My Dream App

•February 18, 2007 • 1 Comment

Here is what I want: I want a tool that would be the equivalent of track changes / comments type of feedback features, but for a video and audio platform. I want to be able to watch video, tag a section, and attach a comment there in text, graphic, audio or video file type. We (here at PSU, including Carla Zembal-Saul who thought this up first) have been talking about this since we first started using the iPod as a voice recorder for video analysis. We wanted to be able to listen to an audio file and insert audio comments directly into the original file which would allow a sort of branching at that point. A student listening to the file could skip to the comments (the way you would with chapters) and listen to what I have to say about their work. The next stage in this, that I would find considerably more valuable is a system where I can code a section of video (a la Studiocode) draw students attention to a particular part of the screen (a la Diver) and then add these annotation to the original video like the director’s comments are added to a DVD. A student collects video of themselves, marks up their own video (the way I just described) as part of a reflection on their own practice then gives me the video. I can watch just the marked sections, or the whole thing. I can mark up the original with text, audio comments, or even attach small sections of video of another teacher (student or otherwise) as an exemplar. All this gets stored as different tracks that allow commentary to be turned on and off. The video becomes a dynamic tool for reflection and dialogue between faculty and students as well as student/student and student teacher / mentor teacher. Imagine being able to watch a section of video with a student’s comment on their own teaching, their faculty instructors and their mentor teacher all in one file. That is a pretty killer app from my point of view.

iPhone in Teacher Education

•February 13, 2007 • 5 Comments

We here at PSU are engaged in developing a one-to-one initiative with our undergrad teacher education students. The Commonwealth of PA has committed to having a laptop for every student in every core content course (English, Math, Science, Social Studies) in high schools by 2009. This means our teachers need to be prepared for this environment, and therefore we need to have ubiquitous computing in teacher education programs to prepare teachers to enter ubiquitous computing environments in K-12 schools. As part of this process I get to think about how technology can transform teacher education.  This is something that has been on my mind and I thought would make a good post (or hopefully set of posts).

Today I am thinking about the iPhone (I actually can’t seem to stop thinking about it).  In my courses I emphasize students developing their ability to see a classroom like an expert teacher (theoretically the concept is professional vision).  Obviously I use a lot of video in this process.  The primary tool my students and I use for analysis is Studiocode, which is a Mac only tool, but does amazing things to allow you to code videotape on the fly and display short sections for discussion and analysis.  So, when I saw the iPhone I was immediately struck by how this powerful tool could be used to enhance what I am already doing with the teacher I work with.  Here is one dream scenario (with the caveat that I am making guesses about the iPhone’s capabilities):

I am in a student teacher’s classroom.  They are teaching a lesson on mitosis and get into an interesting discussion with the class about the relationship between mitosis and cancer.  I pull the iPhone from my pocket and using the digital camera capture a short video of about 5 minutes of class (assumption #1: iPhone camera can capture video).  As the video comes in I can code it using Studiocode (assumption #2: iPhone will run third party apps) to mark sections I would like to talk to the student teacher about.  As the student teacher finishes their lesson I output the sections to a quicktime movie file and either email the file to the student with the iPhone or transfer it to a shared file space over the WiFi.  When the student teacher and I sit down to talk she already has the key piece of video on her laptop (or can get them quickly).  We can discuss it in the moment while looking at the video and she has a file to keep for later reflection.  The key is that I did all this with one device in a seamless way.  I can do some of this now, but it requires me to have a laptop and a digital video camera and significantly more setup time.

The end goal for me with regard to technology in education is transparency.  When we get to the point that we can do what we want to do pedagogically without having to think about the tools, we have arrived.  This seems like one more (baby) step in this direction, but it is a powerful one.

More Children Left Behind

•January 15, 2007 • 1 Comment

Another article in The Economist got me thinking this week. Seems the UK is finding that its young students are not reading as much as they used to. This is not really big news and is an international trend. What was interesting was that in “1997 the government introduced a national literacy strategy” to address this problem. The “rigidly-structured daily one-hour lesson” seems to have actually turned kids off of books (do tell). Students asked why it was good to be able to read answered that it would help them do better on tests, not that reading was enjoyable. This seems to me to be exactly where we are headed with the emphasis in NCLB on standardized testing in reading and math (and soon science, which makes me most nervous). Programs emphasizing mechanics will drain critical literacy skills of inherent richness and leave students even further behind and even less interested in school. I can think of nothing more likely to reduce enjoyment of reading than turning it into a highly-structured mechanical activity.  Is the goal of education to create good factory line workers (a job that is increasingly disspearing), or to produce people with intellectual curiosity and deep love of learning?  Obvious answer, but do we really think that creating highly structured (read as teacher proof) curricula is a way to help people learn?  Seems so, as long as the measure of learning is how well you do on a standardized exam — and hey, there are lots of those in life, so at least we are preparing them for that.

What language means

•January 11, 2007 • Leave a Comment

I was listening to Fresh Air with Terri Gross on NPR this morning (the podcast). She was interviewing a consultant that works with politicians and businesses to help them develop and use “words that work” (his book title). He was talking about the difference between climate change and global warming. His point was that climate change was more accurate and less extreme than global warming. He made this same sort of comparison for a number of other politically charged terms (e.g. death tax vs. estate tax, drilling vs. exploring in ANWAR). What I found so ironic is that he is arguing that his language is more true than the other choices. The idea that his ideas are expressed accurately without the bias of value. It is a fundamental of constructivist learning theory that each individual constructs their own understanding. You (as a teacher or a politician) can only introduce things into the environment, not transmit them into another person’s head. This means that when I say death tax it can not possibly mean the same thing to you as it does to someone else. Saying that death tax is more accurate than estate tax is just absurd on the face of it. Each phrase is chosen to make a particular type of argument about the value of the tax. The main goal of language is essentially rhetorical – an attempt to have others see the world as we do. In this way language does not have an absolute meaning, only a meaning grounded in the experiences, context and interpretation of the people speaking and hearing it.

This is the difficulty I have with absolutists of all stripes. The idea that there are right answers in the area of human interactions (like teaching). Malcomb Gladwell (author of Blink and The Tipping Point) has a great talk at TED about this very issue. He manages to make some profound points about the nature of scientific reserach on human behavior while using chunk tomato sauce as a exemplar. Great stuff.

Google, the new information bank?

•January 11, 2007 • 2 Comments

The 12.23.06 issue of the Economist has an interesting article about the migration of Arizona State University’s technology infrastructure (starting with email) to Google’s Apps for Your Domain. My friend, Cole, talks about this much more articulately and thoughtfully, so check out his blog if you want deep thinking on these issues. I really liked one of the analogies used by Google’s Dave Girouard, when talking about security issues. He said that is going to be an “evolution in trust” similar to the one that occurred when “people reluctantly accepted that their money was safer in a bank than under a mattress”. To me this makes perfect sense. As we increasingly want to access data anywhere, it is going to become the information management companies like Google that will have to make a convincing case that the data is safe with them, because if they can’t make it safe their business will collapse. I don’t know if PSU is headed down this road, but it seems like an inevitable part of Web 2.0. Interestingly, the other implication of this is that IT bosses will disappear as their functions are increasingly done by information management firms. The Marc Benioff of Salesforce.com implies in the article that this may be one reason universities are moving so slowly to this notion of email and application management offsite — the IT bosses are simply protecting their own jobs.

Google Docs

•January 11, 2007 • 1 Comment

Last semester I used Google Docs as a key tool in my class.  It was a course on learning theory as applied in Science Education.  I had them create a Wikipedia type of glossary of terms that they were responsible for keeping accurate.  One of the things I like most about Google Docs was what I could use it for in small groups.  I had student in groups and asked them to do their work in Google Docs.  They spread out around the building, wherever they felt they could work best.  I asked them to each include me as a collaborator on their document.  I sat in front of my laptop and could watch as groups developed their ideas by click between documents.  I could give on-the-fly feedback right into their document.  I could call them back to the classroom by typing a quick note in their document.  And when they came back to class I could share out their work my just clicking between documents that were already on my machine (or at least displayed there), without any “collecting”.  It seems a trivial thing that I actually stumbled onto by accident, but I think it points to the incredible power of the unexpected opportunities provided by ubiquitous computing in a networked environment.

iPhone

•January 11, 2007 • Leave a Comment

How can you not comment on this one. The must have device of 2007. It made me think of this quote:

Invention is the mother of necessity.
– Thorstein Veblen

I think that just says it all.