January 31, 2015

39 questions to ask when choosing media for teaching and learning

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© bewareofimages.com, 2011

© bewareofimages.com, 2011

Yeah, 39 questions is a lot, but then there is a lot of things to take into consideration. I pulled together the key questions for consideration from Chapter 9 (just published) of my open textbook, ‘Teaching in a Digital Age.’

Take a look at them, then tell me:

(a) what have I missed

(b) what you would leave out

(c) if this is a futile exercise

These questions should be used in conjunction with Chapter 9, and address a real context that you may be facing, such as designing a new course.

It is recommended you work through each question one by one, possibly making notes of your answers. It is also recommended that you do this in a fairly systematic manner the first two or three times when faced with a possible choice of media for a whole course or program. This could take a few days, allowing time for thinking. Some questions may need to wait until other questions have been answered. It will likely to be an iterative process.

After you have worked through the questions, give yourself a day or two if possible before thinking about what media or technology will best fit with your course or program. Discuss  your thoughts about media use with other instructors and with any professionals such as an instructional designer or media designer before the design of the course. Leave yourself open to making more final decisions as you start designing/developing and delivering the course, with the option of checking back with your notes and more details in Chapter 9.

After the first two or three times of working through the questions, you will be able to be less systematic and quicker in making decisions, but the questions and answers to the questions should always be in your head when making decisions about media for teaching.

Students

1. What is the mandate or policy of your institution, department or program with respect to access? How will students who do not have access to a chosen technology be supported?

2. What are the likely demographics of the students you will be teaching? How appropriate is the technology you are thinking of using for these students?

3. If your students are to be taught at least partly off campus, to which technologies are they likely to have convenient and regular access at home or work?

4. If they are to be taught at least partly on campus, what is – or should be – your or your department’s policy with regard to students’ access to learning technologies in class?

5. What digital skills do you expect your students to have before they start the program?

6. If students are expected to provide their own access to technology, will you be able to provide unique teaching experiences that will justify the purchase or use of such technology?

7. What prior approaches to learning are the students likely to bring to your program? How suitable are such prior approaches to learning likely to be to the way you need to teach the course? How could technology be used to cater for student differences in learning?

Ease of use

8. How intuitively easy to use is the technology you are considering, both by students and by yourself?

9. How reliable is the technology?

10. How easy is it to maintain and up-grade the technology?

11. The company that is providing the critical hardware or software you are using: is it a stable company that is not likely to go out of business in the next year or two, or is it a new start-up? What strategies are in place to secure any digital teaching materials you create should the organisation providing the software or service cease to exist?

12. Do you have adequate technical and professional support, both in terms of the technology and with respect to the design of materials?

13. How fast developing is this subject area? How important is it to regularly change the teaching materials? Which technology will best support this?

14. To what extent can the changes be handed over to someone else to do, and/or how essential is it for you to do them yourself?

15. What rewards are you likely to get for using new technology in my teaching? Will use of a new technology be the only innovation, or can you also change your way of teaching with this technology to get better results

16. What are the risks in using this technology?

Cost/your time

17. Which media are likely to take a lot of your time to develop? Which could you do quickly and easily?

18. How much time do you spend preparing lectures? Could that time be better spent preparing learning materials, then using the time saved from delivering lectures on interaction with students (online and/or face-to-face)?

19. Is there a possibility of extra funding for innovative teaching or technology applications? How could you best use that funding?

20. What kind of help can you get in your institution from instructional designers and media professionals for media design and development?

21. What open educational resources could be used for this course? Could you use an open textbook, thereby saving students the cost of buying textbooks? Can the library or your learning technology support group help identify potential OERs for your course?

Teaching/educational factors

22. What are the desired learning outcomes from the teaching in terms of content and skills?

23. What instructional strategies will be employed to facilitate the learning outcomes?

24. What unique pedagogical characteristics of text will be appropriate for this course, in terms of content presentation and skills development?

25. What unique pedagogical characteristics of audio will be appropriate for this course, in terms of content presentation and skills development?

26. What unique pedagogical characteristics of video will be appropriate for this course, in terms of content presentation and skills development?

27. What unique pedagogical characteristics of computing will be appropriate for this course, in terms of content presentation and skills development?

28. What unique pedagogical characteristics of social media will be appropriate for this course, in terms of content presentation and skills development?

29. What really must be done face-to-face on this course? (Are you sure? Think about it!)

Interaction

30. In terms of the skills you are trying to develop, what kinds of interaction will be most useful? What media or technology could you use to facilitate that kind of interaction?

31. In terms of the effective use of your time, what kinds of interaction will produce a good balance between  student comprehension and student skills development, and the amount of time you will be interacting personally or online with students?

Organisational issues

32. How much and what kind of help can you get from the institution in choosing and using media for teaching? Is help easily accessible? How good is the help? Do they have the media professionalism you will need? Are they up to date in the use of new technologies for teaching?

33. Is there possible funding available to ‘buy you out’ for a semester and/or to fund a teaching assistant so you can concentrate on designing a new course or revising an existing course? Is there funding for media production?

34. To what extent will you have to follow ‘standard’ technologies, practices and procedures, such as using a learning management system, or lecture capture system, or will you be encouraged and supported to try something new?

Networking

35. How important is it to enable learners to network beyond a course, with others such as subject specialists, professionals in the field, and relevant people in the community? Can the course, or student learning, benefit from such external connections?

36. If this is important, what’s the best way to do this? Use social media exclusively? Integrate it with other standard course technology? Delegate responsibility for its design and/or administration to students or learners?

Security and privacy

37. What student information are you obliged to keep private and secure? What are my institution’s policies on this? Who would know?

38. What is the risk that by using a particular technology your institution’s policies concerning privacy could easily be breached? Who in your institution could advise you on this?

39. What areas of teaching and learning, if any, need you keep behind closed doors, available only to students registered in your course? Which technologies will best allow you to do this?

 

Deciding on appropriate media for teaching and learning

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Figure 9.10.3 The SECTIONS model

Figure 9.10.1 The SECTIONS model: factors influencing media selection

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This is the final section of Chapter 9, Choosing and using media in education, for my online open textbook, Teaching in a Digital Age. It deals with a key question: what kind of decision-making works best in this context, and provides the last step in a methodology for selecting and using media.

If you’ve worked your way right through this chapter, you are probably feeling somewhat overwhelmed by all the factors to take into consideration when selecting media. It is a complex issue, but if you have read all the previous sections, you are already in a good position to make well informed decisions. Let me explain.

Deductive versus inductive decision-making

Many years ago, when I first developed the ACTIONS model, I was approached by a representative of a large international computer company who offered to automate the ACTIONS model. We sat down over a cup of coffee, and he outlined his plan. Here’s how the conversation went.

Pierre. Tony. I’m really excited about your model. We could take it and apply it in every school and university in the world.

Tony. Really? Now how would you do that?

Pierre. Well, you have a set of questions that teachers have to ask for each of the criteria. There is probably a limited set of answers to these questions. You could either work out what those answers are, or collect answers from a representative sample of teachers. You could then give scores to each technology depending on the answers they give. So when a teacher has to make a choice of technology, they would sit down, answer the questions, then depending on their answers, the computer would calculate the best choice of technology. Voilà!

Tony. I don’t think that’s going to work, Pierre.

Pierre: But why not?

Tony. I’m not sure, but I have a gut feeling about this.

Pierre. A gut feeling? My English is not so good. What do you mean by a gut feeling?

Tony. Pierre, your English is excellent. My response is not entirely logical, so let me try and think it through now, both for you and me, why I don’t think this will work. First, I’m not sure there is a limited number of possible answers to each question, but even if there is, it’s not going to work.

Pierre. Well, why not?

Tony. Because I’m not sure how they would score their response to each question and in any case there’s going to be interaction between the the answers to the questions. It’s not the addition of each answer that will determine what technology they might use, but how those answers combine. From a computing point of view, there could be very many different combinations of answers, and I’m not sure what the significant combinations are likely to be with regard to choosing each technology.

Pierre. But we have very big and fast computers, and we can simplify the process through algorithms.

Tony. Yes, but you have to take into account the context in which teachers will make media selections. They are going to be making decisions about media all the time, in many different contexts. It’s just not practical to sit down at a computer, answer all the questions, then wait for the computer’s recommendation.

Pierre. But won’t you give this a try? We can work through all these problems.

Tony. Pierre, I really appreciate your suggestion, but my gut tells me this won’t work, and I really don’t want to waste your time or mine on this.

Pierre. Well, what are you going to tell teachers then? How will they make their decisions?

Tony. Gut instinct, Pierre, gut instinct – but influenced by the SECTIONS model.

This really is a true story, although the actual words spoken may have been different. What we have in this scenario is a conflict between deductive reasoning (Pierre) and inductive reasoning (Tony). With deductive reasoning, you would do what Pierre suggests: start without any prior conceptions about which technology to use, answer each of the questions I posed at the end of each part of the SECTIONS model, then write down all the possible technologies that would fit the answers to each question, see what technology would best match each of the questions/criteria, and ‘score’ each technology on a recommended scale for each criterion. You would then try to find a way to add all those answers together, perhaps by using a very large matrix, and then end up with a decision about what technology to use.

My suggestion is very different. Mine is a more inductive approach to decision making. The main criterion for inductive reasoning is as follows:

As evidence accumulates, the degree to which the collection of true evidence statements comes to support a hypothesis, as measured by the logic, should tend to indicate that false hypotheses are probably false and that true hypotheses are probably true.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

In terms of selecting media, you probably start with a number of possible technologies in mind at the beginning of the process (hypotheses – or your gut feeling). My suggested process is start with your gut feeling about which technologies you’re thinking of using, but keeping an open mind, then move through all the questions suggested in each of the SECTIONS criteria. You then start building more evidence to support or reject the use of a particular medium or technology. By the end of the process you have a ‘probabilistic’ view of what combinations of media will work best for you and why. This is not an exercise you would have to do every time. Once you have done it just a few times, the choice of medium or technology in each ‘new’ situation will be quicker and easier, because the brain stores all the previous information and you have a framework (the SECTIONS model) for organising new information as it arrives and integrating it with your previous knowledge.

Now you’ve read this chapter you already have a set of questions for consideration (I have listed them all together in Appendix 2 for easy reference). You are now in the same position as the king who asked the alchemist how to make gold. ‘It’s easy’, said the alchemist, ‘so long as you don’t think about elephants.’ Well, having read this chapter in full, you now have the elephants in your head. It will be difficult to ignore them. The brain is in fact a wonderful instrument for making intuitive or inductive decisions of this kind. The trick though is to have all this information somewhere in your head, so you can pull it all out when you need it. The brain does this very quickly. Your decisions won’t always be perfect, but they will be a lot better than if you hadn’t already thought about all these issues, and in life, rough but ready usually beats perfect but late.

Grounding media selection within a course development framework

Media selection therefore does not happen in a vacuum. We saw in Chapters 1-6 that there are many other factors to consider when designing teaching. In particular, embedded within any decision about the use of technology in education and training will be assumptions about the learning process. We have already seen earlier in this book how different epistemological positions and theories of learning affect the design of teaching, and these influences will also determine a teacher’s or an instructor’s choice of appropriate media. Media selection is just one part of the course design process. It has to fit within the broader framework of course design.

Set within such a framework, there are five critical questions that need to be asked about teaching and learning in order to select and use appropriate media/technologies:

  • who are the students?
  • what are the desired learning outcomes from the teaching?
  • what instructional strategies will be employed to facilitate the learning outcomes?
  • what are the unique educational characteristics of each medium/technology, and how well do these match the learning and teaching requirements?
  • what resources are available?

Hibbits and Travin’s (2015) variation of ADDIE presents the following learning and technology development model that incorporates the various stages of course design:

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Figure 9.10.2 Hibbits and Travin's Learning + technology development model

Figure 9.10.2 Hibbits and Travin’s Learning + technology development model

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The SECTIONS model is strategy that could be used for assessing the technology fit within this course development process. Whether you are using ADDIE or an agile design approach, then, media selection will be influenced by the other factors in course design, adding more information to be considered. This will all be mixed in with your knowledge of the subject area and its requirements, your beliefs and values about teaching and learning, and a lot of emotion as well.

All this further reinforces the inductive approach to decision making that I have suggested. Don’t underestimate the power of your brain – it’s far better than a computer for this kind of decision-making. But it’s important to have the necessary information, as far as possible, by carefully considering the answers to all the questions posed in this chapter (collected together in Appendix 2 – to come). So if you skipped a part of this chapter, you might want to go back over it!

Over to you

It’s probably difficult to comment on this section without having worked through the other parts of this chapter, and I will be doing a post shortly that is a brief overview of the chapter. However, if there any any philosophers among you, please let me have your thoughts on my approach to decision-making in this area.

Up next

A brief overview/list of the sections in this chapter, with links, followed by another post on Appendix 2 of the book, which will be a list of questions for consideration when selecting and using media, organized within the SECTIONS framework.

 

Balancing the use of social media and privacy protection in online learning

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Figure 9.9 Privacy ranking by Privacy International, 2007 Red: Endemic surveillance societies Strong yellow: Systemic failure to uphold safeguards Pale yellow: Some safeguards but weakened protections http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Privacy#mediaviewer/File:Privacy_International_2007_privacy_ranking_map.png

Figure 9.9 Privacy ranking by Privacy International, 2007
Red: Endemic surveillance societies
Strong yellow: Systemic failure to uphold safeguards
Pale yellow: Some safeguards but weakened protections
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Privacy#mediaviewer/File:Privacy_International_2007_privacy_ranking_map.png

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This is the last of the SECTIONS criteria for selecting media for my online open textbook, Teaching in a Digital World. The last ‘S’ stands for Security and Privacy.

This is a change from earlier versions of the SECTIONS model, where ‘S’ stood for speed, in terms of how quickly a technology enabled a course to be developed.. However, the issues that I previously raised under speed have been included in Section 9.3, ‘Ease of Use’. This has allowed me to replace ‘Speed’ with ‘Security and privacy’, which have become increasingly important issues for education in a digital age.

9.9.1 The need for privacy and security when teaching

Instructors and students need a private place to work online. Instructors want to be able to criticize politicians or corporations without fear of reprisal; students may want to keep rash or radical comments from going public or will want to try out perhaps controversial ideas without having them spread all over Facebook. Institutions want to protect students from personal data collection for commercial purposes by private companies, tracking of their online learning activities by government agencies, or marketing and other unrequested commercial or political interruption to their studies. In particular, institutions want to protect students, as far as possible, from online harassment or bullying. Creating a strictly controlled environment enables institutions to manage privacy and security more effectively.

Learning management systems provide password protected access to registered students and authorised instructors. Learning management systems were originally housed on servers managed by the institution itself. Password protected LMSs on secure servers have provided that protection. Institutional policies regarding appropriate online behaviour can be managed more easily if the communications are managed ‘in-house.’

9.9.2 Cloud based services and privacy

However, in recent years, more and more online services have moved ‘to the cloud’, hosted on massive servers whose physical location is often unknown even to the institution’s IT services department. Contract agreements between an educational institution and the cloud service provider are meant to ensure security and back-ups.

Nevertheless, Canadian institutions and privacy commissioners have been particularly wary of data being hosted out of country, where it may be accessed through the laws of another country. There has been concern that Canadian student information and communications held on cloud servers in the USA may be accessible via the U.S. Patriot Act. For instance, Klassen (2011) writes:

Social media companies are almost exclusively based in the United States, where the provisions of the Patriot Act apply no matter where the information originates. The Patriot Act allows the U.S. government to access the social media content and the personally identifying information without the end users’ knowledge or consent.
The government of British Columbia, concerned with both the privacy and security of personal information, enacted a stringent piece of legislation to protect the personal information of British Columbians. The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) mandates that no personally identifying information of British Columbians can be collected without their knowledge and consent, and that such information not be used for anything other than the purpose for which it was originally collected.

Concerns about student privacy have increased even more when it became known that countries were sharing intelligence information, so there remains a risk that even student data on Canadian-based servers may well be shared with foreign countries.

Perhaps of more concern though is that as instructors and students increasingly use social media, academic communication becomes public and ‘exposed’. Bishop (2011) discusses the risks to institutions in using Facebook:

  • privacy is different from security, in that security is primarily a technical, hence mainly an IT, issue. Privacy needs a different set of policies that involves a much wider range of stakeholders within an institution, and hence a different (and more complex) governance approach from security;
  • many institutions do not have a simple, transparent set of policies for privacy, but different policies set by different parts of the institution. This will inevitably lead to confusion and difficulties in compliance;
  • there is a whole range of laws and regulations that aim to protect privacy; these cover not only students but also staff; privacy policy needs to be consistent across the institution and be compliant with such laws and regulation.
  • Facebook’s current privacy policy (2011) leaves many institutions using Facebook at a high level of risk of infringing or violating privacy laws – merely writing some kind of disclaimer will in many cases not be sufficient to avoid  breaking the law.

The controversy at Dalhousie University where dental students used Facebook for violent sexist remarks about their fellow women students is an example of the risks endemic in the use of social media.

9.9.3 The need for balance

Although there may well be some areas of teaching and learning where it is essential to operate behind closed doors, such as in some areas of medicine or areas related to public security, or in discussion of sensitive political or moral issues, in general though there have been relatively few privacy or security problems when teachers and instructors have opened up their courses, have followed institutional privacy policies, and above all where students and instructors have used common sense and behaved ethically. Nevertheless, as teaching and learning becomes more open and public, the level of risk does increase.

9.9.4 Questions for consideration

1. What student information am I obliged to keep private and secure? What are my institution’s policies on this?

2. What is the risk that by using a particular technology my institution’s policies concerning privacy could easily be breached? Who in my institution could advise me on this?

3. What areas of teaching and learning, if any, need I keep behind closed doors, available only to students registered in my course? Which technologies will best allow me to do this?

Over to you

1. I couldn’t find more recent references on this issue than 2011, when it seemed to be a hot topic. Has anything significantly changed with regard to privacy and social media in education since 2011 that I should be aware of? Or have our institutions nailed it regarding sensible policies and practices? (Did I hear guffaws?) References would be particularly welcome.

2. If anyone would like to share their experiences regarding privacy issues as a result of using social media for teaching, please either send me an e-mail (for privacy reasons) or share a comment on this post.

Up next

The final section on Chapter 9: Making decisions about what media to use. This will suggest a relatively simple approach for what is in effect a highly complex topic.

Yes, I know, you just can’t wait for this final episode. Keep tuned to this station.

References

Bishop, J. (2011)  Facebook Privacy Policy: Will Changes End Facebook for Colleges? The Higher Ed CIO, October 4

Klassen, V. (2011) Privacy and Cloud-­Based  Educational Technology in British Columbia Vancouver BC: BCCampus

See also:

Bates, T. (2011) Cloud-based educational technology and privacy: a Canadian perspective, Online Learning and Distance Education Resources,, March 25

 

 

Networking (and novelty) as criteria for media selection

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Figure 9.8.1 UBC's Math Exam Wiki

UBC’s Math Exam Wiki (click on image to go to web page)

Almost there! This section covers the ‘N’ in the SECTIONS model for the chapter on media selection for my online open textbook, Teaching in a Digital Age.

Networking and novelty

These are two quite different factors influencing media selection, of which networking is by far the most important.

Networking

This is a relatively new addition to the SECTIONS model and aims to take into account the potential of social media and open education. In essence, an increasingly important question that needs to be asked when selecting media is:

  • how important is it to enable learners to network beyond a course, with others such as subject specialists, professionals in the field, and relevant people in the community? Can the course, or student learning, benefit from such external connections?

If the answer to this is an affirmative, then this will affect what media to use, and in particular will suggest the use of social media such as blogs, wikis, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google Hangout.

There are at least five different ways social media are influencing course design:

  • as an addition to credit-based online software/technology
  • credit course design using only social media
  • student generated learning resources
  • self-managed learning groups
  • instructor-led open educational resources.

Supplementing ‘standard’ learning technologies

Some instructors are combining social media for external networking with ‘standard’ institutional technologies such as a learning management system. The LMS, which is password protected and available only to the instructor and other enrolled students, allows for ‘safe’ communication within the course. The use of social media allows for connections with the external world (contributions can still be screened by the course blog or wiki administrator by monitoring and approving contributions.)

For instance, a course on Middle Eastern politics could have an internal discussion forum focused on relating current events directly to the themes and issues that are the focus of the course, but students may manage their own, public wiki that encourages contributions from Middle East scholars and students, and indeed anyone from the general public. Comments may end up being moved into and out of the more closed class discussion forum as a result.

Exclusive use of social media for credit courses

Other instructors are moving altogether away from ‘standard’ institutional technology such as learning management systems and lecture capture into the use of social media for managing the whole course. For instance, UBC’s course ETEC 522 uses WordPress, YouTube videos and podcasts for instructor and student contributions to the course. Indeed the choice of social media on this course changes every year, depending on the focus of the course, and new developments in social media. Jon Beasley-Murray at UBC built a whole course around students creating a high level (featured-article) Wikipedia entry on Latin American literature (Latin American literature WikiProject – see Beasley-Murray, 2008).

Student generated learning resources

This is a particularly interesting development where students themselves use social media to create resources to help other students. For instance, graduate math students at UBC have created the Math Exam/Education Resources wiki, which provides ‘past exams with fully worked-out and reviewed solutions, video lectures & pencasts by topic‘. Such sites are open to anyone needing help in their studying, not just UBC students.

Self-managed learning groups

cMOOCs are an obvious example of self-managed learning groups using social media such as webinars, blogs and wikis.

Instructor-led open educational resources

YouTube in particular is becoming increasingly popular for instructors to use their knowledge to create resources available to anyone. The best example is still the Khan Academy, but there are many other examples.

Once again, the decision to ‘open up’ teaching is as much a philosophical or value decision as a technology decision, but the technology is now there to encourage and enable this philosophy.

Novelty

Novelty is a two-edged sword. ‘Innovation in teaching’ will certainly bring rewards these days as institutions jostle for position as innovative institutions.  It is often easier to get funding for new uses of technology than funding to sustain older but successful technologies. Although podcasts combined with a learning management system can be a very low-cost but highly effective teaching medium if good design is used, they are not sexy. It will usually be easier to get support for much more costly and spectacular technologies such as xMOOCs or virtual reality.

On the other hand, there is much risk in being too early into a new technology. Software may not be fully tested and reliable, or the company supporting the new technology may go bankrupt. Students are not guinea pigs, and reliable and sustainable service is more important to them than the glitz and glamour of untried technology. Thus it is better to be at the leading edge, just behind the first wave of innovation, rather than at the bleeding edge.

Questions for consideration

  1. How important is it to enable learners to network beyond a course, with others such as subject specialists, professionals in the field, and relevant people in the community? Can the course, or student learning, benefit from such external connections?
  2. If this is important, what’s the best way to do this? Use social media exclusively? Integrate it with other standard course technology? Delegate responsibility for its design and/or administration to students or learners?
  3. What rewards am I likely to get for using new technology in my teaching? Will use of a new technology be the only innovation, or can I also change my way of teaching with this technology to get better results?
  4. What are the risks in using this technology?

Feedback

1. I am looking for an example of using social media to supplement ‘standard’ institutional technologies (I made up the Middle East politics example). Any suggestions that are openly accessible (at least the social media parts) will be most welcome.

2. Is it really worth including novelty as a criterion?

3. Any other comments on this section

Next up

The last part of the SECTIONS model: speed and security.

Why organisational issues are critical for media selection

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Figure 9.7.1 earning Environments self-service video recording studio, Baillieu Library, University of Melbourne  Image: © University of Melbourne,  2014

Figure 9.7.1 Learning Environments self-service video recording studio, Baillieu Library, University of Melbourne
Image: © University of Melbourne, 2014

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I’m getting to the end of my chapter on media selection, based on the SECTIONS model. I discuss the ‘O’ for organisational issues briefly. This section is pretty obvious to most readers of this blog, but it needs to be said (or written).

The SECTIONS model: Organizational Issues

Institutional readiness for teaching with technology

One of the critical issues that will influence the selection of media by teachers and instructors is

  • the way the institution structures teaching activities,
  • the instructional and technology services already in place,
  • the support for media and technology use that their institution provides.

If an institution is organised around a set number of classroom periods every day, and the use of physical classrooms, the teachers are likely to focus mainly on classroom delivery. As Mackenzie was quoted in Section 9.1: ‘Teachers have always made the best of whatever they’ve got at hand, but it’s what we have to work with. Teachers make due.’ The reverse is equally true. If the school or university does not support a particular technology, instructors quite understandably won’t use it. Even if the technology is in place, such as a learning management system or a video production facility, if an instructor is not trained or oriented to its use and potential, then it will either be underused or not used at all.

Most institutions that have successfully introduced media and technology for teaching on a large scale have recognized the need for professional support for faculty, by providing instructional designers, media designers and IT support staff to support teaching and learning. Some institutions also provide funding for innovative teaching projects.

A major implication of using technology is the need to reorganize and restructure the teaching and technology support services in order to exploit and use the technology efficiently. Too often technology is merely added on to an existing structure and way of doing things. Reorganization and restructuring is disruptive and costly in the short-term, but usually essential for successful implementation of technology-based teaching (see Bates and Sangrà, 2011, for a full discussion of management strategies for supporting the use of technology for teaching in higher education).

Thus there is often a bias towards those technologies that can be introduced with the minimum of organizational change, although these may not be the technologies that would have maximum impact on learning. These organizational challenges are extremely difficult, and are often major reasons for the slow implementation of new technology.

Media design principles

As stated in Section 9.5.1, many factors can influence the effectiveness of media in teaching. One of the most important is the design of the media experience. Any medium can be used well or badly. Poor lighting and in particular poor audio can ruin an otherwise effective use of video. A rambling, incoherent podcast may contain excellent academic material but is likely to fail as a teaching experience. So quality in terms of media production matters. This does not mean necessarily though that you need expensive productions.

Perhaps the most  valuable research relevant to quality media production has been done by Richard Mayer, of the University of California at Santa Barbara. He has conducted nearly 100 studies in the development of his principles for multimedia design (Mayer, 2009). Staff at the University of British Columbia have combined Mayer’s findings with Robert Talbert’s experience from developing a series of successful screencasts on mathematics, into a set of practical design guidelines for multimedia production.

Talbert’s key design principles are:

  • Keep it Simple: Focus on one idea at a time.
  • Keep it Short: Keep videos to a length 5-6 minutes max. to maximize attention.
  • Keep it Real: Model the decision making and problem solving processes of expert learners.
  • Keep it Good: Be intentional about planning the video. Strive to produce the best video and audio quality possible.

The UBC guidelines also integrate the implications of cognitive load theory, into three strategies:

  • reduce extraneous processing
  • manage essential processing
  • foster generative processing

Using these principles the UBC site provides a matrix that links these principles to a range of learning effects, with examples. These are ideal guidelines for anyone thinking of moving into using media for the first time. The topic of the design of media for teaching is worth a whole book on its own, but more detailed guidelines for audio and video production can be found in Koumi (2006) and O’Donoghue (2011).

The key point here is that although it is now possible for teachers and instructors to produce reasonably good quality audio and video on their own, it will always benefit from the input of professionals in media production.

Work with professionals

Even those experienced in using media for teaching and learning would be wise to work with professional media producers when creating any of the media discussed in this chapter (with the possible exception of social media). Indeed, it is usually useful if not essential to work also with an instructional designer to determine before too much work is done which media are likely to be the most appropriate. It is important for the choice of technology to be driven by educational goals, rather than starting with a particular medium or technology in mind.

There are several reasons for working with professionals:

  • they understand the technology and as a result will enable you to develop a better product more quickly than working alone;
  • two heads are better than one. Working collaboratively will result in new and better ideas about how you could be using the medium;
  • instructional designers and professional media producers will usually be familiar with project management and budgeting for media production, enabling resources to be developed in time and on budget. This is important as it is easy for teachers or instructors to get sucked into spending far more time than necessary on producing media.

Questions for consideration

1. How much and what kind of help can I get from the institution in choosing and using media for teaching? Is help easily accessible? How good is the help? Do they have the media professionalism I will need? Are they up to date in the use of new technologies for teaching?

2. Is there possible funding available to ‘buy me out’ for a semester and/or to fund a teaching assistant so I can concentrate on designing a new course or revising an existing course? Is there funding for media production?

3. To what extent will I have to follow ‘standard’ technologies, practices and procedures, such as using a learning management system, or lecture capture system, or will I be encouraged and supported to try something new?

4. Are there already suitable media resources freely available that I can use in my teaching, rather than creating everything from scratch? Can I get help from the library for instance in identifying these resources and dealing with any copyright issues?

If the answers are negative for each of these questions, you would be wise to set very modest goals initially for using media and technology. Nevertheless the good news is that it is increasingly easy to create and manage your own media such as web sites, blogs, wikis, podcasts and even simple video production. Furthermore students themselves are often capable and interested in participating or helping with creating learning resources, if given the chance. And above all, there is an increasing amount of really good educational media coming available for free use for educational purposes.

Feedback, please

1. Is there anything I have missed about the influence of organizational factors on media selection?

2. Is there anything you disagree with in this section?

3. I have struggled with how to handle media design in this book. It is a huge topic, and has been well covered by Mayer, Koumi and O’Donoghue (see below for references). My reason for including it here is that I strongly believe that if instructors are going to design media, they should work with media professionals and/or instructional designers. At the same time I am aware that it is becoming increasingly easier for instructors (and students) to create their own digital resources. However, when this happens the results are often disappointing in terms of media quality. But does this affect the quality of the learning? As always, it all depends. Experience helps a great deal. What are your views on this? Should faculty be encouraged to be do-it-yourself media producers, or should they work with media professionals? Under what circumstances should faculty do their own media production? Your feedback on this would be really helpful.

Up next

Networking and novelty.

References

Bates, A. and Sangrà, A. (2011) Managing Technology in Higher Education San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/John Wiley and Co.

Koumi, J. (2006). Designing video and multimedia for open and flexible learning. London: Routledge.

Mayer, R. E. (2009). Multimedia learning (2nd ed). New York: Cambridge University Press.

O’Donoghue, M. (2014) Producing video for teaching and Learning New York: Routledge

Seeking the unique pedagogical characteristics of social media

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Figure 5.5.5.1 Image: swilmarth (via Flickr)

Figure 5.5.5.1 Image: swilmarth (via Flickr)

Social media are still in a very volatile state of development, and many faculty worry about the negative aspects of students who are continually ‘on’ or obsessed with social media. At the same time, there are exciting developments and future possibilities for the intelligent use of social media in education, which are explored in this post.

Although social media are mainly Internet-based and hence a sub-category of computing, there are enough significant differences between educational social media use and computer-based learning or online collaborative learning to justify treating social media as a separate medium, although of course they are dependent and often fully integrated with other forms of computing. We shall see that the main difference is in the extent of control over learning that social media offer to learners.

9.5.5.1 What are social media?

Around 2005, a new range of web tools began to find their way into general use, and increasingly into educational use. These can be loosely described as social media, as they reflect a different culture of web use from the former “centre-to-periphery” push of institutional web sites.

Here are some of the tools and their uses (there are many more possible examples: click on each example for an educational application):

Type of tool  Example  Application
Blogs Stephen’s WebOnline Learning and Distance Education Resources  Allows an individual to make regular postings to the web, e.g. a personal diary or an analysis of current events
Wikis WikipediaUBC’s Math Exam Resources  An “open” collective publication, allowing people to contribute or create a body of information
Social networking FaceBookLinkedIn  A social utility that connects people with friends and others who work, study and interact with them
Multi-media archives PodcastsYou-TubeFlikriTunes U

e-portfolios

MIT Open CourseWare

 Allows end users to access, store, download and share audio recordings, photographs, and videos
Virtual worlds Second Life  Real-time semi-random connection/ communication with virtual sites and people
Multi-player games Lord of the Rings Online  Enables players to compete or collaborate against each other or a third party/parties represented by the computer, usually in real time
Mobile learning Mobile phones and apps  Enables users to access multiple information formats (voice, text, video, etc.) at any time, any place

 Figure 9.5.5.1 Examples of social media (adapted from Bates, 2011, p.25)

The main feature of social media is that they empower the end user to access, create, disseminate and share information easily in a user-friendly, open environment. Usually the only cost is the time of the end-user. There are often few controls over content, other than those normally imposed by a state or government (such as libel or pornography), or where there are controls, they are imposed by the users themselves. One feature of such tools is to empower the end-user – the learner or customer – to self-access and manage data (such as online banking) and to form personal networks (for example through FaceBook). For these reasons, some have called social media the “democratization” of the web.

In general social media tools are based on very simple software, in that they have relatively few lines of code. As a result, new tools and applications (‘apps’) are constantly emerging, and their use is either free or very low cost. For a good overview of the use of social media in education, see Lee and McCoughlin (2011).

9.5.5.2 The affordances of social media

Commentators on social media have in particular pushed the concept of affordances. McLoughlin & Lee (2011) identify the following categories of  general ‘affordances’ associated with social media (although they use the term web 2.0):

  • Connectivity and social rapport
  • Collaborative information discovery and sharing
  • Content creation
  • Knowledge and information aggregation and content modification (Burden and Atkinson)

However, we need to specify more directly the unique pedagogical characteristics of social media:

9.5.5.3 Presentational characteristics

Social media enable:

  • networked multimedia communication between self-organising groups of learners
  • access to rich, multimedia content available over the Internet at any time or place (with Internet connection)
  • learner-generated multimedia materials
  • opportunities to expand learning beyond ‘closed’ courses and institutional boundaries

9.5.5.4 Skills development

Social media,when well designed within an educational framework, can help with the development of the following skills (click on each to see examples):

It can be seen that social media can be extremely useful for developing some of the key skills needed in a digital age.

9.5.5.5 Strengths and weaknesses of social media

Figure 9.5.5.5 presents a diagrammatic analysis of various e-learning tools. I have arranged them primarily by where they fit along an epistemological continuum of objectivist, constructivist and connectivist (colour coded), but also I have used two other dimensions, teacher control/learner control, and credit/non-credit. Note that this figure also enables traditional teaching modes, such as lectures and seminars, to be included and compared.

Figure 9.5.5.5 Analysis of social media from an educational perspective (adapted from Bates, 2011)

Figure 9.5.5.5 Analysis of social media from an educational perspective (adapted from Bates, 2011)

Figure 9.5.5.5 represents a personal interpretation of the tools, and other teachers or instructors may well re-arrange the diagram differently, depending on their particular applications of these tools. The position of any particular tool in the diagram will depend on its actual use. Learning management systems can be used in a constructivist way, and blogs can be very teacher-controlled, if the teacher is the only one permitted to use a blog on a course. However, the aim here is not to provide a cast-iron categorization of e-learning tools, but to provide a framework for teachers in deciding which tools are most likely to suit a particular teaching approach. Indeed, other teachers may prefer a different set of pedagogical values as a framework for analysis of the different tools.

However, to give an example from Figure 9.5.5.5, a teacher may use an LMS to organize a set of resources, guidelines, procedures and deadlines for students, who then may use several of the social media, such as photos from mobile phones to collect data. The teacher provides a space and structure on the LMS for students’ learning materials in the form of an e-portfolio, to which students can load their work. Students in small groups can use discussion forums or FaceBook to work on projects together.

It can be seen that social media now enable teachers to set online group work, based on cases or projects, and students can collect data in the field, without any need for direct face-to-face contact with either the teacher or other students. Learners can access learning materials through open content, and also access other experts on a topic through the experts’ web sites, and learners can post media-rich assignments either individually or as a group. These assignments when assessed can be loaded by the learner into their own personal learning environment for later use when seeking employment or transfer to graduate school.

The example above is in the framework of a course for credit, but the framework would also fit the non-institutional or informal approach to the use of social media for learning, with a focus on tools such as FaceBook, blogs and YouTube. These applications would be much more learner driven, with the learner deciding on the tools and their uses. The most powerful examples are connectivist or cMOOCs, as we saw in Chapter 7.

However, many students are not, at least initially, independent learners (see Candy, 1991). Many students come to a learning task without the necessary skills or confidence to study independently from scratch (Moore and Thompson, 1990). They need structured support, structured and selected content, and recognized accreditation. The advent of new tools that give students more control over their learning will not necessarily change their need for a structured educational experience. However, learners can be taught the skills needed to become independent learners (Moore, 1973; Marshall and Rowland, 1993). The new tools will make this learning of how to learn much more effective but still only in most cases within an initially structured environment.

The use of social media raises the inevitable issue of quality. How can learners differentiate between reliable, accurate, authoritative information, and inaccurate, biased or unsubstantiated information, if they are encouraged to roam free? What are the implications for expertise and specialist knowledge, when everyone has a view on everything? As Andrew Keen (2007) has commented, ‘we are replacing the tyranny of experts with the tyranny of idiots.’ Not all information is equal, nor are all opinions. Many students look for structure and guidance, and it is the responsibility of teachers to provide it. We therefore need a middle ground between the total authority and control of the teacher, and the complete anarchy of the children roaming free on a desert island in the novel “Lord of the Flies” (Golding, 1954). Social media allow for such a middle ground, but only if as teachers we have a clear pedagogy or educational philosophy to guide our choices and use of the technology.

9.5.5.6 Summary

In summary:

  • learners now have powerful tools through social media for creating their own learning materials or for demonstrating their knowledge.
  • courses can be structured around individual students’ interests, allowing them to seek appropriate content and resources to support the development of negotiated competencies or learning outcomes.
  • content is now increasingly open and freely available over the Internet; as a result learners can seek, use and apply information beyond the bounds of what a professor or teacher may dictate.
  • students can create their own online personal learning environments
  • many students will still need a structured approach that guides their learning
  • teacher presence and guidance is likely to be necessary to ensure high quality learning via social media
  • there is though a middle ground between complete freedom and overdirection that can enable the development of the key skills needed in a digital age.

The use of social media for learning thus represents a major power shift from teachers to learners.

Activity 9.5.5

1. Take one of your courses, and analyse how social media could be used in your course. In particular:

  • What new learning outcomes could the use of social media help develop?
  • Would it be better just to add social media to the course or to re-design it around social media?

2. I have offered only a cursory list of the unique pedagogical characteristics of social media. Can you think of others that have not already been covered in other parts of this chapter?

3. How does this chapter influence your views on students bringing their own device to class?

4. Are you (still) skeptical about the value of social media in education? What do you see as its downsides?

Please use the comment box to share your answers.

This is the last of five posts on the unique pedagogical characteristics of different media. The other four posts were:

This post will be followed by a short section on deciding about media.

Feedback

Comments again will be most welcome. In particular:

  • can you suggest other unique characteristics of social media?
  • does Figure 9.5.5.5 work for you? How would you ‘place’ social media in context with other media?
  • examples, please: I’m looking for good examples that illustrate these unique features – or other unique characteristics I haven’t considered
  • is this the place to discuss personal learning environments? (Probably!).  However, it seems to me they deserve a section of their own, maybe under design. Any thoughts on this would be welcome
  • lastly, does it make any sense to differentiate between media these days? After all, isn’t everything multimedia now?

References

Bates, T. (2011) ‘Understanding Web 2.0 and Its Implications for e-Learning’ in Lee, M. and McCoughlin, C. (eds.) Web 2.0-Based E-Learning Hershey NY: Information Science Reference

Candy, P. (1991) Self-direction for lifelong learning San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Golding, W. (1954) The Lord of the Flies London: Faber and Faber

Keen, A. (2007) The Cult of the Amateur: how Today’s Internet is Killing our Culture New York/London: Doubleday

Lee, M. and McCoughlin, C. (eds.) Web 2.0-Based E-Learning Hershey NY: Information Science Reference

Marshall, L and Rowland, F. (1993) A Guide to learning independently Buckingham UK: Open University Press

McCoughlin, C. and Lee, M. (2011) ‘Pedagogy 2.0: Critical Challenges and Responses to Web 2.0 and Social Software in Tertiary Teaching’, in Lee, M. and McCoughlin, C. (eds.) Web 2.0-Based E-Learning Hershey NY: Information Science Reference

Moore, M. and Thompson, M. (1990) The Effects of Distance Education: A Summary of the Literature University Park, PA: American Center for Distance Education, Pennsylvania State University

Seeking the unique pedagogical characteristics of computing

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Figure 9.5.1 A computer-marked assignment form (University of Western Australia)

Figure 9.5.1 A computer-marked assignment form (University of Western Australia)

This is the fourth post on the unique characteristics of different media, for my open textbook, Teaching in a Digital Age.

This was a fun one to do, mainly because I ignored any previous research on this topic, because I rarely, to my shame, read articles in journals on computing and education. When I have done, the articles seem to be about another world of education in which I don’t – or didn’t – work. So I deserve your criticisms of this post, and, if I’m honest, I would welcome direction to any references that I ought to take account of, so long as they will enable me to help faculty in their teaching.

A volatile and comprehensive medium

It is debatable whether computing should be considered a medium, but I am using the term broadly, and not in the technical sense of writing code. The Internet in particular is an all-embracing medium that accommodates text, audio, video and computing, as well as providing other elements such as distributed communication and access to educational opportunities. Computing is also still an area that is fast developing, with new products and services emerging all the time. Indeed, I will treat recent developments in social media separately from computing, although technically they are a sub-category. Once again, though, social media contain affordances that are not so prevalent in more conventional computing-based learning environments.

In such a volatile medium, it would be foolish to be dogmatic about unique media characteristics, but once again, the purpose of this chapter is not to provide a definitive analysis, but a way of thinking about technology that will facilitate an instructor’s choice and use of technology. The focus is: what are the pedagogical affordances of computing that are different from those of other media (other than the important fact that it can embrace all the other media characteristics)?

Although there has been a great deal of research into computers in education, there has been less focus on the specifics of its pedagogical media characteristics, although a great deal of interesting research and development has taken place and continues in human-machine interaction and to a lesser extent (in terms of interesting) in artificial intelligence. Thus I am relying more on analysis and experience than research in this section.

Presentational features

Figure 9.5 'Screen size can be a real presentational limitation with smaller, mobile devices'

Figure 9.5 ‘Screen size can be a real presentational limitation with smaller, mobile devices’

This is not really where the educational strength of computing lies. Computing can represent text and audio reasonably well, and video less well, because of the limited size of the screen (which video often has to share with text) and the bandwidth/pixels/download time required. Screen size can be a real presentational limitation with smaller, mobile devices, although tablets such as the iPad are a major advance in screen quality. The traditional user interface for computing, such as pull-down menus, cursor screen navigation, and an algorithmic-based filing or storage system, while all very functional, are not intuitive and can be quite restricting from an educational point of view.

However, unlike the other media, computing enables the end user to interact directly with the medium, to the extent that the end user (in education, the student) can add to, change or interact with the content, at least to a certain extent. In this sense, computing comes closer to a complete, if virtual, learning environment.

Thus in presentational terms computing can be used to:

  • create and present (original) teaching content in a rich and varied way (using a combination of text, audio, video and webinars)
  • enable access to other sources of (secondary) ‘rich’ content through the Internet
  • create and present computer-based animations and simulations
  • structure and manage content through the use of web sites, learning management systems and other similar technologies
  • with adaptive learning, offer learners alternative routes through learning materials, providing an element of personalisation
  • enable students to communicate both synchronously and asynchronously with the instructor and other students
  • set multiple-choice tests, automatically mark such tests, and provide immediate feedback to learners
  • enable learners digitally to submit written (essay-type), or multimedia (project-based) assignments through the use of e-portfolios
  • create virtual worlds or virtual environments/contexts through technology such as Second Life

Skills development

Loyalist College's virtual border crossing

Loyalist College’s virtual border crossing

Skills development in a computing environment will once again depend very much on the epistemological approach to teaching. Computing can be used to focus on comprehension and understanding, through a behaviourist approach to computer-based learning. However, the communications element of computing also enables more constructivist approaches, through online student discussion and student-created multimedia work.

Thus computing can be used (uniquely) to:

  • develop and test student comprehension of content through computer-based learning/testing
  • develop computer coding and other ICT knowledge and skills
  • develop decision-making skills through the use of simulations and/or virtual worlds
  • develop skills of reasoning, evidence-based argument, and collaboration through instructor-moderated online discussion forums
  • enable students to create their own artefacts/online multimedia work through the use of e-portfolios, thus improving their digital communication skills as well as assessing their knowledge
  • develop skills of experimental design, through the use of simulations, virtual laboratory equipment and remote labs
  • develop skills of knowledge management and problem-solving, by requiring students to find, analyse, evaluate and apply content accessed through the Internet to real world problems
  • develop spoken and written language skills through both presentation of language and through communication with other students and/or native language speakers via the Internet.

These skills of course are in addition to the skills that other media can support within a broader computing environment.

Strengths and weaknesses of computing as a teaching medium

Many teachers and instructors avoid the use of computing because they fear it may be used to replace them, or because they believe it results in a very mechanical approach to teaching and learning. This is not helped by misinformed computer scientists, politicians and industry leaders who argue that computers can replace or reduce the need for humans in teaching. Both viewpoints show a misunderstanding of both the sophistication and complexity of teaching and learning, and the flexibility and advantages that computing can bring to teaching.

So here are some of the advantages of computing as a teaching medium:

  • it is a very powerful teaching medium in terms of its unique pedagogical characteristics, in that it can combine the pedagogical characteristics of text, audio, video and computing in an integrated manner
  • its unique pedagogical characteristics are useful for teaching many of the skills learners need in a digital age
  • computing enables learners to have more power and choice in accessing and creating their own learning and learning contexts
  • computing enables learners to interact directly with learning materials and receive immediate feedback, thus, when well designed, increasing the speed and depth of their learning
  • computing enables anyone with Internet access and a computing device to study or learn at any time or place
  • computing enables regular and frequent communication between student, instructors and other students
  • computing is flexible enough to be used to support a wide range of teaching philosophies and approaches
  • computing can help with some of the ‘grunt’ work in assessment and tracking of student performance, freeing up an instructor to focus on the more complex forms of assessment and interaction with students.

On the other hand, the disadvantages of computing are:

  • many teachers and instructors often have no training in or awareness of the strengths and weaknesses of computing as a teaching medium
  • computing is too often oversold as a panacea for education; it is a powerful teaching medium, but it needs to be managed and controlled by educators
  • there is a tendency for computer scientists and engineers to adopt behaviourist approaches to the use of computing, which not only alienates constructivist-oriented teachers and learners, but also underestimates or underuses the true power of computing for teaching and learning
  • despite computing’s power as a teaching medium, there are other aspects of teaching and learning that require the personal interaction of a student and teacher (this will be discussed in more detail in Chapter 10). These aspects are probably less than many teachers believe, but more than many advocates of computer learning understand.
  • computing needs the input and management of teachers and educators, and to some extent learners, to determine the conditions under which computing can best operate as a teaching medium; and teachers need to be in control of the decisions on when and how to use computing for teaching and learning
  • to use computing well, teachers need to work closely with other specialists, such as instructional designers and IT staff.

The issue around the value of computing as a medium for teaching is less about its pedagogical value and more about control. Because of the complexity of teaching and learning, it is essential that the use of computing for teaching and learning is controlled and managed by educators. As long as teachers and instructors have control, and have the necessary knowledge and training about the pedagogical advantages and limitations of computing, then computing is an essential medium for teaching in a digital age.

Assessment

There is a tendency to focus assessment in computing on multiple choice questions and ‘correct’ answers. Although this form of assessment has its value in assessing comprehension, and ability in a limited range of mechanical procedures, computing allows for a wider range of assessment techniques, from learner-created blogs and wikis to e-portfolios. These more flexible forms of computer-based assessment are more in alignment with measuring the knowledge and skills that many learners will need in a digital age.

Activity 9.5.4

1. Take one of the courses you are teaching. What key presentational aspects of computing could be important for this course?

2. Look at the skills listed in Section 1.3 of this book. Which of these skills would best be developed through the use of computing rather than other media? How would you do this using computer-based teaching?

3. Under what conditions would it be more appropriate in any of your courses for students to be assessed by asking them to create their own multimedia project portfolios rather than through a written exam? What assessment conditions would be necessary to ensure the authenticity of a student’s work? Would this form of assessment be extra work for you?

4. What are the main barriers to your using computing more in your teaching? Philosophical? Practical? Lack of training or confidence in technology use? Or lack of institutional support? What could be done to remove some of these barriers?

Over to you

OK, let me have it on this.

1. Is it OK to think of computing as an educational medium, in the sense in which I have used it?

2. What key pedagogical characteristics of computing have I missed (remember, though: there’s a whole section on social media coming next)?

3. Do you agree with my criticism of the limitations of computer screens in terms of representing knowledge and poor user interfaces? Or am I just jaded from too much time spent trying to get my computer to do what I want it to do?

4. I have to add examples for each of the presentational and skills development characteristics. Suggestions (with links if possible) would be welcome.

5. You can see I have a love/hate relationship with computing as an educational medium. Has this unduly influenced my analysis? If so, which side has won – love or hate? Is it too personal and not objective enough? (In answering this question, please state whether you are a behaviourist, constructivist or connectivist).

6. Do you think this post would be of any assistance or help to a faculty member? If no, why not? How would you approach this issue of deciding on appropriate media for teaching?

Next up

The unique pedagogical characteristics of social media – this will be my last on pedagogical affordances. I will discuss the uniqueness of face-to-face teaching in Chapter 10, which is on modes of delivery.

After social media, there will be a brief section on design issues in multimedia, a concluding section on Teaching Functions, then short sections on the ONS of the SECTIONS model. I know: the book is getting more like a marathon than a sprint.

 

Seeking the unique pedagogical characteristics of video

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Figure 9. The Open University on iTunesU

Figure 9. The Open University on iTunesU

This is the third post on the unique characteristics of different media, for my open textbook, Teaching in a Digital Age.

Although it will be seen that there are good pedagogical reasons for using video, it presents much more of a challenge to faculty than the use of text or audio. Producing video that exploits the unique characteristics of video is not something that most faculty have the time or ability to do themselves, and adds substantial cost to a course.

The alternative of course is video available as an open educational resources, and good luck with that. I had great difficulty in finding suitable open educational resources to use as examples (although there are talking heads in abundance). If anything, the availability of good quality video OERs has declined recently, with much of the material previously available through Open Learn and other sources such as iTunesU and even YouTube now removed. Copyright of good quality educational video is still pretty restricted, probably because of the high cost of producing it.

Reliability of OERs is becoming a critically important issue. If an instructor cannot rely on an OER being available in a year or two after incorporation into their teaching, OERs won’t get used. Maybe this is after all a good reason for learning object repositories.

Ideally, I would like to be able to link each one of these unique features to an open source video example. After two days trawling, I’ve come up with one (thank you, University of Nottingham, and Clint Lalonde for suggesting it!) So any suggestions for ‘open’ videos that provide examples for each of the characteristics below would be really appreciated. (Yes, I know I should ask a librarian, but I’m working on my own these days).

More power, more complexity

Although there have been massive changes in video technology over the last 25 years, resulting in dramatic reductions in the costs of both creating and distributing video, the unique educational characteristics are largely unaffected. (More recent computer-generated media such as simulations, will be analysed under ‘Computing’, in Section 9.5.4).

Video is a much richer medium than either text or audio, as in addition to its ability to offer text and sound, it can also offer dynamic or moving pictures. Thus while it can offer all the affordances of audio, and some of text, it also has unique pedagogical characteristics of its own. Once again, there has been considerable research on the use of video in education, and again I will be drawing on research from the Open University (Bates, 1985 2005; Koumi, 2006) as well as from Mayer (2009).

Presentational features

Video can be used to:

  • demonstrate experiments or experimental situations, particularly:
  • illustrate principles involving dynamic change or movement
  • illustrate abstract principles through the use of specially constructed physical models
  • illustrate principles involving three-dimensional space
  • demonstrate changes over time through the use of animation, slow-motion, or speeded-up video
  • substitute for a field visit, by:
    • providing students with an accurate, comprehensive visual picture of a site, in order to place the topic under study in context
    • demonstrating the relationship between different elements of a system under study (e.g. production processes, ecological balance)
    • by identifying and distinguishing between different classes or categories of phenomena at the site (e.g. in forest ecology)
    • to observe differences in scale and process between laboratory and mass-production techniques
    • through the use of models, animations or simulations, to teach certain advanced scientific or technological concepts (such as theories of relativity or quantum physics) without students having to master highly advanced mathematical techniques,
  • bring students primary resource or case-study material, i.e. recording of naturally occurring events which, through editing and selection, demonstrate or illustrate principles covered elsewhere in a course
  • demonstrate ways in which abstract principles or concepts developed elsewhere in the course have been applied to real-world problems
  • synthesise a wide range of variables into a single recorded event, e.g. to suggest how real world problems can be resolved
  • demonstrate decision-making processes or decisions ‘in action’ (e.g. triage in an emergency situation) by:
    • recording the decision-making process as it occurs in real contexts
    • recording ‘staged’ simulations, dramatisation or role-playing
  • demonstrate correct procedures in using tools or equipment (including safety procedures)
  • demonstrate methods or techniques of performance (e.g. mechanical skills such as stripping and re-assembling a carburetor, sketching, drawing or painting techniques, or dance)
  • record and archive events that are crucial to topics in a course, but which may disappear or be destroyed in the near future, such as, for instance, street graffiti or condemned buildings
  • demonstrate practical activities to be carried out by students, on their own.

Skills development

This usually requires the video to be integrated with student activities. The ability to stop, rewind and replay video becomes crucial for skills development, as student activity usually takes place separately from the actual viewing of the video. This may mean thinking through carefully activities for students related to the use of video.

If video is not used directly for lecturing, research clearly indicates that students generally need to be guided as to what to look for in video, at least initially in their use of video for learning. There are various techniques for relating concrete events with abstract principles, such as through audio narration, using a still frame to highlight the observation, or repeating a small section of the program. Bates and Gallagher (1977) found that using video for developing higher order analysis or evaluation was a teachable skill that needs to be built into the development of a course or program, to get the best results.

Typical uses of video for skills development include:

  • enabling students to recognize naturally occurring phenomena or classifications (e.g. teaching strategies, symptoms of mental illness, classroom behaviour) in context
  • enabling students to analyse a situation, using principles either introduced in the video recording or covered elsewhere in the course, such as a textbook or lecture
  • interpreting artistic performance (e.g. drama, spoken poetry, movies, paintings, sculpture, or other works of art)
  • analysis of music composition, through the use of musical performance, narration and graphics
  • testing the applicability or relevance of abstract concepts or generalisations in real world contexts
  • looking for alternative explanations for real world phenomena.

Strengths and weaknesses of video as a teaching medium

One factor that makes video powerful for learning is its ability to show the relationship between concrete examples and abstract principles, with usually the sound track relating the abstract principles to concrete events shown in the video. Video is particularly useful for recording events or situations where it would be too difficult, dangerous, expensive or impractical to bring students to such events.

Thus its main strengths are as follows:

  • linking concrete events and phenomena to abstract principles and vice versa
  • the ability of students to stop and start, so they can integrate activities with video
  • provides alternative approaches that can help students having difficulties in learning abstract concepts
  • adds substantial interest to a course by linking it to real world issues
  • a growing amount of freely available, high quality academic videos
  • good for developing some of the higher level intellectual skills and some of the more practical skills needed in a digital age
  • the use of low cost cameras and free editing software enables some forms of video to be cheaply produced.

The main weaknesses of video are:

  • many faculty have no knowledge or experience in using video other than for recording lecturing
  • there is currently a very limited amount of high quality educational video free for downloading, because the cost of developing high quality educational video that exploits the unique characteristics of the medium is still relatively high. Links also often go dead after a while, affecting the reliability of outsourced video. The availability of free material for educational use will improve over time, but currently finding appropriate and free videos that meet the specific needs of a teacher or instructor can be time-consuming or such material may just not be available or reliable
  • creating original material that exploits the unique characteristics of video is time-consuming, and still relatively expensive, because it usually needs professional video production
  • to get the most out of educational video, students need specially designed activities that sit outside the video itself
  • students often reject videos that require them to do analysis or interpretation; they often prefer direct instruction that focuses primarily on comprehension. Such students need to be trained to use video differently, which requires time to be devoted to developing such skills.

For these reasons, video is not being used enough education. When used it is often an afterthought or an ‘extra’, rather than an integral part of the design, or is used merely to replicate a classroom lecture, rather than exploiting the unique characteristics of video.

 Assessment

If video is being used to develop the skills outlined in Section 9.5.3.3, then it is essential that these skills are assessed and count for grading. Indeed, one possible means of assessment might be to ask students to analyse or interpret a selected video, or even to develop their own media project, using video they themselves have collected or produced, using their own devices.

Activity 9.4

1. Take one of the courses you are teaching. What key presentational aspects of video could be important for this course?

2. Look at the skills listed in Section 1.3 of this book. Which of these skills would best be developed through the use of video rather than other media? How would you do this using video-based teaching?

3. Under what conditions would it be more appropriate for students to be assessed by asking them to analyse or make their own video recording? How could this be done under assessment conditions?

4. Type in the name of your topic + video into Google.

  • How many videos come up?
  • What’s their quality like?
  • Could you use any of them in your teaching?
  • If so, how would you integrate them into your course?
  • Could you make a better video on the topic?
  • What would enable you to do this?

Here are some criteria I would apply to what you find:

  • it is relevant to what you want to teach
  • it demonstrates clearly a particular topic or subject and links it to what the student is intended to learn
  • it is short and to the point
  • the example is well produced (clear camera work, good presenter, clear audio)
  • it provides something that I could not do easily myself
  • it is freely available for non-commercial use

I have to say that most of the examples I found on the Internet do NOT meet all of these criteria! The videos I have linked to in this section do, but then some are produced for the Open University. Can traditional university in-house media departments meet this standard?

Feedback

1. Are there other characteristics unique to video that I’ve missed?

2. Is this the best way to approach this topic? (I accept I need lots more examples in video format). Will this approach to choosing/ using video be helpful for faculty?

3. Any examples of using video for assessment?

4. What do you think of the principles I suggested for selecting video OERs in the activity?  Can traditional university in-house media departments meet this standard in producing OERs, or is it just too expensive to make these kinds of video?

5. Any other suggested references?

References

Bates, A. (1985) Broadcasting in Education: An Evaluation London: Constables (out of print – try a good library)

Bates, A. (2005) Technology, e-Learning and Distance Education London/New York: Routledge

Koumi, J. (2006). Designing video and multimedia for open and flexible learning. London: Routledge.

Mayer, R. E. (2009). Multimedia learning (2nd ed). New York: Cambridge University Press.

 

Seeking the unique pedagogical characteristics of audio

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Image: More4kids.com, 2013

Image: More4kids.com, 201

This is the second post on the unique characteristics of different media, for my open textbook, Teaching in a Digital Age.

As you will see, I am a great fan of recorded audio in education, and believe it is very much under-exploited medium.

© InnerFidelity, 2012

‘Sounds, such as the noise of certain machinery, or the background hum of daily life, have an associative as well as a pure meaning, which can be used to evoke images or ideas relevant to the main substance of what is being taught. There are, in other words, instances where audio is essential for efficiently mediating certain kinds of information’

Durbridge, 1984

Audio: the unappreciated medium

We have seen that oral communication has a long history, and continues today in classroom teaching and in general radio programming. In this section though I am focusing primarily on recorded audio, which I will argue is a very powerful educational medium when used well.

There has been a good deal of research on the unique pedagogical characteristics of audio. At the UK Open University course teams had to bid for media resources to supplement specially designed printed materials. Because media resources were developed initially by the BBC, and hence were limited and  expensive to produce, course teams (in conjunction with their allocated BBC producer) had to specify how radio or television would be used to support learning. In particular, the course teams were asked to identify what teaching functions television and radio would uniquely contribute to the teaching. After allocation and development of a course, samples of the programs were evaluated in terms of how well they met these functions, as well as how the students responded to the programming. In later years, the same approach was used when production moved to audio and video cassettes. This process of identifying unique roles then evaluating the programs allowed the OU, over a period of several years, to identify which roles or functions were particularly appropriate to different media (Bates, 1985). Koumi (2006), himself a former BBC/OU producer, followed up on this research and identified several more key functions for audio and video. Over a somewhat similar period, Richard Mayer, at the University of California at Santa Barbara, was conducting his own research into the use of multimedia in education (Mayer, 2009).

Although there have been continuous developments of audio technology, from audio-cassettes to Sony Walkman’s to podcasts, the educational features of audio have remained remarkably constant.

Presentational features

Although audio can be used on its own, it is often used in combination with other media, particularly text. On its own, it can present:

  • spoken language (including foreign languages) for analysis or practice
  • music, either as a performance or for analysis
  • students with a condensed argument that may:
    • reinforce points made elsewhere in the course
    • introduce new points not made elsewhere in the course
    • provide an alternative viewpoint to the perspectives in the rest of the course
    • analyse or critique materials elsewhere in the course
    • summarize or condense the main ideas or major points covered in the course
    • provide new evidence in support of or against the arguments or perspectives covered elsewhere in the course
  • interviews with leading researchers or experts
  • discussion between two or more people to provide various views on a topic
  • primary audio sources, such as bird song, children talking, eye witness accounts, or recorded performances (drama, concerts)
  • analysis of primary audio sources, by playing the source followed by analysis
  • ‘breaking news’ that emphasizes the relevance or application of concepts within the course
  • the instructor’s personal spin on a topic related to the course.

Audio however has been found to be particularly ‘potent’ when combined with text, because it enables students to use both eyes and ears in conjunction. Audio has been found to be especially useful for:

  • explaining or ‘talking through’ materials presented through text, such as mathematical equations, reproductions of paintings, graphs, statistical tables, and even physical rock samples.

This technique was later further developed by Salman Khan, but using video to combine voice-over explanation with visual presentation.

Skills development

Because of the ability of the learner to stop and start recorded audio, it has been found to be particularly useful for:

  • enabling students through repetition and practice to master certain auditory skills or techniques (e.g. language pronunciation, analysis of musical structure, mathematical computation)
  • getting students to analyse primary audio sources, such as children’s use of language, or attitudes to immigration from recordings of interviewed people
  • changing student attitudes by
    • presenting material in a novel or unfamiliar perspective
    • by presenting material in a dramatized form, enabling students to identify with someone with a different perspective

Strengths and weaknesses of audio as a teaching medium

First, some advantages:

  • it is much easier to make an audio clip or podcast than a video clip or a simulation
  • audio requires far less bandwidth than video or simulations, hence downloads quicker and can be used over relatively low bandwidths
  • it is easily combined with other media such as text, mathematical symbols, and graphics, allowing more than one sense to be used and allowing for ‘integration’.
  • some students prefer to learn by listening compared with reading;
  • audio combined with text can help develop literacy skills or support students with low levels of literacy;
  • audio provides variety and another perspective from text, a ‘break’ in learning that refreshes the learner and maintains interest
  • Nicola Durbridge, in her research at the Open University, found that audio increased distance students’ feelings of personal ‘closeness’ with the instructor compared with video or text, i.e. it is a more intimate medium.

In particular, added flexibility and learner control means that students will often learn better from preprepared audio recordings combined with accompanying textual material (such as a web site with slides) than they will from a live classroom lecture.

There are also of course disadvantages of audio:

  • audio-based learning is difficult for people with a hearing disability
  • creating audio is extra work for an instructor
  • audio is often best used in conjunction with other media such as text or graphics thus adding complexity to the design of teaching
  • recording audio requires a minimal level of technical proficiency
  • spoken language tends to be less precise than text.

Increasingly video is now be used to combine audio over images, such as in the Khan Academy, but there are many instances, such as where students are studying from prescribed texts, where recorded audio works better than a video recording.

So let’s hear it for audio!

Feedback

I need to add some example podcasts to illustrate some of these unique characteristics. Unfortunately many of my intended examples are not publicly accessible, being behind password protected university or college firewalls (or are no longer available). Any suggestions for open access podcasts that illustrate one or more of these functions will be particularly appreciated.

Other questions for you:

1. Are there other unique characteristics of audio, or advantages or disadvantages, that I have missed and should include?

2. Do you share my enthusiasm for recorded audio? If not, why not?

3. Is this section useful for teachers and instructors?

References and further reading

Bates, A. (1985) Broadcasting in Education: An Evaluation London: Constables (out of print – try a good library)

Bates, A. (2005) Technology, e-Learning and Distance Education London/New York: Routledge

Durbridge, N. (1982) Audio-cassettes in Higher Education Milton Keynes: The Open University (mimeo)

Durbridge, N. (1984) Audio-cassettes, in Bates, A. (ed.) The Role of Technology in Distance Education London/New York: Croom Hill/St Martin’s Press

EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (2005) Seven things you should know about… podcasting Boulder CO: EDUCAUSE, June

Postlethwaite, S. N. (1969) The Audio-Tutorial Approach to Learning Minneapolis: Burgess Publishing Company

Salmon, G. and Edirisingha, P. (2008) Podcasting for Learning in Universities Milton Keynes: Open University Press

Wright, S. and Haines, R, (1981) Audio-tapes for Teaching Science Teaching at a Distance, Vol. 20 (Open University journal now out of print).

Note: Although some of the Open University publications are not available online, hard copies/pdf files should be available from: The Open University International Centre for Distance Learning, which is now part of the Open University Library.

 

 

Seeking the unique pedagogical characteristics of text and print

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There's nothing like a good book - or is there?

There’s nothing like a good book – or is there?

This is the first of several posts on the unique characteristics of different media, for my open textbook, Teaching in a Digital Age. I’m starting with text, because it is – or perhaps more accurately, has been – fundamental to the development of academic knowledge. However, writing about its unique pedagogical features is rather like asking a fish to describe water. We are so immersed in text in academia that it is hard to imagine studying without texts to read and learn from.

However, with the increasing availability of other media, what is so special about text? How does it differ from other media? I have found writing about this particularly difficult. I have lots of empirical evidence on the pedagogical influences of audio, video and computing, but almost nothing on text, because in a sense it is the default medium for academic learning, the base against which other media tend to be judged. Now much has been published on what makes for good writing, and even what makes for good academic writing, but that is different from asking what can text do for learning that is unique from other media.

As a result, the following section strikes me as being rather unacademic, more of an opinion piece than an empirically supported and theoretically based account of the strengths and weaknesses of text as a teaching medium. So please bear this in mind when reading it, and if you have suggestions for improving it, or other work of which I should be aware, please provide feedback.

The unique pedagogical features of text

Ever since the invention of the Gutenberg press, print has been a dominant teaching technology, arguably at least as influential as the spoken word of the teacher. Even today, textbooks, mainly in printed format, but increasingly also in digital format, still play a major role in formal education, training and distance education. Many fully online courses still make extensive use of text-based learning management systems and online asynchronous discussion forums.

Why is this? What makes text such a powerful teaching medium, and will it remain so, given the latest developments in information technology?

In essence, I am arguing that the unique pedagogical characteristics of text are as follows:

  • text is particularly good at handling abstraction and generalisation, mainly through written language
  • text enables the linear sequencing of information in a structured format
  • text can present and separate empirical evidence or data from the abstractions, conclusions or generalisations derived from the empirical evidence
  • text’s linear structure enables the development of coherent, sequential argument or discussion
  • at the same time text can relate evidence to argument and vice versa
  • text’s recorded and permanent nature enables independent analysis and critique of its content

There is some overlap of each of these features with other media, but no other medium combines all these characteristics, or is as powerful as text with respect to these characteristics.

Text can come in many formats, including printed textbooks, text messages, novels, magazines, newspapers, scribbled notes, journal articles, essays, novels, online asynchronous discussions and so on. I want to focus particularly on the role of the book, because of its centrality in academic learning.

The book and knowledge

Earlier (Chapter 2, Section 2.4,) I argued that academic knowledge is a specific form of knowledge that has characteristics that differentiate it from other kinds of knowledge, and particularly from knowledge or beliefs based solely on direct personal experience. Academic knowledge is a second-order form of knowledge that seeks abstractions and generalizations based on reasoning and evidence.

Fundamental components of academic knowledge are:

  • codification: knowledge can be consistently represented in some form (words, symbols, video)
  • transparency: the source of the knowledge can be traced and verified
  • reproduction: knowledge can be reproduced or have multiple copies
  • communicability: knowledge must be in a form such that it can be communicated and challenged by others.

The book has proved to be a remarkably powerful medium for the development and transmission of academic knowledge, since it meets all four criteria above, but to what extent can new media such as blogs, wikis, multimedia, and social media replace the book in academic knowledge? New media can in fact handle just as well some of these criteria, and provide indeed added value, such as speed of reproduction and ubiquity, but the book still has some unique qualities. A key advantage of a book is that it allows for the development of a sustained, coherent, and comprehensive argument with evidence to support the argument. Blogs can do this only to a limited extent (otherwise they cease to be blogs and become articles or a digital book).

Quantity is important sometimes and books allow for the collection of a great deal of evidence and supporting argument, and allow for a wider exploration of an issue or theme, within a relatively condensed and portable format. A consistent and well supported argument, with evidence, alternative explanations or even counter positions, requires the extra ‘space’ of a book. Above all, books can provide coherence or a sustained, particular position or approach to a problem or issue, a necessary balance to the chaos and confusion of the many new forms of digital media that constantly compete for our attention, but in much smaller ‘chunks’ that are overall more difficult to integrate and digest.

Another important academic feature of text is that it can be carefully scrutinised, analysed and constantly checked, partly because it is largely linear, and also permanent once published, enabling more rigorous challenge or testing in terms of evidence, rationality, and consistency. Multimedia in recorded format can come close to meeting these criteria, but text can also provide more convenience and in media terms, more simplicity. For instance I repeatedly find analysing video, which incorporates many variables and symbol systems, more complex than analysing a linear text, even if both contain equally rigorous (or equally sloppy) arguments.

Form and function

Does the form or technological representation of a book matter any more? Is a book still a book if downloaded and read on an iPad or Kindle, rather than as printed text?

For the purposes of knowledge acquisition, it probably isn’t any different. Indeed, for study purposes, a digital version is probably more convenient because carrying an iPad around with maybe hundreds of books downloaded on it is certainly preferable to carrying around the printed versions of the same books. There are still complaints by students about the difficulties of annotating e-books, but this will almost certainly become a standard feature available for e-books in the future.

If the whole book is downloaded, then the function of a book doesn’t change much just because it is available digitally. However, there are some subtle changes. Some would argue that scanning is still easier with a printed version. Have you ever had the difficulty of finding a particular quotation in a digital book compared with the printed version? Sure, you can use the search facility, but that means knowing exactly the correct words or the name of the person being quoted. With a printed book, I can often find a quotation just by flicking the pages, because I am using context and rapid eye scanning to locate the source, even when I don’t know exactly what I am looking for. On the other hand, searching when you do know what you are looking for (e.g. a reference by a particular author) is much easier digitally.

The other thing that happens when books are digitally available is that often, users can download only the selected chapters that are of interest to them. This is valuable if you know just what you want, but there are also dangers. For instance in my book on the strategic management of technology, the last chapter summarizes the rest of the book. If the book had been digital, the temptation then would be to just download the final chapter. You’d have all the important messages in the book, right? Well, no. What you would be missing is the evidence for the conclusions. Now the book on strategic management is based on case studies, so it would be really important to check back with how the case studies were interpreted to get to the conclusions, as this will affect the confidence you would have as a reader in the conclusions that were drawn. If just the digital version of only the last chapter is downloaded, you also lose the context of the whole book. Having the whole book gives readers more freedom to interpret and add their own conclusions than just having a summary chapter.

In conclusion, then, there are advantages and disadvantages of digitizing a book, but the essence of a book is not greatly changed when it becomes digital rather than printed.

A new niche for books in academia

We have seen historically that new media often do not entirely replace an older medium, but the old medium finds a new ‘niche’. Thus television did not lead to the complete demise of radio. Similarly, I suspect that there will be a continued role for the book in academic knowledge, enabling the book (whether digital or printed) to thrive alongside new media and formats in academia.

However, books that retain their value academically will likely need to be much more specific in their format and their purpose than has been the case to date. For instance, I see the end of books consisting mainly of a collection of loosely connected but semi-independent chapters from different authors, unless there is a strong cohesion and edited presence that provides an integrated argument or consistent set of data across all the chapters. Most of all, books may need to change some of their features, to allow for more interaction and input from readers, and more links to the outside world. It is much more unlikely though that books will survive in a printed format, because digital publication allows for many more features to be added, reduces the environmental footprint, and is much more portable and transferable.

Lastly, this is not an argument for ignoring the academic benefits of new media. The value of graphics, video and animation for representing knowledge, the ability to interact asynchronously with other learners, and the value of social networks, are all under-exploited in academia. But text and books are still important.

For another perspective on this, see Clive Shepherd’s blog: Weighing up the benefits of traditional book publishing

Text and other forms of knowledge

I have focused particularly on text and academic knowledge, because of the traditional importance of text and printed knowledge in academia. The unique pedagogical characteristics of text though may be less for other forms of knowledge. Indeed, multimedia may have many more advantages in vocational and technical education, as we shall see.

In the k-12 or school sector, text and print are likely to remain important, because reading and writing are likely to remain important – perhaps even more important – in a digital age, so the study of text (digital and printed) will remain important if only for developing literacy skills.

More evidence, please

Although there has been extensive research on the pedagogical features of other media such as audio, video and computing, text has generally been treated as the default mode, the base against which other media are compared. As a result print in particular is largely taken for granted in academia. We are now though at the stage where we need to pay much more attention to the unique characteristics of text in its various formats, in relation to other media. Until though we have more empirical studies on the unique characteristics of text and print, it would be unwise to reject the value of text for academic learning.

Feedback

I am so unsure about this section I am tempted to publish it as ‘Still under construction.’ Ideally, I’d like to link this section to a better source, as I feel it is so inadequate. So if you are in a position to offer any help or suggestions, I will be extremely grateful, as will readers of the book.

Up next

The unique pedagogical characteristics of audio.