Sunday, March 29, 2009

"Dad! There is nothing good on television!"

Once when my daughter was watching what I considered "junk" on TV, I pointed out that there was good stuff on Discovery, THC or TLC. Problem was finding a good show, appropriate for her and then making sure she was free at that time or tape it for future viewing (what a pain).

One of the fundamental principles of education is for the learner to learn at their own pace and learn what they are interested in. Maria Montessori advocated the same approach. Setting specific times to learn specific topic based on an arbitrary schedule is contrary to this principle.

Now we have the WWW, great search tools, terrific information resources and ubiquitous broadband access. Still finding good information from reliable sources and separating the wheat from the chaff has been a difficult task. We may just be getting closer to solving this problem. YouTube EDU just went live last week:

From YouTube Blog (3/26/09)
"Do You EDU? Educational Hub Launches: Using YouTube as a vehicle to democratise learning is one of the coolest, unintended outcomes of the site's existence. YouTube EDU is a volunteer project sparked by a group of employees who wanted to find a better way to collect and highlight all the great educational content being uploaded to YouTube by colleges and universities. We'll feature some of these videos on the home page on Friday and elaborate further in a separate post on that day."

As I look at the growing number of sites promoting democratisation of education, I can't help but think that we live in great times! Here is my short list of sites that almost uniformly provide terrific educational value. While the amount of medical information on these sites leaves much to be desired, it is just a matter of time.

Youtube EDU

Academic Earth

TED talks

iTunes University

As a complete TV-Computer integration gets closer, we can easily see this content on our TV screens/monitors. In addition you could dump this into your mobile device like iPod or Zune. Now I will not cringe when I next hear the rant "there is nothing good on television!". When someone has "spare time" and is looking for something mentally stimulating, it may not be hard to find!

Another question is whether these online "universities" can replace classrooms and professors.

We are all familiar with the recent paper on Podcasts replacing Professors by McKinney, Dyck and Luber in Computers and Education. The study abstract:

"iTunes University, a website with downloadable educational podcasts, can provide students the opportunity to obtain professors’ lectures when students are unable to attend class. To determine the effectiveness of audio lectures in higher education, undergraduate general psychology students participated in one of two conditions. In the lecture condition, participants listened to a 25-min lecture given in person by a professor using PowerPoint slides. Copies of the slides were given to aid note-taking. In the podcast condition, participants received a podcast of the same lecture along with the PowerPoint handouts. Participants in both conditions were instructed to keep a running log of study time and activities used in preparing for an exam. One week from the initial session students returned to take an exam on lecture content. Results indicated that students in the podcast condition who took notes while listening to the podcast scored significantly higher than the lecture condition. The impact of mobile learning on classroom performance is discussed."
The study showed that when students listened to the podcast of a "lecture" more than once and took notes (thus transforming or encoding the information) they did better than their classroom colleagues.

I would love to know a couple more things:
1. What was the level of interactivity in the live class? Did students or the professor ask questions? Was there any discussion? Was this captured in the podcast?
2. How big was the class size?
3. Did the professor use an audience response system to gauge student needs, assess comprehension of the material or customize the lecture?
4. Why choose 25 min as the lecture length?
5. What was the complexity of the content compared to the average student's understanding of it?
6. Why choose a week as a recall period?

Education in general is moving away for passive lectures to large groups - because most educators would believe that active learning in small groups which allow for some transformation of the knowledge into non-textual formats works best. Maybe we need to look at this by doing a study that compares one such "ideal" class with a passive podcasts with ability to listen multiple times and take notes.

The other issue is whether we are trying to impart knowledge or educating our learners about how to acquire knowledge.

What one would love to see is a pedagogic model that incorporates podcasts into interactive small group learning. There have been studies where this has been tested and shown to work.

Well sounds like thats enough food for thought for now!