Thursday, November 27, 2003

LeapFrog Leapster

Russ sent me this link a few weeks ago, but I didn't really look further into it until today: LeapFrog's Leapster hand-held device hits stores. The Leapster is an educational handheld device intended to go head-to-head against the GameBoys of the world. Would kids choose it? Have they been able to actually make learning fun? LeapFrog has been very, very successful by targeting anxious parents and grandparents who believe that their noisy electronic books will help make their kids smarter, so this new toy might just take off. Looks like they're also targeting schools.

CBC e-Learning

The CBC archives are amazing -- so much fascinating content, and they've got educational activities with lesson plans and supporting documentation for many of the historical pieces. Videos, documentaries, archival material, radio...all available online for free. Check out the complete list, or look at the wealth of content they have for the The Berger Pipeline Inquiry.

Friday, November 21, 2003

College Gender Gap Growing

Gwen sent me this link to an article about college gender gap.
"But among minorities, the gap is extreme. Of about 1,200 black students on campus this fall, nearly 800 are women. Asian-American females outnumber Asian-American males by more than 1,000."

ePortfolio Consortium

Several edubloggers already linked to this ePortfolio White Paper, but I also wanted to bookmark the ePort Consortium, which was behind the paper.
"An electronic portfolio, on the other hand, is owned and managed by the student/owner. Work evolves in the student's personal workspace(s) where it can be kept beyond the limits of a course for future reference and reflection."
This issue of ownership is key, and I wonder whether the corporate partners in this consortium really believe that individuals should control their own information. Memorial University has portfolios full of my writing on course discussion boards, but it's locked away in their WebCT vaults, inaccessible to me.

Globalization of Learning and White-Collar Work

Stephen Downes had a couple of links that are sticking in my head today. Today's was about rich nations flunk in educating the poor. It's talking not only the poor in their own countries (which would be great too), but aid for education in developing nations. It's hard to argue against such an idea, particularly if you consider education to be a basic human right.

But meanwhile, well-educated young people from India and the Phillipines are lining up for white-collar jobs being exported from North America. Stephen also linked to an excellent essay: The Digital Death Rattle of the American Middle Class: A Cautionary Tale. I've been hearing about IT jobs being exported to India for a few years, but the article digs into that phenomenon and extends it into the future. Maybe globalization will only start to see real resistance in the West when the middle class realizes that their jobs aren't coming back.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Oprah's eLearning

Oprah's Live Your Best Life isn't a great example of innovative eLearning, but what she's always been good at is building her brand and finding effective business models. What she's selling is herself, of course. Most of what she's saying in this online workshop is sort of meaningless to me, but I'd bet that her target market will lap it up.

The concept is simple -- turn Oprah's self-actualization workshop into an interactive online "course". It could be done in book format, but with the online version you get pretty pictures and spoken narraration. Instead of streaming video, they chose to use lots of still shots of her speaking, interspersed with text, all done quite effectively in Flash. Each section has a sort of lecture, then a couple of reflection activities, which are basic html forms that you fill out for yourself.

It probably works a bit better than a workbook, but I'm surprised that they don't use the power of the medium. Why not hook the whole thing up to a simple message board so that participants can talk to each other as they work through the activities? Oprah is the master of broadcasting -- but she would be wise to focus on connecting people to each other in this realm.

You can sign up for a free 30-minute membership, and then you have to pay $25 to continue. This kind of business model might seem like wishful thinking, but like I said, I bet that many of her fans will pay. Why? Her personal star power, slick production values, and the smart simplicity of her approach.

Friday, November 14, 2003

Online Learning Games for Preschoolers

Say what you will about Disney, they do know something about content for kids. Since my toddler-daughter Ivy learned to use the computer mouse this summer, she's spent a lot of time at the Disney Playhouse -- she requests games before TV most times, and it's somehow easier to let her play rather than watch something passively.

The site is so well designed, a two-year-old can not only navigate individual games like this fantastic word game, but she can move between subsections (see the crayon navigation on the word game) to find related games and activities, and even use the global navigation at the top-level page to switch sections (maybe from Rolie Polie Olie to Clay).

It's an amazing learning environment allowing exploration, creative expression and real learning...and it's free. Why would anyone by software when this great stuff is available online? Also check out the Sesame Street Game Room and Nick Jr. Playtime for other great examples.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Middle-Class Homeschooling

I don't want to lose Brian's excellent post and link to a NYT article about the type of people choosing to learn with their kids at home: "Newcomers to home schooling resist easy classification as part of the religious right or freewheeling left, who dominated the movement for decades, according to those who study the practice."

Fun, Tech and Teaching Foreign Languages

Butterfly Gemini relates some of her teaching frustrations, in this case with parents and a bit about technology. I guess some of the parents tattled on her (after parent-teacher interviews) for not utilizing the school's language technology lab to make foreign language courses more fun for the kids.
"A few reasons I had told the parents when they asked me about the technology use --or lack thereof, really-- in my foreign language classroom, were that I am new to the building, I have never had access to language lab facilities for teaching foreign language before, and I really do not know what is available to do in there."
This theme turned up over and over in my last course on web-based learning -- my classmates (mostly teachers) all agreed that the technology in a school is irrelevant if the teachers aren't given any help in integrating it effectively. Butterfly also talks about the conflict between curriculum and fun in school. Right now I'm just glad I'm not a teacher.

Friday, November 07, 2003


Evan makes some excellent points about the non-community of the blogging community and then reflects some more after seeing some thoughtful feedback on her posts. I often feel the same way when I lose sight of the reasons I wanted to write online in the first place (record, reflect, synthesize).

There's something just personal enough about blogging to give you fleeting tastes of friendship, comraderie and community. It's great if some people are able to convert those connections into "real" friendships and a true sense of community, but I don't think that will be the standard experience for most of us.

Experience Economics

No, my goal is not to channel the entire spirit of Peter Merholz into the education realm, but his stuff is a gold mine of connections, and I keep coming back to this one post. Experience Economics has a wonderful pyramid chart showing how people experience different types of birthday parties, starting with the commodity (birthday cake ingredients) and working all the way up to something transforming (birthday at Disney World). As you move up the pyramid, emotional resonance and economic value increase.

What's the equivalent for learning experiences? At the bottom would be plain old information, divorced from context. At the top might be learning about space by joining astronauts on a shuttle mission and having them mentor you for a week. In between would be most of the types of learning experiences in education today, probably skewed toward the bottom of the pyramid.

Extreme example, maybe, but I feel like this type of thinking might offer some answers to questions about the value of education. I wish someone would translate that visual into something that applies to learning so I wouldn't have to do it when I should be sleeping. Probably something that integrates Bloom's taxonomy, even though I've recently heard references to it being out of style.

Stakeholders and Innovation

Lisa Wait sent me some great feedback on Instructional Design in a Vacuum. She's working on an interesting e-learning project called Toolboxes for the Australian vocational education and training sector, and has some experience with the topic:
"I can't understand how the needs of the end users (teachers, learners, industry) could be met unless they became involved in the development process. A couple of times we have had developers who were in fact a couple of designers in a 'back room' somewhere working on a Toolbox in isolation. It is our experience that these products are not up to par from an educational perspective."
Exactly right. And I've also been mulling over one of Stephen's comments on the topic: "Innovation is disruptive, and disruption produces negative feedback, and if the feedback guides the product, the first thing to go would be the innovation." He's right, of course.

I would love to focus more of my attention on creating new learning environments and thinking about future ways to revolutionize education, but most of us in the trenches are just trying to make stuff work better for real people right now. Peter Merholz says this better than I could in his post on Innovation Fetishization. It's worth visiting his excellent post just to read the thoughtful comments from readers, but here's a sample:
"Such an obsession with 'innovation' worries me. It worries me because I live in a world where the things that already exist typically don't work as well as they should. More time should be spent bringing existing products and services up to snuff, and not focusing on The Next Big Thing. This innovation fetishization becomes a shiny bauble distracting people from paying attention to the here and now."

Thursday, November 06, 2003

What Can Education Learn from the Video Game Industry?

The discussion on the Serious Games listserv has been amazing lately. So many good ideas in the lively exchange. From their newsletter this morning: What Can Education Learn from the Video Game Industry? It's a summary of a panel discussion from summer with some of the smart folk from the listserv, and they even included a high school gamer for the student perspective.
"A winning interface, say the panelists, hinges on the freedom to build an identity, to participate in a community, and to be a producer rather than a powerless consumer. It is also extremely helpful if games provide information the player needs "just in time," so that there is an immediately usable context and limited delays."

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

What We Can't Blog About...and Portfolio Blogs

Will has been reflecting thoughtfully on a few favourite topics: What We Can't Blog About and Web Log Portfolios, Con't. Apparently my blog has just become a bookmarking system these days -- maybe eventually I'll feel like I can comment again on good stuff like this.

Worth Doing

I didn't know that Philip Pullman is an author, or who he was talking to in his Isus Lecture, but it's long, dense and wise, covering literacy, curriculum, teaching...the works. I want to read it again when my eyes aren't so blurry, because he's making me nod and furrow my brow and question my assumptions and wonder about the possibilities.

There are too many good ideas to summarize, but I thought this concluding advice hit the core: "Make this the golden rule, the equivalent of the Hippocratic oath: Everything we ask a child to do should be worth doing." Thanks to Mark Bernstein for the link.

Sunday, November 02, 2003

Planning Ahead

This math teacher writes about an assignment he gave to his eighth graders asking them to write down a potential career path and outline some goals. It's such a simple assigment -- I'd love to hear how it went. Is Grade 8 too early to start doing career planning? Interesting that he's doing it in a math class. There's lots of potential to relate career possibilities to the math they're learning, but most teachers probably aren't willing to go that far. Might help answer the "Why do we have to learn this?" question that kids inevitably ask.