ICT4ED: A solution in search of a problem? (introduction)

I remember the first personal computer I purchased. It was an IBM-compatible or “clone” as they were called in those days. It ran Windows 3.1, had minesweeper, and had both a 3.5” and 5.25” disk drive. It was cutting edge! Even though I paid almost a quarter of my salary for it, I felt that it was worth it. Our school was one of the first to integrate technology in The Bahamas, and I had to be sure I had the latest greatest machine to make that possible. Even in the DOS days, we were the first school to adopt a school information system. Shortly after that, our guidance counselor built an electronic transcript system in First Choice, a DOS based early productivity suite. Not to be outdone, I saw the potential classroom impact for computers, and built a test question bank and a lesson plan database indexed by topic, subtopic, and objectives. The SIS and the electronic transcript systems were both blockbuster hits! Although there was a big front-end data input investment, everyone could see how both these systems made life so much easier: no more handwritten report cards or transcripts!!!

Not quite the same enthusiasm for the question bank and the lesson plan database though. Read More

Why Khan Academy videos work

A Car Crisis

A few years ago my clutch gave out as I was pulling down the on-ramp onto the highway. Fortunately I was able to pull to the side sufficiently not to get pulverized by the onrush of traffic, but needless to say I was in a bit of a pickle. The situation was particularly frustrating as I was broke having just spent a bucketload of money to get the clutch rebuilt! I was not able to afford any new repairs. I got the car towed to a friend’s house nearby (I couldn’t even afford to get it towed to my apartment). There was only one thing to be done – we would have to get the car running ourselves. I’m not a mechanic and neither is he, but we had one super tool in the tool box – google. We searched online for the car’s model and clutch problems and within not too long we found text and video help spelling out exactly what we needed to do. We followed the instructions and voilà I was good to go!

Khan Academy videos also work for a variety of reasons I’ll get into later, but most importantly they work because they are designed to satisfy an immediate need – they are examples of “just in time” (JIT) instruction, just like the videos and instructions we downloaded to fix my car. Read More

MOOCs again

In replying to a blogpost by Clay Shirky I questioned how disruptive MOOCx would actually turn out to be. My main concern is not for MOOCs as designed by Stanford, MIT and others. Rather it is for how we have responded to their efforts and our tendency to treat anything that comes from well branded educational institutions as received wisdom. It reminds me of the wine tasting experiment where the researcher takes one bottle of cheap wine pours it into two cups and labels one of the cups “expensive” and the other “cheap” and asks his experimental participants to participate in the dreaded taste test. Of course the majority prefer the “expensive” wine even though both glasses were poured from the same bottle!

I have no idea what the intentions are behind these new MOOCx – I welcome them myself: the more free education the better. My concern is that because we deify well branded stuff, we may automatically accept their model as the “Right” way to do MOOCs and ignore that this technology is evolving. Moreover, we run the risk of associating MOOCx model as that most appropriate for Distance Education in general.

We should welcome these developments, remembering to view them with our critical eyes wide open. Especially encouraging is Stanford’s new Class2Go project. This project uses all open content, open code and is inviting other universities, schools, NGOs to try it out and to contribute to the project development. Again, I have no idea what the intentions are, but I can only judge based on actions.

This is a huge step in the right direction.

Rethinking MOOCx

Clay Shirky in Napster, Udacity and the Academy argues that the emergence of MOOCs will disrupt the system of higher education as we now know it. MOOCs, he argues, give us the opportunity to break the old model of  learning at “elite” schools.

I think I have two real issues with MOOCx and by that I mean the Coursera, EdX, Udacity brand, not the MOOCs that Dave Cormier, Athabasca, and Stephen Downes were working on (I’m not very familiar with those, so I can’t really comment on them, but from what I do know, they have a completely different theoretical model not addressed in this post).

MOOCs are disruptive – by their very nature they tell a different narrative to that of the traditional university. Different philosophically – education now available to all rather than the few with access to traditional universities. Different structurally – by removing the constraints of the classroom, education can take on any form.

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