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This chapter covers a range of different design models or approaches to teaching. There are many more that could have been included. However, it is clear that there is a choice of possible models, depending on a number of factors, most of which are listed in Chapter 5, Building an Effective Learning Environment.
Your choice of model will then depend very much on the context in which you are teaching. However, I have suggested that a key criterion should be the suitability of the design model for developing the knowledge and skills that learners will need in a digital age. Other critical factors will be the demands of the subject domain, characteristics of the learners you will likely be teaching, the resources available, especially in terms of supporting learners, and probably most important of all, your own views and beliefs about what constitutes ‘good teaching.’
Furthermore, the models by and large are not mutually exclusive. They can probably be mixed and matched to a certain degree, but there are limitations in doing this. Moreover, a consistent approach will be less confusing not only to learners, but also to you as a teacher or instructor.
So: how would you go about choosing an appropriate design model? I set out below in Figure 6.20 one way of doing this. I have chosen five criteria as headings along the top of the table:
- epistemological basis: in what epistemological view of knowledge is this model based? Does the model suggest a view of knowledge as content that must be learned, does the model suggest a rigid (‘correct’) way of designing learning (objectivist)? Or does the model suggest that learning is a dynamic process and knowledge needs to be discovered and is constantly changing (constructivist)? Does the model suggest that knowledge lies in the connections and interpretations of different nodes or people on networks and that connections matter more in terms of creating and communicating knowledge than the individual nodes or people on the network (connectivist)? Or is the model epistemologically neutral, in that one could use the same model to teach from different epistemological positions?
- 20th century learning: does this design model lead to the kind of learning that would prepare people for an industrial society, with standardised learning outcomes, will it help identify and select a relatively small elite for higher education or senior positions in society, does it enable learning to be easily organised into similarly performing groups of learners?
- 21st century learning: does the model encourage the development of the soft skills and the effective management of knowledge needed in a digital world? Does the model enable and support the appropriate educational use of the affordances of new technologies? Does it provide the kind of educational support that learners need to succeed in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world? Does it enable and encourage learners to become global citizens?
- academic quality: does it lead to deep understanding and transformative learning? Does it enable students to become experts in their chosen subject domain?
- flexibility: does the model meet the needs of the diversity of learners today? Does it encourage open and flexible access to learning? Does it help teachers and instructors to adapt their teaching to ever changing circumstances?
Now these are my criteria, and you may well want to use different criteria (cost is another important factor), but I have drawn up the table this way because it has helped me consider better where I stand on the different models. Where I think the model is strong on a particular criterion, I have given it three stars, where weak, one star, and n/a for not applicable. Again, you may – no, should – rank the models differently. (See, that’s why I’m a constructivist – if I was an objectivist, I’d tell you what damned criteria to use!)
It can be seen that the only model that ranks highly on all three criteria of 21st century learning, academic quality and flexibility is online collaborative learning. Experiential learning and agile design also score highly. Transmissive lectures come out worst. This is a pretty fair reflection of my preferences. However, if you are teaching first year civil engineering to over 500 students, your criteria and rankings will almost certainly be different from mine. So please see Figure 6.20 as a heuristic device and not a general recommendation.Common design characteristics
It is worth noting that, once again, there is extensive research and experience that point to the key factors to be taken into consideration in the successful implementation of teaching, whichever design model is being used. In essence we are talking about using best practices in the design of teaching. Although different design models have different approaches to teaching, there is a significant number of the core principles in the design of teaching and learning that extend across several of the design models. These can be summarised as follows:
- know your students: identify the key characteristics of the students you will be or could be teaching, and how that will influence your methods of teaching
- know what you are trying to achieve: in any particular course or program what are the critical areas of content and the particular skills or learning outcomes that students need to achieve as a result of your teaching? What is the best way to identify and assess these desired outcomes?
- know how students learn: what drives learning for your students? How do you engage or motivate students? How can you best support that learning?
- know how to implement this knowledge: What kind of learning environment do you need to create to support student learning? What design model(s) will work best for you within that environment?
- know how to use technology to support your teaching: this is really a sub-set of the previous point, and is discussed in much more detail in other chapters
- know what resources you have, and what can be done within the constraints you have to work with
- ensure that the assessment of students actually measures the intended learning outcomes – and unintended ones.
Lastly, the review of different models indicate some of the key issues around quality:
- first, what students learn is more likely to be influenced by choosing an appropriate design model for the context in which you are teaching, than by focusing on a particular technology or delivery method. Technology and delivery method are more about access and flexibility and hence learner characteristics than they are about learning. Learning is affected more by pedagogy and the design of instruction.
- second, different design models are likely to lead to different kinds of learning outcomes. This is why there is so much emphasis in this book on being clear about what knowledge and skills are needed in a digital age. These are bound to vary somewhat across different subject domains, but only to a limited degree. Understanding of content is always going to be important, but the skills of independent learning, critical thinking, innovation and creativity are even more important. Which design model is most likely to help develop these skills in your students?
- third, quality depends not only on the choice of an appropriate design model, but also on how that approach to teaching is implemented. Online collaborative learning can be done well, or it can be done badly. The same applies to other design models. Following core design principles is critical for the successful use of any particular design model. Also there is considerable research on what the conditions are for success in using some of the newer models. The findings from such research need to be applied when implementing a particular model.
- lastly students and teachers get better with practice. If you are moving to a new design model, give yourself (and your students) time to get comfortable with it. It will probably take two or three courses where the new model is applied before you begin to feel comfortable that it is producing the results you were hoping for. However, it is better to make some mistakes along the way than to continue to teach comfortably, but not produce the graduates that are needed in the future.
Even when we have chosen a particular design model or teaching approach, though, it still has to be implemented. The remaining chapters in this book will focus then on implementation.Feedback, please
1. What other criteria might you have used for deciding on an appropriate model?
2. Is this the best way to make a decision about a particular design approach to teaching? If not, how would you go about it?
3. Any other comments about design models for teaching and learning? Any important ones missed?Next
Chapter 8, on ‘Understanding Technology in Education.’ (Chapter 7 on MOOCs has already been published.)
According to this video, "what limits learning is what happens inside a student's head... no technology is inherently superior to any other." So, says the video, "the question really is, what experiences promote the kind of thinking that is required for learning?" We've learned some good lessons here and have probably come close to optimizing the presentation of information. So why do we need teachers? Because, argues the video, the purpose of teachers is not to present information, but rather, to guide the process of learning, "to inspire, to excite, to challenge their students." Indeed, "making a learner think seems best achieved inside a social environment." So, let me ask - can we do this without a teacher? Via Ronnie Burt.[Link] [Comment]
Her recent keynote speech in Texas was entitled 'Leveraging for legacy and cultivating new literacies' and was replete with great, and some might claim, radical ideas. One slide in particular resonated with me, and that was her notes on vlogging. Vlogging - or video blogging - has been a growing trend, especially among the twenty-something age group, and is defining itself as a new genre of self expression in the digital ecology. Even my eldest daughter, also called Amy (Amy Hacks Life - not the name on her birth certificate) has created her own YouTube channel and is regularly vlogging on a range of topics including how to hack life. Amy Burvall outlines 7 great reasons why vlogging is a useful method of reflective learning for students. Here ther are with my own annotations included:
1 - It is personal and facilitates the student voice. It supports personalised learning through self expression, and through the act of thinking out loud and performing one's learning for a public audience.
2 - It is a natural part of the confessional culture. The current generation self discloses a great deal more than those in previous generations, and can be brutally honest in telling of their personal stories. This is clearly becoming a key part of the new digital cultural capital and feeds their perceived need to connect through reciprocal disclosure of personal details.
3 - Vlogging is easy, cheap and fun. All you need to begin vlogging is a video camera, such as the one included in all smart phones, and an topic to talk about. Many vlogs are unedited, recorded in real time, and posted direct to YouTube.
4 - It is less stressful for some. I recall several of my own students recently choosing a video as their preferred format of assessment, because I offered it as a legitimate mode of assignment. They said they felt more comfortable expressing their learning in video format, but of course, as a teacher, one should always ensure that students are assessed in as many different modes as are available. And remember, vlogs can include text in the form of subtitles or overlaid commentary.
5 - Practice new literacies. For those less familiar with vlogging, creating your first can be quite a challenge. A number of new literacies need to be learnt, including video camera use, editing (possibly), audio production, presentation skills, reflective communication and posting content to the web. This is not an exhaustive list, but reflects the extent to which new ways of working need to be learnt to vlog successfully.
6 - Vlogs are hard to plagiarise. It may be easy to copy the ideas found within some vlogs, but the personal signature of a vlog is virtually impossible to duplicate. Many well known vlogs attract parodies, but these in themselves could be seen as original works, with creative merit of their own.
7 - Dynamic - vlogs can be augmented. In this statement I believe Amy means that vlogs can be just the start of self expression through video, and can be supplemented with music, animation, editing, remixing and a host of other additions which can enhance or even transform the messages found within them.
I can add number 8 to the list, by suggesting that vlogging can be very expressive and can unleash the creativity of the person creating it as well as capturing the imagination of those watching it.
Photo by Petar Milošević on Wikimedia Commons
Vlogging and learning by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.Posted by Steve Wheeler from Learning with e's
The US House of Representatives (barely) passed a $1.1 trillion spending bill this week. While education spending will remain mostly flat, there are a number of cuts to education programs, including $303 million to the Pell Grant program. (However, Pell Grants will now be available to those incarcerated in juvenile detention centers.)
The Obama Administration announced $1 billion in “public-private spending” for early childhood education, in an attempt to boost the number of children with access to high quality preschool. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan held a Twitter chat with singer Shakira to mark the occasion.
New York State Education Commissioner John B. King, Jr is stepping down from that job to join the US Department of Education.
The FCC approved an overhaul to the E-rate program (which subsidizes high-speed Internet for public schools and libraries). This includes a $1.5 billion boost in funding to the program.
LAUSD is lawyering up in response to the federal grand jury investigation into the procurement process for all those iPads. Meanwhile, the district might not be ready for assessments due to a “lag” in distributing new devices. And the district says it needs $11 million more to fix its broken student information system.
“Education companies that sell more than $150,000 in goods or services to a school district will be required to negotiate the profit on any contracts using federal funds, under new rules that become effective Dec. 26,” reports Education Week.
Via ProPublica: “When Charter Schools Are Nonprofit in Name Only”
The Texas Education Agency will close 14 charter school operators for failing to meet academic and financial performance standards.
The Wake County (North Carolina) school district could ban selfies – that’s the headline. The proposed policy would require teacher permission before students take photos at school.
The New York Times reports that, “10 advocacy groups have asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the Topps Company, the maker of Ring Pops, accusing the company of violating a federal children’s privacy protection law.”
Buzzfeed’s Molly Hensley-Clancy on “Why The Government Supports Everest University’s Controversial Sale.”MOOCs and UnMOOCs
MIT announced this week that it was removing the online courses of Walter Lewin, an emeritus professor of physics, after discovering that he had engaged in the online sexual harassment of a female student. Lewin has been an incredibly popular professor, and the YouTube videos of demonstrations from his physics courses at MIT have had millions of views. Prior to the rise of Salman Khan and Khan Academy, Lewin was the YouTube education star. All those videos are now gone as MIT has tried to scrub Lewin’s presence from the Web. According to the university, “MIT’s action comes in response to a complaint it received in October from a woman, who is an online MITx learner, claiming online sexual harassment by Lewin. She provided information about Lewin’s interactions with her, which began when she was a learner in one of his MITx courses, as well as information about interactions between Lewin and other women online learners.” More via Inside Higher Ed and The Chronicle of Higher Education.
I’d definitely read the fine print on this one if I were you: Coursera has revamped its Specialization on entrepreneurship, with a chance for students to pitch their final project to investors.
Coursera has two new partners: ESSEC Business School and Sciences Po. (I’m curious about the language here. Is “partnered” different than “joined”?)
Student protests over police violence continue – in Brooklyn, in Denver, at several medical schools, at the University of Iowa, at UC Berkeley. A UC Berkeley lecturer tweeted she would give her students extra time on their final assignments due to injuries received at the hands of police. She’s received threats and has closed her Twitter account. Protestors chased investor Peter Thiel off the stage at a Berkeley event on Wednesday.
“France plans elite top–10 mega-university,” reports the BBC. (Nice photo to illustrate the story, BBC.)
The fallout from the Rolling Stone’s story on an alleged gang rape at a University of Virginia frat party continues. From Hanna Rosin in Slate, “The Washington Post Inches Closer to Calling the UVA Gang Rape Story a Fabrication.” The university defends its decision to suspend fraternity events until the new year.
The Justice Department released statistics this week on rape and sexual assault on campus. Among the findings, “women ages 18 to 24 who are in college or trade school are less likely to report such incidents than those who aren’t in school.”
Via Inside Higher Ed: “The Clemson University chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon has suspended all fraternity activity and several of its officers have resigned following a ”Cripmas“ party where students dressed up as gang members.”
NBA stars have been sporting “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts to show their solidarity with anti-police violence protestors and their sympathy in the death of Eric Garner. Members of the Georgetown basketball team became the first college athletes to also wear the shirts.
Football playoff teams announced: Oregon, Florida State, Alabama, Ohio State.From the HR Department
The University of Oregon has reached a deal with its striking graduate students. (The union won its demands for a hardship fund to pay for paid family and medical leave.) Other news, from prior to the settlement of the strike: An open letter from a UO professor to his students. Removal of instructors of record who supported the strike. Threats of deportation of international grad students who supported the strike. And of course, fears about UO’s eligibility in the coming football playoffs.)
“The Graduate Workers of Columbia on Friday told Columbia University that a majority of teaching assistants and research assistants have signed cards asking that the United Auto Workers local be recognized as a union,” reports Inside Higher Ed.
The University of Illinois Urbana Champaign continues to deal with the fallout from its firing of Professor Steven Salaita. Corey Robin has updates on the case.
UIUC has rehired adjunct instructor James Kilgore, whose “teaching was blocked after word spread about his past (including jail time) for his role in the radical ’70s group the Symbionese Liberation Army.”
Yuko Tanaka has become the first female president of Japan’s Hosei University.
The University of Missouri-St. Louis has announced a hiring freeze due to an unexpected drop in enrollment, that “campus officials are linking to the fatal police shooting in nearby Ferguson.”
It’s Computer Science Education Week. More districts are making the move to teach computer science. Politico’s Stephanie Simon examines the PR blitz and political connections behind the Hour of Code initiative. Gary Stager also responds to the Hour of Code. And Vogue Magazine weighs in too.
Pearson announced that it’s won the bid to develop the 2018 PISA test. (It has the contract for the 2015 test.) Pearson says that, among other things it plans to “redefine reading literacy.”
Google News is closing in Spain, in response to a new Spanish law that would require news aggregators pay a fee for using snippets that link back to news articles.
News Corp’s education wing Amplify will now sell “personalized professional development” to school districts.
From Techcrunch: “The anonymous posting app After School has once again been removed from the App Store. The app was pulled sometime late yesterday as threats of school violence continue to pop up even after the creators took steps to better filter the content.”
In related “anonymous posting apps marketed to schools” news: a security vulnerability in Yik Yak.
The speed-reading app Spritz damages reading comprehension. That hasn’t stopped it from teaming up with study guide Spark Notes, which doesn’t really care much about reading comprehension either if you stop and think about it. Perfect.
“D2L has updated its Brightspace learning management platform with improved support for end users and game-based learning,” says Campus Technology.
Edsurge profiles GlassLabs, “a nonprofit located on the Electronic Arts campus in Redwood City, Calif., … building games that serve as formative assessments for critical thinking skills.”
Congratulations Maggie Simpson and Edna Krabappel for having your research papers accepted into two scientific journals.Funding and Acquisitions
From the press release: “The Advisory Board Company (”the Advisory Board“) (ABCO), a global, insight-driven technology, research, and services provider, today announced that it has signed a definitive agreement to acquire Royall & Company (”Royall“), the higher education industry leader in strategic, data-driven student engagement and enrollment management solutions.” The business of buzzwords is good.“Research”
“Data from the Office for Civil Rights at the United States Department of Education show that from 2011 to 2012, black girls in public elementary and secondary schools nationwide were suspended at a rate of 12 percent, compared with a rate of just 2 percent for white girls, and more than girls of any other race or ethnicity.” More in The New York Times.
According to a survey by the Software & Information Industry Association, the ed-tech market grew by 5% in 2012–2013, with some $8.4 billion in digital stuff sold.
Investment research firm CB Insights offers its “2014 Ed Tech Review – The Largest Financings and Most Active VCs in Ed Tech.”
“In fall 2014, overall postsecondary enrollments decreased 1.3 percent from the previous fall.” More from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center here.
HarvardX researcher Justin Reich helps unpack the results of a study on the effectiveness of the Teach to One math program.
A study by Lillian MacNell, a PhD student in sociology at North Carolina State University suggests that “college students in online courses give better evaluations to instructors they think are men – even when the instructor is actually a woman.”
According to a new study out by the Pew Research Center, “the vast majority of Americans believe their use of the web helps them learn new things, stay better informed on topics that matter to them, and increases their capacity to share ideas and creations with others.”
Via Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog: “Should States Spend Billions To Reduce Class Sizes?”
“When the Media Get Science Research Wrong, University PR May Be the Culprit.” Or at least that’s what the media told me about a study on science and journalism.
“A new study in the journal Health Affairs finds that nearly half of all children in the U.S. have experienced one such social or family-related trauma.” More via The Atlantic.
Chicago poet, activist, and educator Mike Hawkins – better known as Brother Mike – has died. Brother Mike was one of the mentors at YouMedia, which has created learning spaces within the city’s libraries. From the MacArthur Foundation’s Connie Yowell, “Revolution: Thank you, Brother Mike.”
Ralph Baer, inventor of the first home video game system, passed away at age 92.
Image credits: Rose Colored Photo
I'll give Coursera the prize here for innovative business strategy as it blends one of its open courses with a series of presentations of new business ideas to venture capitalists, who in turn may fund some of the ideas. I assume (?) Coursera gets some portion of the returns the VCs receive. But as usual, it's students who pay most of the shot, a total of $196 for the course (which Coursera brands as 'three courses'). So the lure here is 'get rich quick' and the payment seems low in comparison to the payoff - except, I wonder just how many of them will ever get near to launching a successful business. This is one of those MOOCs where completion stats do matter.[Link] [Comment]
The problem with most educational technology is that it fails on at least two of the three items (control over user data access, knowledge of how the data is stored, freedom to choose a platform). "This manifesto aims at defining users’ fundamental rights to their own data in the Internet age. People ought to be free and should not have to pay allegiance to service providers." You can contribute to this draft on the wiki. See also Ben Werdmuller: A trade war is emerging over where you store your data.[Link] [Comment]
I liked this presentation because it approaches educational technology a bit differently. First, it maps the SAMR (substitute, augment, modify, replace) into three elements of education (pedagogy, content, technology). Then it maps the observed impact on outcomes of particular technologies to these domains. It then maps all this to the ed tech 'quintet' (social, mobility, visualization, storytelling, gaming). Finally, it analyzes the impact of each on the development of the zone of proximal development (the increased learning we can achieve only with a 'More Knowledgeable Other') and outlines the shape of things to come.[Link] [Comment]
This week we had the Year 2 Review Meeting of the Learning Layers (LL) project in Luxembourg. As usual in the European Union FP7 projects, we had our preparation days and then presented our work for the reviewers.
Whilst the Y1 review presented one work package after another, we had this time a more integrative approach. Our presentations had been structured as contributions to three integrative themes:
a) Theoretical integration (or theoretical approaches working together);
b) Integration via sustainability scenarios (covering the pilot sectors Healthcare and Construction and the complementary work with Managed Clusters);
c) Technical integration (which covered integrative work via architectures, tools, services, development processes and the role of Social Semantic Server).
From the ITB perspective we were happy to present a report that drew attention to the empowerment of our application partners via joint development of Learning Toolbox, joint multimedia training and joint outreach activities. We were even more happy to show that our partners in Bau-ABC Rostrup are taking the ideas further with their own initiatives. Concerning the tools, we were happy to see the most recent progress with the Learning Toolbox. Also, we were happy to use the videos from Bau-ABC and to show the trainers blogs that are now accessible via the platform baubildung.net. If we were asked to show that something is moving in our field of application, we could show a lot.
On the whole the reviewers were happy to observe a lot of progress and the project working better together. Also, the questions that they had raised last year had been responded in an appropriate way. Yet, they had some concerns regarding project coherence. Partly this was raised at the level of theories and concepts. Partly this was raised at the level of tools and software solutions. The consortium was challenged to prepare a critical path analysis in order to highlight its core activities. Parallel to this the project was challenged consider, what is the relevance of the activities that are not included into the core activities. In this way the project was got an extra push for the the year 3 activities.
At the moment we are digesting the messages that we delivered and the feedback we got. For me personally this is the end of the working year 2014. I wish all a happy Christmas time and a good slide to the New Year .
More blogs to come in 2015 …
I’m halfway through my year-end review of (what I think are) the important trends in education technology in 2014.
The word count for the series so far hovers around 25,000, and I have a lot more to say. (I’m sorry. You’re welcome.)
This project is a substantial undertaking, but I think it’s important to spend the time compiling an overview and analysis of “what happened,” particularly as the education technology industry seems prone to forget the past so quickly.
I learn an incredible amount in the process of writing this series, and I see things that I might not otherwise. I hope that, in turn, the series offers the same to my readers.
So with that in mind, I’d like to remind folks about the “donate” button on this site.
I purposefully keep Hack Education advertising-free. Unlike many other technology blogs, Hack Education isn’t owned by a major technology or media company. I don’t take sponsorship dollars to promote certain posts or products. I have not taken investment money from the same venture capitalists who fund education/technology companies. I am an independent voice.
This fall I was awarded a Shuttleworth Foundation Flash Grant, which provided me with $5000 in support of the “open thinking” I do here on Hack Education. To receive the grant was a huge honor – and a big surprise. See, while I’m hammering out all these words and crafting all these sentences and making all these arguments and picking all these fights on the Internet, I tend to forget that I have to remind people that they can support my work.
Thank you to all those who’ve donated throughout the year and to those who’ve purchased The Monsters of Education Technology. Your generosity helps make my work possible.
And thanks, of course, to everyone for reading.
Image credits: Alan Levine
This is a very interesting but conceptually difficult discussion of an alternative approach to the creation of scientific theories. In current theory, we describe and explain what is and what isn't by formulating hypotheses and testing predictions. But in many cases, the predictions fall short because the theory doesn't describe what is actually the case, but what is possible. In communications theory, for example, we talk about what sort of system could transmit information. Or in biology, we talk about what sort of structures could produce evolution. But often these systems are not producing any particular communication or evolved organism, so we can reduce the descriptions to descriptions and predictions concerning underlying physical entities. Constructor theory provides that theoretical framework, allowing us to talk about information and processes in the same language we use to talk about particles and forces. It's worth looking at, because it suggests a way of being able to talk about education scientifically without being reductionist.[Link] [Comment]
This next post in my chapter on ‘Understanding Technology in Education’ for my book, Teaching in a Digital Age‘ is a long one, but it’s a topic I don’t want to chop up too much. This is probably going to be fairly controversial as I have a very idiosyncratic approach to the topic of media and technology in education. So let’s see how you react to this section:Defining media and technology
Philosophers and scientists have argued about the nature of media and technologies over a very long period. The distinction is challenging because in everyday language use, we tend to use these two terms interchangeably. For instance, television is often referred to as both a medium and a technology. Is the Internet a medium or a technology? And does it matter?
I will argue that there are differences, and it does matter to distinguish between media and technology, especially if we are looking for guidelines on when and how to use media or technologies. There is a danger in looking too much at the raw technology, and not enough at the personal, social and cultural contexts in which we use technology, particularly in education. We shall also see that media and technology represent different ways altogether of thinking about the choice and use of technology in teaching and learning.Technology
There are many definitions of technology (see Wikipedia for a good discussion of this). Essentially definitions of technology range from the basic notion of tools, to systems which employ or exploit technologies. Thus ‘technology refers to tools and machines that may be used to solve real-world problems’ is a simple definition; ‘the current state of humanity’s knowledge of how to combine resources to produce desired products, to solve problems, fulfill needs, or satisfy wants’ is a more complex and grandiose definition (and has a smugness about it that I think is undeserved – technology often does the opposite of satisfy wants, for instance.).
In terms of educational technology I think we have to consider a broad definition of technology. The technology of the Internet involves more than just a collection of tools, but a system that combines computers, telecommunications, software and rules and procedures or protocols. However, I baulk at the very broad definition of the ‘current state of humanity’s knowledge’. Once a definition begins to encompass many different aspects of life it becomes unwieldy and ambiguous.
I tend to think of technology in education as things or tools used to support teaching and learning. Thus computers, software programs such as a learning management system, or a transmission or communications network, are all technologies. A printed book is a technology. Technology often includes a combination of tools with particular technical links that enable them to work as a technology system, such as the telephone network or the Internet.
However, for me, technologies or even technological systems do not of themselves communicate or create meaning. They just sit there until commanded to do something or until they are activated or until a person starts to interact with the technology. At this point, we start to move into media.Media
Media (plural of medium) is another word that has many definitions and I will argue that it has two distinct meanings relevant for teaching and learning, both of which are different from definitions of technology.
The word ‘medium’ comes from the Latin, meaning in the middle (a median) and also that which intermediates or interprets. Media require an active act of creation of content and/or communication, and someone who receives and understands the communication, as well as the technologies that carry the medium.
Media linked to senses and ‘meaning’.
We use our senses, such as sound and sight, to interpret media. In this sense, we can consider text, graphics, audio and video as media ‘channels’, in that they intermediate ideas and images that convey meaning. Every interaction we have with media, in this sense, is an interpretation of reality, and again usually involves some form of human intervention, such as writing (for text), drawing or design for graphics, talking, scripting or recording for audio and video. Note that there are two types of intervention in media: by the ‘creator’ who constructs information, and by the ‘receiver’, who must also interpret it.
Computing can also be considered a medium in this context. I use the term computing, not computers, since although computing uses computers, computing involves some kind of intervention, construction and interpretation. Computing as a medium would include animations, online social networking, using a search engine, or designing and using simulations. Thus Google uses a search engine as its primary technology, but I classify Google as a medium, since it needs content and content providers, and an end user who defines the parameters of the search, in addition to the technology of computer algorithms to assist the search. Thus the creation, communication and interpretation of meaning are added features that turn a technology into a medium.
Thus in terms of representing knowledge we can think of the following media for educational purposes:
Within each of these media, there are sub-systems, such as
- text: textbooks, novels, poems
- graphics: diagrams, photographs, drawings, posters, graffiti
- audio: sounds, speech
- video: television programs, YouTube clips, ‘talking heads’
- computing: animation, simulations, online discussion forums, virtual worlds.
Furthermore, within these sub-systems there are ways of influencing communication through the use of unique symbol systems, such as story lines and use of characters in novels, composition in photography, voice modulation to create effects in audio, cutting and editing in film and television, and the design of user interfaces or web pages in computing. The study of the relationship between these different symbol systems and the interpretation of meaning is a whole field of study in itself, called semiotics.
From an educational perspective, it is important to understand that media are not neutral or ‘objective’ in how they convey knowledge. They can be designed or used in such a way as to influence (for good or bad) the interpretation of meaning and hence our understanding. Some knowledge therefore of how media work is essential for teaching in a digital age. In particular we need to know how best to design and apply media (rather than technology) to facilitate learning.
Media as organisations
The second meaning of media is broader and refers to the industries or significant areas of human activity that are organized around particular technologies, for instance film and movies, television, publishing, and the Internet. Within these different media are particular ways of representing, organizing and communicating knowledge.
Thus for instance within television there are different formats, such as news, documentaries, game shows, action programs, while in publishing there are novels, newspapers, comics, biographies, etc. Sometimes the formats overlap but even then there are symbol systems within a medium that distinguish it from other media. For instance in movies there are cuts, fades, close-ups, and other techniques that are markedly different from those in other media. All these features of media bring with them their own conventions and assist or change the way meaning is extracted or interpreted.
In education we could think of classroom teaching as a medium. Technology or tools are used (e.g. chalk and blackboards, or Powerpoint and a projector) but the key component is the intervention of the teacher and the interaction with the learners in real time and in a fixed time and place. We can also then think of online teaching as a different medium, with computers, the Internet (in the sense of the communication network) and a learning management system as core technologies, but it is the interaction between teachers, learners and online resources within the unique context of the Internet that are the essential component of online learning.
Media of course depend on technology, but technology is only one element of media. Thus we can think of the Internet as merely a technological system, or as a medium that contains unique formats and symbol systems that help convey meaning and knowledge. These formats, symbol systems and unique characteristics (e.g. the 140 character limit in Twitter) are deliberately created and need to be interpreted by both creators and end users. Furthermore, at least with the Internet, people can be at the same time both creators and interpreters of knowledge.
Over time, media have become more complex, with newer media (e.g. television) incorporating some of the components of earlier media (e.g. audio) as well as adding another medium (video). Digital media and the Internet increasingly are incorporating and integrating all previous media, such as text, audio, and video, and adding new media components, such as animation, simulation, and interactivity. When digital media incorporate many of these components they become ‘rich media’. Thus one major advantage of the Internet is that it encompasses all the representational media of text, graphics, audio, video and computing.
Lastly, there is a strong organizational context to media. Industries are often organized around specific media, and hence media use and interpretation is influenced by strong cultural or organizational values. For instance, Schramm (1974) found that broadcasters often have a different set of professional criteria and ways of assessing ‘quality’ in an educational broadcast from those of educators (which made my job of evaluating the programs the BBC made for the Open University very interesting). Today, this professional ‘divide’ can be seen between the differences between computer scientists and educators in terms of values and beliefs with regard to the use of technology for teaching. At its crudest, it comes down to issues of control: who is in charge of using technology for teaching? Who makes the decisions about the design of a MOOC or the use of an animation?The affordances of media
Graphs can represent, in a different way, the same concepts as written descriptions or formulae. Understanding the same thing in different ways generally leads to deeper understanding. Image: © Open University 2013
Different media have different educational effects or affordances. If you just transfer the same teaching to a different medium, you fail to exploit the unique characteristics of that medium. Put more positively, you can do different and often better teaching by adapting it to the medium. That way students will learn more deeply and effectively. To illustrate this, let’s look at an example from early on in my career as a researcher in educational media.
In 1969, I was appointed as a research officer at the Open University in the United Kingdom. At this point the university had just received its royal charter. I was the 20th member of staff appointed. My job was simple: to research into the pilot programs being offered by the National Extension College, which was delivering low cost non-credit distance education programs in partnership with the BBC. (So you think MOOCs are new? The NEC was offering them over 40 years ago). The NEC was ‘modelling’ the kind of integrated multimedia courses, consisting of a mix of print and broadcast radio and TV, that were to be offered by the Open University when it started.
We sent out questionnairesby mail on a weekly basis to students taking the NEC courses. The questionnaire contained both pre-coded responses, and the opportunity for open-ended comments, and asked students for their responses to the print and broadcast components of the courses. We were looking for what worked and what didn’t work in designing multimedia distance education courses.
When I started analyzing the questionnaires, I was struck particularly by the ‘open-ended’ comments in response to the television and radio broadcasts. Responses to the printed components tended to be ‘cool': rational, calm, critical, constructive. The responses to the broadcasts were the opposite: ‘hot’, emotional, strongly supportive or strongly critical or even hostile, and rarely critically constructive. Something was going on here.
Since the OU was going to spend 20% of its annual budget on the broadcasts from the BBC, I persuaded the university to appoint me as a lecturer to research into the effectiveness of the television and radio programs, which I did for a period of nearly 20 years.
The initial discovery that different media affected students differently came very quickly, but it took longer to discover in what ways media are different, and even longer why, but here are some of the discoveries I and my colleagues in the Audio-Visual Media Research Group at the OU made (Bates, 1985):
- the BBC producers (all of whom had a degree in the subject area in which they were making programs) thought about knowledge differently from the academics with whom they were working. In particular, they tended to think more visually and more concretely about the subject matter. Thus they tended to make programs that showed concrete examples of concepts or principles in the texts, applications of principles, or how academic concepts worked in real life. Academic learning is about abstraction and higher order levels of thinking. However, abstract concepts are better understood if they can be related to concrete or empirical experiences, from which, indeed, abstract concepts are often drawn. The television programs enabled learners to move backwards and forwards between the abstract and the concrete. Where this was well designed, it really helped a large number of students – but not all.
- students responded very differently to the TV programs in particular. Some loved them, some hated them, and few were indifferent. The ones that hated them wanted the programs to be didactic and repeat or reinforce what was in the printed texts. Interestingly though the TV-haters tended to get lower grades or even fail in the final course exam. The ones that loved the TV programs tended to get higher grades. They were able to see how the programs illustrated the principles in the texts, and the programs ‘stretched’ these students to think more widely or critically about the topics in the course. The exception was math, where borderline students found the TV programs most helpful
- the BBC producers rarely used talking heads or TV lectures. With radio and later audio-cassettes, some producers and academics integrated the audio with texts, for instance in mathematics, using a radio program and later audio-cassettes to talk the students through equations or formulae in the printed text (similar to Khan Academy lectures on TV)
- using television and radio to develop higher level learning is a skill that can be taught. In the initial foundation (first year) social science course (D100), many of the programs were made in a typical BBC documentary style. Although the programs were accompanied by extensive broadcast notes that attempted to link the broadcasts to the academic texts, many students struggled with these programs. When the course was remade five years later a distinguished academic (Stuart Hall) was used as an ‘anchor’ for all the programs. The first few programs were somewhat like lectures, but in each program Stuart Hall introduced more and more visual clips and helped students analyze each clip. By the end of the course the programs were almost entirely in the documentary format. Students rated the remade programs much higher and used examples from the TV programs much more in their assignments and exams for the remade course.
At the time (and for many years afterwards) researchers such as Richard Clark (1983) argued that ‘proper’, scientific research showed no significant difference between the use of different media. In particular, there were no differences between classroom teaching and other media such as television or radio or satellite. Even today, we are getting similar findings regarding online learning (e.g. Means et al., 2010).
However, this is because the research methodology that is used by researchers for such comparative studies requires the two conditions being compared to be the same, except for the medium being used (called matched comparisons, or sometimes quasi-experimental studies). Typically, for the comparison to be scientifically rigorous, if you gave lectures in class, then you had to compare lectures on television. If you used another television format, such as a documentary, you were not comparing like with like. Since the classroom was used as the base, for comparison, you had to strip out all the affordances of television – what it could do better than a lecture – in order to compare it. Indeed Clark argued that when differences in learning were found between the two conditions, the differences were a result of using a different pedagogy in the non-classroom medium.
The critical point is that different media can be used to assist learners to learn in different ways and achieve different outcomes. In a sense, researchers such as Clark were right: the teaching methods matter, but different media can more easily support different ways of teaching than others. In our example, a documentary TV program aims at developing the skills of analysis and the application or recognition of theoretical constructs, whereas a classroom lecture is more focused on getting students to understand and correctly recall the theoretical constructs. Thus requiring the television program to be judged by the same assessment methods as for the classroom lecture unfairly measures the potential value of the TV program. In this example, it may be better to use both methods: didactic teaching to teach understanding, then a documentary approach to apply that understanding. (Note that a television program could do both, but the classroom lecture could not.)
Perhaps even more important is the idea that many media are better than one. This allows learners with different preferences for learning to be accommodated, and to allow subject matter to be taught in different ways through different media, thus leading to deeper understanding or a wider range of skills in using content. On the other hand, this increases costs.How do these findings apply to online learning?
Online learning can incorporate a range of different media: text, graphics, audio, video, animation, simulations. We need to understand better the affordances of each medium within the Internet, and use them differently but in an integrated way so as to develop deeper knowledge, and a wider range of learning outcomes and skills. The use of different media also allows for more individualization and personalization of the learning, better suiting learners with different learning styles and needs. Most of all, we should stop trying merely to move classroom teaching to other media such as MOOCs, and start designing online learning so its full potential can be exploited.Implications for education
If we are interested in selecting appropriate technologies for teaching and learning, we should not just look at the technical features of a technology, nor even the wider technology system in which it is located, nor even the educational beliefs we bring as a classroom teacher. We also need to examine the unique features of different media, in terms of their formats, symbols systems, and cultural values. These unique features are increasingly referred to as the affordances of media or technology.
The concept of media is much ‘softer’ and ‘richer’ than that of ‘technology’, more open to interpretation and harder to define, but it is a useful concept, in that it can also incorporate the inclusion of face-to-face communication as a medium, and in that it recognises the fact that technology on its own does not lead to the transfer of meaning.
Over time, as new technologies are developed, and are incorporated into media systems, old formats and approaches are carried over from older to newer media. For instance early movies followed quite closely the format and structure of the music hall and theatre, and took several decades to establish their own unique characteristics.
This of course is what we do with technology in education. We try either to incorporate new technology into old formats, as with clickers and lecture capture, or we try to create the classroom in virtual space, as we do with learning management systems. What we are still developing but not yet clearly recognizing are formats, symbols systems and organizational structures that exploit the unique characteristics of the Internet as a medium. It is difficult to see these unique characteristics clearly at this point in time. However, e-portfolios, mobile learning, open educational resources such as animations or simulations, and self-managed learning in large, online social groups are all examples of ways in which we are gradually developing the unique ‘affordances’ of the Internet.
Given the need to create and interpret meaning when using media, trying to use computers to replace or substitute for humans in the education process is likely to be a major mistake, at least until computers have much greater facility to recognize, understand and apply semantics, value systems, and organizational factors, which are all important factors in ‘reading’ different media. But at the same time it is equally a mistake to rely only on the symbol systems, cultural values and organizational structures of classroom teaching as the means of judging the effectiveness or appropriateness of the Internet as an educational medium.
On the other hand, picking horses for courses – the right medium for the job – or adapting teaching to exploit fully the affordances of different media, requires a much better understanding of the strengths and limitations of different media for teaching purposes. However, given the widely different contextual factors influencing learning, the task of media and technology selection becomes infinitely complex. This is why it has proved impossible to develop simple algorithms or decision trees for effective decision making in this area. Nevertheless, there are some guidelines that can be used for identifying the best use of different media within an Internet-dependent society. To develop such guidelines we need to explore in particular the unique educational affordances of text, audio, video and computing, which is the next task of this chapter.Over to you
I should have given you enough meat to chew on in this excerpt. So let me have your comments. In particular:
1. Do you find the distinction between media and technology helpful? If so, how would you classify the following (either medium or technology):
- printing press
- television program
- discussion forum
2. Do you think that knowledge becomes something different when represented by different media? For instance, does an animation of a mathematical function represent something different from a written or printed equation of the same function? Which is the most ‘mathematical': the formula or the animation?
3. What in your view makes the Internet unique from a teaching perspective, or is it just old wine in new bottles?
4. Text has publishers and newspaper corporations, audio has radio stations, and video has both television companies and YouTube. Is there a comparable organization for the Internet or is it not really a medium in the sense of publishing, radio or television?
5. Is it possible to define the affordances of a particular medium or technology? Won’t the affordances depend on the context in which the medium is used? If so, does this make the concept of affordances meaningless in education, given the various contexts in which media and technology could be used?
The opening post is short, but I agree with it pretty much completely, and there's a great discussion that follows that draws out many of the arguments and implications. If it's all new to you, skip down to comment 19, which draws the distinction between classical AI and machine learning AI. In a nutshell, Daniel Lemire is arguing that the new 'Linked Data' approach, which is an heir to the Semantic Web, is an heir to the now discredited 'classical AI' approach to machine intelligence. In the classical approach, you collect all the sentences that describe the world, organize them into subjects and (especially) predicates, and link them together. "Collecting, curating and interpreting billions of predicates is a fundamentally intractable problem. So our AI researchers failed to solve real problems, time and time again."[Link] [Comment]
A University of Leeds professor is arguing that the focus on open and accessible elarning will result in an environment where only the elite will have access to certain knowledge. “ Many of these courses veer towards mundane everyday knowledge and they do not give students access to the specialist knowledge that forms the bases for generalisation and critique,” argues sue Clegg. I would be more concerned were it not for the fact that this specialized knowledge is already reserved for an elite, and that open and accessible learning is rapidly shrinking the range of that specialized knowledge - the connectivism courses that we ran, or the AI course run by Norvig and Thrun opened up to the general public knowledge they would never have had access to in a pre-open-learning world. Hey, my first contribution to open learning was my guide to the logical fallacies, which quite literally formed the bases for generalisation and critique. So, no, this is a red herring argument, based on facts that are demonstrably not true.[Link] [Comment]
I'm concerned by this item. I read feeds from Spain and post commentaries, including excepts, here from time to time. But now there's a new Spanish law that has forced Google News to shut down and could affect this website. "This new legislation requires every Spanish publication to charge services like Google News for showing even the smallest snippet from their publications, whether they want to or not." I'll play it by ear. But if Spanish agencies decide they want to charge me for listing content here, I will be forced, like Google, to shut down this service in Spain.[Link] [Comment]