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This was a major topic of conversation at Educause last week, and I had the chance to chat briefly with Adrian Sannier of Pearson on the exhibit floor–and also to try it out myself.
A few quick facts/impressions. A lot of the early buzz was about “Google’s new free and open source LMS” or similar. Almost none of that is accurate. It’s not a Google product, it’s a Pearson product. It’s available (for now) through the Google Apps marketplace, and integrates (or will–this week, they’re promising) with an existing Google Apps for Education database if you have one. But everyone I talked to from Google was very quick to point out that they didn’t develop this, aren’t offering it, don’t really have much of anything to do with it. They marched me straight over to the Pearson folks if I even tried to ask a question.
It’s also not at all Open Source. Pearson uses the term “open” very very loosely–so far I haven’t seen anything at all open about it. Adrian Sannier says that that is coming–some way for teachers to identify parts of their courses that could be shared with a wider network, multiple campuses or maybe all users of the system or maybe the whole world. But that’s not available yet. And the source code is definitely not open or available. There aren’t even API’s yet (although again, Adrian promises that there will be).
What is, however, is free of charge. That’s the main “selling” point, and when asked if that’s the distinguishing feature he would most want to claim, Adrian was very clear (both to me and to my friend Michael Feldstein. Michael has a very good blog post about OpenClass here ). This is not going to cost anyone money–free as in free beer, not as in free speech–and that’s what they’re proud of and what they’re promoting.
For now (and this should change sometime early in 2012), OpenClass is only available to Google Apps for Education campuses. Since we at Macaulay do use Google Apps for education, I (like hundreds of others) went immediately after the announcement and installed OpenClass to check it out right away.
I could talk at some length about what I discovered in testing–and we’ll be doing a lot more testing and trying (maybe for some spring classes, perhaps) as time goes by. It’s still very much in beta, with some features that aren’t quite working yet–some of them essential–and some little bugs that they’re still working on. The Pearson people seem to be extremely committed to fixing those bugs–they are responsive on twitter and by email, and in fact, when I pointed out a bug to their folks at Educause at about 3 in the afternoon, they called me back with more questions within 45 minutes, and then had the problem fixed by dinnertime that same day. That’s impressive, and not something that most LMS vendors would ever dream of doing for an end-user. That kind of response is reserved for high-level “escalated” tickets. Will that last? Who knows. But it did leave a good taste in my mouth.
As for the product itself, even given that it’s in beta, I have to say and somewhat hate to say that I’m not all that impressed. It’s an LMS. A fairly ordinary LMS. It’s not got revolutionary features, and the so-called social networking integration (mostly just an activity wall pulling together everything that is happening throughout the LMS for a given user as a main front page) is pretty much a big meh. The discussion board is not particularly attractive or navigable, and the general features (gradebook, announcements, submission/dropbox, assignments, documents) are just standard. Functional, but nothing interesting. The design is fine, but not very elegant and hardly customizable at all.
This is a standard LMS for a class (not a fully online class, Pearson is trying to make that distinction very clear) where a teacher and students want to do the basic LMS stuff–post a few things, assign and submit a few things, check grades, have a little bit of discussion–mainly just for asking and answering questions, not what I call a “real” online discussion (wide-ranging, digressive, engaging, critical, multi-media). Multi-media capabilities are limited. Sharing with the world outside the classroom, or escaping the silos of course and semester that the LMS is so married to, are both just about non-existent.
But all of that could come. At least for now, the promise or potential for most of that seems pretty strong. And one thing that Adrian also pointed out–with a free LMS, upgrades and new features can come much more quickly and easily. Most of the time, they will come fairly transparently. Nothing at all like an “enterprise” LMS upgrade. So that all remains to be seen.
I’m really interested to see how this will open beyond Google Apps for Education. When (and again, it could be just a few months) this opens up more widely, will that be to all Google customers? So that if I’m not affiliated with any institution, but I want to (for free) set up a class where I could teach and/or learn about birding or reef aquaria or the history of haberdashery, can I do that? And can I do it in a way that will make sense for learners–not just for a traditional class/semester-based type of education? Open questions!
I will also say that OpenClass is still a long, long, way from being even a bit close to the kinds of features and functionality, and from the kind of “disruptive” innovation that we are already seeing and demonstrating and doing at Macaulay (and elsewhere, of course) with WordPress. It’s like some of us are already working with refining a very low-cost and efficient warp drive technology, while Pearson has just introduced a fairly nice three-speed bicycle which they will give away for free.
But…when the overwhelming majority of classes in this country are riding around right now on a ten-speed bicycle, for which they are paying $100k a year (or whatever), a nice shiny three-speed for free is going to sound like a pretty good deal. If possible, though, I’m always going to want to do the deeper exploration that a cruising speed of warp 6 or 7 can allow.
Big news today in the field of Open Educational Resources!
I’ve posted before about my admiration for smarthistory.org (and I do have a personal connection!). Today the news is out that they have joined forces with the Khan Academy. Two fantastic OERs are now working together, and the world of open learning, available to all, is wider than before. This means great things for smarthistory, great things for Khan Academy, and great things for learners everywhere.
Here’s the announcement direct from Smarthistory:
Dear Smarthistory Contributor/Supporter,
We have some terrific news! As you know, Smarthistory has been growing fast. Our content and usage numbers are way up (visits are now over 150,000 per month) and we have been working hard to make the site an indispensable resource for students and informal learners. At the same time, we have been actively looking for similar initiatives. For the past year, the one that we were most excited about was the Khan Academy (www.khanacademy.org). So you can imagine our excitement when Sal Khan contacted us. To make a long story short, we’ve joined forces.
Rest assured, Sal and the rest of his amazing team are committed to the same principles as Smarthistory. Their content is entirely free, uses the same creative commons license that we do, and they accept no advertising. Like Smarthistory, Khan Academy is fully committed to open education, and they are also a not-for-profit. And Smarthistory isn’t going away, it will retain its own identity, but within the Khan Academy umbrella. As of today, Smarthistory.org simply redirects to Smarthistory.khanacademy.org (they have MUCH better servers!) (EDIT–Not anymore!)
If you’re not familiar with the Khan Academy, here’s some info from their site:
Khan Academy is a not-for-profit with the goal of changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education to anyone anywhere.
All of the site’s resources are available to anyone. It doesn’t matter if you are a student, teacher, home-schooler, principal, adult returning to the classroom after 20 years, or a friendly alien just trying to get a leg up in earthly biology. The Khan Academy’s materials and resources are available to you completely free of charge.
And if you haven’t seen it, watch Sal’s TED Talk to get a better idea of their history and goals and how they’re using learning analytics to “flip” the classroom:
or read this recent article in the Economist: http://www.economist.com/node/21529062.
We look forward to continuing to work together to create open resources for art history education.
Beth & Steven
Khan Academy’s blog post about the news is here.
Our motto for our eportfolios at Macaulay (one of our mottoes–I tend to proliferate mottoes) is “Collect, Reflect, Present.” That spells out (not necessarily in order of priority) what I thought students would be doing with eportfolios, and those goals, from the beginning, have shaped the choices in building our platform. But there is another purpose to which eportfolios are frequently put, and it’s a purpose that I want to untangle a little in this post.
We don’t say “Collect, Reflect, Present, Assess.” (Although it could be easily argued, and I’ll argue a bit below, that “Reflect” really can be a kind, an excellent kind, of assessment). We didn’t implement a system or a platform that was primarily designed to assess our students’ or our program’s fulfillment of predetermined or externally structured criteria.
As I mentioned in my previous post, we have a system that works more organically, more flexibly, allowing students to determine for themselves what (if anything) will happen with their eportfolios, what they will collect, reflect, and present, and even what they will assess. And as I described in that previous post, that choice of approach has had implications for what quality of eportfolios we get (in a very good way), and implications for what quantity of eportfolios we get (in a way we’re working on improving).
But we have also reached a point where assessment can be very productive–not the kind of assessment that checks whether standards are met or pre-designed structures filled in. I would call that kind of assessment “measuring up” (as in “does this eportfolio measure up?”). We’re at the point where we can do something more difficult, but (possibly) more substantive and more useful…”measuring” (as in “how can we describe what is happening with this eportfolio? What does it tell us about this student?”)
For a long time I had a sort of inferiority complex about the question of assessment in regard to our eportfolios, because our approach is really not well-suited to the kind of quantitative, universal, standardized approach that many people mean when they say “assessment.” Because what our students are doing with their eportfolios takes so many different forms, it’s not easily possible to say “yes, this one measures up. No, this one falls short.”
And the more I thought about this, the more I began to think back to my own history with portfolio assessment (before the “e” even existed) as a writing teacher. I thought about how and why portfolio assessment entered writing instruction and where it came from. The whole point of portfolio assessment, originally, in writing instruction, was to provide alternate assessments–richer ones. More nuanced and complicated ones. To assess the things (like writing ability) that are NOT easily or accurately assessed by a single test, or a single score.
Portfolios in writing instruction were about growth, about process, about diversity. They were implemented specifically because the picture of a student as a writer can not be reduced to just data or skills. Writing teachers sat with students’ portfolios for long periods of time. They looked at everything. They read drafts and students’ reflections of how drafts became final products. They read students’ thoughts about what each piece of writing said about the student as a writer. They thought about students’ choices, and their reasoning for their choices. They thought about what and why students were collecting. How and when they were reflecting on what they collected. Where and to whom and how they were presenting what they collected.
Portfolio assessment at its best can be qualitative assessment, formative assessment. Not just summative assessment leading to a grade or a score or a single evaluation, but deep description leading to more process and more progress, feeding back into more recommendations and more learning for the student, for the eportfolio system, and for the program.
I’m not sure why I originally fell into a prejudice that this kind of deep assessment was somehow “soft” or “just anecdotal.” Somehow not “real” or “valid” assessment. I know very well from my own research and scholarship that true observation and deep description are not less effective and less important than numbers and graphs or rubrics and scores. In fact, in many cases, in many disciplines and types of research, from participant observation fieldwork to the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, I know very well that measuring is actually often superior–more comprehensive, more insightful, more detailed, more useful for planning and changing and learning, even more accurate and “objective” and transferable–to measuring up.
Rather than scoring on a rubric, or checking off items on a list of competencies (and I do not want to imply that “measuring up” like that is never valuable), the kinds of questions we can be asking about eportfolios (and are starting to ask)–measuring, studying, deep assessment questions–are the kinds of questions that always get asked in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. Pat Hutchings (in the introduction to Opening Lines: Approaches to the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning) frames them like this:
- “What works?”
- “What is?”
- “Visions of the possible”
- “Theory building” questions
These are the kinds of questions that eportfolios like ours (and many others, I don’t mean to sound exceptionalist here) can answer so well (or lead to more depth in the questions).
So the techniques we’re planning and will be implementing over the next months for assessing eportfolios will take that kind of path. We will work by selecting a representative (random or intentionally selected–there is validity in both methods) sample and doing some deep description, including content analysis, tagging, and coding for comparison. Not starting with the rubric, but starting with the eportfolios (“What is?”) and moving from them to the careful and nuanced judgments (never complete, never finished) about “what works?” and then to those “visions of the possible” and “theory building.” We can see what is happening at certain points, and then see how that changes over time, and get a very accurate and well-developed sense of what is happening system-wide, or with individual students. We can do some almost-ethnographic work with the eportfolios, and start to measure how they work, what they can do, and we can see pathways that students are taking that we might not even have imagined.
To assess eportfolios in this way will not be rapid or efficient or automatic. It will be time-consuming and push us to question what we’re looking at, what we’re looking for, what assumptions we’re bringing and what conclusions we’re reaching for. It will push us to think about teaching and learning in deeper ways than “value added” or “standards-driven” or even “general education.” And we will hew more closely to the origins of eportfolios in portfolio assessment, in authentic assessment. When you select a sample and discuss and think about how it’s being sampled, and when you ask a team of experienced thoughtful raters to look at each eportfolio in the sample, and not just “score” it, but code it with keywords, describe it and analyze it, then you’re measuring. And you’re getting a rich picture of student learning, with real results that can be applied beyond a grade or a score (for a program or a student). Some of this (once the codes are developed) can be done by content analysis software. But the bulk of it is human judgment. And that’s what’s really good about it.
Maybe there’s an important fight to be had. When administrators (and I speak as one) start to ask for assessment, maybe we shouldn’t (maybe I shouldn’t) be too quick to bend and say “yes, let’s see if they measure up.” Maybe we can find a way to use eportfolios to help with the process that portfolio assessment in writing instruction started…to promote alternate assessment where learners and learning are explored and understood, not just rated and scored.
Some early thoughts, anyway–lots more to be said on this.
(An excellent article on this subject, one that influenced me a lot, is by Minnes and Boskic at UBC from 2008 “Eportfolios: From Description to Analysis.” http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/download/502/1050)
(or: More on Teaching with an Open LMS).
I meant to post a midterm follow-up to my two earlier posts (Part One and Part Two) about my Alternate Worlds course. But time got away from me, and I was having so much fun actually teaching the course that that didn’t happen.
But now as we prepare for Convocation here at Macaulay, and the students are on the verge of submitting their final projects, I thought I would at least provide a kind of wrap-up of final thoughts.
First and foremost–just on the level of a course, without considering the LMS (open or otherwise), I had a blast with these students and this course! My idea, originally, scared me a bit because I was asking students to do something that was unusual for them, and unusual for me. The course was thoroughly interdisciplinary, and thoroughly reflective. Not only were they thinking and reading about the future of education, I was actually treating them as the experts on the subject–since they were the ones actively engaged in their 14th (or so) year of education. They were a diverse group, with a diverse range of educational experiences, and they completely jumped on the chance to think deeply and critically about those experiences.
I am now thinking very seriously about ways to make a course of this type more widely available. I think that reflection and integration of learning experiences is really the core of what should happen during the college career. This is a “capstone” experience (even if it’s during the progress of the building, rather than capping the construction), and it works so much more deeply and completely than the usual “thesis” requirement (a long research paper) that gets plopped onto students in most capstones. These students reported (and I could see it happening) that they really learned about themselves and their classmates, in addition to their own majors and their own coursework. It was learning about learning (or as a colleague and I have experienced in a different context, “Looking at Learning, Looking Together“).
And that last connection is an important one. For me this course grew out of my own interest in the scholarship of teaching and learning–and my own conviction that meta-learning, SoTL work carried out by students and teachers working together, could be a new and productive direction.
I learned a lot from teaching the course–and so did the students. I won’t quote excerpts here, but I hope people will take the time to look at some of the students’ final reflections and evaluations.
One of those reflections, you’ll notice, is in the form of a video log. The course as a whole was open (quite intentionally) to all kinds of alternate expressive media. Students experimented with mind maps and comic strips, video and voicethreads, rather than just papers (although they did some papers, too). The results of that were mixed–in a good way. Students used the opportunity to try new media, and learned (maybe mostly from when those attempts were not successful) what those media supported or did not support in their own learning styles. As the final projects come in, I think that I’ll be seeing experimentation there, too.
(Students were also surprised, I think, although I wasn’t, to find that they actually got to know their classmates better, felt a more personal connection, in a class where they never actually saw those classmates in person. I know from teaching online for so long that fully online courses almost always, if they’re thoughtfully designed, result in more student-student and instructor-student interaction, not less, than face-to-face course do. The students did wish for just one or two in-person meetings–maybe social ones for a meal or a movie–and we may still do that now that the semester is over. I think I will build at least one of those into future iterations of the course.)
Now about the Open LMS experiment. First I can say, categorically and without hesitation, that WordPress, with assorted plugins and a slightly customized theme, works extremely well as the platform for a fully-online course. Far better than Blackboard, in fact, because I could make the design of the course match my objectives and style. And I could have degrees of openness, and the students (and I) can know that the course is there for the future.
The students did decide that the forum should be closed, just for the class. Late in the semester we did agree to take just a few of the forum posts and make them public (as “forum gems“). There was a lot more that happened on the forums, but the students wanted a bit more freedom to talk informally, not worrying so much about polish, and to talk more openly about things that they might not like about other courses. All very understandable, and in fact they still did quite a bit of direct and honest discussion on the public areas.
I was hopeful, as one of the goals of making the reflections open, that we would get comments from people outside the class on those posts. As it turns out, that didn’t happen. Maybe people who were reading the posts (and I know that there were some) felt like they didn’t want to intrude? But the option is still there, and in a way, comments on the students’ thoughts even after the course is “over” would still be a good thing.
I also thought that I would be using Google Forms for quizzes. The process worked, it wasn’t very difficult, but as it turned out, after the first experimental quiz, I never used any more. In teaching online in the past, I’ve always used quick low-stakes quizzes as a kind of enforcement to make sure that students do the reading. But I wasn’t experienced with Honors students. They not only do the reading, they also do the optional reading, and they integrate it and use it. I would like to think that this happened because I used such extremely interesting readings (and in some cases that might have been true), but even in cases where they told me they were not enjoying the readings (and audiobook, in one case, that some students found frustrating), they were clearly reading and thinking about what they were reading.
In terms of replicating the course, I’ve now got the framework very well established, and know how to tweak a theme and use the right plugins (Dropbox plugin for submitting assignments. KB Gradebook for grades, for example. Neither of those is perfect, but both are very, very good). Students made good use of RSS feeds and subscriptions (and I can’t say enough about Simple Press Forum. It is a fantastic forum software–and all as a free plugin right in WordPress. Extremely impressive. Far superior to any of the other options), and for announcements, a text widget with a picture which I changed every time I changed the announcement worked very well. When I really needed to “push” an announcement, I could easily push out an email to all “authors” on the site. (one lack in that plugin–something a faculty member requested for another course yesterday–the ability to add attachments to those emails. I don’t know how easy that would be…). I feel very confident that with any fairly-skilled faculty member could take this framework and easily run a similar online course. And with an ITF, the faculty member wouldn’t really need to have the skills at all.
There’s so much more I could say about this course. It was a terrific experience and I very much hope to do it again–and share it and have others teach it, too. But more than me talking about it, I really would refer anyone interested to go to the course site and browse around yourself. And leave comments. I’ll add that link, one more time. http://macaulay.cuny.edu/eportfolios/alternateworlds.
I titled this post “The Final (?) Chapter” and that question mark is there for a reason. This is really a starting place–I hope not to make this a final post for this course or these questions. Not just because I want to teach the course again, not just because the course remains open to the students and many other audiences, but because I think we are just beginning (the course was only one beginning) to question what a “course” really is. I don’t think that my students will accept that question as an obvious one anymore, and I think the challenge for all of us is to continue to see the “Alternate Worlds” that are in our futures.
So I’m writing this on Thursday, after receiving my iPad (no, I didn’t stand on line, I had it delivered!) on Saturday. That’s only about five days of use so far–but I do have some early indicators and ideas and reactions, and I thought I’d share them–especially because I just returned from a three-day trip to California (to Google–about which more in a later post), and I brought the iPad on the trip as my only computer. I left the laptop at home.
First–the simple bottom line. It’s a great device. It was just fine as my only device on the trip, and while I wouldn’t want it to be (nor is it meant to be) my only computer at all, it’s good for even an extended time away from home. So if you want only to know a simple thumbs up or down, read no further. Thumbs up all the way.
But the longer response is that there are several ways in which the device is great, and those are worth exploring. And of course there are ways in which it is not so great. I’ll get to those, too. So read on.
A student in my Alternate Worlds class asked “Professor Ugoretz, I was just wondering what inclined you to buy an IPad. I find the IPad to be another fad that symbolizes that one is keeping up in style.” I think that was a good question–and for me there are answers on several levels.
First, personally, I like new gadgets, I like to try them out and test them and see what they can do. I like to push them to their limits and beyond (I’m sure an iPad jailbreak will be available soon, and I’ll probably try that as I did with the iPhone). So maybe that is the “fad” aspect that my student was asking about. (But I certainly don’t much care what other people think of me having it, and I’m certainly not stylish in other ways.)
But it goes beyond the personal. Professionally, it’s part of my job to think about how new technologies can be or will be used in educational settings, and to take the opportunity to test that.
So there was never really any doubt in my mind that I would be trying the iPad right from the first.
What I love
The list is actually pretty long, but it all fits together under the category of the interface. I’ve seen lots of criticisms of the iPad saying that “it’s just a big iPod Touch” or “it’s just an underpowered tablet.” I think both of those miss a critical element of what this device is. It’s all about the interface. The iPad is designed around this fact, and that makes all the difference. Interacting with content without a mouse, with a direct touch of your own finger, makes everything more immediate and intimate. When you add the mobility of the iPhone, but with a truly usable screen-size and resolution, it’s a major advantage. I have had trouble letting go of the thing since I got it. You always want it in your hand.
It’s true that it’s a device more for consumption than for creation, which was a criticism I heard and shared before I held it, but it’s also true that consuming media through this interface is a radically different kind of consumption, closer to creation. More about that in the context of ebooks in a minute.
But it’s not just about consumption. It’s only been five days, and already (from the start, in fact) we have the iWork suite which really is all about creation. I’m not too experienced with and haven’t thought much about Numbers yet. But Keynote and Pages on the iPad are completely different experiences than they were on a computer. Keynote was always already far superior to MS PowerPoint, and on the iPad it becomes a whole new thing entirely. Moving images on a slide with your finger, twisting and rotating them with two fingers, aligning them and rearranging them and having text flow around them automatically all with your own body as the only real tool you notice–that makes the process of creating a slideshow presentation into something like building or sculpting. And a “word processing” “document” that can so easily include images which are really integrated with the words permits the easy (for everyone, not just the adept) creation of documents that do things that paper-based (“dead-tree”? “old-fashioned”?) documents can’t. Creating documents (and of course presentations) can be more than just text–with ease and elegance in the process, too.
When you remove obstacles like a mouse (even if it didn’t seem like such a big obstacle before) from the process of making, building, presentations or documents, those presentations or documents can be a more direct and more informal and more frequently created and creative experience. I see that as an unqualified good.
Back to consumption–something similar happens there. I’ve been reading ebooks on the small screen (beginning with a Palm V, then a Treo, then an iPhone) for a long time. I have never really minded the small screen, and I have always very much liked, loved, the backlight (I am a person who absolutely can not sleep without reading first, and the ebook with backlit screen is the perfect reading-in-bed solution). But the iPad takes this to another level. The big bright screen (and never let anyone tell you that color isn’t important) is great. The page-turn interface is good (although not terribly important to me). But making the text searchable (Ann Kirschner, my colleague at Macaulay, calls this an “instant concordance” and that’s a perfect term) and linkable to the web or wikipedia and integrated with a dictionary, at the touch of a finger, really takes advantage of what electronic books can do that paper books can not. I don’t think ebooks should replace paper books. I don’t think they ever will. Paper books can do things that ebooks can not. But the opposite is also true. The iPad is the first device I’ve seen that really elegantly and completely lets ebooks be what they can be at best, instead of just seeing them as some kind of partly adequate substitute for a paper book.
Where this fits in
Let me take that ebook theme a little farther–specifically in terms of what this could mean for education. There has been a lot of attention to Theodore Gray’s simply amazing “The Elements” iPad app. This is where I think ebook initiatives for higher education should be going. Not to simply re-create paper textbooks, but to do things that an ebook can do that paper can not. The use of multimedia, the hyperlinks, the brilliant color and sound and factual information. This is a learning tool. A book is, too, but this is a radically different kind of learning tool. It’s not really fair to call it a textbook.
More than just the multimedia and flashy (which are not trivial) effects, the tone of the factual information is critically important. I think that web-based (or iPad-based) educational resources have the opportunity–the obligation–to explore different tones that more closely fit their media. This is one of the huge strengths of the best (in my humble, biased, opinion) open educational resource right now, Smarthistory (for which I eagerly await the iPad app!)
Where the iPad can fit in higher education is in two connected areas– first, in helping to make possible these new ways of consuming content–these kinds of educational resources, learning tools, which are designed for the new medium and its own advantages, rather than trying to replicate the previous medium. So that “consuming” really isn’t the right word–there’s a kind of direct interaction with the content–almost a type of creation itself. And second, in helping to make possible these new ways of creating content–again taking advantage of exactly what the medium can do–using the tools (fingers) and the ideas directly, to create what you see and think and mean. I really want to see where students will go with this–what kinds of presentations and effects and documents they will create and what kinds of responses and interactions they will have. And third, that ease and intimacy of creating content and interacting with already-created content is really going to encourage and multiply that more informal, conversational, dialogic, provisional, digressive, tone. And all of that is what will be coming soon.
What is to come
What will be coming soon? That’s the real beauty here. The apps that are there now are only hints of what I’m sure will be coming. Video editing? No real reason it won’t be possible. Social annotation of images or texts? Absolutely needs an app and I’m sure we’ll see one. There’s room for brilliant developers here. And rewards. Sure, Apple controls the app store. I don’t see that as being such a huge problem as some of my colleagues do.
We just don’t really know how the apps are going to come, when and what they’ll be, and that is really what is going to make this device shine. For the iPhone, the apps have always been the main advantage–and for the iPad that’s going to be even more the case.
And hardware improvements, too–like a camera for videoconferencing, I guess–are certainly coming down the road. This is the very first device of its type (no previous tablet has been in this genre. It’s not the same kind of thing). So there are naturally going to be competitors and improvements and new versions. But long before any of that, we’re going to see more and more and better and better new apps. I’m hoping some of our students will be building them!
What is not so great
No review would be complete without a few complaints! No device is perfect. The keyboard is going to take some getting used to. I think for extended writing, I’m going to want to use an external keyboard. I can’t really touchtype very well on the iPad keyboard using all my fingers–even in landscape mode.
The rich text editor in WordPress is not compatible with the iPad browser in some way. You can use the html edit window, but can’t type or edit at all in the rich text. I’m sure there’s going to be a quick and easy solution for that soon (and the iPad WordPress app is OK–but not great for a WPMU install. All of this may be moot with WordPress 3.0).
And this is not an iPad issue, but a Google Docs issue. You can view, but you can not edit, Google Docs (except spreadsheets) in the iPad browser (same is true for every mobile browser–including the iPhone). I’ve been told that Google, as well as QuickOffice and other third parties, are working on fixes for this very soon. Similarly, I’d like to see some close integration (opening, saving, editing) with Dropbox. That could really make the whole cloud thing work with the iPad in great ways.
There are also some typical 1.0 type glitches. Some websites don’t load or crash safari. Some apps aren’t quite stable yet. But those are really minor, infrequent, and to be expected. This is a 1.0 version, after all! I have not experienced the wifi issues that some users have reported. Wifi has been strong and reliable for me so far.
So that’s where things stand right now! I’m not the only iPad reviewer on the web by any means–but that’s how it looks from my own perspective.
I recently read (unfortunately, I can’t find the reference, or where I read it–it was in print, not online, believe it or not–so this will have to stand as anecdotal) about a study at a school using lecture capture technology. The study compared students’ use of recorded lectures (made available on the web) in two different classes (same academic subject, covering the same content). In one course, the professor lectured through the whole class period, with almost no opportunities for interaction (he took questions at the end) or any activity by students except for listening and note-taking. In the second course, the professor lectured for only brief periods, asking students to step forward and present at various points in the class or to repeat questions that they had sent to him in emails, and integrating discussions and questions throughout the class.
Both classes were recorded–audio and video–and made available to students afterwards. In both cases, standard, simple, lecture capture (a fixed camera, a microphone on the professor and an omni-directional microphone in the room) tools were used.
When the recordings were made available, it turned out that students accessed and viewed the second class–the one that included interaction and active participation from students–even though much of that interaction was not well-captured in the videos. They reported in interviews that they found the class itself to be interesting and engaging, and wanted to review what the professor had said–they felt (does this seem paradoxical?) that they were so interested in class that they might have missed something.
The first class, the captured straight lecture, was not one that students accessed or viewed at all. A few students viewed the page, but interviews afterwards showed that they did not bother to watch more than the first few minutes of the recording. It wasn’t something that they felt was useful either in reviewing for studying, or for understanding the material.
And beyond that, students reported that, because the full lecture was available online, they didn’t feel they needed to bother to attend class–and attendance did, in fact, dip significantly after the first few sessions. So not only were they not using the captured lectures, they were less likely to even attend the actual, in-person lectures. That didn’t happen in the more interactive class–students there continued to attend–felt that they would miss something important if they didn’t, even though the recordings were available.
I’ve been thinking about this, because it reinforces something I’ve always noticed myself, but also because there are some surprises there. I’ve always had big reservations about lecture capture (which unfortunately, too often, is the only model used when thinking about podcasting in higher ed, and even more unfortunately, when thinking about what administrators call “distance learning”). It seems to me that a good lecture (and they do exist, and they are a good thing) is very much a live performance–and it depends to a large extent on that context of live performance for its effectiveness. A recording can have some value–but it’s not a transparent representation. It’s a re-presentation. So it’s taking the performance out of its native medium, plopping it into another, different medium. It loses all the advantages of the original (live, face-to-face) medium, and it gains none of the advantages of the new (online, asynchronous) medium. (The term “lecture capture” is a significant one. It captures the lecture–nails it down, cages it)
This is why, to me, an “online class” (or “distance learning”) is at its least effective, its least interesting, when it’s a series of recorded lectures–unless (which is very rare) those lectures are specifically and intentionally produced for the new medium–then they’re mini-films. An online class should be designed for the online medium–to take advantage of the affordances (hyper-links, multimedia, asynchronicity, threaded discussion, etc., etc) of that medium.
But that study made me think more of an “apples and oranges” question. While confirming my own experience that straight capturing of a straight lecture is pretty much a waste of time and technology (and may even decrease student learning–that was a bit of a surprise to me), that study also indicates that a “lecture” is not always exactly a lecture. When I think of comparing two classes, or two captures, I want to remember to also think of comparing apples to apples.
People often talk about how online classes are necessarily inferior to face-to-face classes, but they say this with built-in assumptions. They compare a terrible online class with an excellent face-to-face class. Similarly, I think that study indicated that it’s not just the fact of the recording that is important–it’s what has been recorded. A good class is still valuable as a recording (contrary to my own automatic assumption). It’s the quality of the class, not the recording, that makes students want to return to it, to think about it, to come back for more.
Faculty development (even with all its varieties and all its difficulties) should always focus on the goal of making classes better–which is always a matter of making students more active, more engaged. Then everything will be apples. And it’s good to remember that sometimes the fact that a class is interesting, is engaging, actually means that students don’t get all they can out of the class–they want to, and need to, return to it again. So in those cases, the recording just might be a useful thing for them.
We’ve been talking throughout the semester in the Core II class in the ITP program about the idea of “School 2.0” (which I’ve also explored as “the University of the Future“). It wasn’t really an intended theme of the course, but we do seem to keep coming back to it.
And at a meeting recently I heard someone say “you could take a professor from the 19th Century, and drop him into one of our classrooms, and aside from some of the technology, he would be completely familiar with everything that was going on there. It would all look just the same as what he was used to.” This was said somewhat approvingly, as a measure of how we’re doing things right. But I don’t think it’s right. It’s probably not even true, but if it is, it’s not a good thing at all.
Over the weeks I’ve been thinking more and more that we’re missing opportunities if we’re not keeping up with what happens in terms of learning outside of that same-old, same-old sphere. It’s probably always been true that just as much (or more) learning goes on outside of classrooms as inside, but we’re entering an era where there can actually be recognition and formal acknowledgment of that, and if we in higher ed want to cling to our exclusive role as credentialers of learning, we’re going to lose the race and be rendered irrelevant.
Knowing how to ask becomes a more important skill, a more useful credential, than a score on an exam or a grade in a course, in a world of open access to educational resources. Something like whuffie, or the respect of a group of peers who know your work in a digital environment, becomes a real transcript or references. An eportfolio (made up of small pieces loosely joined) is more effective and more persuasive than a CV.
And none of these credentials are going to be judged exclusively by what the university thinks of them. Our role has to be to guide and support, to be a resource.
This is why I think that to some extent Mark Taylor misses the point in this morning’s New York Times. He’s totally right that we need a restructure, that the old disciplinary boundaries and holding to tenure when it prevents innovation need to go. He’s completely correct that students need to work on different sorts of projects than dissertations that won’t be published (or even read).
But there is a School 2.0 coming, and it doesn’t take place in school at all. It takes place in blogs and discussion forums, on wikipedia and twitter and digg and instructables. In order to have relevance to students who do most of their learning outside of school, we need to be outside of school ourselves. We need to be teaching and learning where teaching and learning is going on.
That does put us at risk–our authority, our own credentials, are no longer unquestioned or unquestionable, and we lose a certain amount of prestige. But we stand to gain, in learning for ourselves and making our teaching more effective and powerful (and collaborative!), much more than we lose.