I’ve been absent in this space for several months; I’ve spent any available blogging time in my general educational technology blog: Edtechatouille. However, a few developments within my institution will likely bring me back to this space on a regular basis in the coming months – more on that later.
I noticed via a post at Lifehacker today that Google is hosting the entire LIFE magazine photography archive. As Google’s announcement indicates, this doesn’t include just published images; it includes any and all images which can be digitized; currently, they have about 20% of the 10 million image library scanned and online:
Only a very small percentage of these images have ever been published. The rest have been sitting in dusty archives in the form of negatives, slides, glass plates, etchings, and prints. We’re digitizing them so that everyone can easily experience these fascinating moments in time. Today about 20 percent of the collection is online; during the next few months, we will be adding the entire LIFE archive â€” about 10 million photos.
Whether browsing from the LIFE Photo Archive Hosted by Google start page or doing a search from Google by adding “source:LIFE” to the search, it’s an amazing resource and collection with only 20% currently available.Â I’m not sure where else we might find images like this one. What baffles me about the announcement and the resource home page is that there’s absolutely zero mention of copyright or license or permissions to use the content.Â Given that there’s nothing posted, the assumption is that the entire library is (C) All Rights Reserved, and of course, that doesn’t mean that the content can’t be used in the classroom.Â But, I’m surprised that there’s not at least some explicit indication of the license of the images.Â And, it’s discouraging that such a collectoin isn’t being made available via a more lenient and usable Creative Commons license: attribution-noncommercial-noderivative, perhaps? Maybe that’s an educator’s perspective, and just maybe, I’m asking and expecting too much.Â Oh well.
More than a few (as in, I don’t want to say “many”) faculty are generating podcasts as part of their course content, but even within that group, how many use already available podcasts to supplement their own course materials?Â In my experience, that number is relatively low even among faculty generally familiar with podcasts. Within my own class (Intro to Computers), I’ve identified several podcasts; in particular, The Real Deal by Tom Merritt and Rafe Needleman is an excellent supplement to my course content.Â In the past, I’ve always made the link to a specific episode available within the context of my instructional module; I can’t confirm it, but I believe that link gets overlooked or ignored by students. So, my question is, “How can I/faculty better incorporate already existing podcasts into my/their course?” I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to survey my students to see how they use any MP3 player they may have and learn what podcasts they listen to if any; then I can begin to help them use podcasts and – here’s the key – better integrate podcasts into the way my course functions. The first way is to integrate required reading for learners via a Google Reader tag and/or a Diigo tag.Â I already use a shared_cfclass tag in Google Reader to tag articles I want to discuss or highlight in class; that tag results in this resyndicated feed.Â I’ve also used, although not as much recently, a Diigo/Delicious tag to highlight specific webpages for the same reason.Â I use those as an optional resource for learners currently; I could make subscribing to those two feeds required to ensure learners are engaging the content on a regular basis.Â With learners using one or both feeds (or perhaps I could combine both into one Yahoo Pipe feed), I could easily begin including specific podcast episodes in that feed.Â An important aspect of that would be to tag the podcasts and articles on a schedule synchronized with the course content.Â Basically, instead of providing links to learners in a course module that they’ll blitz through too quickly, have them reading an RSS feed through which a podcast and other content will be delivered.Â I’m wondering if that wouldn’t give the content more immediacy and attract more learner attention. A second idea is apparently a bit more complex than I initially thought it would be or altogether not possible.Â I’d like to be able to tag – using any social media tool – a podcast episode in a manner which the original enclosure would appear in a resyndicated feed.Â If I tag a podcast episode using Google Reader or Diigo/Delicious, the text and description or made available in my resyndicated feed, but the original enclosure can not be accessed through my feed.Â If a tool makes that possible, learners could simply subscribe to a resyndicated podcast feed I’ve created using their podcatching application.Â I know the tools I’m currently using don’t enable that type of functionality, so I’m looking for a tool or possibility. For general interest, what’s on my iPod?Â At the moment, it’s a collection of general news, technology, sports and educational technology podcasts.Â There’s also music, but I generally don’t use the iPod for music – I prefer radio ;-) America Votes 2008 The Buzz Report CNN=Politics Daily Dilbert Animated Cartoons EdTech Weekly EDUCAUSE Podcasts ESPN Around the Horn ESPN Fantasy Focus Football NY Times Front Page NBC Nightly News The Real Deal TED Talks
Encyclopedia is “A complete copy of the Wikipedia encyclopedia on your iPhone/iPod.Â This app is the fastest and simplest way to browse Wikipedia on your device, and crucially, doesn’t require any internet connectivity . . . When you first launch Wikipedia, you will be required to download a copy of the database which will occupy about 2GB of space on your device.” I noticed this via LifeHacker and tracked through a Google Code page and the home page for the application. As an educator, think about this for a second.Â The entirety of Wikipedia on a mobile device no larger than a cell phone; that’s over 1 billion words in your pocket, literally.Â That’s over 25 times as many words as the next largest English-language encyclopedia, Encyclopedia Britannica.Â What does that mean to me? My daughter lives in a world in which she thinks “Daddy knows everything.”Â I’m not talking about the normal, narrow-world-view naivete of a child to whom it seems Mom or Dad knows everything; in reality, she’s never asked a question for which I didn’t or couldn’t provide an answer of some sort; even the less definitive answers to philosophical questions are still answers.Â Most recently, it was, “Why do we carve pumpkins at Halloween?” I have explained to my daughter that I don’t know the answer to every question; I just have a real good idea of how to find the answer to most any question. As an educator, that perspective and ability is a wonderful thing. As an educator, that perspective and ability creates a significant problem. It’s an incredible prospect to be able to find the answer to most any objective question given an internet connection and better than average internet search skills.Â But, what implications does that have for education, in it’s current, American incarnation?Â It may have been nearly 20 years since I last sat in an American History class, and many of the facts I learned then have long since escaped the clutches of my memory.Â However, if you were to put me in front of one of those same history tests along with a mobile device, could I not do fairly well on it?Â especially if I had a mobile device?Â In fact, why should I not have a mobile device available to me, as some Australian schools are now allowing?Â In terms of authentic tasks (see previous post), is remembering specific dates, facts, or information something I’ll ever have to do again?Â If I can use my iPod to help me answer almost every question on a test, what’s the value of the test?
This afternoon, I attended an online webinar session offered by Educause Learning Initiative.Â Thomas Reeves from university of Georgia presented “Authentic Tasks in a Web-Based Learning Environment.”Â If you have access to the archive, it’s worth a view, and if you haven’t explored the ELI resources in general, those are worth the time as well.Â A few notes and comments regarding the session. Dr. Reeves described the concept of authentic tasks, gave several examples and then provided several rationale justifying the need for greater use of authentic tasks in higher education.Â The majority of the hour was spent describing a ten-point framework that he and colleagues have developed regarding the characteristics of authentic tasks. WHAT ARE “AUTHENTIC TASKS?” For those perhaps not familiar, Dr. Reeves defined authentic tasks as, “Learning activities that replicate the kinds of activities that learners may engage in the real world.” Â Â He offered an example from his own class; rather than reading about program evaluation, his students work with real world clients to evaluate eLearning programs as part of the class: learners plan, conduct and report an evaluation. One of the better examples I use personally is one of the activities in my “Introduction to Computers” class.Â Rather than having learners simply read and take a quiz regarding the components of a PC system, I assign them to work in groups to purchase a computer whose components match the unique needs of a real world computer user they selected as a case study.Â Each group must make a specific, unique decision regarding each PC component to ensure their selected user does not under- or over-spend on a computer. RATIONALE FOR AUTHENTIC TASKS Of course, Professor Reeves believes strongly that authentic tasks are critical to all learning, online or otherwise.Â During this session, he offered two specific arguments in favor of authentic tasks. First, from the NSSE student engagement study, only about 7% of our undergraduates study as much as a typical faculty member expects them to.Â That study identified five key factors to an engaging undergraduate education: student-faculty interaction; active, collaborative learning; time on task; continuous, timely feedback; and high academic challenge.Â As Dr. Reeves argued, authentic learning tasks addresses four of the five; I’m assuming the one that it would not necessarily address is “time on task.” Second, 21st Century skills and outcomes may uniquely be facilitated and assessed by authentic tasks: access/use information, communication skills, critically thinking, problem solving, and exhibiting intellectual curiosity. Unfortunately, authentic tasks may not be used widely enough in higher education.Â Dr. Reeves didnt’ note any specific statistics, but interestingly, session attendees believed authentic tasks are not used more widely in higher education because of (a) a lack of models for faculty to follow (40%), (b) a lack of time for faculty to develop and assess authentic tasks (24%), or (c) a lack of incentive to implement authentic tasks (23%). CHARACTERISTICS OF AUTHENTIC TASKS I don’t want to go into detail and simply repeat the characteristics Dr. Reeves noted; you can find the ten characteristics of authentic tasks detailed on one of his websites.Â I want to comment on a couple of them and the discussion that occurred in the session backchannel. Ill-defined and Complex. Dr. Reeves suggested authentic tasks should be ill-defined and complex.Â In short, activities should reflect the complexity and nature of tasks within the real world and should require the production of knowledge rather than the RE-production of knowledge.Â That left a begging question, “What does Ill-defined mean?”Â From my experience with problem-based learning, there’s a very critical difference between an ill-defined problem and un-defined learning.Â As I offered in the chat session, I believe “ill defined” means that “how” learners may solve a given problem should be left more open ended; there shouldn’t necessarily be a single course of action learners can take.Â Further, an “ill-defined” problem may indicate a general problem that requires learners define the situation or environment in more detail before they can begin to flesh out a solution.Â However, ill-defined does not mean that specific goals for the activity or how it will be assessed or what learners are expected to learn or supporting content should be ill-defined.Â In fact, those aspects of the assignment likely need to be more explicitly defined than non-authentic tasks.Â In short, an “ill-defined” problem describes general point that learners need to reach on a map, but it does not necessarily define the path they must take to reach that point. Afford opportunities for real collaboration. The key to this characteristic was the distinction Dr. Reeves made between collaboration and cooperation.Â It’s one I’ve considered before, and it’s also one I have a very difficult time drawing for my students.Â As a faculty member, what happens when you assign “group work” to students?Â How do they go about completing the assignment?Â Do they truly collaborate and work together to find a solution to the problem?Â Or, do they “divide and conquer” – breaking up pieces of the assignment and agreeing that members will do an equal share.Â The issue to consider when developing an authentic task for learners is how to develop the task in a manner that requires collaboration rather than cooperation.Â I’m not sure I have an answer at the moment. GENERATING AUTHENTIC TASK IDEAS Dr. Reeves presented the framework – or characteristics – of authentic tasks; that’s certainly useful, but I think one challenge that many educators face is the initial process of generating authentic task ideas, “How do I come up with ideas for authentic tasks based on what I’m currently teaching?”Â I think it begins with asking several questions about the current content you are teaching,
- What do I want learners to be able “to do” with this skill or knowledge?
- How might learners use this skill or knowledge in their day-to-day life?
- What task might an employer expect them to be able to do that requires this skill or knowledge?
- When in the future might this skill or knowledge be useful for the learner?
- What problem(s) would this skill or knowledge help a learner solve?
- What work can learners do that allows me to participate more in the learning process?
- What sort of an assignment regarding this skill or knowledge would benefit from learners working together?
- Are there workplace instances where learners will have to apply this skill within the context of a team?
Answering those questions, I believe, leads to the authentic tasks that follow naturally from the skills and knowledge being taught.Â At the very least, it’s a start to move toward more authentic tasks. DISCUSSION Several questions were posted in the session backchannel that I thought were particularly interesting.Â Those questions with my comments follow. Question: Authentic tasks take more time, so that’s time away from other things to cover in class — can you commnet on this tension? My Answer: I’ve found that the authentic tasks have allowed me to shift my time and cover more; because the authetnic tasks rquire learners to engage the text, I don’t spend as much time focused on the base knowledge.Â I spend more time covering specific, more in depth questions or addressing topics that extend the content of the text. Question: What technologies provide new opportunities to embed authentic tasks in the curriculum?Â My Answer: I believe there are basically two types of technologies that make authentic tasks more possible now than before: simulation facilitation and communication.Â More than a few technologies make simulations more possible now than before; animation applications continue to bridge the gap between educators and the programming skills necessary to create simulations (Flash, online application tools etc).Â While it certainly requires a specialized skill set to create Flash-based animations, I do think creating advanced, visual animations is more feasible now than it used to be.Â Further, game platforms and virtual worlds definitely provide educators with more tools that make creating simulations a feasible alternative.Â Second, communication technologies make collaboration regarding authentic tasks more possible.Â For example, I use wikis and collaborative documents to have learners “spec out” a computer for a specific type of user (which I define quite clearly); instead of simply reading about motherboards, processors and memory (intro to computers course), they actually engage the process of purchasing a computer.