Lessons from Large-scale Digital Curators

Lynn ZimmermannBy Lynn Zimmerman
Associate Editor
Editor, Teacher Education

One advantage of the digital age is that it is easy to save anything. As individuals we save emails, documents, pictures, videos, many more files than we really need on our computers, on remote devices, most recently in the Cloud. We may be more or less organized with our “filing” system so that our digital records are at our fingertips, or not.

For teachers and students alike this ability to store and easily share files can be time-saving and create different ways of interacting with materials and with each other. As we use and save these files, we often assume that they are safe and will be around forever. The same goes for materials we access daily from a variety of websites.

However, imagine that you are responsible not only for your own digital records but for those of an organization, such as a library, museum or a municipal archive. How do you conserve and administer large-scale archives and repositories? How do you provide easy access of these materials to others? Luckily, there are trained professionals who handle the input and output of these large sources of digital information. Their knowledge about archiving and preservation can provide models which can be used in everyday life.

Recently, UNC Chapel Hill, one of the leaders in digital preservation, held the DigCCurr Institute to provide a space for digital curation professionals from around the world to share their ideas and learn about the issues and how to handle some of the challenges of large-scale digital preservation. You can learn more about it at: DigCCurr Institute 2015 Draws Digital Curation Professionals from Across the Country and the World

Virginia Leads Way to Online High School Diplomas

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

Virginia leads the way to completely online public high school diplomas.1 “Virtual Virginia, the commonwealth’s online high school program, is poised to recruit as many as 100 students to pilot the state’s first full-time online diploma program.” The really good news is that the state is jumping into the virtual with eyes wide open. They’re “set to operate within the program’s existing $4.6 million budget.” They’re also aware that, at this point in time, “the online format suits some students more than others.” They’ve done the homework and learned that “those most likely to succeed in an online school tend to be self-motivated, self-directed students, and their learning style is suited to an environment that involves discussion through posts on message boards.”

It’ll be interesting to watch Virtual Virginia develop in the coming months and years. They’re opening a massive door that remains locked for most school systems in the country. The qualities for success online — self-motivation, self-direction, and active engagement in discussions — are perfectly aligned with those for success in MOOCs and the growing number of affordable online college offerings, which means an open door to college courses and the possibility of earning college credits while still in high school.

The possibilities for learning online are endless, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the last vestiges of classroom walls are eventually removed, allowing students to earn high school and college credits via widely available open learning resources such as MOOCs.

The potential for online resource sharing with high school systems in other states (and other countries) is also real, providing an infinitely richer array of courses, interactive opportunities, and experiences. In other words, geographical isolation will become less an issue, and in the early going, it may be a blessing in disguise, hastening the migration to online options. The challenge for administrators and teachers will be to maintain an open attitude toward schooling.  Continue reading

Charles Moran: A Tribute by Nick Carbone

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

Nick Carbone‘s “#worthassigning: Five Online Essays by Charles Moran,”1 a touching and enlightening tribute to a pioneering leader in writing and ed tech, is #worthreading. Here are a few excerpts from the article:

Moran: “How the teacher uses a given teaching environment depends upon the character of that environment, of course, but it also depends upon who that teacher is.”

This is a timeless reminder that a teacher-proof, one-size-fits-all model for teaching with technology runs against the grain of what we know about successful teaching.

Moran: “I begin to resent, too, the amount of new work I seem to have to do. For instance, I’ve had to go all the way to my office to get to my computer to put together a writing exercise for the class, print multiple copies on blue paper, and cut the pages in half to distribute to the class. I wrote, ‘All this cutting and copying is time- and resource-consuming!'”

Moran wrote this in the context of technology at the time, and it underscores the importance of perspective in using technology in teaching. When the effort leads to less efficiency by increasing tedium and cost, then we need to step back and re-examine our priorities. This caveat, however, needs to be weighed against perceived long-term benefits. Is the current inefficiency a trial-and-error penalty for greater efficiency in the future?

Moran: “Technology seems to be leading us forward to new forms of writing, but, as used by standardized testing programs, backward to the five-paragraph theme.”

Moran has a way of hooking into the big issues in ed tech, and this is an example. Standardized testing serves a useful purpose, but that purpose can be a huge obstacle to critical reform. If we, educators, allow it to lead our practice, then we lose sight of other purposes that are equally and, arguably, far more important.

Moran: “Among our goals as writing teachers are these: help students discover and use their voices; help them take risks with their writing; help them master the grammar, usage, mechanics, and styles of written English.”

As teachers, we’re consumed by learning objectives, and in our quest for the kinds of objective data that computers are so good at gathering and crunching, we forget that measurability is a primitive gauge and that we really don’t know how to measure the higher order variables in writing such as the importance of one’s genuine voice in developing writing skills and the value of courage in exploring new forms of expression. Overreliance on competencies that can be easily measured ignores the critical importance of competencies that we can’t even begin to identify let alone measure.

Carbone: “It focuses on what is lost when one goes back to not using the technology after coming to rely on it, and so it reverses the anxiety many faculty feel when they start to use technology. Charlie does a great job of making a simple brick and mortar classroom feel strange.”

Carbone, in commenting on one of Moran’s essays, reminds us that the cat’s out of the bag. Once we’ve stepped into a new medium, returning to the old is out of the question. Our world of teaching is forever changing, and we have no choice but to keep moving with the flow.

__________
1 Odds and Ends, 24 June 2015. I received this tip from Bert Kimura (email, 25 June 2015).

Digital Storytelling for Social Change

Lynn ZimmermannBy Lynn Zimmerman
Associate Editor
Editor, Teacher Education

Zanizibar, like a number of developing countries, sees English as one of the keys to increased economic development, in their case through tourism. However, sometimes the question has to be asked: At what cost? One group of high school students in Zanzibar turned to technology to answer that question.



In “Teens Make Film in Broken English to Explain Why They’ll Fail English,”1 Gregory Warner at NPR reported on Present Tense,2 a short film in which three high school students use digital storytelling to examine whether all classes, such as science, math, social studies, etc., should be taught only in English. The young filmmakers talk about the move from all-Swahili education in their primary school years to an all-English education often taught by teachers who have little competence in the language themselves. In their award-winning film, the young filmmakers argue that instead of giving them an edge with improved language skills, they are learning almost nothing at all, neither English nor the content they need.

It is not clear whether a change was made due to this film, but the government in Zanzibar has decided to change the all-English policy and return to using Swahili as “the language of instruction in government schools” and returning English to the status of a foreign language class.

__________
1 25 June 2015.
2 The story on the NPR website also has a link to the film.

edX-ASU Global Freshman Academy: Will It Work?

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

I really wanted to get excited about this Global Freshman Academy (GFA) idea of completing first-year college courses via MOOCs. It presses all the right buttons. You don’t need to go through the tedious process of applying, submitting transcripts, waiting for a letter of acceptance, etc. And it’s free, in the finest MOOC tradition. That is, if you don’t want college credit. For credit, you pay $200 per credit. Not cheap, but affordable. But it gets even better. You “only pay when you know you have passed the course.”1

But clicking into the details quickly reveals some shortcomings. First, the link to the How It Works video doesn’t work.2 However, the Try the GFA Orientation Course button, directly below, does. In the “About this course” section, clicking on the See more button takes you to a Q&A list, where you finally find some answers to basic questions.

To take the orientation course, you need to click on the Enroll Now button, which takes you to the Create an account page. I didn’t register, but the process seems simple and quick. You have the option to create an account via your FaceBook or Google accounts.

As it stands, the GFA is really just a single course, Introduction to Solar Systems Astronomy, which “is now open for enrollment, and starts in August 2015. Two additional courses will be offered starting fall 2015, with the remaining courses scheduled to be released within the next 24 months.” I’ll let you decide whether this lives up to the hype of a global program that “reimagines the freshman year experience” and “creates a new path to a college degree.” Even after all the courses are in place, there’s no guarantee that the aggregate will form a typical freshman year experience that will allow students to move directly into their second year.

Costs are a bit fuzzy. You have to pay an upfront $45 fee to enroll in the “Verified Track,” required “to ensure you are eligible for credit once the course is over.” And this, I assume, is in addition to the $200 per credit if you decide to go that route. I’m also wondering if the verified track registration is just a ploy for the usual tedious college application process. Furthermore, it’s unclear whether the $45 fee is required for every course and not a one-time fee, but the implication is that you need to pay the $45 upfront for every course to reserve the option to convert to credit. Again, I’ll let you to decide if this is or isn’t a variation on the old bait-and-switch.  Continue reading

Blended Learning, Digital Equity, Skills-based Economy

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

Phil McRae is among the very few in education who see a problem in hyping blended learning, “where students’ face-to-face education is blended with Internet resources or online courses,” as innovative. He says, “As this broad definition illustrates, it would be difficult to find any use of technology in education that does not easily fit into this boundary.”1 This is not to say that all uses of technology in schools aren’t innovative. Some are. But simply adding web content or activities to classes that are primarily F2F isn’t necessarily new or effective.

Still, the biggest problem with blended approaches, innovative or not, isn’t so much its effectiveness but its impact on completely online courses. For many educators, blended is synonymous with online when it reaches a tipping point, measured in a ratio between F2F and online requirements. When a certain percentage — roughly 80% — of the course work is online, then the class is placed in the same category as fully online courses.

This seemingly innocuous perception is arguably the greatest impediment to the development of completely online courses and programs. The F2F imperative, whether 20 percent or 1 percent, instantly eliminates the possibility of disruption that defines online learning. In other words, the door for nontraditional students who cannot, for whatever reason, attend classes on campus remains closed.  Continue reading

A Sensible Higher Ed Business Model for Online Degrees: Are We There Yet?

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

Not yet, but we’re getting close.

Devon Haynie, in “10 Most Inexpensive Online Bachelor’s Programs for Out-of-State Students,”1 provides signs that higher ed has reached a milestone in the quest for a business model for online degrees that makes sense for the population that needs it most — students and families of students who simply can’t afford today’s high cost of a bachelor’s degree.

For students from low-income families, the bottom line is tuition that can be paid through minimum-wage part-time jobs. In other words, can they earn enough working 20-30 hours a week to pay their tuition?

In a time when tuition is rising instead of falling, online technology has been the light at the end of a very long tunnel. But until now, that light has remained distant and dim, receding rather than growing closer, with colleges viewing technology as added value to onground traditional courses and calling the mix “blended” while driving the cost of education even higher.

To further stymie the growth of online courses, they make them as unattractive as possible, continuing to charge online students the same fees as their onground counterparts even when they don’t use the same resources. To further stick it to online programs, out-of-state fees are also charged, effectively shutting out the potentially large disruptive population of nontraditional and low-income students.

But all of that is changing. At last.

For example, Mary, a hypothetical student who lives at home with her parents and works 20 hours a week at the counter of a fast-food restaurant in Wai’anae, Hawaii, can now earn enough to pay her tuition at Texas Tech University, where she’s working toward a bachelor’s in Special Education and Teaching. The cost per credit hour is $213, and she needs 120 credits to graduate. The total cost for four years is $25,560, which breaks down to $6,390 a year or $3,195 a semester.  Continue reading

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