with Outlook using Google Apps Sync for Microsoft Outlook.

Resource Center:
The Resouce Center includes just launched additions and new updates, webinars, and lesson plans (organized by app, subject, and grade level) for K-12. Here is a lesson plan provided on the Impact of Photography.

Google apps is much more focused on a meaningful integration between web and documents, and producing content with other people (shared Docs, calendars, website, video, with real-time collaboration). The Resource Center also exemplifies the open source, collaborative benefits of sharing on Google. A current major issue that Dawson points to with Google Docs are their formatting issues. Right now the apps are not going to produce beautiful, polished, accurately formatted pieces of work. Both Microsoft and Google products provide a cloud-based document storage and sharing system. So with Google being free does it become the automatic winner? Stay tuned for a side by side comparison in round 3.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Microsoft vs. Google - The Education Edition (Round 1)

The two competing behemoths both understand the growth that will be coming from the education technology sector, and they both want in. This fits in particular with Microsoft’s way of doing business, by creating useful, uniform tools that are used by large organizations, and become so ingrained in them that the switching costs are high. Large organizations (such as a public school or district) is Microsoft’s target audience. This varies from Google's audience which has been more individual consumer focused to date, but is now hoping to expand into organizational arenas.

Let's start with Microsoft Live@edu:

A single sign-on for cloud based portal accessibility
Free email with @domain name for students
Shared calendaring
Office Live Workspace: for collaborative document editing
Creation of notes that can be shared
Windows Live Skydrive: 25GB of internet based file storage
-Password protected - students can decide who sees what
-Drag and drop your folders from your hard drive to the web
-Shared folders: Good for group projects: the whole team can upload, download, and collaborate on documents and other files
Windows Live Spaces: provides a web space where you can share ideas and information using documents, blogs, discussion groups. Great for "group projects, campus clubs, or personal webpages". You can also add people to your network, including through facebook.
Windows Live Messaging
Windows Live Mobile (mobile device access to email, messaging)

Enables you to create, edit, and securely access content from the school's site from anywhere.

Social aspect:
Organize, track and easily share classroom information, interests, expertise and find colleagues. The Windows Live Spaces in particular makes use of blogs, discussions, social networks and accesses facebook.

It offers intergration with all current Microsoft Office, Exchange, SharePoint, and Active Directory systems and software.

IT departments will be given more flexibility and control to set up and manage their school’s collaboration and productivity tools in a security-enhanced environment, as well as the ability to access and manage permissions to sites, documents and content (pictures, videos) with "enterprise-class control."

Learning Management System (LMS) Plug-in:
One of the latest additions is a free plug in for the Moodle LMS, providing access to many of the Live@edu services directly within the popular, open source Moodle application.

Announced on November 3rd, Microsoft has dropped the price in order to compete with Google's free model. This puts Microsoft more in the game in an industry that is plagued with budget cuts, especially in this very difficult recession time.

This is a great opportunity for those organizations that are already reliant on Microsoft Office, Sharepoint, Exchange, and other Microsoft products, to enable users to easily access and edit documents in the cloud. As mentioned above, Live@edu is an attempt to grab a growing sector of the technology market. It also aims to have MS become part of a student's work as students so that they are comfortable and familiar with it when transitioning to the professional world. They write on their own website: "Equip your students for the real world" (aka the world with MS that they won't want to give up).

Stay tuned for Round 2: Google Education Apps.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Digital media in an educational exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History

The American Museum of Natural History's new exhibition The Silk Road opened on Saturday. The exhibit lays out the journey from Xi'an, Turfan, Samarkand, to Baghdad showing the products and cultures of each area. The exhibit is highly educational, explaining processes of the Silk Road, how it was travelled, how silk was made, the foods, spices, and textiles that travelled, as well as the languages, religions, knowledge tools (paper, calligraphy), and knowledge that travelled along the road. The exhibit borrowed pieces from various museums in order to have sculpture, paper, silks, and artwork be part of the exhibit.

One of the most interesting and educational pieces of the exhibit was a large horizontal digital screen that was able to show you almost everything that was included in the entire exhibit on a large map. Musical instruments, spices, silks, materials, aromatics, languages, religions, were all laid out on the map simply by clicking on the various buttons. In addition, it includes features that change over time such as populations that would swell and decrease around the cities while centuries were marked off at the bottom of the map (shown in the image above).

This map was placed toward the end of the exhibit, which was great because it included all the aspects of the exhibit in one interactive map. I liked it as an educational tool because it was controlled by the user and laid out the information in an easy and clear way. It traced the lineage of products like musical instruments and how they travelled on the Silk Road to evolve into what the Europe and the West used (how Central Asia's Ud became the Lute). By putting it directly on the map it made it very clear, both written and visually, to see how great was the distance travelled, and how interconnected were the developments in products and knowledge. And it was fun to use. It is interactive, provides multiple presentations (written and visual) of the material, and fun: many of the markings of a great digital education tool.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Take your paper back: Kindle, Nook, Intel E-reader

4th and 5th graders got the lower lockers at my elementary school. Grades 6-8 got the higher level of lockers. That means that, to torture the younger students, they would frequently “accidentally” drop their bags on your head while trying to put their 30 pound backpacks filled with textbooks for every subject into their lockers.

Fortunately for small, sweet children everywhere, the textbook will soon go out of style as a torture device. And no one is about to drop their $300 e-reader on your head.

The Kindle is moving its way into the education world. The Kindle clearly has many great attributes: you can have all your textbooks, as well as thousands of other books in one location, and you can comment and annotate all over them.

The Nook one-upped the Kindle by having wi-fi access, and with the ability to share books with friends for up to two-weeks, smartphones or computers. The Nook will also be able to get books from the Google Books Project. (Barnes & Noble Unveils Kindle-Killing, Dual-Screen ‘Nook’ E-Reader, Wired.com). I think a great step forward with an education e-reader would be that the e-reader allows users to share notes and passages with fellow classmates. If sharing is not allowed universally, then perhaps a class group could be formed to allow for this type of limited but beneficial sharing.

One wonderful invention is aimed to assist the estimated 55 million people in the U.S. who have dyslexia or other specific learning disabilities, or have vision problems such as low-vision or blindness, which makes reading printed words difficult or impossible. The Intel E-reader turns written text into spoken words and can convert either text files or pages photographed with the built-in camera (Intel e-reader combines Atom processor and accessibility, ZDNet) into text or spoken words. This device provides for the capabilities the others do not have: capturing the book as an image, text, or audio file and being able to copy and paste and share any part of those files.

Cushing Academy, a boarding school, has taken a great leap by spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on renovating its library. The school is getting rid of the actual, physical books in favor of going digital. The library removed the stacks and added couches, to create a physical space for the digital environment. They explained they were meeting the students where they go to research (online). The library traded in its 20,000-volume collection for a database of millions of digital books. All students can read any of the books, either through the 68 Amazon Kindles around campus or on the laptop that each of the school's 450 students is provided (Digital School Library Leaves Book Stacks Behind, NPR) . But this has raised some concerns and complaints. The students don’t love their kindles, many say annotating is slow and annoying. A complaint from the President of the American Library Association said "Students learn differently, and some students will take to digital resources and information technology like a duck takes to water," Alire says. "And then there are other students who learn by turning the pages, by handling the materials." Creating easy ways of transferring the materials between physical and digital may be useful to deal with this issue, however, more likely the expense saved and possibilities opened up by creating digital libraries and resources for students will force students to have to adapt to the new paperlessback book.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

"Hey kids, let's put on a show!”

Film is one of the most pervasive art forms throughout the U.S. While not everyone may get to see Picasso or the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, film reaches a huge amount of the population. Since youths are already exposed to and enjoy film, it can be a great way to introduce students to a variety of the art that goes into filmmaking: theater, literature, acting, music, composition, instrumental and vocal performance, and if it is a musical film, dance as well.

Because of the possibilities of film to be an excellent tool for both creative and documentation work, several schools have found ways to incorporate what becomes a cheaper technology everyday into their curriculum. Some teachers have made inexpensive equipment (flip cameras and other mini-camcorders) learning tools in their classroom (“How Tiny Camcorders are Changing Education”, eLearn Magazine) . Laurie Rowell interviewed a few teachers using mini camcorders who believe “that using camcorders as a medium is affecting not only the message but the student communicators and their learning process.”

A few ways that it was used include:

1) one teacher uses it as part of a final project for a writing class for an oral history video. Wolff's plan was to 1) get the students to apply "the metaphors of writing" (research, drafting, revisions) to video composition and 2) challenge the students to reconsider preconceived ideas about writing. In Wolff's course, the technology was the lesson. "Students had to become critically aware of the social, political, and rhetorical implications of the technology they were using, and not just learn how to use it effectively.”

2) Investigative Interviews for Biomedical Devices
In a course on biomedical engineering at Duke University, student teams create custom medical assistive devices. Armed with the mini video cameras, students recorded interviews with disabled clients, in which the clients explain what they can do on their own, and later, what they can do with assistive prototypes. Video recording helped the student's interviews and the projects themselves, since it helped the students to be able to replay what they saw and discussed with the patients. Presentations were done via YouTube and video conferencing, which Professor Caves said "really helped to improve the quality of those presentations."

3) Community Service Analysis
Jennifer Ahern-Dodson also teaches at Duke, and she saw an opportunity to use Flip camcorders for a service-learning course she teaches. In this course, students do critical analysis and evaluation of their community-service involvement. She had students record both by video and field notes. She noted that the videos caused them to have sharper memory, crisper analysis, and “she was pleased with the way lines of demarcation changed as the videos helped students see themselves as part of the community… 'We all could look at the video and see for ourselves—and not rely just on a verbal re-telling by one person. This Flip video became part of our collective class inquiry.' "

Jack Dunagan at Institute for the Future noted that video is now an important way for young people to acquire knowledge, and YouTube has surpassed Yahoo as the second leading search engine. He also noted that "teachers should no longer expect the classroom to be a private, walled-off space for learning, but an open and potentially very public space, as videos are captured and uploaded to sites such as YouTube."

Video recording will no doubt have a huge affect on the learning and project creation for each student, as they can be deeply involved in the process used to create a work, and be able learn from their own and each other’s videos and creations. In addition to a learning tool, students may be overjoyed to have what had once seemed like a distant and prohibitively expensive art form become something that could be potentially an elective course or formal study in their middle school or high school. Since film’s inception, the tools of video and sound have created such an overwhelming cost structure that the primary participants in the creation of film have been the Hollywood producers with a great amount of capital to support their projects. But now that the tools of film recording (through flip phones and mini camcorders) and film creation and editing (such as through Apple’s iMovie) are more affordable and accessible, the possibilities to incorporate film into public schools, as both part of non-arts courses, and also as independent filmmaking courses, are now real and inexpensive for the first time.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Guitar lessons through skype

New York based classical guitarist and pedagogue Kevin R. Gallagher is one of the world's leading classical guitarists. He was the first-prize winner in the 1993 Guitar Foundation of America, the 1994 American String Teachers Association, the 1993 Artists International Competition, and most notably, the only American classical guitarist ever to win first prize in the prestigious Francisco Tárrega Guitar Competition in Spain (1997). He has recorded four classical guitar CDs and his recording for Naxos Records Guitar Recital- Music from the Renaissance and Baroque was hailed as "...one of the very best NAXOS guitar recordings" by Classical Guitar Magazine (London) in 2000.

Kevin Gallagher also teaches several students guitar, as well as teaches lessons through webcams and skype over the internet. Since private instrument lessons rely heavily on physical placement of the hands and body, the sound quality, and what the teacher is seeing, my initial reaction about private instrument lessons was that digital media and the internet would not be able to replace lessons in their current form, and that it was one of those “have to be there” type situations. However, Mr. Gallagher provides these internet lessons on a weekly basis. Here are a few of his thoughts:

EM: Why did you start doing skype lessons?

KG: It’s a great opportunity for students when they couldn’t connect with teachers who are close by. The physical distance is removed through the video. Also while skype has been around for a while, the sound and visual quality is now good enough to make these lessons possible.

EM: Is there any other reason why you would give a lesson through skype aside from distance?

KG: It’s only because they are far away. Sometimes students will come to NYC and make having a lesson a day of it, and alternate in-person lessons with skype.

EM: Do you teach all levels through skype?

KG: Yes, all levels, but they have to be able to read music. Especially since what we study is through digital scans/pdfs of the sheet music.

EM: Is there anything that you feel that you can’t do? I ask because I initially thought that it was important for a teacher to be able to physically place someone’s fingers and direct them to the right position.

KG: You do it without being there, because you have to do it. You adapt. For example, if you took my blender away, I would figure out how to do the same thing without a blender. So I improvise with my directions in order to get the students to do what I’m talking about. It’s important for the students to have an open mind so that they are able to experiment and figure it out for themselves. I can also give them references to use online- such as videos of other people playing in order for them to be able to see what it is that I am trying to communicate.

EM: Are there any disadvantages of skype versus an in-person lesson?

KG: For the teacher, it is very similar to a regular lesson. You are relying on the student hearing the sound you are trying to convey. So the problem becomes when you think the student sounds one way that they actually don’t. In order to deal with this, I have the student send me a higher quality recording of their playing before the lesson that we can both review. You can’t be in front of the students with your sound and presence resonating in their eardrums, and sometimes that’s what they need, but you work with what you have. Another problem is when the technology stops working; students don't accidentally disappear for a few minutes during a regular lesson.

EM: Are there any advantages over an in-person lesson?

KG: The weekly recording is an advantage, so that the student can hear their own work. It also becomes an interactive hour, where we can bring the huge library of resources on the internet into the lesson. There are so many video and audio resources that we can take advantage of, which are not usually used during an in-person lesson.

Mr. Gallagher has also posted various lessons on his YouTube channel. Learn from his lesson on Classical Guitar Counterpoint here:

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A couple political changes to keep track of

Economic stimulus funding and a larger budget for the U.S. Department of Education are creating a "fertile environment" for the growth of technology use in K-12 schools, according to a report released this year from Simba Information. ("More and More Educators Turning to Technology in the Classroom", Earth Times)

In May of this year, Sens. Kerry, Rockefeller, and Snowe introduced the "21st Century Skills Incentive Fund Act" into the Senate. The bill recognizes that, in order to prepare students for the modern workforce, "students need 21st century content, beyond the traditional core subjects, that includes global awareness, financial, economic, business and entrepreneurial literacy, civic literacy, and health and wellness awareness" and education must teach "critical thinking and problem solving skills, communication skills, creativity and innovation skills, collaboration skills, contextual learning skills, and information and media literacy skills."

Also, announced today, former Apple Executive and educator, Karen Cator, was appointed to head the educational technology initiatives at the U.S. Department of Education. This appointment is very exciting as she will bring "a passion for the potential of technology to improve teaching and learning" (Education Week). She plans to capitalize on the federal funding for educational technology to put new tools to use to improve teaching and learning.

As bureaucracy and orders from top down can often be what stops overhauls and changes in their tracks, the entrepreneurial executive, legislative, and financial support coming from the top will no doubt help create, feed, and support major changes as they are put into effect.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Outside of the classroom, but not extracurricular

CUarts created a program called ArtsLink which is designed to enable faculty to easily include arts events in their syllabi.

Here is a fun video explanation of it:

The program is based on the concept that the arts can help connect topics to audiences in a new way. This type of experiential education is valuable in a completely different way from reading a textbook. The program site indicates "Students, like everyone else, respond strongly to questions and themes expressed in a dramatic context, no doubt because drama depends on conflict. Is Hamlet crazy, grief-stricken, or very clever? Why does Hedda Gabler kill herself and her unborn child? Is Mary Stuart a victim of Elizabeth's ambition, or a necessary sacrifice to the stability of an endangered nation? Shakespeare, Ibsen and Schiller make these questions live." And a survey reported that 90 percent of students said the ArtsLink event "strongly" or "somewhat strongly" influenced their understanding of the related topic(s) discussed in class; and 85 percent of faculty reported that the event had a considerable to high degree of academic value. While many music humanities classes use it to take their classes to the opera, there are also many non-arts courses that use it to help their classes explores themes and topics, such as Introduction to the Study of Hispanic Cultures taking their classes to West Side Story, and Globalization and Politics in Africa taking classes to Ruined.

This is a fantastic program and a huge privilege of living in New York: that great art can be a part of your course experience and an excellent teaching tool. But what about the schools across the country that are not located in cultural centers?

For this again digital media can be a useful resource. For example, New U.K. company Digital Theater will make productions from high-profile British troupes including the Royal Shakespeare Company, Almeida, Royal Court Theater, English Touring Theater and the Young Vic available as Internet downloads, and the Met Opera presents live HD broadcasts of its operas throughout the season. These HD recordings and distribution could potentially be replicated with all sorts of dance, music, theater, and broadway performances. These will be useful not just for nationwide broadcasts, but also for individual class and student learning. For example, a school could use its screening room to show an early literature class Classic Stage Company's upcoming production of Age of Iron. Of course its not the same as being there, but I've heard from multiple sources that the Met Opera broadcasts are pretty close, and are very special considering the Met Opera is not available near them. Theater and music classes around the country will obviously want to take advantage of these resources, but it will also be a useful teaching tool for many non-arts classes, giving students the option of being able to experience (sometimes live!) and learn from some of the best performers in the world creating great art.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

More on the digital divide

Google held a forum on Wednesday entitled Breakthrough Learning in the Digital Age: "A new forum has been designed to advance a new paradigm for learning by harnessing the largely untapped potential of digital media. Breakthrough Learning in a Digital Age will bring together 200 of the nation’s top thought leaders in science and technology, informal and formal education, entertainment media, research, philanthropy, and policy to create and act upon a breakthrough strategy for scaling-up effective models of teaching and learning for children. The forum will showcase cutting edge research, proven and promising models to challenge decision-makers in key sectors to help "refresh and reboot" American global leadership in education."

Many speakers spoke of the advantages of equipping schools with the latest in digital technology, and widely distributing computers. As I discussed in a earlier post, many public school teachers have found the access to computers to be so difficult that they feel they cannot incorporate them into class in an efficient and effective way, and cannot assign work on them for homework, because students do not have them at home. Stephanie Olsen in "Will the Digital Divide Close by Itself?" wrote about how during the conference a "spat" broke out on the need to widely distribute the technology:

"Jim Steyer, chief executive of CommonSense Media and co-sponsor of the event, stressed that 'every kid needs to be digitally literate by the 8th grade' and called for a major public education campaign to make that happen. He argued that technology and learning are synonymous and that schools, parents, and kids must get up to speed in the next five years...Immediately after Mr. Steyer’s call to action, Reed Hastings, the founder and chief executive of Netflix, contradicted him directly, saying it would take well more than five years to bridge the divide...He said that gaps narrow naturally as the market evolves and prices drop, enabling more people to bring new technology into the home and schools...'We need to shift our expectations' Mr. Hastings said. 'This is a natural part of the evolution of technology.' ”

The speed by which computers need to scale is increasing, and it is reflected in the fact that great efforts are being made to make the technology affordable. Some teachers are using Netbooks and see them as a great step towards distribution.

The technology distribution itself is only half the story. Christensen noted in Disrupting Class that over the past few years, schools went from a ratio of 12 students to 1 computer, to 4 students to 1 computer with no real change in student scores and learning. On the one hand, there really needs to be a ratio of 1 computer to 1 student in order for computers to be incorporated into the classroom permanently and in an effective way. But also, it's not just the technology that needs to be distributed but school reforms must be made so that teachers know how and what to teach using the technology, and lessons and curriculum are changed and restructured to make the best use of it.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Learning 2009

The conference Learning 2009 will be held from November 8-11. It is an interactive, problem-solving, and exploratory conference with over 100 sessions. Some of the main themes relating to new media and web resources include:

Social Learning
e-Learning Update
Global Learning
Learning Systems (LMS)
Mobile Learning
UserContent (How are organizations deploying, harvesting and targeting User Created Content for learning? From organizational "You Tubes" to "Work Around Videos" to collaborative knowledge assets (wiki, Sharepoint and user ratings). How can Learning Designers add value to the User Content resource?)

It has a huge number of discussions on current education topics from using Twitter, the live virtual classroom (and how it can be superior to the physical one), successes and failures of LMS systems, Yum!, Moodle, and also leaps into the future to discuss "The Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) Initiative" that can help learning domains communicate to each other and incorporate gaming/simulation, social networking, intelligent tutoring and more (http://www.learning2009.com/p7/Learning-2009-Event-Guide-Web.pdf, page 23). If you can, go! This sounds like a fantastic opportunity for any educator or leader to learn the tools and skills and information that will be provided throughout these four days. For all of us who can't physically be there, it would be great if they followed their own advice and posted videos of the sessions, in the interest of global, social, and open learning. And while who doesn't appreciate Abba and sound bites, full videos would be much more helpful. (Maybe these few podcasts - from their sponsors - are a start.)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

35 million; like college students around free pizza at a dorm meeting

The modern hippie mother on Gossip Girl this week, who cares more about solar panels, unions and co-ops than her daughter’s private college education, repeatedly announced that “knowledge shouldn’t be for sale.”

MIT OpenCourseWare agrees with her. We have discussed how computer tools and TEAL can increase the customization and one-on-one learning possibilities of teacher to student, but another important possibility of digital media and web resources for education is the drastically lower cost and the ability for one teacher to teach millions at once through broadcasting knowledge and courses through the internet. For public schools cost is not an issue from kindergarten up until high school, but once you get into the undergraduate and graduate levels, cost can frequently determine what school you will go to, and then what profession you will go into afterwards in order to pay back your loans.

When most people think of the free university offerings the first thing that comes to mind is iTunes U "the world’s greatest collection of free educational media... with over 200,000 educational audio and video files available, iTunes U has quickly become the engine for the mobile learning movement." But compared to MIT, iTunes U was late into the game (launched May 30, 2007). In 2000, MIT decided to publish their material online and make it widely available for free in order "to advance education and empower people worldwide through opencourseware." This was controversial, many professors felt that they were giving away their "intellectual property" to the world for free. vs. those that felt this was an incredible social good (MIT OpenCourseWare).

MIT's OpenCourseWare includes syllabi, lecture notes, assignments, and exams, and over 1,000 hours of lecture videos for nearly all graduate and undergraduate courses at MIT. 35 million people have used the courses (14 million of which used it in translated languages), from 220 countries around the globe. The program was launched in 2001 and today there are almost 2,000 courses online. The social good is obvious: 35 million people learning more to help them with their fields, and outside of their fields, teachers learning lessons from other teachers, students exploring new subjects to help them decide what they want to study, and much more. It is also helpful for schools with much fewer resources, for example schools in Africa, with very low budgets that can't afford textbooks, but with MIT OCW they can get a host of assignments and curricula that was never before available.

Once you don't have to aggregate a teacher with several students in a room, the costs drop tremendously. "Forcing people to aggregate is a massive cost inefficiency that people will quickly grow tired of bearing when they realize other options are available...Teachers could scale via podcasting... one great podcast of just ten minutes can equate to thousands of hours of learning as subscribers all over the world automatically receive these recording without lifting a finger
(VentureBeat: Web technology is about to change how we learn).

Providing knowledge for free has wonderful social benefits, but knowledge and universities are not the same thing. If the knowledge continues to be given away for free, or people begin to believe that what is provided by universities should be free (like online news), will universities go the way of journalism? Oh lord, I hope not. They are the centers of much scientific and social research that benefits the world. The fact that the tuitions of thousands of students pay for the greatest professors and grad students to do this research is a necessary benefit for all. This pooling of resources is needed in order for very expensive research to be done. While Wikipedia may work because no one needs to be an expert in order to accomplish a great deal, to discover "pioneering contributions to astrophysics, in particular for the detection of cosmic neutrinos" (Nobel Physics Prize 2002) requires great professors from the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Tokyo, and Associated Universities Inc. of Washington, DC who are given the financial and academic (and grad student) resources needed to research and experiment. Try working on cosmic neutrinos from your wiki or blog. If people do feel that the tuition is too high, and that they can get for free on the internet what someone would have to pay $45,000 to get from MIT, I hope that a new financial model will evolve that will continue to provide for the continuing study and research that come from universities.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

MIT presents: Technology Enhanced Active Learning

One fear of the use of technology in the classroom is the thought of rows of students staring at computer screens, not interacting with the teacher or with each other. While computers do need to be available to every student and will no doubt become an important part of the classroom experience, their function in the classroom will be to increase connection and learning, not remove interaction.

The technology should free up the teacher and the students to make the most out of classtime. This means that instead of classroom time being spent with long lectures, that students may or may not attend, and may or may not be awake during, where students copy copius amounts of notes from a blackboard, and where professors speak non-stop for the entire class length, that instead the teacher could do what they went into teaching for: provide inspiration to their students, share their love and excitement about the material with the class, and communicating in a multitude of ways with each individual student in order to translate the knowledge. The inspiration, excitement and human connection with individual students will never be able to be substituted by a computer, and great teachers can help students learn in extraordinary ways. In addition, technology in the classroom can help students connect with each other, for small group and project based work, creating team work, and allowing students to assist each other with their various strengths and problem areas. This is the strength of the classroom: where the teacher can connect with the students and the students can help each other- not 45 minutes of note taking. Long lectures and reading are great prep for a class, but not for classtime itself. This is the idea behind the technology enhanced classroom.

This is particularly necessary for those certain classes, for example mathematics and the mathematics based sciences, where no amount of reading or listening to long lectures will help you understand it. You just have to do it. Enter MIT and their Technology Enhanced Active Learning (TEAL).

TEAL was created initially for MIT's freshman physics course which was a large lecture taught to 300 students: "Despite great lecturers, attendance at MIT's freshman physics course dropped to 40% by the end of the term, with a 10% failure rate... Traditional lectures, although excellent for many purposes, do not convey concepts well because of their passive nature." The creators of TEAL reformatted the teaching of freshman physics at MIT with a new mix of pedagogy, technology, and classroom design. TEAL classrooms include 13 round tables each seating 9 students with instructors at the center of the class. Whiteboards and eight video projectors surround the room. Groups are formed by mixing students of varying levels of knowledge to "facilitate peer instruction" Instructors deliver short 20-minute lectures with discussion questions, visualizations, and pencil-and-paper exercises. Students use animated simulations designed to help them visualize concepts, and carry out experiments in groups during class. "Instructors periodically ask questions, which students discuss and answer through an electronic polling system with handheld voting keypads. Instructors no longer lecture from a fixed location, but walk around with a wireless microphone talking to students about their work, assessing their understanding, facilitating interaction, and promoting better learning...The teaching methods used in the TEAL classroom produced about twice the average normalized learning gains for low-, intermediate-, and high-scoring students when compared to traditional instruction. " The New York Times reported: "Already, attendance is up and the failure rate has dropped by more than 50 percent." (At M.I.T., Large Lectures Are Going the Way of the Blackboard)

TEAL provides active vs. passive learning, one-on-one interactions with the professor and students, students engaged in group projects, and students voting on questions so that the professor has immediate feedback on how well the class is understanding the material. Check out a video of TEAL in action: http://web.mit.edu/edtech/videos/mit-Teal1-220k-ref.mov

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Interview with Alex Rigopulos, creator of Guitar Hero and RockBand

On Monday, October 19, 2009, Carnegie Hall held a panel discussion on "The video game and music revolution." Panelists included founding father of hip-hop DJ Grandmaster Flash, Alex Rigopulos, the co-founder and CEO of Harmonix, which created the games Guitar Hero and RockBand, Christopher Tin, a composer for video games, film, and advertising, Meghan Asha, an on-air technologist specialist for NBC and Fox News, host of TMI weekly, and a tech-focused blogger, and Melissa Auf der Maur, a mixed-media artist who rose to prominence during the 1990s with stints in the bands The Smashing Pumpkis and Hole. The discussion was moderated by Pete Wentz, the bassist and lyricist of the multi-plantinum selling band Fall Out Boy.

During the event the positive assessment of video games and playing games like Guitar Hero for music and music education was clear. The panelists loved the fact that Guitar Hero was like a "virtual jukebox" introducing songs from older generations to today's children. Composer Christopher Tin has written pieces for video games that are now performed in the world tour of Video Games Live, a touring show which uses local choruses and orchestras to play video game music, and which has successfully introduced many in the next generation to orchestral music.

Alex Rigopulos is the co-founder and CEO of Harmonix, which started as a music software company trying to provide a music playing experience. He said that the feeling of playing music is great, but the frustration of trying to play when you aren't very talented, or don't have the time, or patience can be "prohibitively difficult." Harmonix wanted to invent a new way for people to feel what it feels like to play music. Harmonix discovered several years into its existence that video games might be the way to achieve this, and could be a means to that end. Since Guitar Hero was released, millions of people have had the experience of engaging and making music in a new way. It's clear to Rigopolus that Guitar Hero has proven its use as "not an education tool, but an inspirational tool" since tons of new people are learning instruments, and they have heard from many teachers how many new students have come to them wanting to learn instruments. In RockBand, by playing the various voices of a piece (drums, guitar, bass, voice) the player is able to learn the piece in a much deeper way: hear textures, voicing, instrumental lines, and structures that they may never have had the skills or interest to listen to before. What used to be a "wash of sound" to a person, can now be heard in the way a musician hears a piece. Its use as an educational tool to learn an instrument is limited to some extent: the guitar playing is a far off approximation of what it feels like to play guitar, but the singing is actual singing and the game does provide feedback on whether you are sharp or flat, and the drumming is an accurate simulation of drumming.

When I spoke with Alex Rigopulos following the discussion, he expanded on his ideas regarding Guitar Hero, RockBand, and music education:

EM: Do you have a music background?

AR: Yes, I was a composer in undergrad and was in the computer music program at MIT.

EM: What is the RockBand Network that you mentioned this evening?

AR: The RockBand Network will launch in a couple of months. It's a program that will enable anyone to turn their song into a song in RockBand, downloadable by any player.

EM: There was such an interesting diversity in the panelists and music tonight.

AR: Well, the diversity of music in RockBand is important because of the variety of tastes out there, you need to have that variety in order to reach out to the most people.

EM: Programs like Guitar Rising and Jam Sessions are similar to Guitar Hero but are much more directly aimed at education. Do you see the possibility of moving towards making more specifically educational tools?

AR: No, because as soon as you move towards an educational tool as opposed to entertainment, you are going to lose a lot of people. But to the extent that we can sneak in some education value into the game, then that's great.

EM: So you don't see Guitar Hero being played in schools?

AR: No, but it's great if Guitar Hero can bridge the divide between education and entertainment, especially as the education is being lost in schools.

EM: I know I personally felt lucky to have music education growing up, which is being cut all over the country.

AR: Yes it's tragic. That's why I'm here tonight, because I'm passionate about music education, which is what the Weill school provides.

EM: Do you see anymore instruments being added to the game in the future? Rock flute? Clarinet?

AR: Absolutely. This is just the beginning.

[NB: The Weill Music Institute at Carnegie Hall creates broad-reaching music education programs, playing a central role in Carnegie Hall's commitment to making great music accessible to as many people as possible through creative musical interaction and inspiring lifelong learning. The above is a summary of our conversation.]

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Video Games 2: Guitar Hero, RockBand, Guitar Rising, StarPlayIt, Jam Sessions

Another of Christensen's complaints about the current classroom/textbook learning system is that they are created by an academic clique of experts who tend to all be in the same type of the eight intelligences: linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalist, as well as all have the same learning style: visual, oral, written, practice, etc. Digital media and web based technologies would be able to be customized to each student's strength and present the material in a way where he/she can understand it best.

This is an interesting way of looking at Guitar Hero, as translating what can be intimidating music and aural qualities into video game visual ones.

Games like Guitar Hero and RockBand enable people to be engaged in a type of "creation" of music that was never before possible. While to learn how to read music well can take months, and to learn an instrument well can take years, you can pick up Guitar Hero's plastic "guitar" and start rocking out to Muse and Metallica within minutes. But is it music making? Ethnomusicologist Kiri Miller calls it a unique 3rd thing - not the same as creating music, but the player does need to use rhythm and meter, and various guitar attributes (use of fast-fingering hammer-ons and pull-offs and the use of the whammy bar to alter the pitch of notes), AND the player is far more engaged with the music than they would be if they were just listening to tunes on their iPod.

It can be challenging to see how the new technologies can apply to learning a physical instrument, but it is clear that the more academic type of music classes can definitely benefit from online and digital technologies. For example Music History classes can use blogs, wikis, forums, and online coursework. In a similar vein, Florida Virtual School already offers AP Art History as one of its courses. Courses such as ear training and music theory can also benefit. There are many online resources and computer programs that can teach the theory, enhance the coursework, and provide testing capabilities that were never available before. For example there is ear training online programs that can help in training with dictation. It is really difficult to try and practice dictation on your own by closing your eyes while hitting a piano (believe me, I've tried). So there are many ways that digital media and online education can enhance music education, with resources from Earope to even downloading free sheet music.

So new technologies have clearly enhanced academic and ear training music classes. And also, video games Guitar Hero and RockBand have taught a generation how to listen in a new way, work on rhythm and meter, and sing and play in accordance with visual cues. Can new education media and/or video game technologies also be used to teach real instruments?
There are a few products trying to do just that:
Guitar Rising is a music video game where the player plays a real guitar as cued by the game’s visuals. Following rock music sequences and streaming notes, players play guitar melodies and rhythms. Beginner difficulty levels are designed for non-guitar players and hard difficulties will challenge experienced guitarists.

StarPlayit is a multi-award winning music technology company delivering platforms for online musical performance and participation. StarPlayit's technology provides its products with the ability to listen to a musical performance, on a real analogue instrument, and make real time judgments on pitch, tone, timing, duration and dynamics.

Jam Sessions: "Jam Sessions is a ground-breaking music experience that transforms the Nintendo DS system into a portable guitar. Players will literally strum the guitar via the Touch Screen and select chords with the +Control Pad. Now even the most “non-musical” person can become an instant rock star!" Customisability is an important part of Jam Sessions and extends all the way to the guitar's effects, allowing you to adjust your chorus and strum volume, tremolo, and high cut to create a custom sound. The game description touts "Not a Musician? No problem. Advanced tutorial modes allow novice musicians to learn how to play guitar without paying for lessons! Additional modes will help users understand chord progressions and train them to recognize chords by ear."

While Guitar Hero and RockBand are gateway musical engagements that can lead to enhanced listening, greater physical and emotional engagement, and possibly the desire to learn an instrument, they are not tools for the classroom and homework because they do not actually teach you skills involving reading music or playing an instrument. However, games such as Jam Session, Guitar Rising and StarPlayIt have the potential to teach chords and melodies, and gain feedback on your instrument performance. These games can teach some basic skills to millions of Nintendo DS owners, a much wider audience which before was limited because of both financial resources and musical interest/ability. Although it may not be for the classroom, if after playing Guitar Hero it is not as intimidating to pick up a real guitar and you find the act of music participation really fun, this helps towards the creation of the intrinsic motivation to do the real thing.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Go to them

Mobilizing the groundswell means you must go to them, wherever and everywhere they are, you cannot expect them to come to you. For students, mobile phones can be one of the ways to be where they are. Another potential tool is video games.

Video games are increasingly being accepted as useful tools to engage students, after having broken out of the idea that it disengaged children's minds, and increased their violent activities.

It is now being acknowledged as a helpful learning tool and used more and more. For one reason, it teaches "21st century skills" in a way that the normal classroom exercises (memorize and spit back out on exams) can't do. Video games have "problem-based learning environments, case based reasoning, learning through participation in communities of practice, or inquiry-based learning that place learners in active roles, pursuing goals meaningful to them" (Education Arcade). And games teach skills for 21st century employees: analytical thinking, team building, multitasking, and problem solving under duress. (Eschoolnews)

The creation of video games can also be a useful exercise for students. They can be creative in an aesthetic and artistic way, but also create and understand goals and structures, the way that a level should move forward, and understand how to create patterns, challenges, and solutions.

Some video games being used now in education, include:
1) Education Arcade's Labyrinth: An online puzzle adventure game, designed to promote math and literacy learning, and is targeted at middle-school students.

2) Quest to Learn School in New York City: The Institute of Play. From their site: "Games work as rule-based learning systems, creating worlds in which players actively participate, use strategic thinking to make choices, solve complex problems, seek content knowledge, receive constant feedback, and consider the point of view of others. As is the case with many of the games played by young people today, Quest is designed to enable students to “take on” the identities and behaviors of explorers, mathematicians, historians, writers, and evolutionary biologists as they work through a dynamic, challenge-based curriculum with content-rich questing to learn at its core."

3) Games that teach skills by doing that you can't actually do in the real world:
-Training for army, navy, etc. has been using these types of simulations for years
-Civilization video game teaches middle and high school kids in urban America how to study social studies better
-Simearth video game where students can change global oxygen levels and study the effects (allows people to experiment on unexperimentable things)

So video games can provide:
-21 century analytical and professional skills practice
-Cognitive research - intermix instruction and demonstration
-Active rather than passive engagement by students
-Game creation for structural and aesthetic design practice
-Global reach - for example: practice foreign language skills by going to different cities and speaking with real people in the game Second Life
-Learn by doing- development of skills that can only be done in practice
-Group collaboration - increases everyone's skills through collaborative problem solving

Sounds fun to me.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

xtra crdt 4 yr txt

To deal with the issue of laptop or computer inaccessibility, a possible substitution tool is the mobile phone. It is the most ubiquitous tool among school age children, it would be available both in the classroom and at home, and many students (4 out of 5 teenagers) already own one. And it is also available anywhere and at anytime.

In addition to its accessibility, it's an excellent tool for educational purposes. It can provide:

Organization: Tools such as calendaring can help students organize their assignments.

Production: Image, video, and audio recording can be used for data collection and production by students. As evidenced by YouTube and Flickr, music, dance, visual art, photography, and theater can all be recorded and distributed.

Communication: Using texting and twitter posts, the students can communicate with the teacher and with each other. "It provides participants with a simple method to share their voice and ideas right from their phones enabling the presenter and audience to have a clear sense of where they stand on topics being discussed." (Cool Cat Teacher Blog)

Research: With internet access all the information on the internet is available to students to use for learning. If internet access is too expensive via phone, google text still gives access to a practically infinite amount of information, in smaller bites.

And there are two more benefits: the students already know how to use it (so it is not a foreign and intimidating tool), and the students enjoy using it, so that usage of a mobile phone during class or for homework could inspire the students and make the work more enjoyable for them.

Better than nothing

Clayton Christensen in Disrupting Class says disruptive technology in the classroom will not just enhance the classroom experience, but fundamentally change the way we learn. Right now the way computers are used in many classrooms across the country do little more than enhance what is already being done in person by a teacher (or are rarely used, as described by the NYC public school teacher). Since many schools are stuck in the current teacher, student, learning, and assessment paths, a place where real innovation can be introduced will be in areas of current nonconsumption: places where learning is not taking place at all. Several of these include: homeschooling subjects, pre-K learning, AP courses at schools, and courses that were never offered or are being cut because: 1) there isn't enough demand by students 2) there aren't qualified teachers and/or 3) standardized testing is forcing several subjects out of the school.

Courses not offered include Advanced Placement Classes, Foreign Language courses, and (more and more) the arts. As there are no teachers or resources for these classes to be provided in the traditional way, online and digital coursework can provide a better alternative to nothing. The lack of these courses presents a unique opportunity to fill a void in a new way. A great example is Apex. Apex claims to provide "active learning experiences" that "keep students attentive and engaged as they read, watch, listen, inquire, write, discuss, and manipulate. Multimedia tutorials provide students with opportunities to explore and understand new concepts, allowing each student to move at his or her own pace." Since the lack of course availability presents no competition or comparison with any better teachers, courses, or model, it allows systems such as Apex to create this new type of education that can tailor itself to the learning style and pace of learning of each individual student, as well as work within the budget of a school or district. Before it fundamentally changes education as we know it, these types of courses will allow students to learn hundreds of new languages, and regain the lost classes in the arts.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Lost in Translation: Jackson Pollock's Autumn Rhythm

One of the great assets of digital media tools is the ability to aggregate files for students so that they don't have to spend time chasing each painting or music piece down individually. The Art Humanities class at Columbia College (required for all undergraduate students) took advantage of this, having all the photos/paintings/sculptures we needed to learn available on the Art Hum webpage. The website had all the images and information about the images, and enabled you to prepare for the class before it began, and study for exams very quickly and effectively.

We spent an entire class period on Jackson Pollock, and in particular studied Autumn Rhythm:

We discussed Pollock's Abstract Expressionism, and looked at the PowerPoint projection of the image onto the blackboard. We all appreciated the lines, the colors, and the "rhythmic" shapes. It's a really beautiful painting.

And then you go to the Met and you see it.

The first thing that hits you is the size. It is 105 x 207 inches. That's 8.75 feet tall by 17.25 feet long. Taller than any human and longer than most NYC apartments. From far away or close the painting makes an enormous impression on you, and envelopes you in its size. Some of the lines we appreciated before are the width of your arm, and the paint splotches the size of your head. How big is it on the computer screen you are looking at right now? About 2x4 inches?

Of course the colors are brighter in person and the lines are more explosive. Each paint drop is unique. But what you can also only get in person is seeing just how physical the painting is: the varying thickness of the paint, the multiple of layers of work, the extreme physicality that he used when violently throwing or gently dropping the paint across the canvas. The "rhythm" part of the title takes on a whole new meaning.

Somehow a digital representation of the image just makes Pollock get lost in translation. This isn't true for all paintings, and it will be interesting to see if there is an effort to increase the ability to transpose between these two forms. If something can be represented almost or equally as well in the digital world, it will be easier to get your great work known to the world, studied, and potentially sold. But as Pollock shows, there are some instances where our old methods can't change. Paintings that get lost in translation will still need to have school field trips to go see them. But until they can make it to the Met, whether that means taking a plane or the 6 train, it's great that students are able to access the Met's galleries through their online Collection Database.

Monday, October 5, 2009


Is painting using paint, paper, and a brush? Is Microsoft Paint painting?

Oxford English Dictiony says to paint is "To represent (an object, scene, etc.) or portray (a person or thing) on a surface, using paint or other colouring matter." Ok so OED says no, using Microsoft Paint is not painting.

vs. urban dictionary


The greatest art package of all time. Ships with versions of windows. Pictures created in Paint often look like they were drawn by children. usage: I drew an awesome picture in Paint!

beach scene

A different point of view. Tongue-in-cheek obviously, but don't assume that young people will believe the authority of one site more than another just because it says "Oxford" or "Britannica" or "New York Times" in front of it.

When you use digital media programs, you can create visual art with entirely different tools. With visual art computer programs you can build visual art skills, allow students to flex their creative muscles, and increase their general computer skills. In addition creating digital visual art can be useful to learn for future artistic careers using these technologies, such as graphic design, web design, and photography editing.

The National Gallery of Art in Washington DC has created the NGA Kids site and Art Zone: digital activities that engage students. It understands very well that in the 2.0 trend in education, art or otherwise, a great way to engage kids and have them coming back is to actually engage them by having them become co-creators.

These programs can also teach the old lessons of visual art, such as the "The NGAkids Still Life helps you create interactive art that mirrors the paintings of the old masters. Mix everyday objects and painted elements while experimenting with composition, scale, and perspective."

The lessons of these programs can also work on skills preparing the students for the new technologies. For the future photographer: "PHOTO OP is a two-part interactive activity that introduces you to digital photography and digital photo editing. Use the virtual camera to create snapshots and explore lighting, focus, shutter speed, and compositional effects. After you've taken some photos, switch to the Photo Op ...create complex artistic compositions by layering, applying filters, and experimenting with various special effects, lighting, and blends."

Also by exposing students as early as possible to the way visual images look best within an internet framework, one is also giving students the opportunity to thrive in visual arts in newer fields. While visual art classes were probably integral to the future career and success of a print graphic designer, the new workers must be able to understand what looks best on a webpage.

So the new technologies prepare students for potential future careers or hobbies. And, overtime a computer can be cheaper than paint, paper and brushes, increasing the number of students who can participate. It is also of note that these sorts of training programs can fit in perfectly with the new internet economy. For example, a photographer used to charge $100 for a photo that can now be sold on iStockPhoto for $1 (Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody). With even an amateur level of skill and training, although it might not create a self-sustaining professional, it can provide some reward and gain for the student's passion and skill.

So enabling students to use these tools in visual art creation is:
-forward thinking
-preparing students for 21st century creativity and skills in computers and visual arts
-less expensive, available without the physical resources required
-available on the internet, so able to engage students in the arts even if the school can't provide it (which is a problem that the National Gallery of Art like many museums is facing, how do you build an audience if the students were never given any education in visual art whatsoever?)

So what's the downside?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Art teachers, start your exploration here

For teachers looking to incorporate technology and digital media into their art classroom, and speak with other art educators, a great community to join is: Art Education 2.0.

This uses web 2.0 technologies to help art teachers share their knowledge and expertise. It uses blogs, forums, chat, video and photo postings, and allows people to communicate through individual profiles. There are also groups to discuss interests and issues specific to student problems, geographic location, types of position of teachers such as:
-New Jersey Art Educators
-AP Studio Art Teachers
-Art education with students at-risk

And forums on:
-Digital Practices in the Artroom
-Elementary Art Education
-Teaching Art in Alternative Settings
and several more

You can explore the questions asked, forums and blogs (and start your own of course) to find info on how to incorporate these technologies into the classroom. A brief search produced the blog http://www.digitalartbytes.blogspot.com/ (“For Art teachers and Tech teachers interested in integrating Digital Arts into their classroom”). Again much of the site will help with specifically blended learning, enhancing the in-person classroom with digital resources, and is a great place to start.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

2.0 for the teachers too

“I would like to go to the other teaching team and suggest that we start having weekly meetings (maybe 30 min. to start) in which we talk about what has worked for us that week, children we need help with, new curriculum ideas, etc. I feel like I don't get to talk to the other teaching team except on workdays and after school, and then it's not usually about curriculum/kids, but personal stuff. Some days I feel like an island in my classroom.”

What I enjoy about this comment is how it was posted on

The fact that (s)he can turn to forums.atozteacherstuff.com shows how much online communities and internet resources can help the teacher with their job and skills and not just in their decisions of content and ways of passing on information to the student. Hopefully the answers coming from fellow teachers on atozteacherstuff made him/her feel like less of an island.

Staff meetings are great opportunities for teachers to:
-discuss curriculum, lesson plans
-discuss great ideas
-discuss and plan larger goals for the semester or year in terms of learning and grade improvement for their students

These in person meetings when done well can be a great benefit to teachers within a school as they can all learn from each other’s knowledge and years of experience, or from the fresh ideas and outlook that can come from new teachers.

The opportunities provided to teachers from online forums and social communities allow for this kind of sharing of knowledge and expertise to be expanded beyond the school level to a greater area, local or national, and not relegated to 30 minutes once a week (or less, or not at all depending on the school). A good online network for passing on information to fellow teachers about Web 2.0 and collaborative technologies in teaching is Classroom20.com. This uses Ning, the social platform to create online communities. The power of 2.0 technologies can work as a tool for teachers to communicate with each other even before they use it for their students in the classroom.

One of the reasons why these sites are great is because they are so open and allow for teachers from all over the country to share their expertise. However, that is also one of the reasons why it might not be as helpful for schools that face different challenges, such as if it is located in a small town in Georgia versus a city like Detroit. The concept though could be more localized, to a local area or a school and could potentially be helpful for teachers to also have internal websites for their district or school in a Classroom20.com way, where they can discuss their ideas and issues throughout the week online. This ongoing communication and resources will no doubt prepare the teachers in advance and create new ideas for the weekly in person meetings.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Issues in introduction and distribution

Is there the possibility of the new technologies forcing even greater divisions between socio-economic classes in the skills and readiness of students in the 21st century?

A NYC public high school teacher today informed me that she utilizes digital media on a very one-off basis because of multiple issues:

Outside the classroom for homework assignments:
There is no guarantee that the students will have computers at home

Inside the classroom:
The teachers are told that if they want to do an assignment on the computer they should be prepared with a paper classwork back up (forcing the teachers to do twice as much preparation for one class). The reason for this is that some of the laptops might not work, and some might not connect to the internet. Also there is a security and distribution procedure they must follow to make sure none of the laptops are stolen. In addition, as a science teacher she is given no access to the computer lab as that is reserved only for very specific tech heavy courses.

As technologies become cheaper and teaching courses through computers becomes the norm it is possible that this will change. However, many schools are already able to integrate these kinds of internet research and education into their schools, simply leaving those with less money and resources behind.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The typing advantage

When it comes to classtime, the solely online class has an interesting format: the professor speaks and a flood of student responses come in chat form. As opposed to a classroom where limited time enables only a few to speak while all listen, this format may have some advantages. Sara Cordell of the University of Illinois-Springfield says about this format: "They're right there. They're listening. And they like talking to each other, typing to each other. That, I think, is a big attraction, because they get to engage real time with the other students as much as with me" (Online Courses Catch On in U.S. Colleges) This enables all the students to participate quickly with the professor and with each other, also all can speak at the same time with no one being drowned out. The students are all engaged in the discussion as well, no one can slouch in the back of the classroom and avoid getting called on. This type of full classroom engagement is exciting for professors; I remember in one college course during a discussion on The Origin of Species, something Darwin had written got the entire class going and everyone began excitedly speaking and arguing at once. I noticed the teacher looked so happy and pleased that we were all so engaged with Darwin's work in such an excited manner, but of course, no one could hear what anyone else was saying until she calmed us down and we took turns speaking. The online class can allow everyone to be engaged at every minute.

In addition, putting anything into a written form forces greater thought into word choice and topic point in way that speaking may not allow time for. One of the students commented "...an advantage with online stuff is that because people have to type, you have to think more about what you say before you say it. So you usually end up with a lot more intelligent conversation." And a classroom format that can produce "more intelligent conversation" I'm sure makes many teachers enthusiastic.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The New Awkward Homeschooled Kid; or My Prom Was Awesome.

It is acknowledged that schooling is for more than just academic and intellectual development, it is for general learning of social skills and how to work and play together. Criticism of homeschooling is generally towards the students' lack of development in social skills. South Park also poked fun at homeschooling through an episode on Rebecca (who won the national spelling bee) called Hooked on Monkey Fonics. So while online college and post-grad degrees have been available, we need to discuss the social implications of K-12 learning and full online high schools.

Knowledge Universe provides lessons for K-12 and has noted that in particular art and music are in demand as these courses are increasingly dropped from regular schools. These lessons will no doubt provide valuable tools for those that would already be homeschooled.

Regarding online high schools, such as Stanford's Educational Program for Gifted Youth, they allow students to go above and beyond normal high school coursework and scheduling in order to pursue their curricular or extracurricular interests. These online high schools can utilize virtual classrooms of students and teachers using video feeds, online chat and PowerPoint presentations, and boast to more connectivity and powerful tools then ever before seen in a normal homeschool or correspondence school.

The Wall Street Journal reported on the online high school trend, which gives H.S. degrees or GED's. Full online high schools appeal to these constituents:
-those that want to move faster than their classmates
-those who dropped out of traditional high school
-homeschooled children
-students with parents who need to travel for work
-and students with competitive extracurriculuar pursuits like ballet, tennis or gymnastics

Stanford's Online High School, in addition to having great teachers and flexible and challenging courses, also boasts to having an Asia Club, Music and Culinary clubs, and much more. The social aspect becomes very interesting as it relies more on gchat and skype- which students do anyway these days- but also it discusses video conferencing and meeting students from all over the world. In a way, this prepares students for a new type of social interaction that will become the norm, global interconnections through social media software that may become of the future of business communication.

On the other hand, the article comments on students dropping out of the program because of loneliness, and on students trying to organize their own dances to make up for prom. Fame came out in theaters yesterday, based on my high school LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and of the Performing Arts. Students at my high school really did act and dance in the hallways, and do 3-part harmony to math equations during math class. At the end of our prom the boat dropped us off at South Street Seaport where we promptly got up on the stage at the seaport and started singing "I'm gonna live forever", which I'm sorry Stanford, cannot be replicated in 0's and 1's.

Friday, September 25, 2009

or maybe liveFigaro today

McCoy Rigby and his serious students already have already found the benefits of skype! http://www.musicaltheaternow.com/Articles/McCoyRigbySummerStock/tabid/137/Default.aspx "... it worked so seamlessly. I knew right away that this was the new method of reaching students from all over."

One could argue that the difference in the quality of education needed for speaking a foreign language versus singing is much different. Someone taking a foreign language likely just needs to be able to communicate as quickly as possible and therefore livemocha is sufficient, versus someone taking private voice lessons who may be trying to make a career out of it. But say that all we want is a communal, enjoyable singing experience as opposed to a professionally trained one? Say for about 34 public schools kids who just spent the last 3 hours taking standardized test preparation and are in need of something a little more fulfilling for the soul? They might enjoy 40 minutes of skype time with the only music teacher in the local region who hasn't yet been laid off because of budget cuts.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Today livemocha, tomorrow liveFigaro?

The web 2.0 and online and digital media capabilities enhancing education are part of what is generally called e-learning. A learning management system (LMS) is “software for delivering, tracking and managing training/education” (Wikipedia, E-Learning). The benefits of such a system are improved performance, and increased access and convenience for the learner, among others.

One such system that highlights these attributes is the Blackboard Inc. LMS, which claims to “engage and access learners at all levels.” The increased flexibility of what lessons to engage in, repeating lessons, and tracking student progress, can create a revolutionary type of learning that really personalizes education to a point never before possible. With average 34 students in a NYC public school classroom (when I was in high school) the teacher has to move somewhere around the speed of the middle of the class in order to engage the greatest number of students. A program that can enable additional learning opportunities can engage students who are ready to move faster, and allow repeated lessons and tracking of students at the bottom class to make sure that they aren’t left behind. Blackboard’s site says: “In fact, according to the 2008 America’s Digital Schools research summary, credit recovery ranks as the most widespread use of learning management systems.”

These systems can also bring entirely new courses to schools that do not have the faculty to offer advanced courses or additional foreign language courses. It also claims that classes that are fully online are the "same rigor" as normal AP classes. However, when it comes to foreign language learning it appears that “blended learning” (online plus in person) is favored. This is not surprising, as it is generally acknowledged that being thrown into a country and being surrounded by only the foreign language is usually the fastest way to learn a new language. Sites such as livemocha have taken the “blended learning” idea to a new level combining its lessons with a web 2.0 social media environment where you can communicate with people from all over the world using instant message, audio, and video. These help bring the in-person aspects needed to learn a language available through online systems, and certainly suggest that this could be replicated with some art forms, perhaps vocal training that relies on audio and visual? However, it does not appear that there are sites with the same interactivity as livemocha yet for voice lessons, except for maybe Jeannie Deva but she’s “so sensitive to a singer’s voice that she can tell what the singer is doing just by listening. She doesn’t need to see the singer standing in front of her to know exactly what muscles they are tensing or what they are doing wrong if their voice doesn't sound good. She can tell just by listening to their vocal sound” (jeanniedeva.com). But language is also based on the muscles of the face, use of lips, tongue, breathe, throat, voice, etc., and if language can be taught via audio and video of the internet, then shouldn't voice lessons be possible as well?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

I failed my driving test

Digital media and the internet have revolutionized and democratized much in education. From "how to" videos by amateurs to full on graduate degrees by great universities, it has never been easier or cheaper to learn what you what to know, from your house, at any hour of the night. Missed a lecture? That's ok, the power point presentation might be available via the yahoo group, or the full lecture might be taped and online for your use. You're not actually enrolled at that University? That's also ok, that video lecture might be online and available to the public.

Regarding individual lessons, the amount that you can now access by experts is practically infinite:
Want to learn how to make your own greenhouse? Here you go: http://www.easygrow.com/
How about how to skin a deer from David B. Fankhauser, Ph.D. Professor of Biology and Chemistry? Here you go: http://biology.clc.uc.edu/Fankhauser/Cheese/deerskinning/index_deerskinning.html

Aside from the individual lessons on anything and everything, the way digital media and web 2.0 have changed and enhanced the traditional classroom and learning experience is vast and growing. A recent published study showed that online education is on-par or even better than in person education. Tools such as forums for dialogue, videos of lessons, lectures, performances, etc., instant messaging, blogs, and internet groups for sharing lesson plans, schedules, files, and enabling class conversations, have created an environment which can "provide learning experiences that are more tailored to individual students than is possible in classrooms" and "enables more “learning by doing,” which many students find more engaging and useful" (New York Times, August 2009, http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/19/study-finds-that-online-education-beats-the-classroom/).

What is not quoted about this study is whether solely online education is more or less preferable to a combined in person plus online learning experience. My hunch would lean towards the combined experience being best. The question of "What is lost by not physically being there?" is very important and likely varies greatly per field. For example, I scored a perfect score twice on my written Drivers Permit test, but faired so poorly on the actual driving test that the person giving the exam actually grabbed the wheel and pulled the car over to the curb (yeah yeah, go ahead an laugh). My non-physically being there scores are perfect, but no one in their right mind would allow me to drive.

You might not need to physically be there to discuss the Civil War, but you really do need to put your hands on the strings to play the violin. And someone needs to put your fingers on it and look at your hands, arms, shoulders and general body position to make sure you are doing it right, and if you aren't, poke and prod you until you are doing it right. As budgets are cut more every year on arts education, and teachers must find ways to teach in less and less expensive ways, arts education will have to begin to use these web 2.0 tools in order to enable arts education to stay a viable option within schools where (for unjustifiable reasons) it becomes a lower and lower priority. So we must ask, when is physically being there necessary, and when it is, how can digital media tools still be used to enhance the learning experience.