I touched on this with a previous zombie pictures post. Essentially, metadata is awesome because it lets people find your stuff and it helps your stuff find its audience. Metadata is also absent more often than not because people don’t like to type in lots of tags and they especially don’t like to do it on phones.
What keeps coming back to me is that it would be relatively simple to enable people to associate calendars and specific calendar events with online media publishing workflows. This would add the socially relevant automated metadata so the audience could find the media. The end goal being audience rather than metadata.). This would work particularly well at institutions which have centralized calendars or in the case of Udell’s Elm City aggregated calendars. Take VCU’s calendar of events as an example. It has time, location, and categorical elements already. You could add elements to the event template or just leave it as is.
Sequentially, you’d pre-associate your calendar(s) with your media account of choice. You’d upload a piece of media. The system would look at the time stamp and/or GPS data from the media and attempt to connect that information to your calendar(s). Those calendar events would have associated metadata elements which you could opt to associate with your media.
It seems like you then use calendars as indices to media elements which would be an interesting reverse exploration. While it wouldn’t be as automated it would also seem relatively simple to add a WordPress plugin that ties into your calendar and allows you to associate blog posts with calendar events for much the same purpose. It’s a little more manual given blog posts aren’t as synchronous in most cases but it still seems valuable.
I brought my two older boys to the RVA Zombie Walk. It was our first time and it was pretty amazing just how many people participated and how professional many of the costumes were. I wanted to take pictures but I also wanted to be able to give those pictures to the participants if they wanted them. As a result I put a little more effort into metadata than I usually do and I made sure I got the pictures online quickly.
My daily Flickr views usually hover around 2,000. You can see just a bit of a spike as a result of the zombie pictures. That’s amusing in certain ways but if lots of views was my aim I’d play a very different game. I do like that the people looking for these particular images were able to find them.
What’s more I got some comments on a few of the images from people who knew some additional details. I love those interactions. It’s something that Alan talks about with his True Stories of Openess.
Here Bryan talks a bit about the screech he made that impressed me so much. I was also able to point him to another picture I took of him that I liked. It’s not a world changing interaction but I find it fascinating and more of motivator to post images like this than the views.
Here’s another interaction in the comments where I found out the crew of zombies with the hospital bed were members of the Richmond Volunteer Rescue Squad.
I really do love how the little pieces like this add up.
I need to think more about ways to make that metadata1 happen more naturally. I wonder how intelligently you might blend data from publically available event calendars to the exif data from photographs, especially those that include GPS data. Maybe there’s a way to auto-provision that kind of metadata from the host of the event.2 All things that others may have already thought through. I’ll have to wander around the Internet and see.
2 A QR code might be a decent way of passing this data on. I don’t know of a decent way to then associate that metadata with all of those images. It’d be slick if cameras would do it for you based on photographing a QR code.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg but I think it’s representative of an interesting mixture of elements- creating/shaping content/media, creating context around that media, and workflows around sharing/authoring that contextualized media in a way that encourages communities that both reinforce and challenge ideas around how to teach.
I don’t know if that makes any sense but I’ll try to show how it’s shaping what we’re trying to do in Henrico in the coming year.
More and better examples of just about everything – Currently our Henrico 21 site is meant to help show people interesting things to do that fit within our definition of blended/technology-enhanced learning. I think it serves a certain purpose and there are 900 or so lesson plans there but in the end, I don’t think it’s used in a way that justifies the amount of energy that goes into it. This a combination of figuring out what to show people, how to get it there, and how to encourage face-to-face and online conversations around it.
Bridges – We have many useful resources that are not connected to other useful resources. Our TechTips blog focuses on tutorials and other tips but doesn’t connect in any meaningful way with the H21 lessons or the online tools list4 None of those things merge with our orphaned online courses5 around topics that should bridge some of these gaps. That doesn’t even get into the idea that we ought to be looking at how to map different resources across content areas and between grades.
Workflows/Efficiencies – This is comprised of two elements. One is about making the energy in matter to the people who do the work. If this fails, it all fails rather quickly. You might get compliance if you force it but the works will be sub-standard in the same way that most school work is. Secondly, technology should be your friend. This is partially about creating workflows that aggregate bits of continuous work (as opposed to widely spaced herculean efforts) and partially about building systems that make your input spread efficiently to the other places you’d like it to go.
Tiered Curation – This is to a large degree a philosophical aspect to the workflow above. Part of what makes all this make sense is the fact that there is a huge amount of interesting content on the web and a huge number of interesting people interaction with it- both with and without deliberate educational intent. One essential element in making this sustainable is taking advantage of all that content and the work of all those people.
So far . . .
I’m pretty sure I have most of our content specialists on board with some brand of social bookmarking. The majority are on Diigo.6 We have some of the ITRTs on board but I’m not sure how many. It’s always interesting to see who sees a need for something like this. Symbaloo seems like a path some people are taking. I can’t quite figure that one out. Feels like a slightly more attractive version of Porta-portal but I could be missing something. It doesn’t seem to address any of the reasons I use social bookmarking (other than getting the links online).
I see this as a little bit backwards based on my own experience. I ended up needing to change how I bookmarked because I’d created a reading pattern that demanded a different organizational structure to keep track of all the interesting things I’d found (that also included a mindset about the kinds of things I thought would be useful later on). That may be me over-mapping my own patterns on to others. My concern is that if this is a herculean (and episodic) task, rather than a change in process, it won’t change anything longterm. This is easier, however, than getting people to start reading RSS feeds. Although that is a long term goal.
What exists now . . .
We (sometimes just me) expend a lot of energy right now but it doesn’t flow well and there are no decent connections or workflows.
H21 – A lesson plan repository populated through episodic herculean effort. It seems to have enough detail to frustrate authors but not enough detail, or perhaps the right kind of detail, to make it really useful for teachers.
Student 21 – is driven by student submissions via a form. It’s another disconnected effort which allows students to enter a contest but has no real purpose and the energy there doesn’t help the student.
eLearning – is just a list of district wide resources.
Tech Tips – is a repository of tutorials and other training materials.
Content specialist sites – there are a variety of these in a variety of formats. They tend to be isolated and radically different in intent and design. They range from simple network file shares to more elaborate sites like our secondary math site.
Word Games – is a site I was messing around with for English. It’s an attempt to capture fairly ephemeral examples of all kinds of English related material. There’s everything from interesting quotes and unique words to graffiti and comedy pieces. This is something I’d like to have work better.
The Well – was meant to be a site where anyone could take an inspiring chunk of media and sketch out some rough ideas for how to use it.
Online Tools – is a somewhat wayward list of technology related tools. It lives a lonely life of isolation and probably confusion.
Might be of interest – is my version of a curated list of things that might be of interest to ITRTs.
The HCPS ITRT Diigo group – there are about 10 ITRT members. A smaller portion are participating. Integrating with the specialists and their various groups will need consideration.
Online courses – our orphaned online courses are hanging out here in a state of suspended animation.
Next steps . . .
I’m trying to figure out how to build a smarter system- a system built around finding and sharing inspiring and interesting things. It should help make doing these things easier. It ought to be based mainly on small actions aggregating to larger results. I’d like to see this system interweave the pieces of media, lessons, tools, pd, curricular maps etc. There should be pieces where the barrier to entry is virtually nothing and places where final curation indicates acceptance into the HCPS canon. Workflows, presentation, searching/sorting will all be key elements and it’ll be driven by some pretty serious needs. Finances are tight. Testing is growing to be more an issue. Morale is pretty low in a lot of cases. Clearly, tools won’t solve any of these problems. I can’t change a lot of those variables but I think I can help lower workloads to some degree, change aspirations, and provide connections/community across our large district.
I’ll be building out the connections in the image below as things start to come together.
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.