Why Does Technology-Based Teaching Fail?

6 12 2007

Recently, I’ve been sharing some of my research into the pioneering educational technology work of Alan Kay, who was able to effectively translate his understanding of cognitive psychology and learning theory into new ideas for making computers easy to learn – and learn on. His insights into educational technology continue to be highly relevant today – here he is in 1987, answering the question “Computers have not been a big success in … computer-aided instruction. Why is this so, and what can be done to improve it?”

[kml_flashembed movie="http://youtube.com/v/bC7x_qntM0g" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Alternate link: http://youtube.com/watch?v=bC7x_qntM0g

No matter how powerful – or mobile – computers get, pedagogy must be considered before technology when developing learning experiences and activities.

Source: Alan Kay: “Doing with Images makes Symbols,” (1987) – Part 2
Extracted from video at The Internet Archive (Open Source Video) [Part 1] [Part 2]

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Using Animoto to create short videos for mobile

5 12 2007

Animoto is an online site that will automatically analyse your images and music, and then composite them for you into a dynamic video with professional transitions and effects. It supports direct retrieval from other social web tools such as Facebook, Picasa or Flickr, so if you’ve already uploaded your photos, there’s no need to find and upload them again.

The results are stunning – the site has been created by professional video producers, and the transitions are timed nicely with the mood, tempo and beat of each musical accompaniment. Here’s a demonstration of what is produced – this example was put together on-the-fly at a live event, so it’s a good example of what can be done in very little time and without much effort: – a video of photos from the E-Learning 07 event held earlier this year at the University of NSW, created by Jo Kay:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://widgets.clearspring.com/o/46928cc51133af17/47567909364fd64f" width="449" height="315" wmode="transparent" /]

(Alternate link: http://widgets.clearspring.com/o/46928cc51133af17/47567909364fd64f).

You can make unlimited videos, but with a free account you’re limited to 30 second videos. You can pay for a premium access ($3 per video or $30 per year) and Animoto will generate unlimited-length videos.

The thing is, the best videos on mobile devices are high-impact, short ones! If you or your learners are creating content for mobile devices, 30 seconds is perfect (though I can see myself getting a premium account so I can use this as a presentation tool!). Short videos are engaging to watch on mobile devices, and can be quickly shared or downloaded; and the developers of Animoto are currently working on tools to allow users to download videos directly to mobile devices such as mobile phones an iPods (both “coming soon” according to their FAQs).

This would work really well as a tool for generating learner-created content. Imagine a construction student tasked with creating an item for their e-portfolio, or to start off a class presentation. They may not (and probably do not) have any idea how to put together a video (even if you give them a free video editor). But they probably DO know how to take photos and upload files – which is all they have to do to use Animoto. Because the site does the compositing for them, they don’t need to know video editing to create a terrific presentation or portfolio piece, that they can then take around with them on their mobile phone, USB memory stick or media player.

This is a really cool tool for mobile learning!

(Props to Harriet for sharing!)

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Crystal Ball: 2008 (and beyond!)

5 12 2007

This was a fun exercise, so I thought it’d be good to share! I got this email:

Thank you for your participation with the Australian Flexible Learning Framework in 2007. As the year draws to a close we inevitably turn towards 2008 with optimism and great expectation.

As part of our end of year Flex e-News we are asking e-learning commentators about their predictions for 2008…

My responses are below. Do you agree with my predictions? What are YOUR predictions for 2008 (and beyond?)

How will the internet develop in 2008?

The developments to keep an eye on are the increasing use of virtual worlds, and the use of the internet on mobile devices. With regards to virtual worlds, there are two emerging open-source projects of particular interest to educators:

  1. Croquet (http://opencroquet.org): an open-source virtual world environment, co-founded by the educational technology visionary Alan Kay as an educational virtual world tool. Not only is Croquet open-source and “made for” education (both facets noticeably absent in SecondLife), but there are additional educational special interest projects, such as Edusim (http://edusim.greenbush.us), which extend the functionality of this increasingly capable virtual world platform.
  2. Alice (http://alice.org): of particular interest to teachers of information technology, Alice is an open-source virtual world programming environment designed specifically to make programming engaging for young people and, in particular, girls and women. It does this by using storytelling as a metaphor for programming: by creating a “story” in Alice, students actually program a virtual world and learn programming conventions and techniques. 3D models created in Alice can be exported to Croquet.

With regards to mobile learning, I think the release of the iPhone in Australia in 2008 (which I predict will be 3G/high-speed data capable) will generate plenty of interest in the use of mobile devices for learning, particularly if (as in other countries) it is bundled with a generous data plan. While the first generation of the iPhone had plenty of limitations, it converges the two most commonly carried mobile devices – a media player and a mobile phone – with a terrific user experience; so it will definitely make an impact on the way we interact with media, information, and each other.

I also foresee a trend towards the subversion of operator-controlled mobile data. As mobile devices become increasingly powerful and able (like the iPhone) to render full web pages, media, and even 3D animations, mobile phones will more commonly offer wireless networking capabilities so that users can bypass expensive mobile data operators to access the internet. Simultaneously, users will subvert commercial wi-fi operators, by creating free, city-wide wi-fi networks for shared and/or public access.

As this becomes more prevalent, mobile data and hotspot operators will be forced to reduce the cost of data access, and this will make it cheaper to access the mobile web anytime and anywhere. We can also expect to see some convergences of “fringe” internet technologies.

How will VET use ICT in 2008?

Actual usage of technology tends to (generally) lag behind the cutting edge, so the bulk of ICT usage will be in areas that are relatively well-established. Unfortunately, we’ll continue to see many new web services and tools being blocked by IT managers and administrators, effectively hindering the uptake of new learning technologies such as virtual worlds.

We’ll see many more teachers actively involved with exploiting easy-to-use internet tools to support and enhance learning. The use of blogs (and media-enhanced variants) will continue to grow exponentially as tools for reflection, sharing, process documentation and assessment.

How will Web 2.0 web applications develop in 2008?

Every major web 2.0 application is moving onto mobile platforms. Facebook, MySpace, blogs, Flickr, instant messaging, you name it: if they’re not mobile already, you can bet they’re looking for ways to do it. I foresee the emergence of mobile wikis in 2008, so that people will be able to create, edit and contribute to collaborative bodies of knowledge remotely.

2008 will be a year of innovation for mobile web 2.0. I’m foreseeing a new generation of made-for-mobile web applications that don’t just port existing web tools to mobile platforms, but exploit mobile devices in their own right.

How will VET be using mobile phones / PDAs / mobile devices in 2008?

Some of the most useful innovations in the short-term will be in administration, rather than learning. Educational institutions will use SMS technologies to communicate with students – providing essential information and alerts, and receiving and processing requests for help or assistance. Some of the most progressive organisations will provide mobile portals for students to log in and use messaging, administrative and learning tools.

There are two broad approaches that will be adopted by educators for enabling mobile learning and assessment in 2008. Where there’s funding for it, some organisations will invest in purchasing or subsidising common mobile devices for students (e.g. class sets of PDAs) to make it easier to develop resources and activities that will be equally accessible for all students. Typically, this will occur in situations where many groups of students will undertake the same activity repeatedly (using a “generic” set of devices), or when students are allowed to take devices home and use them as a tool that integrates their broader lifestyles with their learning. Where this approach is used, mobile learning will be seen as an integrated, core aspect of teaching and learning methodology.

Other educators and organisations will take a different approach, and will try to develop learning approaches that students can optionally engage with using their own mobile devices, or, (if they don’t own a mobile device) using non-mobile computers. Educators or organisations that adopt this approach will tend to view mobile learning as a learning support or enhancement strategy, rather than a core learning strategy or activity.

How will VET and the wider community be communicating in 2008?

The existing methods will continue to be popular: online discussion forums and communities; blogs; wikis; and synchronous tools such as Elluminate, Twitter and SecondLife will continue to be popular. There’s no reason why we should abandon these platforms – they have a track record of popularity and success.

I’d like to see more synchronous intersections of face-to-face and online events, like NSW LearnScope’s Regional Events this year: bringing together groups of people in physical locations, as well as connecting groups and individuals online. I can see that kind of “eventcasting” becoming popular at conferences as well – the two major mobile learning conferences this year were both video-blogged after the events, so it’s not going to be long before conference sessions will be accessible online, synchronously, for those unable to attend conference sessions in person.

What technology will become obsolete in 2008?

Tricky question! Generally, as things approach obsolescence they tend to be not considered “technology”! I mean, look at the typewriter… we don’t consider that technology, but it was once considered a cutting edge machine!

Not obsolete, but fast falling out of favour is email. This year, the term “bacn” was coined to describe the mass of emails you subscribed to or agreed to receive, but which tend to clog up your inbox meaninglessly. A growing proportion of young people avoid using email, and it’s a platform that will probably be “reinvented” in the next year or two (making email as we know it “obsolete” I suppose). Such a reinvention might be something completely new, or something as simple as automatic filtering – e.g. being able to specify a different but related email account for various “folders” within one’s own email account at the time we provide it, e.g. bacn^leonard.low@gmail.com instead of leonard.low@gmail.com to automatically redirect “junk” messages away from our inbox, or possibly, to redirect the most important emails to our Instant Messaging client or mobile phone.

As far as mobile devices go, I think we’re going to see a lot of standardisation in 2008, so the mish-mash, hodge-podge variety of operating systems, memory formats and chargers will start to become more orderly. I can foresee the dominance of a handful of operating systems next year: Google’s Android platform, Windows Mobile, Symbian and (possibly) one or two others; memory card formats will be standardised, and the majority of mobile phones will be charged and data-connected using mini-USB instead of the multitude of charger sizes and shapes we have at present. We’ll see some standardisation of mobile web browsers, too… all good news for users…

Any bold predictions you would like to make?

The BIG news for educators in the near future will be the creation of social collaboration sites aimed specifically at teaching and learning! Whereas most existing educational resource sites still work on a Web 1.0 paradigm (e.g. Toolbox objects are made available to download, but users don’t/can’t share learning resources they create themselves), we’ll see the creation of website that allow teachers and resource developers uploading teaching and learning materials, lesson plans, and links for other teachers and learners to freely download, access, modify and share back. We’ll see internet sites that allow IMS-compliant learning objects to be unwrapped, viewed and even edited or customised online. This will significantly change the way teachers find and use educational resources. Instead of having to hunt across various non-educationally-minded sites like YouTube or Flickr, trying to sift out the nuggets of gold and laboriously re-aggregate them into sensible learning activities, teachers will be able to go to a single repository of content that is made-for-education. They’ll be able to share their best materials with their peers, and have their peers help to collaboratively develop resources of common interest or need.

I’m also foreseeing the use of virtual worlds on mobile devices within the next two years – in particular, I can see the open-source, cross-platform Croquet being ported to a mobile device in the near future, and possible “mashed” with GPS technology and 3D Google Maps to enable “augmented” reality interfaces: 3D renderings of the *real* world, on mobile devices, with “avatars” representing real people being tracked in real time and space via GPS appearing in the virtual world. Eventually, we’ll be able to program our avatars with the ability to operate autonomously when we’re not logged on. Our avatars will continue to exist in virtual worlds – working, interacting with other avatars, gathering and sharing information, and presenting their own “learning” to the user when they next log on.

As such, tomorrow’s web users won’t just create content; they will create virtual content aggregators and creators: “agents” who share ideas and information on various topics of expertise or interest and will manifest themselves in virtual worlds, in the web, and on our mobile devices. Some such characters will become so popular that they will take on reputations of their own, independent of their owners (some of whom will retain real-world anonymity) – virtual celebrities, mentors, and heroes!

How will we incorporate this into the way we design, support and deliver learning?

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