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Shmoop: The Future of Writing Education?

Whether we like it or not, online resources that students use for their writing assignments (e.g., Wikipedia, Fact Monster, Awesome Library, The Futures Channel) certainly enable them to get quickly to an output or outcome for a class and are continuing to grow in number.

In numerous in-person and online (e.g., Classroom 2.0) conversations with teachers of courses where writing is core to their term deliverables, I’ve found that many are becoming overwhelmed with the accelerating number of online resources that students can leverage and approving or disapproving of their use of these resources is burning up more and more of their time.

Besides vetting the sites and their appropriateness for use as sources for papers, the receipt of the student writings cause teachers to invest time in policing plagiarism, ensuring source citing has actually been done and is accurate, and that their students actually enjoyed the process and learned the material.

There is a resource that has continually impressed me with their keen engagement of students as well as the way in which they deliver rich content for teachers, streamlined processes, content and policies that radically reduce those feelings of being overwhelmed with assurances student work hasn’t plagiarized, been cited accurately and that students have likely enjoyed the writing experience. That resource is Shmoop.

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How Much Data Do We Consume?

How much data and information do we in the U.S. consume? What kind of data is it? University of California, San Diego (UCSD) researchers asked these, and many other questions, in a just released research report (PDF) which contains stunning results.

My emphasis from their executive summary: "In 2008, Americans consumed information for about 1.3 trillion hours, an average of almost 12 hours per day. Consumption totaled 3.6 zettabytes and 10,845 trillion words, corresponding to 100,500 words and 34 gigabytes for an average person on an average day. A zettabyte is 10 to the 21st power bytes, a million million gigabytes. These estimates are from an analysis of more than 20 different sources of information, from very old (newspapers and books) to very new (portable computer games, satellite radio, and Internet video). Information at work is not included."

That's a lot of data! What impressed me about their findings was that they took in to account multiple source inputs since, as I've found, many of these research studies focus on the new, internet-centric data consumption as though traditional forms of data delivery (the "old" above) are suddenly irrelevant.

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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.

One More Example of Knowledge in the 'Cloud'


Yet another major launch has occurred in the area of educational video and this time it's intended for free educative content in the form of online lectures to citizens of local communities and beyond. 

PBSNPR and WGBH have announced the launch of the redesigned Forum Network (forum-network.org), a national digital media lecture service and website. As they state in their press release about it, "Public stations across the country are working in collaboration with local mission-driven community organizations, and cultural and educational institutions to produce free online lectures that educate, inform and engage people in ideas, cultural diversity, and compelling issues of our time."

Describing the content they state, "The updated Forum Network site features thousands of high quality lecture videos and audio downloads by some of the world’s leading thinkers, scientists, policymakers, artists, authors, and community leaders. It incorporates social networking elements that enable audiences to exchange ideas and content through time-coded commenting, discussion threads, media rating, and sharing tools. Closed Captioning, transcripts, and slides are also available for select videos on the Forum Network."

Laudable effort and I'm a sucker for this stuff. In fact, there is so much free, substantive and amazing educational content available on the 'net right now that I could easily spend eight hours a day doing nothing but watching internet video and listening to great podcasts.

Here's a prime example of content I'm interested in (as you should be as an educator) and has several key thought leaders in one venue, hosted by New York Times personal technology columnist David Pogue, who takes a look at how reading and books will be experienced in the future. Steve Haber of Sony, Neil Jones of Interead, and Mary Lou Jepsen, founder of Pixel Qi, showcase new technology. Digital librarian Brewster Kahle and Jon Orwant of Google add a big picture perspective on how digitization may change everything. This session also features a musical interlude by Pogue.

Internet TV Accelerating

I can see the future of TV and it's internet delivered. The promise of global, on-demand access to video content means that every one of us, and specifically every classroom teacher, will be able to call up and show virtually any video desired and instantly augment whatever is being taught. 

Case in point: as a lay student of physics, I've always been fascinated by physicists focused on the quantum realm and often find myself laboring over passages in their books trying to fully understand concepts being laid out. Finally feeling confident in my understanding of the potential implications of the double slit experiment, I was explaining it to my sophomore son who said, "Dad, I know that since we watched a Dr. Quantum video that explains it."

He then explained the concept and subsequently showed me the animated video on YouTube and I was stunned how, in five minutes, the concept was explained so well that even I, someone who'd thought he fully understood it for many years, reset my own understanding of this concept and subsequent explanations!

It's hard not to take for granted the rapidly increasing innovations in internet TV coming to market, but even I am surprised by how quickly the internet TV space is changing. I'm closely watching internet TV technologies and business models since video delivered on-demand in this way holds major promise for education and the future of learning.

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You *Will* Teach in a Virtual World

As our internet connections, computer power, and continued drive to perform more and more tasks virtually occurs, the rapidly evolving virtual worlds within the metaverse promise to become easy enough to use that we'll increasingly partake of them for what we do socially, collaboratively, and as emergent virtual learning environments.

When the virtual world There became all the rage back in 2003, I joined and began climbing the learning curve. Even though a few buddies were in it, I quickly became bored as I realized little of use would come from virtual socializing and what felt like a lame video game.

The next hot thing to join was Second Life (SL) and I did so. SL sported a significantly better in-world building capability and other in-world features. Quite soon the tech cognoscenti flocked to it and began holding virtual lectures and events within it. That waned fairly quickly too, as many found the learning curve too steep for others they'd invited in while the benefits seemed to be too few of holding virtual meetings (vs. a conference call and computer desktop screensharing or even live video streaming of an event). The novelty wore off for all but the diehard fans and my use is every other month at best. 

Many of us were still quite eager to partake of virtual spaces, especially since they hold one quite tangible benefit: they're immersive. A 3D space, viewed through a 2D computer display, is amazingly captivating and the usual distractions that tug our attention away from conference calls or webinars dissolve when one is within a virtual space manipulating our avatar and interacting with other avatars in-world.

There is a key trend that points the way to my argument that you will be teaching in a virtual world at some point in the very near future: virtual worlds are becoming easier to use and more powerful.  

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Catching the Google Wave

After a couple of weeks of extensive use of Google Wave, I can state unequivocally that I have NO idea how I'm going to use it going forward, but can see the promise of it and its potential in education.  

If you haven't heard about Google Wave, it's "a personal communication and collaboration tool" announced by Google at the Google I/O conference in May of this year. It's intended to bring together email, wikis, instant messaging, and other collaborative technologies but, it must be noted, it's still a "preview" release and certainly not ready for most people, save for those technoweenies out there like me.

For those of you who've heard about this "reinvention of email" software, it's likely you don't yet have an invitation so I'll try to describe what it does and why there are so many people quite curious yet puzzled by it, how most are uncertain as to how they'll use it going forward, and why there is so much excitement about something that seems so benign when you finally begin to use it. 

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Screencasting: From Concept to Video

In our increasingly virtual world, one of the biggest challenges we face is succinctly and effectively delivering ideas, concepts, and richly detailed knowledge to those with whom we collaborate and connect over great distances or in the school across town. One easy, inexpensive and fun way to do that is with screencasting, an amazingly low cost method of imparting high quality knowledge to those who need it.

Used for many years in computer based training and video production, recording activity on a computer screen used to require very expensive scan convertors in order to record screen activity and merge it with voiceovers, ultimately ending up as a video. 

The great news is that tools have emerged that are either low cost or free and quite easy to use. Along with these new tools are the rapid developments in broadband deployments, computers with the horsepower and capability required to deliver screencasts (even in HD), tools for capturing what's on your screen and editing it into a video, along with services like YouTube for free delivery of that video, means that anyone who is a communicator is now in the sweet spot for leveraging screencasting. 

Why would you use screencasting and why now? 

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"But Dad, I can't search the library"


Perhaps it's the start of the academic year, but I've been reading too many articles, like this one, about the imminent demise of libraries. The one making the rounds on tech blogs right now is about a Boston prep school, Cushing Academy, who dismantled their media center in favor of e-readers. The headmaster also said, "When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books.

I don't believe libraries are outdated, in the same way newspapers aren't, but both are struggling for relevancy in the same way that TV, radio and magazines are in a time when much of their core, respective value propositions are being replaced by comparable choices available online.

Even MIT's Technology Review had this to say about the potential demise of libraries: "At most libraries, the hand-typed card catalogues thumbed by generations of patrons have been supplanted by electronic indexes accessed via PCs locally or over the Web. Now that Google has agreed to scan millions of books from five major libraries and to make their contents searchable on the Web -- a project that experts say is likely to yield spinoff technologies that drastically lower the costs of digitization and catalyze similar efforts worldwide -- can the disappearance of libraries themselves be far behind?" (My emphasis)

Either this is a Massachusett's phenomena, or they know something we don't. Or is it just conventional wisdom they're tapping in to early on? Should we rush to shut down our media centers and libraries? With all of our students online, doesn't it make sense that we should shift our focus there? 

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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.