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 " 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! "... 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” ( 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:
How about how to skin a deer from David B. Fankhauser, Ph.D. Professor of Biology and Chemistry? Here you go:

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,

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.