January 2010 Archives

I'm at Curtis Bonk's presentation related to his book "The World is Open", which is his take on "The World is Flat" and subsequent authors who have proposed that "The World is Curved", relating to the economic dangers of global economies, and "The World is Spiky", distributed centers of innovation in places like Austin and Singapore.

His top 10 trends:
  • Web Searching in the World of e-Books
  • E-Learning and Blended Learning
  • Availability of Open Source and Free Software
  • Leveraged Resources and Open CourseWare
  • Learning Object Repositories and Portals
  • Learner Participation in Open Information Communities
  • Electronic Collaboration
  • Alternate Reality Learning
  • Real-Time Mobility and Portability
  • Networks of Personalized Learning
Most of this is making the case for a position that we adopted YEARS ago, but he has collected some interesting examples:
So sure, we need to pay attention to trends and services like these.  Fortunately, I think that our group has been.
I'm at a session about Sophie 2.0 - software that supposedly makes it easy to combine text, images, sound, video, shapes, motion, and links into a rich multimedia package without the need to learn Flash.  It seems like something that could be used for digital storytelling. 

An example:

The software uses a book metaphor: you build a series of interactive pages.  You can embed a comment block on pages to collect feedback from users that goes back to the author/instructor/etc...  You can set it so students can go back and see their own comments or even see the comments from other students.  In a sense, it reminds me of what Hypercard or Authorware would be if they built it within the last five years. 

One of the advantages over normal Flash is that the text embedded in the "book" is still searchable, so it would be easy to find your way back to a certain section.

Anyway, it's an interesting project.  They are willing to travel and show it off if we can get a group of 10 or more faculty together to take a look at it.
Pat Aufderheide from the Center for Social Media is talking about Fair Use in education today, especially when people are posting their work in the public (Facebook, YouTube, etc...).  Here's her presentation:

Pat's take on copyright is that its purpose is to create culture by giving people a limited monopoly on works they create and to encourage the creation of more stuff (writing, music, art, etc...).  It's limited so culture isn't stifled.  Also, it's impossible to create something that isn't based on something else in some way.

The four factors that are considered in fair use cases:
  • The reason for the use
  • The kind of work used
  • The amount used
  • The effect on the market
In the last 15 years, judges have focused on two elements:
  • Transformation - How are you using the work differently than its original purpose?  In other words, are you making a commentary about a certain institution, culture, etc...
  • Amount related t transformative purposes - how much of this do you need for your purposes
Best practices help to define what are standard uses of copyrighted material.  This both helps with a legal defense and to help challenge the interpretation of local self-appointed experts (like Allan).  Example needs that have lead to best practice documents: documentary film makers, scholars, media literacy teachers, online video, dance collections, and open course ware.

[She made a good statement about copyright in online courseware initiatives: the swiss cheese or skeleton course - where the course structure exists, but pieces are missing because of conservative interpretations of copyright.]

Documentary film makers had some problems with ambient media (televisions playing, songs on a radio, etc...).  The old practice would require them to turn off radios, televisions, and iPods or replace that content with pre-cleared media - but this inherently changes the environment that the documentary is covering.  Their best practices state that it is normal practice to record copyrighted material that exists naturally in the environment, but they agreed that they shouldn't extend the use of that media for other uses, such as extending it to the next scene to make a nice transition.

Google has commissioned the Center for Social Media to create guidelines that would cover online video and cases where copyrighted material was used for a variety of purposes such as commentary, incidental use, illustraton, critique, demonstration, and collage (also known as remix or mashup, but the term "collage" has more historical context).

I've read many of the guidelines that Pat is talking about, but it was nice to hear her personal take on these issues.  She's an excellent speaker who knows what she is talking about and would be an interesting person to bring in around an event.
The first session at ELI 2010 is off and running.  Prof. William Thomas (University of Nebraska) identified some issues with digital copies of historical records.  One example simple example: accessing old music videos from the early 1980's through YouTube.  The context of the original presentation of those videos is gone.  As students go back to digital versions of historical documents, they lose some of the context that produced those artifacts.  In addition, students have problems determining what is a primary source.

So he has been working to change the way that history survey courses are taught.  Instead of using his lectures to cover content, he places more of a focus on "doing history" - which reminds me of how science students can be taught the scientific method instead of just scientific facts.

The components of this new focus:
  • Emphasizing writing as a process of learning and disciplinary thinking
  • Using digital sources to expose students to the complexity of the past
  • Requiring collaboration in digital formats to formulate interpretation about sources (mostly a course wiki)
So he would get them to focus on writing good thesis statements, finding resources and identifying whether they are primary sources, understanding the context of the sources, etc...

He expected them to work mostly online through Blackboard, but during the first student assignment, student groups did a lot of face to face work as well as using text messages, cell phone calls, e-mail, and a variety of other modes that worked, but didn't have a distinct historical record.  The second time, they switched to using a course wiki, helped students learn the system, gave them better instructions about what was expected of them, gave more feedback, and tied course grades to participation.  The tracking tools in the wiki helped the course design team track individual student progress.  Overall, this worked a lot better and students were much more active in the wiki.

At the end of this, they found that there was a small, but significant increase in the final exam scores and felt that the student essays were better.  He's still sorting through some of the data and trying to make sense of it, such as correlations between participation in the course wiki with mid-term to final-exam score improvement.

A typical student comment: they are were expecting a typical history courses (facts, notes, etc...), and were intimidated by the requirement to take the role of a historian, but eventually, they got used to the idea and liked the course.

Concluding thoughts: 
  • Using a textbook wasn't that important.  
  • Hands-on practice with the research tools (ProQuest, etc...) is very important.  
  • Students need help decyphering materials.  
  • We need to switch from the obsession with covering content to teaching them to use the key processes inherent to a field (e.g. "doing history").
So overall, it's an interesting approach.  I think it emphasized that it isn't about having a course wiki - it's about finding the right tools to help students to take an active role in their learning and develop the critical thinking skills needed to do good research or otherwise perform the functions of their field.

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