(Published as a 3-part series on iPhone Life)
When we peer out at the night sky on a clear, moonless night, we see thousands of individual stars — millions if you count galaxies mixed into the field of view. Look at your finger and you’ll see the intricate swirls and folds that make up your fingerprint. In both cases, we only see the surface of vast processes that bend light and time, or those that create and sustain life. Our human senses aren’t sufficient to perceive the magnitude of the activity, nor the structure, that defines the universe.
Humanity has long sought to enhance its perceptions. And every time it has done so, our assumptions about the universe change. Galileo famously fashioned his own telescope to peer at the moving stars called “planets” and found, encircling Jupiter, its own set of satellites. With the telescope, Galileo was able to increase his own perceptive capability and see more detail. The earth’s place in the universe — something so certain that engineers built complex instruments to model its movement — fell in light of his new understanding.
We now know we circle a middle-of-the-road star on the outskirts of a common spiral galaxy. We do not know how unique earth’s chemistry and energy signatures are, but we do know that our sun isn’t the only star that sports a planetary system.
As our instruments gain sensitivity, they provide details that often undermine our assumptions about our bodies, the world, and the universe. We are in the midst of a knowledge revolution, not just because so much data arrives via the Internet, but because we receive data at ever increasing degrees of precision and detail about everything.
With iPads and iPhones in particular, students can dive into this data and learn more about the universe in an afternoon than any static encyclopedia or textbook ever offered their parents.
Discovering the Universe in the Classroom
Galileo’s revelation was a personal one. It has been hard in the past to bring that kind of intimate experience into the classroom on the scale of the universe. With an iPad, however, students can experience the universe from a number of perspectives.
For a wide range of detailed data, consider the NASA Visualization Explorer (Free). Although NASA might be best known at the moment for landing robot rovers on Mars, it spends plenty of time examining the earth, the solar system, and beyond. NASA Visualization Explorer doesn’t deliver fascinating static images, but rather movies based on data, which demonstrate processes that shape the earth, other planets, or the cosmos. One recent movie used several years of satellite data to illustrate where wild fires ignite and how they spread and retreat.
Another video demonstrates how urbanization has displaced Arizona agriculture, showing farmland becoming subsumed by streets and buildings. Any lesson plan exploring the impacts of urbanization, the future of agriculture, or the speed of change could use this video.
Several videos simulate everything from a black hole consuming a star to the sample collection and analysis on NASA’s Mars flag-rover, Curiosity.
Yes, these videos exist elsewhere, but the value of the app comes from the regular updates from NASA about new visualizations. Visualization stories, as they are called in the app, can be filtered by Earth, Planets, Moons, Sun, and Universe. Unfortunately, NASA doesn’t include metadata or search features, so you might have a hard time finding a visualization to meet your immediate needs (back to searching the Web for that). But this constant feed of new simulations and visualizations can act as a science conversation starter. Bring up the app on a weekly basis, and talk about what’s new. Unlike science textbooks, this is fresh material, just compiled and published, so your students can’t complain that they’ve seen it before.
If you want your students to see space science unfolding before them, the free NASA App HD includes near real-time feeds from various NASA missions as well as NASA TV feeds. NASA broadcasts include an array of topics ranging from the history of space flight, to live news conferences and launches.
When studying the Solar System, it is hard to beat Solar Walk ($2.99) from Vito Technology, which begins as an image of the earth with many light-blue lines circling it. Tap one and you will be given a close-up view of a satellite. All the satellites are rendered in 3D, and a clickable info button reveals information and images associated with the satellite. Solar Walk provides enough satellite detail to have good conversations about orbits, satellite construction, and observation. Combine this app with Google Earth and you can have a good dialog about public and private surveillance. There also is information on the International Space Station.
Solar Walk lets students navigate through the solar system and watch several short videos that compare planet sizes, experience solar eclipses and moon phases, simulate tides, and explore other planetary phenomenon. Solar Walk is easy to navigate, enhances the experience with a mellow soundtrack, and if you have the green-red 3D glasses, the app will bring a little bit of the solar system into the room with you.
If you step back, look and wait for the sun to go down, a number of applications can turn star gazing night into a deep learning experience. Star Walk ($2.99), Distant Suns ($9.99) and Pocket Universe ($1.99) all create virtual views of the night sky and provide various ways to interact with it. Think about star gazing night as school. Those evenings often include a few science teachers roaming among parents and children. With iPads and iPhones pointed at the night sky, everyone can be an expert on the points of light they observe. And as an added bonus, these apps let you turn iPads into private planetariums so students can explore the sky during the day.
Distant Suns ($9.99) includes a lot of information, but most of it isn’t meaningful to the high school science student. The app, however, can easily become an astronomical cheat sheet for the astronomy student. Need to know magnitudes, variable class, period, parallax of other data, if it exists in public databases, it has probably been imported into Distant Suns. For the sidewalk astronomer, Distant Suns let you quickly find the object or event you left your house to observe.
Star Walk ($2.99) offers a similar interface to its sister program, Solar Walk. Both have a nice sound track and easy-to-use controls. It is much more artistic in feel than the more scientifically-oriented Distant Suns. Star Walk also creates a better-shared learning environment with one tap access to twitter, Facebook, e-mail, camera roll, and printing. The Picture of the Day feature, along with a gallery of galaxies and nebula from various European agencies create daily opportunities to discuss space science. Unfortunately, not all of the images include self-contained descriptions, but tapping a button at the top the display bounces out to the image source for additional detail. Star Walk also includes a very cool augmented reality that maps your location against its star charts in real-time through your camera.
Pocket Universe ($1.99)offers yet another view into the sky, with a much more earth-centric point-of-view. It doesn’t include as many bells and whistles as the other products, but its straightforward interface has helped me identify or find objects quickly and efficiently. Extras include quick access to the night’s events, virtual moon and mars walks, and quizzes about stars and constellations.
Magnifying the Surface
Microscopes have been around since 1590. Up until the age of electronics, they too were personal devices. However, with small camera sensors connected to the lenses, researchers and educators can easily share images on a display in real-time.
Microscopes may be portable, but they aren’t made for fieldwork. Those cameras require power. And traditional microscopes require a level surface that won’t cause back strain, and a good light source, either from electricity, or from an old-fashioned mirror. With increased sophistication comes cost and weight. Scanning Electron Microscopes weigh hundreds of pounds and use dangerous elements. No microscopes travel well.
That is until now. Bodelin, a leader in handheld microscope manufacturing for education, law enforcement, and quality inspections, has introduced the ProScope Mobile for iOS ($399). ProScope requires the AirMicro (free) app to display its view to an iPad or iPhone.
The ProScope Mobile creates its own Wi-Fi network. So instead of the kids in the back of the room with poor eyesight straining to see a washed out image at the front of the room, they can now be one of more than 250 participants in a local Wi-Fi network that streams live video to an iPad, iPod Touch, or iPhone. And rather than let the teacher drive image capture, each device can capture its own images.
The basic ProScope Mobile comes with a 50X lens. Once connected, just press the device up against a surface and it transmits the image. Quality ranges from QVGA (320×240) to VGA (640X480). Plenty of resolution to look at everything from rocks, to insects, to skin and fabrics.
The coolest thing about the ProScope Mobile isn’t its classroom application. Think about taking a class loaded with iPhones and iPads into the field, where no Wi-Fi exists, and turning the microscope on forest debris or piles of sand. What’s hiding just out of reach of the human eye? What does the skin of a slug really look like? How many different insects can you see in the field of view? How does moss differ from lichen in its attachment to a decaying log?
The ProScope Mobile isn’t the least expensive option for magnifying this, but it is probably the most flexible. Other devices require a USB connection to a PC. The ability to create its own Wi-Fi makes the ProScope Mobile ideal for shared fieldwork, even in the most remote locations. The ProScope is American-made in Oregon. Its rugged, straightforward design make it an ideal classroom companion for the sciences, hard and soft.
The journey need not stop at the surface. The latest biological and chemical research on life reaches within the cell to explore life-sustaining processes and data encoding. The most notable of these come from the results of the human genome project, which open sourced its data.
Illumina CEO Jay Flately donated his genome for educational purposes and wrapped it around his company’s iPad app, MyGenome ($.099).
MyGenome includes a tour of chromosomes that illustrates how genetic variants in different locations translate into health impacts or biological traits. Students can view individual genes, their locations, and biological impacts, and visualize where and how genome sequences differ from the “reference” human genome.
Using MyGenome also helps people understand disease risks, genetically determined conditions and predispositions, and carrier traits, how different genetic variants contribute to health risks and what diseases can be passed on to children. You can even explore how variations in a genome affect drug treatment responses and side affects.
Eventually Illumina plans to allow people to download their own genome into MyGenome so they work with their physicians to identify their own risks and how certain treatment choices might work better, or worse, based on their genome.
Like deeper explorations of the universe, the decoding of the human genome created more questions than answers. Popular science assumptions like the irrelevancy of junk DNA are going by the wayside as researchers demonstrate that most DNA has a meaningful function in the creation of life like transcriptional and translational regulation of protein-coding sequences.
If you look below the surface of those swirls on your fingers that represent your uniqueness, more uniqueness, and more complexity, lies in wait. The Human Genome Project was funded based on its promise in curing disease. Its true value has so far come from the new lens it created for understanding biology. Decoding the human genome, like peering back toward the origins of the universe, has raised as many questions as it answers.
The Range of Teaching
The instruments of science have opened up new vistas. There is so much information now that it is hard to fathom not only what we know, but to confront what we don’t know: from the way genes influence biology to what mechanisms are making the universe expand.
By teaching our children and ourselves to ask better questions, we can continue the quest for knowledge. We can move away from the rote memorization of facts about the number of moons around Jupiter. Instead, we can talk about how science has evolved from Galileo seeing four moons in his crude 30-power telescope in 1610, to NASA missions identifying 67 to date, not to mention a thin set of rings.
The iPad and the iPhone can bring real-time, personalized science to students, which goes beyond looking at slides or splitting geodes. They can become part of the greater inquiry by interacting with others through social media, running their own simulations, and creating their own experiences aided by these new tools.
I think students become much more interested in science when teachers admit that science doesn’t know everything, exposing the limitations of our instruments and our imaginations in order to inspire the next generation of student to fill those gaps. That is how science progresses: not by knowing, but by questioning everything.
Cross-posted from iPhone Life
From the ease of collecting often-broken colored pencils, to cleaning up after a room of young artists who seemingly bathed in tempera, art, unlike literature or history, creates rather messy educational challenges. It is, however, extremely important for learners to engage in visceral exercises that bring the texture of media to hands, and its odor to nostrils. With technology, art doesn’t always have to be a mess, but perhaps more importantly, teaching some principals of art may be better done through tools like the iPad because they offer a more pure theoretical setting for topics like color theory. Students often create brown goo with acrylics while mixing paints because their pallet doesn’t include an undo button. No such problem with the iPad, and if they do create some horrific blasphemy of color, it won’t take a gallon of water to make it go away.
A Suggested Curriculum
Before the iPad can be explored as a tool for teaching art, it is important to consider what it should be used for. Here a few items:
- Create basic 2-dimensional works of art that reflect the use of color, line, shape, form, texture, and space.
- Demonstrate the use of symbols to illustrate stories.
- Explore a variety of art mediums and media.
- Create works of art that reflect observations of physical objects or phenomenon.
- Collaborate in the creation of works of art.
- Recognize and understand the significance of great artists and their contributions, including their historical impact.
There are many more areas that need to be covered, but these are the basics that stretch across K-12. As students mature and grow more sophisticated, their ability to understand art becomes more subtle and discerning. But at its core, art remains an act of creation facilitated through media placed on a medium. A student equipped with an iPad can not only explore various approaches to the creation of art, he or she can do so much more rapidly than students using only physical objects to create their works.
Tools of the Trade
The iPad doesn’t come equipped to teach art. Even Microsoft Windows, including Windows 8, ships with a default, basic painting app (Apple?). In fact, the Microsoft Paint application is an imitative holdover from early days of computing when MacPaint and MacWrite shipped with Macintosh hardware.
To make up for this deficiency, I have long used ArtRage 3 as my primary painting application because it brings with it much of the physical nature of the artist’s toolbox. Selecting a paint brush involves clicking on a paint brush, and a pencil a pencil, etc. Selecting a color isn’t just about picking a color though, as ArtRage’s two layered approach starts with selecting a primary color, followed by a secondary value for its tint or tone. Like its big brother on the Mac and PC, ArtRage on the iPad lets the artist pick from a number of color pickers and store samples.
When using tools like ArtRage 3 to teach art, keep the application at its minimum set of features for the kind of work you are trying to teach. If you are teaching pencil sketching, do so with paper selection, followed by use of the pencil and a few sketch-oriented features. Don’t start teaching the app at the same time you are teaching the technique, that can become distracting and quickly overwhelming to young artists.
For the younger set, you might want to consider ColorStudio HD from Crayola and Griffin Technologies. This app and stylus combination helps students start by teaching them to color between the lines in virtual coloring books. These aren’t your childhood coloring books, because they come complete with music, animation and surprises (color in the door in the “Monster” bedroom to find new monsters, for instance). To use ColorStudio HD you need Griffin’s big Crayola Stylus, that somehow magically transforms the iPad from finger input to big stylus input. As an educator, you need to be aware that technology, as magic as it may be, is not without its drawbacks. In ColorStudio HD, the delays between drawing and display can be a little frustrating for an adult with fast response expectations. Most kids will just take it in stride. Some of the features, like selecting the color of a crayon or pencil work better with a finger than with the stylus. I would also like Griffin and Crayola to assign names to the colors as they are selected. That is part of the Crayola appeal. Anybody remember burnt sienna? But despite these minor flaws, I found myself having some fun with the coloring books. Sometimes it’s just a pleasure to digress.
As ColorStudio HD emphasizes, tools of the art trade can’t be complete without discussing input methods. The iPad was designed for fingers. Its interface is presuming flat, wide input surfaces, even when zoomed into a piece of art, or when using a fine stroke brush or pencil. If you want more precision you may want to consider a stylus. And even if you aren’t about precision, a stylus can keep smudge down to a minimum and even eliminate the passing of germs (Studio Neat’s Cosmonaut wide-grip stylus, for instance, could be easily disinfected between uses with degrading its performance). As students and their expectations mature, you may want to consider more expensive, more precise options like the Pogo Connect that brings pressure sensitivity to the iPad in apps like Paper, Sketchbook Pro, Procreate, Art Studio and Zen Brush (Note: Pogo Connect requires iOS devices with Bluetooth 4.0 like the 4th generation iPad). Each of these apps, which I will explore in more depth in future posts, offers a unique interface as well as unique approaches to art. Offering a variety of apps can help students discover different aspects of the creation experience.
Drawing apps do what drawing apps do. They support the curriculum as the tools for exploring color, line, shape, form, texture and space—to illustrate stories and to capture representations of the real world. All without dirty rags or dust, pencil shavings or eraser residue — without splattered walls, ruined carpet or a clean-up time that devolves into a water tossing experience. What they don’t do is limit the student’s ability to create.
Because the iPad is inherently a networked device, it proves ideal for facilitating artistic collaborations.
A number of “white boards” exist for the iPad, like the free and useful Groupboard. These applications let students simultaneously draw on the same surface. If your classroom includes a real whiteboard, then this may seem unnecessary. But imagine inviting students from another classroom, another school, maybe even another country to participate in the shared drawing. Art curriculum immediately becomes richer with the ability to introduce discussions about culture, how to work together with distributed teams and how to negotiate decisions with other people (like where put a line or what color to choose). The shared creation of art becomes a way to discuss collaboration, a critical work skill better experienced through art before students-turned adults tackle the likes of PowerPoint.
Even if a network connection isn’t available, collaboration in the classroom is easy. Give every student an iPad. Have them draw something (perhaps from a still life in the room) and after 5 minutes, have them switch the iPad one student to the right, and keep going around the room, then share out the images and create an instant slide show that can also be used to drive a discussion about how choices were made and why.
Sharing and Comparing
No matter how big your refrigerator, you eventually run out of space to display Sally’s latest masterpiece. Same with the classroom walls—if you consider the number of pieces of art created in elementary schools over the decades, we have neither school, nor city nor museum walls large enough to house them. But digital has reduced what would be massive amounts of paper, cardboard and poster-board to storage to bits on very small, very portable, USB sticks or hard drives.
So sharing becomes a slide show at minimum, an interactive experience, perhaps a movie composed of images and sound. Screen savers could point to directories full of student art to display them in ever changing patterns on every monitor available. As art becomes digital, its stage becomes wider. Sharing goes beyond physical space or even the limitations of the school, as artwork can be shared immediately with parents through Facebook posts or Flickr uploads, it can be Tweeted or pinned in Pinterest. The options limited only by the Internet and phone use policies of the school.
And of course, they can be printed, but basic paper in a printer proves a pretty small canvas. So too do the edges of the screen. Use walls for collages, for large print-outs taped together from individual pieces of paper. Transform bigger than eight-and-half-by-eleven art into a puzzle that must be solved before it is mounted. Sharing and comparing can evolve from a simple act of showing someone else your work, to being an interactive, even global experience, in itself.
Learning About Great Art
I recently sold nearly my entire collection of art books. I loved my art books but they were inordinately heavy and very bulky. Art Authority on my iPad replaced my art book collection. Art Authority offers a comprehensive exploration of art from every era of human existence. No longer does the educator need to keep notebooks or boxes full of slides, or create his or her own slideshows, or worry about bulbs burning out or carousels jamming. With Art Authority individual artists and eras come into view with a simple click. Consisting mostly of very high resolution images, Art Authority provides the ability to zoom into the art, at nearly the level of brush stroke or medium texture.
The app categories art into Early, Renaissance, Baroque, Romanticism, Impressionism, Modern, Contemporary and American. Those broad categories get broken down further, with Impressionism, for instance, consisting of an overview, American, French, Neo-Impressionists and Post-Impressionists.
If you are worried about losing all the text related to art and artists contained in the books, the app employs Wikipedia extensively, directly from links related to the artists or the work. Some may doubt the veracity of Wikipedia’s academic credentials, but I find it hard to believe that people will purposefully mislead or argue about Gustave Callebotte or his Paris Street, A Rain Day.
For those teaching in K-12 a special version, Art Authority K-12 for iPad, eliminates some of the more risqué images. This K-12 curation offers a good example of digital’s benefits. With the simple flip of a switch, metadata filters eliminate all of the age inappropriate images. That ease of curation, however, does raise the issue of who determines the criteria for image appropriateness, but that is a topic for another day.
Seeing great art inspires art. Art authority brings the world of art to the iPad, with a comprehensive catalog of beautiful images that will no doubt inspire even the most skeptical of young artists.
Letting the Paint Dry
There are certain areas where the iPad clearly does not contribute: sculpture for instance. Sculpture requires a tugging and a pulling, a forcing and a fitting—the elimination or augmentation of material that can be simulated in computers, but to master it still requires the touching of clay or other sculpturing materials. Perhaps more so than the instructor, students who watch modern computer generated imagery (and the Blu-Ray extras that provide technological backstories for their favorite films) know that much of what is seen in games or on film starts life as a physical model that is later digitized. An artist may find it difficult to conceive of an entire creature and all of its 3-D attributes on the computer, but the computer becomes indispensable in illustrating the breathing or snorting or charging of such a creature.
Although I’ve made a few derogatory references to the mess of art, don’t get me wrong, learning art requires a mess. No art should be taught exclusively on an iPad or with any other digital tool. Art is an experience. It should not be sanitized and ostracized from the world in which it exists. Art is about the world and should be a part of it. The iPad can play a role in exploration, and as students become more sophisticated, it can become an important tool in their artistic arsenal, but they need to learn the opportunities and constraints locked in paper and chalk, crayon and paintbrush. Students need to know how the digital emulators should behave, and then empowered to push them beyond the limits of their physical counterparts.
The 2012 Presidential election is over. As with many great events, it leaves the world with some certainties resolved, and it highlights uncertainties that loom even larger.
Changes to The Affordable Care Act
First and foremost, the uncertainty of the election is over. We know that President Obama has been re-elected, and with that, and control of the Senate remaining with the Democrats, we know that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will not be repealed. Companies that have been waiting and hoping for repeal, and healthcare organizations that have been dragging their feet in implementation, now need to start the process of coming into compliance with the law. States need to create their exchanges and individuals need to consider their personal responsibilities.
But what we also know is that no legislative action, including the US Constitution, exists forever without change. There are key elements of the Affordable Care Act that need examination and amendment, especially in light of the “fiscal cliff.” I am sure that teams on both sides of the aisle have now had time to read the ACA and have ideas on how to improve it. They should rapidly come to bi-partisan consensus on those changes and relate amendments to budget, deficit and growth.
Important areas to examine include the still large group of people who will be without insurance after 2014, the disparities in personal vs. family coverage and related subsides, the idea of “adverse selection” that seemingly encourages young people to pay a penalty rather than buy insurance resulting pools of insured that require more attention, therefore increasing costs, not reducing them. The issues of small businesses and the financial burden assigned to them also needs to be addressed. The ACA seems to encourage hiring part-time workers, which pushes the insurance costs back to under-employed individuals. And then there is the issue of physician salaries and productivity, which is much too complicated to get into here (I will write a separate post soon on this topic).
Work on the ACA is only a starting point. The President should also rapidly engage in the following activities:
- Fiscal Cliff. Immediate, bi-partisan meetings to converge on a deal that will avert the “fiscal cliff.” I would love to see many of these meetings held in the open on CSPAN so American’s can watch negotiations, understand the complexity of the issues, explore the nature of the disagreements and actually watch their leaders being leaders rather than hearing about leadership through self-description. Let the American people participate through observation, and certainly through social media and other forms of communication, in the sausage making that is legislative action. Yes, we elect representatives, but that doesn’t mean we absolve ourselves from participation after we leave the polling place. Television and the Internet provide some pretty good tools for monitoring the performance of our elected officials.
- Energy policy. Another opportunity for public debate and bi-partisan consensus. A fragmented, non-rational energy policy does neither party any good. Both parties benefit from coming together on this issue because American’s benefit from a rational policy.
- Tax Reform. There will be some tax reform necessary to stave off the fiscal cliff, but it should be a down payment on deeper reforms and simplifications. Part of the “fiscal cliff” “grand bargin” needs to include corporate and individual tax reform, with an eye toward keeping more money in the pockets of both, because corporate tax rates just become part the cost of doing business and get passed along in pricing. With the Great Recession remediation and its increase in money supply, keeping inflation low will be an important balancing point for tax reform.
- Education reform. As my readers know, this is an area of great passion for me. We treat education as budget ballast, while underpaying, threatening and under appreciating educators. Education reform does not necessarily mean more government standards at the national level, but it means leadership at the national level. Local governments can’t convene the dialog necessary to examine business models, accreditation, financial aid, standards, marketing and technology and the other issues facing education. There needs to be a national dialog that shines the spotlight education it deserves in a world where knowing how to think is more important than remembering facts.
- Immigration policy. Immigration built this nation and we need to remember that. The problem with immigration today is dysfunctional practice, not the immigrants. Providing the right message to the world, and the right position to illegal immigrants and their children, and the right policies for business, need to be a high priority.
- Infrastructure. I’m certainly watching infrastructure improvements, often from a stopped car behind a “Stop” sign held high by a construction worker. But we don’t just need more Federal spending on infrastructure (on Interstates, yes), what we need are better policies that encourage, and provide tax incentives to form, public-private partnerships that make those who depend on infrastructure for commerce help pay for it. Public-private infrastructure can provide revenue to both classes of investors.
Complexity and the “Next Economy”
There are two issues that only a second-term President can address, one is educational and the other is policy: complexity and the “next economy.”
Let me take the “next economy” first. When Presidential and Congressional candidates stand in “industrial states” and promise the return of high paying manufacturing jobs they are being disingenuous. Not only can’t they personally affect most business choices about where factories are built, but they aren’t being honest about the realities of modern manufacturing. In the US, productivity through automation has outstripped demand. We are a consumer-based economy that isn’t consuming as much as it once did, which is great for a more sustainable world, but bad for the current economic model. For years, the knowledge economy has been discussed. The US Government hasn’t actively created policies to smooth the transformation to knowledge and sustainability as economic pillars while easing away from manufacturing and physical goods consumption as the economic drivers. Only a second-term President can have a substantive discussion around broad economic transformation and lay the groundwork for that transformation.
Democracy can be messy and complicated, but these arguments we have are a mark of our liberty.
The “next economy” and all of the other issues are complex. They aren’t solvable with campaign promises, television commercial taglines, single-sided position papers from lobbying groups or PACs. They aren’t reducible to simple graphics that provide evidence for a few choice paths among clear alternatives. All of these issues are complex, and only a second-term President, without the threat of re-election, can afford to engage the American electorate in a conversation about how complex and inter-connected our realities, our policies and our choices are. Americans needs some Professor Obama along with President Obama to help create a framework for meaningful dialog going forward, perhaps as a penance for his campaign’s own often too pointed, too partisan, too terse rhetoric. The President recognized this in his acceptance speech when he said “Democracy can be messy and complicated, but these arguments we have are a mark of our liberty. “
The Time is Now
These discussions need to start well before Inauguration Day. We know that the “fiscal cliff” will be invoked before the President is sworn in for his second term, and we know the “grand deal” associated with averting the “fiscal cliff” will require deep negotiations, complex agreements and actions based on many of the issued outlined above. Today, some parts of the future are clearer. We cannot eliminate uncertainty, but our national leaders can certainly recognize it, name it, engage it and navigate it more effectively. Businesses, along with state and local governments, need leaders, not to tell them what to do, but to tell them what they are thinking and what actions and sacrifices they are willing to make. That by itself will deliver more clarity, and demonstrate better leadership. The time is now.
John Ebersole, a contributor at Forbes, wrote a piece today titled: The Myths of Online Learning.
John’s analysis, is itself, not incorrect. But like most disruptive technology, we fail to see that online education, like social media, is a new channel for an old thing. Yes, the new channel creates new audiences, requires different preparation, perhaps different content delivery skills, but it is not essentially different from classroom instruction, and it is very close to the age-old practice of self-study.
Abraham Lincoln was famously a distance learner. He read books, taught himself some stuff, and then went on to prove his competency.
Having received almost no formal education, Lincoln embarked on a quest for learning and self-improvement. He read incessantly, beginning as a youth with the Bible and Shakespeare. During his single term in the House of Representatives, his colleagues considered it humorous that Lincoln spent his spare time poring over books in the Library of Congress. The result of this ”stunning work of self-education” was the ”intellectual power” revealed in Lincoln’s writings and speeches. He relied, Miller notes, on in-depth research and logical argument to persuade his listeners rather than oratorical flights.
Although are near mythic overtones, the basic premise of self-motivated education comes through clearly. Abraham Lincoln today, would be classified as a non-traditional student in a distance learning program.
All of John’s analysis apply as much to regular courses as they do online courses. Here is his list, with my comments in parentheses:
- Online learning will reduce the need for faculty. (Perhaps, but there is a bigger threat from reduced funding, either in public higher education from legislative action or from faulty business practice in private, for-profit institutions).
- All online courses are the same. (No courses are the same. Curriculum and approach are all-over-the-place in physical classrooms why should online courses be any different?)
- The quality of outcomes is less for an online student than for one who has received the same instruction in a classroom. (Students who receive instruction in the actual same physical classroom also experience different qualities of outcome. Ask any professor who argues grades at the end of the quarter, followed by self-reflection while reading student evaluations).
- “Online” instruction is synonymous with “for profit” institutions. (This is a pretty naïve myth. “Online” as I said above, is a channel. Some community colleges do more “online” or “hybrid” teaching than well-healed for-profits because their often rural students just can’t get to a classroom often enough. I’m not sure who thinks some of these myths are mythical.
- Credentials earned online are not accepted by employers. (That may well be a myth among students or parents, I can’t say. It certainly isn’t among employers, as I well know from my interviews and discussions with Western Governors University where employers help craft the courses so students learn what they need to in order to be effective employees post-graduation.)
- You don’t know if the person doing the work is the person receiving the credit. (First, this may not be a myth: Online Classes See Cheating Go High-Tech, The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 3, 2012—and second, identity fraud, plagiarism and cheating is not limited to physical classrooms.)
“Online” education is a channel. What none of these myths hint at, and Lincoln proves, is that a motivated learner will learn regardless of the channel used to deliver the learning. We should be worrying about creating intriguing curricula delivered in an engaging and imaginative manner. If we can do that consistently, we can then pump that well-designed experience to enthused learners through any channel with similar results. Let’s get our priorities straight. Let’s discuss how we use online, games and other tools to enhance good learning experiences, not as an excuse for why poor learning experiences perform even worse.
Uploaded by yirsh
Blog followers and colleagues over at OnlineUniversities.com recently posted a list of the top 10 best books on the future of higher ed. I thought I would share it with you.
Here’s the list:
- Higher Education?: How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids—and What We Can Do About It
- The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out (Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series)
- Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses
- Change.edu: Rebooting for the New Talent Economy
- DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education
- The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters
- Shakespeare, Einstein, and the Bottom Line: The Marketing of Higher Education
- The Great Brain Race: How Global Universities Are Reshaping the World
- The Great American University: Its Rise to Preeminence, Its Indispensable National Role, Why It Must Be Protected
- Our Underachieving Colleges: A Candid Look at How Much Students Learn and Why They Should Be Learning More
You can ready the OnlineUniversities commentary here.
I want to add one book to the list:
Which I’ve started recently. It certainly points to one future, and if you want that future it can be a guide, and if you don’t, it may act as an instruction manual for a counter insurgency.
I gave talks at UBTech and CAMEX over the last year on the future of college retail. College bookstores face an existential crisis with the looming demise of physical book sales as digital technology rapidly becomes an option for learners. At the same time free content, via websites like the Kahn Academy, or through more proprietary means, like Apple’s iTunes University (now iTunes U). And then there is the rise of open sourced content available places like the Open Education Resources Commons (OER).
So what should college stores consider as the elements that will help make them relevant as their core mission apparently shifts?
First, let me say that if a bookstore saw its core mission as selling books, then it should start by redefining its mission. This is a strategic approach to the question. Campus bookstores are not bookstores, and even if they see themselves more broadly as campus retailers, they still miss the reality of their nuanced position. The mission of campus retailers should be to “offer goods and services that enhance the learning experience of the students, while reinforcing the institutions brand promise.” As most stores are affiliated with a campus directly (even those that have been outsourced or had part of their operations outsourced, remain tightly tied to the identify of the institution they are associated with) they need to see their role as a broad one, not a narrow one in order to survive deeper into the 21st-century.
The illustration to the left outlines many of the factors that need to be reconsidered for college stores to create unique experiences, as well as modernize their there operations.
Before I go to the bullet list, let me digress by saying that the creation of unique experiences is something that even the smallest stores from the most boutique of colleges and universities can tackle. Those schools have a unique value proposition that attracts them to the school. Although education can be driven by cost, cost alone does not redefine the attraction of a campus. The experience: the students, the approach to learning, student activities, the attractiveness of the campus, the curriculum, the educators, the food and many other factors go into that choice. The campus retailer must strategically consider themselves as one of those elements, and the the institution must invest so that the campus store experience not only reflects the uniqueness of the campus, but enhances and integrates with it as well. The campus store should be considered a strategic asset, not a transaction point.
Here are other design elements that need to be aligned to provide value, reflect brand and create experience:
High-Quality, Knowledge-Based Service: College stores should see themselves as an extension of, and supplement to, the learning experience. Consider art supplies. Should the art supply team be interested in stocking shelves and pointing to their location, or to enhancing the value of the art experience for those taking art classes—explaining trade-offs between brands and mediums. The opportunity exists for technology or other specialties of the campus. It would be cost prohibitive for most stores to hire a wide variety of knowledgeable student to populate their stores, but they should consider strategic hires for differentiated, high-return areas and think about community-based programs, either online or physical, to help people navigate their needs while in the store, or even ahead of a visit.
Content Curation: One specific instance of high-quality, knowledge-based service is content curation. As the content world becomes more complex, the college store can offer value added resources to faculty and students to help them understand the options they have, and the relative value of different sources of information and approaches to the delivery of that information. Think about content now as software. The educator can write a specification or requirements document and the store team, like programmers, can assemble a solution for the educator that meets his or her specification. Like programmers, the language or technique doesn’t matter to the solution recipient, what matters is that the software meets the requirements and delivers its expected value.
Sensory: Many retailers are looking at the five senses to help create more memorable experiences for retailers. The individual nature of institutional campus stores means that they don’t have the budget of major chains, but technology and globalization have driven down the costs of design components like lighting, sound, images, even smells. And touch and taste is very local, and very human. Even the smallest stores with the most meager budgets can rethink their physical and sensory experience. How many television design shows provide $10,000 and 2-days to remake the look of a room. Campus stores would do well to consider aesthetics and sensory enhancements to create better, more memorable experiences that move them from transaction hub to “third-place.”
Build Relationships: Customer relationship management sounds so corporate, but having a relationship with customers is fundamental to retail, even at the smallest scales. Relationships reflect trust and give organizations permission to extend services. Content curation, for instance, would not be a valid service if the college store didn’t have a good relationship with its faculty, a relationship that demonstrated its ability to add meaningful value.
Functional Technology Architecture: Retail transaction technology is becoming cheaper and more mobile. Do you still need a large cash warp area or could you create a more distributed transaction design that uses mobile technology to sell to people where they are buying. At the lowest level, don’t let technology interfere with the retail experience. Don’t make it hard for people to buy things, or return things. And also consider staff. Deploy modern, streamlined systems that allow staff to concentrate on adding value, not keeping the books straights through onerous transactions that suck up their time.
Interactivity and Entertainment: Major retailers have discovered that one way to keep people in there stores longer, and hopefully entice them to buy more, is to provide engaging entertainment or educational experiences that provide a positive reinforcement of the brand, while putting products in good light. This does not mean get a cheap HD TV and sit it on a shelf above a DVD player with dandling cords and continuously play a product video from a supplier. In fact, it really doesn’t mean that. What it does mean is thoughtfully integrating unique interactivity and entertainment elements into the store design. Disney does this very well as they bring down mirrors and walk-through castles to the size of their young customers. Things light-up and talk to them. And yes, I realize that most college stores can’ even consider a Disney-investment, but again, with software and computing technology and a little DIY, most campus IT programs would love to tackle the challenge of creating a brand experience for their campus that is show-cased in the campus store. Free labor for the store, credit for students and a new curriculum element for a professor. Win-win-win.
Physical Store Cartography: The flow through a store is a major design element. When you add in ideas like interactivity and entertainment, you want those to not be randomly placed elements, but integrated into the store so that the path to them is a journey not an accident. And that goes for other destinations in the store. Make walking through the store a pleasurable experience that offers a few surprises along the way that translate into selling opportunities. And use good merchandizing principles to create logical relationships between products (or if not logical, meaningfully surprising relationships).
Integrated with Online: Most stores are not just physical locations any longer. Many are also online destinations. The online experience should complement the physical store with better inventory, more information and extensions of in-store experiences. Design the website with the exact same design goals as the physical store. That doesn’t mean a virtual store, because those haven’t proven themselves yet, but it does mean that the website should be attractive, engaging, interactive, educational and brand reflective – and completely synergistic with the store and the overall campus brand experience. Be consistent in approach, intent and brand promise delivery.
Community: Consider how the store’s physical location becomes more than a “third-place” where students spend time beyond the classroom, the dorm and the library. Think about it as a destination for the community. Can the store sponsor talks by professors and other local authors? Can it house community meetings, poetry readings, quartets? If you invest in creating a unique experience that reflects the brand, you want to ensure that people are in the place to pick-up the vibe. By designing in a flexible space that can be reconfigured from retail floor to meeting space in off-hours, the store creates more utility, which increases its value. Community and “third-place” may also require the introduction of food services, which should be of high quality and reflect the same attention to detail as the greater store experience.
So take some time to visit a college store and share your thoughts about how these ideas might enhance the experience, or share stories of great examples where a store has implemented one or more ideas related to this post.
Campus stores may not be the money maker that is a major football or basketball television contract, but they are more present and more integrated than any external revenue source. As campus stores face the demise of the physical book, a word that many still maintain in their store’s name, educational institutions need to provide them with the permission and the investments dollars required for reinvention. Perhaps through that reinvention, college stores can reinvigorate other areas of the academic experience that could benefit from the recognition of their own precarious existential position.
I have been playing with electronic books in anticipation of my upcoming series of columns on education and iOS for iPhone Life. Today I had the pleasure of meeting with Inkling CEO Matt MacInnis.
I think we are at the very beginning of a major transformation, a beginning that Matt calls the “front edge.” What that translates to currently is market confusion. In book publishing, the end products all ended up in the end-point distribution as paper. Publishers and authors vied for the attention of academics and readers, but they all knew at the end, the results was a book – and from the experience standpoint, a book is a book is a book. In the world of eBooks that is no longer the case.
Experiencing a text-based book as downloaded from Project Gutenberg or basic PDF file. or test/PDF reconfigured by Chegg or CourseSmart is very different than an Amazon Kindle experience, but those are all much closer together than the far ranging offers being seen in Inkling and iBooks. And then you have books that aren’t books, such as the literature being redesigned for the iPad at TouchPress.
What Inkling has done right is design for an experience. They think about the content under their care as a set of independent objects, all of which can be acted upon (starred and highlighted, book marked and commented upon). Most importantly, the Inkling team sees eBooks as but a version of a book. If the coding architecture is right, the book can be formatted and delivered in a number of ways, including print.
And unlike paper books, Inkling books become part of a community. Amazon’s Kindle offers shared highlighting, but it doesn’t offer interactive community reading, which is critical to the transformation not only of textbooks, but of the learning in general. Classmates using Inkling can follow each others notes, but more importantly, they can communicate with each other through the text.
I’m going to go through a more thorough review of the various eBook formats in the future, but my first impressions of Inkling are good. The books are attractive, offer good navigation and a host of interactive features, images, slides shows and other supporting material. Perhaps I haven’t found it yet, but I haven’t seen a browse mode—in other words, I’m not sure how you just flip through and scan the text (of course, with assigned work the professor schedule out the interaction – but if your in a competency-based program, or a self-learner, you probably want to scan more. I’ve also had a few issues with selecting the text for highlighting working consistently—but we are on the edge and these are books that demonstrate not how to turn a book into a digital form, but how to use digital to reinvent the not-so “static” content side of learning. Matt tells me that in some courses he has the author interacting with the students – hopefully the design of the architecture for Inkling delivery includes ways for the author to rapidly update the books based on those interactions. I know I wish all of my books were interactive electronic versions so when I see something I left out, I can put it in without selling enough to go to second edition. When books become software, they should be perpetually current.
Stay tuned for more on Inkling coverage over the summer and into the fall.
Have you used Inkling yet? What do you think?
Cross-posted to iPhone Life: eBook Update: Getting an inkling for Inkling
Listen or read this excellent interview with Kevin Carey, the director of the Education Policy Program at the New America Foundation. The interview actually explores the uncertainties and driving forces that will perhaps make college more affordable in the long term. He also offers an often hidden definition of college that may well underpin the disruptions that will keep students learning, but may make a tradition college degree less relevant.
The percentage of all students taught by non- tenure-track professors – adjuncts, teaching assistants – has gone up and up and up.
- Kevin Carey
Read the transcript or listen to the interview here. What’s Driving College Costs Higher?
Jill Elaine Hughes, UOPX Writer Network, April 6, 2011
How might the American education system address this deficiency? Daniel W. Rasmus is a Liberal Arts Fellow at Bellevue College in Bellevue, Wash., and the author of the books “Listening to the Future” (Wiley, 2008) and “Management By Design” (Wiley, 2010). An independent management consultant and a former director of business insights for Microsoft Corporation, Rasmus offers a number of innovative ideas for how the U.S. education system can reshape itself to become more relevant to employers and the 21st-century workplace. Rasmus’ ideas are shaped from a concept called New World of Work, which he created while working at Microsoft and continues to drive his ideas today. “The distribution of American work has changed, and expectations for workers have evolved,” Rasmus says. “As we consider the future of education, we need to design solutions that aren’t about bricks and sidewalks … but about turning the knowledge economy — through education — into the driver for the next economy.”
Rasmus believes that in order for education to remain relevant, it needs to become more student-centered. “I like the idea that learners need to build their own model of learning,” he says. “My role as an educator is to help guide their development and inform their model.”
That said, Rasmus also believes that one of the best ways to make education relevant to the workplace is to blur the divisions that currently exist between the two. “Think holistically about facilities, and drive toward a breakdown of boundaries between K-12, vocational school and community college,” he says. “Hire the retired or skilled out-of-work professionals to complement teaching, including coaching educators on what is new and different about learning models from the business perspective. Rather than thinking about schools as single-purpose facilities, transform them into cross-generational learning hubs.”