Txting 20 yrs old 2day!
(See weekend Globe and Mail…)
My undergraduate degree–completed almost twenty years ago now (sigh…)–was in Film and Communications at McGill. To be honest, “Film and Communications” was actually an “area of study” under the umbrella of the English Department. So, instead of reading and writing essays on, say, “Restoration & 18th Century Literature” or “Literary Theory for Post-Modernists” (I made that up; I have no idea of that could be a course), I studied everything from the history of communications (yay-Gutenberg!) to the history of film (Battleship Potemkin, anyone?) Understandably, Mr. McLuhan‘s name surfaced from time to time–along with his famous statement: “The medium is the message.”
I’ve always thought I pretty much understood “[t]he medium is the message”. Which was why it came to mind last week when I received critical feedback from colleagues on my evaluating websites learning tool. Many of the comments had to do with the “video” tutorial I created (as opposed to the “website”):
- video was long: could be a struggle to hold young users’ attention
- images/screenshots on video hard to see/too small
- font choices/colour scheme on video, washed out/hard to see
- too much information on “slides”; overwhelming
My colleagues were certainly justified: these were all areas in which I had concerns as well. And when I started thinking about it, these issues were generally the result of trying to move content from one medium into another. For example, the length of the video was driven by the amount information presented on the website. This was done because the video tutorial was a stand-alone; it wasn’t there to support the website, it was there as an alternative way to access the information presented on the website. Therefore, it ended up being about 10 minutes long. Additionally, something like colour issues with fonts illustrates the fact that what may look good on the website, doesn’t necessarily translate in the video version. In trying to match colours and styles as closely as possible–to create a sense of continuity between the two–I didn’t consider how each presents individually.
Another example that was mentioned, was that by bolding the text in certain areas, which I did to highlight important information (a standard feature of print non-fiction), I confused my colleague as she thought the bold illustrated a hyperlink. She’s right of course: bolded text in an online environment has come to signify a link. So again, we have to be aware that the features and norms of one medium may not signify the same things in another. (Of course, some of the issues such as screen shots which were too small, or over crowded slides were based on inexperience or bad judgement…oops.)
So my colleagues comments really drove home the fact that you simply can’t move information from one medium into another without considering how the information is formatted, how it’s being accessed, and the user’s expectations or needs, i.e. short attention spans!
Anyway, all of this got me thinking that I should maybe reread some McLuhan–maybe his work might offer some new/different insight into what we’ve been looking at this term. After all, McLuhan spoke a lot about the technology, and information, and the impact on society, so it seemed quite apropos.
Admittedly, I find reading McLuhan pretty dense, but I think I’ve now realized that I really didn’t have a good grasp on “[t]he medium is the message”…However, I think what I (now) understand is actually a lot more significant in terms of its impact on distance learning. As I now understand it (or at least think I do!), is that the impact of the way in which we, as in a society, change and react to a medium, is actually “the message”. McLuhan explains “…it is the medium that shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action” (McLuhan, p. 9). So, it’s not the individual message transmitted via the technology (like how to evaluate websites, answering a reference questions via Twitter, or participating in a museum tour in Second Life) but how we as a society have changed our patterns and relationships based on the fact that we can do these things.
But now that I’ve gone this far with my thinking I get kinda stuck. It’s kinda like there’s too much “stuff” for me to pull together at this point, to make connections between, so that I can make some kind of clear and coherent comment…this is prime time for a discussion with colleagues.
So, I guess I’m not quite sure what the message is when it comes to distance learning–whether it be for students, librarians or teachers. And that may be in part because we simply don’t know yet: the part it has to play, its impact, on our society has yet to completely unfold. Maybe it has something to do with an evolution of education, of new literacies, or new languages, of the way in which our brains actually process information.
I really can’t say.
But I’ll certainly stayed tuned in to see what happens…
Cheers for now!
McLuhan, M. (1994). Understanding media: The extensions of man. L. H. Lapham (Ed.). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Rainy start to December…sigh. The wet, muddy season starts again; looks like it’ll be this way for (more-or-less) the week. Ugh.
Out with Jersey this morning for a (wet) walk; even the crows were quiet and soggy.
Hard to believe 3 months have gone by…at the same time, given that I’m looking out on a snow covered yard, and sitting in front of a lit fireplace, warm sunny September seems very far away. And actually the fact that I’m AM sitting at home on my couch, in front of said fireplace, typing up this week’s response seems apropos: distance learning at it’s finest! (While I’d love to add a glass of wine to my perfect scenario as well, it’s still a bit early in the day…)
So this week’s focus is on blended or hybrid learning. So, to get started I read a couple of articles from the “EDUCAUSE” website, as well as listened to (my first) podcast.
I thought the podcast on online learning would be a good place to start. After all, I had just mentioned in a previous post “Mobile Me…in 5 years” that I had never listened to one, so I thought: “Here’s a prime distance learning opportunity!” The podcast was given by 3 directors of online learning from colleges/universities in the US.
What I found most interesting were the comments on teaching (I guess no surprise there…) and its role in online learning. That “good teaching is good teaching”, regardless of presentation format and that it is key to student retention and engagement. Really? What was the first clue? Sorry for the sarcasm. I have to be honest here, I have for the last year vented–to those who would listen (apologies if you were one of the kind souls)–about the fact that as an elementary or secondary school teacher, we have had explicit instruction on how to teach. Depending on the school, that equals 1-2 years of post-graduate level instruction on teaching philosophy, pedagogy, differentiate instruction, and the like. But post-secondary “teachers” need not have any “teaching” lessons at all. It really irks me that when education is free (K-12; of course, I realize that some pay for private school, but that’s usually by choice), teachers have to be certified. But when education gets costly (i.e. post-secondary), “teachers” need only be experts in their field of study: this does not always translate into “good teaching”. So, I felt somewhat validated when one of the online learning presenters, Ann Taylor, the Director of the John A. Dutton e-Education Institute at Penn State University, made similar comments. She went on to acknowledge that faculty development is particularly crucial to ensuring quality online courses. To that end, Penn State has created a “Managing Your Online Course” tool for professors which includes milestones/timelines as well as best practices and expectations. There is also the opportunity for peer review of online teaching as well.
Moving onto the readings…The first article I read was “Seven Things You Should Know About Flipped Classrooms“. I first heard about the “flipped classroom” this past summer from my brother-in-law. He and his family live in the Bay Area (near San Francisco) where there has been some experimenting with flipped classrooms–even for elementary students. Having never heard this term, he explained to me that this type of teaching had the “lessons” being “taught” at home, and the “homework” done at school. Now, I don’t remember how he described how the lessons were taught (video, podcasts, etc) but I do remember being confused about how it would work…
Having now read the article, I have to say my brother-in-law actually described it pretty well: basically, “…the lecture and homework elements of a course are reversed” (Educause, p. 1). As it’s further described, the “lessons” (most often in video lecture format) are viewed by students at home (or wherever their mobile device and access takes them!) so that class time is devoted to cooperative activities, or projects, or discussions.
Philosophically and pedagogically, I think this sounds like a great way to learn. Well, at least for me. I like the idea of being able to access the information first, think on it, and then come to class with the opportunity to discuss or apply it. For those of us who take some time to process and mull over information, it would allow time for questions to percolate, which we could then share (or ask for clarification) in class. In a F2F lecture, I’m so busy just listening, I’m often not able to contemplate or make connections to the information I’m hearing until later…and that’s when I realize that I either don’t understand something or come up with a question. Of course, I can always go see or email the prof, but sometimes what you don’t know doesn’t become clear until you’re talking about it with others or trying to apply it to a problem. So, for me, this idea of in-class time being “homework” time, sounds perfect.
However, I would suggest (and this was mentioned in the article), that this type of format puts the responsibility for learning squarely on the shoulders of the student: it is essential, that you come to class prepared in order that you are able to get the most of the session AND offer the most to your colleagues/classmates. I’d also have concerns about accessibility. Do all students have access to the lessons? Particularly since they’re in video format, do students have the bandwidth at home? That being said, seeing as these courses do include a F2F component, I guess we could assume students are on campus at some point, so perhaps they could access the lessons from a computer lab…? Although, assuming is never the right thing to do.
What I’m still curious about is how this works outside of post-secondary, or even secondary? How does it apply in the K-8 world? That’s something I still want to explore…
And actually, that works as a segue to article #2…Well, chapter 16 from the book Game Changers: Education and Information Technology: “The Postmodality Era: How ‘Online Learning’ is Becoming ‘Learning‘”. Essentially, the focus here (as I was able to understand) was the fact that the format of course presentation is less important to students than a) getting the courses they want/need and b) flexibility (having courses fit into lifestyle schedules).
Most of the information was of a post-secondary perspective, but skipping to the end of the chapter, there was a bit on the “K-12 Perspective”. Here I read something that made me give pause–or perhaps a gasp of sorts, would be more accurate. Of course we know that high school students can take courses online or in some form of blended learning format and that kids are taking these types of courses now more than ever. Furthermore, in some states (Michigan, Alabama, and Florida for example) now require students “…to take at least one online course in order to graduate” (Hartman, p. 225). And I have no particular issue with that: it’s good practice for both time management and post-secondary courses. In fact, Florida has “…mandated that each of its sixty-seven K-12 school districts provide virtual-learning options to students” (Hartman, p. 226). Here I thought to myself, but we’re really still talking about high-school…right? But then, the next sentence was a doozy (well, to me it was!): “…it is now possible for a student in Florida to complete his or her entire kindergarten-through-high-school experience completely online…”(Hartman, p. 226).
What and why do you need to learn online in kindergarten–or any of the primary years, for that matter? I’m not saying that there aren’t valuable learning opportunities to be had using technology, for young learners. But I also believe in the importance of social and peer interaction, along with cooperative, hands-on learning; comments like this, even if only in theory, concern me. I bet the play-based learning people must be having a field-day with that one…
Cavanagh, T. B. (2012). The postmodality era: How “online learning” is becoming “learning”. In Game Changers. Retrieved from http://www.educause.edu/library/resources/chapter-16-postmodality-era-how-“online-learning”-becoming-“learning”
Educause. (2012, February 7). Seven things you should know about flipped classrooms. Retrieved from http://www.educause.edu/library/resources/7-things-you-should-know-about-flipped-classrooms
Hartman, K., Wyatt, R., & Taylor, A. (2012, October 23). ERO podcast conversation: Online education. Educause. Podcast retrieved from http://www.educause.edu/blogs/gbayne/ero-podcast-conversation-online-education
Thanks to today’s “Google Doodle”, I was reminded that today would have been Mr. Dressup’s 85th birthday. If you are a Canadian of a certain age, Ernie Coombs’ beloved character–along with friends Casey and Finnegan–was an essential part of your childhood. I found this tribute to him on YouTube…
Was out for a walk on the trail with The Jerse the other day; it was truly November: grey, cold, with a promise of snow to come…
A bit of blue sky and a skiff of snow…