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Open Culture: Tools for Lifelong Learners

In my post, "Are You a Teacher or a Curator?" I explored the current meme that bloggers and thought leaders aren't "experts" or "editors", but rather those of us who collect, aggregate and deliver content surrounding our passions are more like museum "curators."

Open Culture is doing a marvelous job of curating "...cultural and educational media (podcasts, videos, online courses, etc.) that’s freely available on the web, and that makes learning dynamic, productive, and fun."

Like great museum curators, they "...sift through all the media, highlight the good and jettison the bad, and centralize it in one place. Trust us, you’ll find engaging content here that will keep you learning and sharp. And you will find it much more efficiently than if you spend your time searching with Google, Yahoo or iTunes."

Open Culture is lead by Dan Colman, whose day job is as the Director & Associate Dean of Stanford’s Continuing Studies Program. Before that, he served as the Managing Director of AllLearn, an e-learning consortium owned by Stanford, Oxford and Yale, and as the Director of Business Development and Editorial Manager at About.com. He received his PhD and MA from Stanford, and his BA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

His colleague curators are Eric Oberle, a guy that provides very generous technical support for the site and Fred Hsu, the developer behind the Open Culture iPhone app, who works as a Technical Marketing Engineer at Cisco Systems to put food on the table.

What caught my eye today was a post they wrote on December 2nd entitled, "10 Power Tools for Lifelong Learners" and covers free content like audio books; courses from major universities; foreign language lessons; ideas and culture programming; "intelligent" video sites and "smart YouTube collections" and classic movies and music.

I'll wager that you'll go here and discover so much free content that you'll forever curse my name for pointing you to it! Of course, it's yet another validation point to the acceleration of knowledge, information and participative content creation that is the hallmark of our connected age and one your students will be immersed in very soon.

Virtual Magazines, Newspapers, Books...

When I wrote this post about the changing nature of ebooks, most of it was startling obvious to most technology players, and yet I find that most strategists are intrigued but in the dark about what's really going on with tablet devices.

Publisher Condé Nast has been very public about their preparations for the rumored upcoming Apple Tablet with Wired magazine, but there is no question in my mind that publishers are going to be hedging their bets with Amazon's Kindle and even possible reference designs (which PC manufacturer's could deliver) like the one Microsoft showed in this concept video called "Courier".

This week has seen a flurry of activity and discussion surrounding major publishers and their magazine prototypes like the one in the video below.

Will these tablets and devices ship, enabling all of these exciting and rich publications to be created and delivered on a reader/tablet type device? I have no doubt the answer is, "yes." Will there be a model for publishers to charge for their content? Absolutely, and many of us believe it will be an online store, similar to buying applications for the iPhone or iPod Touch, both of which can now take advantage of Apple's rollout of "micropayments" for, as an example, games that are enabled for the game publisher to charge for incremental play (i.e., additional levels of the game or in-game purchases that enhance game play).

Take a peek at Time's Sports Illustrated prototype that will help you see the possibilities that 2010 will bring with an entirely new class of devices, content delivered to and through them, and what this means for everything I've been discussing on this blog as it pertains to the world our students will inherit.

WordpressTV: An On-Demand Learning Resource

Open source software has continued to grow dramatically over the past several years and the social publishing platforms like Wordpress have been embraced by millions due to an increase in features, functions, themes and capabilities. Add to that the free, hosted platforms like Wordpress.com, along with one driven by Wordpress called Edublogs, and you can see why the growth continues unabated.

What’s stunned me about the Wordpress community, however, has little to do with the raw platform or the number of people using it, but instead on the groundswell of “how-to” videos that have sprung up at a new Wordpress offering called WordpressTV. Everything from creating a post to developing a theme is covered, and all of these videos are predominantly built by the community, rather than anyone directly affiliated or employed by Wordpress.

Much of the spark for the creation of these how-to's come from passionate and gifted users, but also when needs are identified as like-minded users congregate WordCamps.

WordCamp’s are unconferences, set up and delivered for free by anyone (or group) interested in hosting one in their city or state. Larger ones, like the recent WordCamp San Francisco, was attended by the young founder and “rock star” of Wordpress, Matt Mullenweg, and since many of us cannot attend these events, users shot videos, uploaded them, and added them to a new WordpressTV area called ”WordCampTV”, enabling anyone to see them immediately upon posting like this highly sought after one by Mullenweg called State of the Word:



The lessons? That it is easier than ever to provide high value information to a narrow or a mass audience. Not only with videos taken with inexpensive cameras, but screencasts or podcasts too. The other one is the rapid growth of a critical mass of on-demand learning products, even if they're free, community generated or paid.

Wordpress' video capability also got a boost recently when they delivered an all-you-can-use, $59 per year, HD video offering that delivers video like the one you see Matt Mullenweg in above. This sort of seamless and easy creation, uploading and delivery--for a laughingly low cost--is the catalyst enabling a passionate community to deliver learning to others.

Online Education Beats the Classroom

When I saw this article in the New York Times and the provocative title, "Study Finds that Online Education Beats the Classroom", I instantly stopped and read the article, then went and downloaded the SRI International report (PDF) which had been created for the Department of Education.

Reading the report was enlightening since my instant reaction to the NYTimes article, especially since they had a photo of a nine year old boy on a computer, was that this was an overall finding of traditional classroom vs. online education and not specific to any group, but the abstract contained the key caveat (my bold and italics as emphasis):

"A systematic search of the research literature from 1996 through July 2008 identified more than a thousand empirical studies of online learning. Analysts screened these studies to find those that (a) contrasted an online to a face-to-face condition, (b) measured student learning outcomes, (c) used a rigorous research design, and (d) provided adequate information to calculate an effect size.

As a result of this screening, 51 independent effects were identified that could be subjected to meta-analysis. The meta-analysis found that, on average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction. The difference between student outcomes for online and face-to-face classes—measured as the difference between treatment and control means, divided by the pooled standard deviation—was larger in those studies contrasting conditions that blended elements of online and face-to-face instruction with conditions taught entirely face-to-face. Analysts noted that these blended conditions often included additional learning time and instructional elements not received by students in control conditions.

This finding suggests that the positive effects associated with blended learning should not be attributed to the media, per se.
An unexpected finding was the small number of rigorous published studies contrasting online and face-to-face learning conditions for K–12 students. In light of this small corpus, caution is required in generalizing to the K–12 population because the results are derived for the most part from studies in other settings (e.g., medical training, higher education)."

Does this mean K-12 classroom education is superior to online? Equal to? Less than? There are many questions to ask but one thing is clear: this report is a fantastic conversation starter and this is a discussion worth having in a day when there is such an acceleration in broadband speeds and ubiquity of connections; computing power continues to double roughly every 18 months; smartphones, netbooks and device types continue to be introduced every quarter; and our students are increasingly enjoying always on and always connected access online.

Learning Just In Time


What skills, knowledge and abilities are critical ones to learn in order to be successful in this 21st century? Are they ones that require we focus our limited educational resources on core skills only? Or should we re-allocate some of those resources and accelerate how we teach students where and how to retrieve data, information or knowledge resources at the moment they need it most?

During the last 2-3 years, nearly every teacher or administrator technology discussion I've been in turns toward topics like the rate of technological change and its impact on school budgets (and keeping up with all the changes); the digital divide; how to keep kids safe online; and whether or not the use of technology is a core skill or a distraction.

Current educational models ensure our students have the basics and foundations required to be fully productive citizens when they reach adulthood. What happens to those models when what is being taught (or an extension of what they've been taught) already exists online and is accessible at the click of a mouse or a touch of the finger?

Continue reading "Learning Just In Time" »

How the Singularity Will Affect Education

When I was privileged to be engaged by Scholastic to write posts for the Administrator area, I asked myself one question: “What is the most profound technological shift taking place?” The answer that came to me was that there wasn’t any one single technology or category profound enough to focus on, but rather it is the rate of change in technology that matters to you, our students and for K12 education overall.

One scientist I admire, and is someone who has written extensively about exponential change, is Ray Kurzweil. Though I’ve read several of his books and his original paper on the topic of exponential change (The Law of Accelerating Returns), it wasn’t until he wrote The Singularity is Near did I find that the arguments he made and case he built so profound that the notion of a point in time when machine computation surpasses the collective computation capability of all human brains on earth, haunts me to this day.

In his book, Kurzweil describes the Singularity:

What, then, is the Singularity? It’s a future period during which the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed. Although neither utopian or dystopian, this epoch will transform the concepts that we rely on to give meaning to our lives, from our business models to the cycle of human life, including death itself. Understanding the Singularity will alter our perspective on the significance of our past and the ramifications for our future. To truly understand it inherently changes one’s view of life in general and one’s own particular life.

In his book, which I’ve found to be a daunting read at best, Kurzweil lays out many irrefutable data points and many others that have been dissected and countered by other scientists, futurists and technologists. Though I haven’t made an exhaustive study of those counter arguments, I have read many and have come up with one strong belief: we are living in a time of exponentially accelerating change that is already altering our technological landscape dramatically.

How will this affect your students when they enter the working world? Will it positively or negatively influence or directly affect K12 education? There are more questions than answers, but we’ll explore some answers.

(Updated 8/9/09 with Ray Kurzweil 8:42 video that’s quite enlightening)

Continue reading "How the Singularity Will Affect Education" »

Ebook Readers: This Year or Next?

The promise of ebook readers has been with us for a decade or more. One issue has been the low resolution of the devices--typically much lower than what's on a printed page--as well as battery life, durability and, of course, the lack of content you'd need to incorporate such a device in to your curriculum.

When it comes to ebook reading, PDF or text versions of books abound, but the focus of this post is on dedicated ebook readers and the trends surrounding them since the future of ebooks will undoubtedly be delivery to devices we're not yet anticipating or have seen.

When it comes to current ebook readers, the one with the most buzz (and, perhaps, sales, rumored to be under 1 million though Amazon isn't saying) is Amazon's Kindle. Though only a black and white device, its long battery life, thin form factor and Kindle Store--with over 330,000 titles accessible over Whispernet, Amazon's wireless network via Sprint (as well as access to blogs and news sites)--it's become a voracious reader's must-have device.

We've seen another high profile device, Apple's iPhone coupled with their App Store (now boasting over 65,000 applications), appear as an extremely easy to use device coupled with access to a dizzying array of applications that has resulted in sales of 21.4 million iPhones to date.

Surprisingly the iPhone as an ebook reader is accelerating in use. There are several ebook readers for the iPhone that vary in capability and access to different sorts of content, both paid and public domain. No doubt sensing competition amid the accelerating rumors of a probable "tablet-sized iPhone/iPod touch" coming out (which would be an amazing multimedia ebook reader and general purpose device) along with Barnes & Noble shipping their iPhone app, in April of this year Amazon acquired the leading ebook reader Stanza (which now boasts over 2 million iPhone downloads), as well as coming out with their own iPhone Kindle application.

Since the iPhone and Kindle appear to be the two leaders in ebook reading, should you move forward now with one or the other? Are ebook readers, as a category, even ready for your district or classroom this year, or will they likely be next year? 

Continue reading "Ebook Readers: This Year or Next?" »

Google Chrome OS + Netbooks = Your Student Platform?

Netbook-young-girl The majority of your students are already part of the generation described as the "always on, always connected, always participating" one and as such, are eagerly accepting new device types that enable them to exhibit that behavior.

Except when they're in the classroom.

Yesterday's announcement by Google about the Google Chrome OS is significant for education and potentially for enhanced access in the classroom to internet-based applications.

Initially targeted at running on netbooks, Google Chrome OS is clearly a move by the company to provide an easy on-ramp to the web-based applications they provide in the cloud (Gmail, calendar, documents, spreadsheets, presentations, et al).

There are many strategic reasons why this will pay off for Google and, potentially, for your district or classroom. 

Continue reading "Google Chrome OS + Netbooks = Your Student Platform?" »

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Accelerating Change are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.