In most English classes the teacher chooses all of the content in addition to all of the assignments. In some classes you’ll get to choose between a few books, assignments, or essay topics that the teacher has provided. The projects tend to tier upward in terms of sophistication and/or length.1 There is essentially one broad common experience for everyone and virtually every structural element originates with the teacher. The student ability to alter the class is limited to asking questions. That leads to a fairly predictable experience built to produce similar products which are easier to compare to one another.
English, in particular, seems to beg for a different paradigm for course participation/creation. I talked some about the mechanism for infusing student selected media into a course in the previous post, so I’m doing this backwards to some degree. The lower portion of the image above is a rough conceptualization of what the course itself might come to look like as compared to a traditional course (the upper portion of the image).
A chunk of this is colored by how I’ve seen elements of #ds106 play out. I have always loved the idea that participants can submit project ideas. Linking those ideas to the student work created based on them makes it far more powerful and interesting for everyone. It also substantially changes the locus of control for the course. Cory Doctrow recently had something similar happening in an English class using his novel Little Brother as basis for songs, fan fiction extension chapters, and alternate chapter extensions. Doctrow goes out of his way to make this possible with his CC licensing and general enthusiasm for fans interacting with his work.
Will you have to think through quality control? Sure but it’s worth considering how you can integrate that into the course by infusing an understanding of standards based grading and guiding the alignment of projects to that concept. I’d look at quality control here as a problem I’d want to have as it opens a number conversations that should be valuable and should further the goals of the class.
The other portion of DS106 that I found particularly interesting was the progressive extension and remixing of participant created projects. The idea that other students would look at something you did and find it inspiring enough to make them take action (create a similar work, remix it, create something new). An example of that chain that mattered to me in ds106 was when I watched No More Digital Facelifts. I believe the assignment was to reflect on the talk in a blog post. I was interested enough in the language and poetic elements of Gardner’s talk that I opted remix it over Nas’s If I Ruled the World. You can see all kinds of responses to that post. That was empowering to me in a variety of ways and it made me reconsider exactly what role I might play in this course and how my actions might create ripples or waves greater in size than the originating force. There is an audience and what I do can have power.
Clearly, none of this is rocket science and none of it is a promise of instant engagement and success. In many ways it creates different problems than the traditional class but the problems are more interesting to me. Breaking students out of the consumption mindset will be a fairly difficult task by itself.
In the end, I see little choice in our current landscape. Either teachers start actively harnessing and successfully promoting the interesting human elements of differentiation and relationships or they’ll be replaced by the mechanical versions. I know “A computer never hugged anyone.” but a human shaped pillow could and a low-paid child supervisor endorsed in hugs probably already is. Teachers seem to be making the wrong arguments and thinking of the past as a far more solid foundation for the future than it seems to be, especially given the PR arrayed against the institution.
Discovery brought together an interesting mix of people to talk about the future of the textbook.1 The particular focus of this conversation was the math textbook. The repeated2 request was to aim high and describe what you would really want not to water things down to describe what would sell or what others might be willing to use.3
There is a lot to think about.
Doing digital content properly would have a parallel, intensive, and ongoing professional development element that would inform the container, tools, and the content in very specific ways.
The content would need to be very granular and editable by the teacher at a variety of levels.
The student should be able to annotate content in a variety of ways (highlighting, notes, audio/video) and associate other pieces of content (internally or externally) in a way that builds rich text connections between the notes/associated content and the original element.4
The data gathered and displayed matters quite a bit. There should be a huge amount of thought behind it and what both teachers and students see.
The search function for teachers looking to add or customize content should be internal and allow for something similar to Google’s custom search in terms of set up. A tight integration of search to the authoring tool would also be key.
I think someone else said this somewhere but “don’t pre-chew the food.” It’s gross and makes things boring. Give students interesting things to use and react to. If you’ve chewed it to bits trying to “help” them then chances are you’ve also robbed it of all taste and interestingness.
The more I read/write this, the more I add and delete. I’ve come to the point where I don’t know if it makes any sense. Read at your own risk.
Initially, it’s worth considering what people are going to expect from a textbook. Textbooks have typically served two audiences- teachers and students. Both parties received “true” content in a nice organized progression (vertically and horizontally articulated) that someone, probably multiple someones, thought about quite a bit with associated questions and activities. Today’s textbooks have all sorts of associated lesson plans, worksheets, questions, media files, PowerPoints etc. That makes things fairly messy. Even if there’s lots of really good thought behind all of that most of the thinking and rationale is opaque. The tendency is to improve directions for teachers rather than to get teachers to understand why they’re doing what they’re doing.
Too much attention to delivery method (exercises! badges! energy points! sympathetic narrator!) and not enough attention to mathematics, not enough attention to how people learn mathematics.
What makes things difficult is that the actual curriculum and the display/interaction mechanism are two different, yet intertwined, things. In other words, you have to decide how you want students to learn and how teachers are going to facilitate that process so that you can build both the content and the housing to provide the right kinds of interactions and information (both to students themselves as well as to teachers). As is evident in Christopher’s quote above, people tend to focus on the structure and capabilities of the “container” because it’s easier to talk about it in general terms. The actual curricular pieces tend to require very specific conversations- at least that’s how I’d think about it for history and English. There’s probably also some push back against that “digital textbooks” have been envisioned as exactly that, a digital version of the traditional textbook. There are key ways digital content can and should be different. At the same time, you have to look at when physical interactions have key advantages over digital content. In any case, poor content in a fancy shell isn’t going to help nor will good traditional content necessarily take advantage of the digital affordances that should exist in this mythological shell. It may very well be that in talking mainly in the abstract we didn’t do either enough justice.
To further simplify, if you think mathematical conversations are a key element in developing mathematical understanding, there are a number of things that have to be further delineated. Are there particular areas where these conversations are essential? How do you help teachers shape the conversations in those areas?5 Let’s assume you identify a number of places where these conversations are essential. Now a number of other questions need to be answered. What kind of conversations are these? When do you have them online verses face-to-face? When do you blend the two? What role should different media elements play in these conversations? When should it be a still image, a movie, interactive? Do particular tools play a role in furthering the conversation? etc. etc.
Sequentially, I think one might to attack it something like this.
Figure out a general pedagogical philosophy. What do we believe about learning and the experiences we want kids to have? That should fundamentally shape both the content and the container. Technology can help you build a nice Skinner box if that’s what you want. Try to make this consistent between grades, teachers, and subjects. Seems obvious but it doesn’t seem to happen much.
Once you have a general foundation, the specific and nuanced elements of instruction that are associated with the content need to be delineated.
I’d want to further break down the pieces. These actions/interactions6 are important to how people learn. These particular actions/interactions are important to how people learn math. These actions/interactions are important to how people learn this particular element of math. I think a lot of these pieces overlap but there’s important nuance as you drill down towards specific concepts where both the instructional design and the affordances of particular technology based interactions ought to come together with real intent.
To further complicate things, I’d want really powerful model lessons for teachers that are well explained on the back end. The “teacher’s version” would need to allow people to drill down to see and understand the reasoning behind the instructional choices- why this question? why this image? why this tool with this concept? This is something Darren and I spoke about a few times and the group he and Karl Fisch were with did a good job delineating.7 It’s pretty ambitious to attack both professional development and good digital content at the same time but I don’t think things work otherwise. You have to know why you’re doing what you’re doing. It is the only choice. Standardizing and scripting things to the point where teacher understanding doesn’t matter is a path to madness and despair. Despite the money laced wisdom of Bill Gates de-skilling the teacher and trusting in the wisdom of AI is not a legitimate solution even if you have videos of Disney Certified All-Star teachers singing catchy tunes.
I suppose Discovery could do all this for a district but I’m not sure how that would work. It would seem the process would be really important.
Here are some other things that came up that might be interesting to people.
Watch live video from umwnewmedia on Justin.tv
Start at the 20 minute point and watch about 10 minutes (I promise it’s worth it.)- Wesch talks about how the introduction of “new media” (paper/writing) in this case fundamentally changes a society in regrettable ways. “Media mediate relationships” is a huge statement and one we ought to keep thinking about especially as we make big shifts in educational content. In just about every way, I don’t think we have a clue what computers are doing to us as we use them more and more.
This long toed cowboy boots seem insane and evident of today’s strange culture and yet totally impractical shoes with giant toes have made appearances before. The length of the toes were even restricted by class. I loved the idea of fleeing knights having to chop off the toes of the shoes to retreat during the Battle of Nicopolis way back in 1396.8 It’s these connections to today’s world that I think good history content ought to bring out and use for larger discussions. Fashion, itself, has some really decent potential and is tied into larger issues in fairly accessible and interesting ways.
1 Full disclosure – Discovery funded my travel/room/board. Also Steve Dembo encouraged me to start my own blog in the dark ages of the early 2000s so I still like him for that.
3 It’s harder to do this than you might think and that is one of my own personal fears. I worry a lot about the chains I don’t feel.
4 That may not make any sense, think something like what iBooks allows but add multimedia elements, the ability to associate external content, and some elements of social transparency. I probably need to draw it up.
5 I wonder how possible this is without a fairly massive professional development component.
6 “Things” sounded too flippant but I’m no happier with this pairing.
7 I’d agree with Karl in terms of opting for an element based check box display system (like WordPress uses) as opposed to the slider.
8 Strangely, I had that anecdote in my head but had forgotten the name of the battle.
Granted, it’s more than possible I have no idea what “digital content” means either. I may also be the guy walking around arguing that water is wet.
The White Whale
“Digital content” is what everyone wants as we move towards the magical BYOD-Edu-singularity. What that means is likely very different depending on the person saying it.1 I think you can divide what people mean by digital content into a few major categories.
Link Lists – the venerable link list divided by your content label of choice (state standard, topic header, novel, etc.). The “new” version would likely be built using a social bookmarking solution and tagging but it’s the same concept. Context for the resources is minimal if it exists at all.
PDF/HTML textbooks – no substantial changes in what we’ve always had but in digital format. The rationale usually involves things like lighter backpacks and the ability to update/correct errors.2 It is a sterile environment where you have to take what you get and integrating additional resources fluidly is difficult. Topical content integration isn’t facilitated.
Augmented Textbooks – start with a traditional textbook and replace some of the pictures with movies, add self-grading multiple choice quizzes,3 and some links to internal content. Some simple tools may be integrated (think highlighter, light note taking). Interactivity and multimedia content is increased but I’m not sure it really matters. Content remains hard to change and customize with anything on the outside of the system. Topical content integration isn’t facilitated.
LMS as Textbook – essentially lots of content and internal tools (discussion board, drop box, etc.) with varying degrees of imposed content structure. This system may or may not facilitate the integration of outside content and tools. This system tends to either be set up to push content in a fairly rigid format or to enable teachers to do whatever they like. It can provide an in between structure where core content is pushed in a modifiable manner and the teacher based customization is visible.
There are also a variety of ways to think about the actual pieces of content.
The first is the vetted, contextualized informational content we’ve always relied on textbooks to provide. The kind of content that tells us what we need to know in a fairly condensed way so we can pass the test. It’s attractive, in part, because it’s convenient and seen as “true.”
Then there are the resources (usually informational but which may also include lessons/projects/media) teachers habitually use to fill in gaps they perceive based on what the text provides. They tend to have context and are meant to be educational. This could be driven by the teacher’s understanding of the final test (their own, AP, or high stakes), personal interests/beliefs about the content, or based on attempts to engage students.
Media elements devoid of textbook/externally imposed context also play a role. These can vary from primary source documents, to graphs, to maps, to images, to songs. They may or may not be intentionally educational (at all or about that topic). The context in which they are used matters quite a bit and tends to be personalized by the teacher around their particular teaching style and knowledge base.
Finally, there’s the idea of topical/ephemeral content. This is the kind of content which matters in the moment but may not be (as) valuable once that moment passes.
In my own definition of digital content, I also include tools, platforms, and raw data- essentially things you might manipulate or process as well as the means to manipulate and process.
Clearly there are lots of ways to think about this content and the way both teachers and students interact with it. What I think becomes increasingly important is what we expect. For instance, if you believe that a textbook should tell a teacher who is struggling what to do- then you pursue a highly structured, very detailed, almost scripted model. That very structure and specificity is likely to turn off your highly skilled teachers.4 Maybe the goal is to provide base information so teacher don’t have to build everything from scratch. If so, that’s likely to be an entirely different type of structure and methodology. All things that seem to require quite a bit of thought and planning prior to deciding on a “digital content” solution.
In the scheme of things, it’s fairly easy to create an index of resources aligned to some set of standards. It’s not even that hard to create an online textbook.5 The textbook will certainly take more time and effort but in the end it is just a fleshed out version of the resources.
What’s more difficult is designing a structure and system that intentionally creates overlaps of structured content with alternative content types and harder still creating workflows that feed that system in ways that people will maintain. I want to prevent content in a way that encourages a lens on the world that is far broader and more inclusive than the one typically used in instruction and instructional content. I don’t know how much energy and time should be spent trying to make these connections explicit for people vs just juxtaposing content types where people might make connections themselves or others beyond what you intended.
I wonder quite a bit how the structures used to present content shape how that content is used both by teachers and students. I’m also realizing that I need to build something like this for two of the three audiences. I don’t think building systems for the lowest percentage of teachers has enough return to justify the huge amount of energy and time required. It seems you have to shoot for something that is manageable for the middle percentage but actually provides advantages and opportunities for the upper tier of teachers.
1 If it’s followed directly with a “cloud” reference, I suggest beating a hasty retreat.
3 The results of which may or may not be visible to the teacher.
4 It seems it might be possible to have both simultaneously but it’s not an easy thing to achieve. I think for the most part people revert to the first scenario because most of the energy, attention, and structure is focused on “failing” teachers. I’d also argue that a truly bad teacher is not going to be fixed through scripting. You might get to low mediocrity through that kind of intervention but it’s unlikely to fix the core problems without some serious additional work. Aren’t you glad this is a footnote so you can ignore it?
5 The name is somewhat problematic but I’m going to let that go for now in a perhaps misguided attempt to avoid a long tangent.
Homework assignment to give history students (high school): Find 5 quotations on Facebook attributed to a historical figure or culture icon (Einstein or Bill Cosby, for example). Then, have them find out if it’s actually true or actually from the person quoted on FB. Then teach research and primary source documents.
I wrote something vaguely annoying, as is my usual pattern in life and on social media. See below. That’s why I have no friends in real life and only 6 on social media.
That phrase seems to imply you can easily verify the truth of quotes not on the Internet…
The problem w quotes is that they’re often out of context, misattributed, mangled, or used to prop up shoddy arguments.
This has been bouncing around in my head since that post and started to solidify into something more expansive as I listened to the Radio Berkman podcast #193- Facts are Boring. This whole podcast is focused on truth, fact, and evidence. Given my historical interest in how gray1 “truth” is, the potential for greater understanding of the use/misuse/power of quotes in popular culture is very attractive.
Brother Ockham, however, said nothing of the kind. Later philosophers have put these words into his mouth for their own convenience.
Here is what he wrote, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
“Nothing ought to be posited without a reason given, unless it is self-evident or known by experience or proved by the authority of Sacred Scripture.”
-via Boing Boing
Given that a quote, by definition, is exactly what person said/wrote you get into some really fun stuff. I like Mike’s idea of having students gather some quotes but I want to expand on the analysis and broaden it to include both current day and longer term mistakes around quotes. I want to focus on why people use quotes at all and how then move into the ways people misuse them. What drives intentional misuse? What leads to accidental misuse?
It seems there are at least a few different ways to misuse quotes- there are misattributions (right quote, wrong person), misquotes (mangled words, right person), contextual lies (right words, right person, but so devoid of context that it is false), and maybe misreads (right person, right words, wrong idea2).
You have some nice overlap with propaganda and persuasive elements as well as the evaluation of primary source documents. I might work in the idea of troll quotes into this with an emphasis on how knowledge of the audience allows the greatest degree of provocation. How does that knowledge inform your analysis of other misquotes?
Just seems like a lot of interesting potential on the English and cultural side with a decent opportunity to mix in history as well. It was also interesting to me just how many pieces of media from such differing sources came together in a fairly short period of time around this topic.
1 including how to spell grey in my head- possibly influenced by Gandalf the Grey
This presentation is essentially a pitch for the idea that we ought to be looking at the world with open eyes and paying attention to the content that is exciting to ourselves and others- the things we read/watch/listen to without being coerced.
The introduction it is a rehash of the RSS aggregator pitch that I’ve given off and on since 2002. I know Twitter is much cooler and RSS is pronounced dead on a regular basis but Twitter fills a very different niche for me and I think the RSS aggregator still has a lot of value. I also stressed the idea that you have to aggregate feeds you actually want to read. That’s very different than feeds you feel you ought to want to read. Make this unpleasant for yourself and you will never, ever, read them. Build feeds that rejuvenate and interest you and then bring that into your instruction.1
My goal was to point out the huge swathe of low hanging fruit waiting for the right teacher to look at it in the right way- essentially the antipode of most of the content we use in education. This is really more of a change in philosophy than anything else. I’m hoping people open their minds to a larger idea of what might qualify as digital content.
I started with a lot of the usual suspects and then wandered into stranger territory. I’ll repeat them here because no matter how common things seem, or how many times I feel they’ve been discussed, they still aren’t for large numbers of people.
Flickr Commons was one stop. I choose the picture above as an example because it was a slight twist on the idea about using images as examples for writing. I liked the idea of having images of actual historical scientific journals to use as an example for students working on their own scientific journals. The image being from the Smithsonian also adds credit to the resource.
Another more targeted potential is the fact that there are many, many podcasts in iTunes that are meant to be informative.2 For instance, I listen to BackStory.
On each show, renowned U.S. historians Ed Ayers, Peter Onuf, and Brian Balogh tear a topic from the headlines and plumb its historical depths. Over the course of the hour, they are joined by fellow historians, people in the news, and callers interested in exploring the roots of what’s going on today. Together, they drill down to colonial times and earlier, revealing the connections (and disconnections) between past and present. With its passionate, intelligent, and irreverent approach, BackStory is fun and essential listening no matter who you are.
I listened to Love Me Did: A History of Courtship which gave an interesting history of dating and courtship but also highlighted the blog Advertising for Love which is a culling of interesting historical personal ads that offer a unique kind of insight into our culture. This kind of thing being served up on a platter for you to use with students still amazes me. The fact that you can also dip into the LOC archives for historical newspapers to do your own research with students is more than just icing.
An American gentleman, thirty years of age, wishes to form the acquaintance of some American lady (an orphan preferred), not less than 18 nor more than 24 years of age, with a view to matrimony. She must be of the highest respectability, prepossessing and genteel in appearance, of good education, accustomed to good society and of a loving disposition. Any lady answering the above can do so with the utmost confidence, as all communications will be strictly confidential, and letters returned when requested; for this means just what it says, nothing more and nothing less. Address for three days, giving real name and where can be seen (none others will be noticed), Knickerbocker, box 164 Herald office.
I put forward some of these more Internet culture-ish options that I happen to follow while stressing, once again, that I’d read these for my own amusement anyway. Some of these are no doubt well known but others are a bit stranger.
Quantified Self – “Are you interested in self-tracking? Do you use a computer, mobile phone, electronic gadget, or pen and paper to record your work, sleep, exercise, diet, mood, or anything else? Would you like to share your methods and learn from what others are doing? If so, you are in the right place. This short intro will help you get you oriented.”
Global Guerrillas – “Networked tribes, system disruption and the emerging bazaar of violence. A blog about the future of conflict.”
The New Aesthetic – “Since May 2011 I have been collecting material which points towards new ways of seeing the world, an echo of the society, technology, politics and people that co-produce them.
The New Aesthetic is not a movement, it is not a thing which can be done. It is a series of artefacts of the heterogeneous network, which recognises differences, the gaps in our overlapping but distant realities.”