Test-Taking Enhances Learning

Test-taking enhances learning.

I didn't say it. It comes from a recent  Alertbox post from Jakob Nielsen. He is a big name in the web usability world, and not an educator. But I thought his ideas were interesting  and I wonder if we might see similarities with our own students - particularly those learning either fully or partially online for courses.

One of his ideas is that people remember much more after reading if they are asked to retrieve information about the text from memory using a test. Nielsen cautions that he has long thought that the Web may be "unsuited for real learning" mostly because of the superficial way that users "surf" (the "scan" of the digital age) information instead of close reading.

His own usability studies on teens leads him to conclude that "When using websites, teenagers have a lower success rate than adults and they're also easily bored. To work for teens, websites must be simple -- but not childish -- and supply plenty of interactive features."

College students don't rate much better because they are "multitaskers who move through websites rapidly, often missing the item they come to find. They're enraptured by social media but reserve it for private conversations and thus visit company sites from search engines."

Again, Nielsen is looking most of the time at non-educational (commercial) uses of the Web.

Most of his post is about "writing-for-the-Web" guidelines, and it would seem that the thrust is at "making it simple." (Examples: "Craft the first 2 words of headlines and other microcontent for the scanning eye; Use numerals instead of words; Use bulleted lists") That's probably not an approach that appeals to educators.

Nielsen recognizes that, and sees the overlap here of educational sites where users need to learn something beyond the highlights, and commercial sites that need to "educate" users. (For example, a pharmaceutical site for patients about a drug.)

He cites a recent research study by Karpicke and Blunt from Purdue University published in the January Science that measured the amount of information people could remember a week after reading a scientific text. The students who took an "elaborate" test after reading the text remembered 145% more content after a week compared to the untested students who simply read the text.

I found it interesting that people who simply read the text 4 times also remembered more (64%) a week later.

Nielsen is concerned with the implications for web designers and I think this is probably an area that must also concern instructional designers working on web content for courses.

Is quizzing and testing (high and low stakes) the way to get better retention?

Unfortunately, for commercial web designers, they can't usually "require" users to take tests. But teachers often can and do require objective and subjective tests.

Perhaps, Nielsen's final thought is more important to our course design thinking - "get users to exercise their memory after reading your content, and then offer them a chance to revisit the material after they've seen how little they remember."

A Really Open University Revolution

fistMaybe there are some signs of revolution in Britain that might be an indicator for us in North America. Tony Bates wrote a piece last November about what is happening in Britain with university education.

It falls under their economic austerity program. The British Conservative-Liberal-Democrat coalition government is making massive cuts across the whole public sector and higher education was not spared.

So, now people are talking about "reimagining the university" via the the Really Open University. They held a three-day event dedicated to exploring and demonstrating an alternative educational system.

They are asking some of the same questions I have asked here in my School 2.0 posts.
How can we transform the universities?
How can students and instructors learn differently through more creative, critical and empowering processes?
How can higher education institutions benefit their local communities?
How do we secure free education for all? Is it even possible to transform the universities?


Strike // Occupy // Transform!

Part of the issue of concern in the UK is the process of privatization that make universities run as businesses. Students become consumers and instructors become the creators of products. Knowledge is a commodity to be bought and sold.

Students are taking on more debt for basically the same education. As the university system goes bankrupt, there will be an increasing need for profound change.

What is the alternative, or solution, or the way out? The Really Open University is looking to explore how universities can become a place where creative and critical thought is fostered, where participants teach what inspires them, learn what they are passionate about, where people share and develop their skills and knowledge in order to create a more equitable and sustainable world, not simply for jobs and profit.

Is this ROU for real?

The Really Open University is an ongoing process of transformation by those with a desire to challenge the higher education system and its role in society.

Instigated by students and staff of higher education institutions in the city of Leeds (UK), the ROU is non-hierarchical and open to anyone who wishes to see an end to the commodifcation of knowledge and the creation of a free and empowering education system where creative and
critical thought is fostered.

The UK economic policy will find some appeal with our own Tea Party and those who want to see teacher salaries, tenure, charter schools and tuition fees a public issue. How will U.S. universities react?

Library of Congress 2011 Summer Teacher Institutes

It's getting late - applications are due February 4 - but The Library of Congress is still accepting applications for its 2011 Summer Teacher Institutes in Washington, D.C. The five-day institutes will provide educators with the tools and resources to effectively integrate primary sources into classroom teaching.

In the institutes, Library of Congress education specialists will instruct participants in the best practices for using primary sources in the K-12 classroom, while helping them explore some of the millions of digitized primary sources available on the Library’s Web site. All sessions will expose participants to a wide variety of primary sources from the Library’s collections. Session 4, July 11-15, 2011, will focus specifically on the use of Civil War primary sources. Participants will be able to work with teachers from around the country to explore methods for effectively integrating primary sources into classroom activities.

After participating in the Summer Teacher Institutes, participants will:
- Know how to access primary sources from the Library of Congress.
- Become skilled at analyzing primary sources of different formats.
- Learn various teaching strategies for using primary sources in the classroom.
- Be able to successfully facilitate a primary source-based activity with students.
- Gain knowledge of how to use primary sources to enable students to be engaged, think critically and construct knowledge.
- Develop a Primary Source Project Plan that will be implemented in the participant’s instructional setting.

As follow up to the Summer Teacher Institutes, participants will:
Continue work on their Primary Source Project and share their results with Library staff.
Implement a Primary Source Project Plan in the participant’s instructional setting.
* Have the option of obtaining 3 graduate credits (for a fee) from George Mason University for completing all Summer Teacher Institute requirements.

Sessions will take place on the following dates:
Session 1 - May 23-27, 2011
Session 2 - June 6-10, 2011
Session 3 - June 13-17, 2011
Session 4 - July 11-15, 2011 (Civil War Focus)
Session 5 - July 18-22, 2011
Session 6 - August 1-5, 2011
Session 7 - August 8-12, 2011


A Few Comments On Co-ment


Co-ment is a Web service for submitting texts to allow comments and annotations. You can upload or create texts on-line, invite designated users to comment on them, and if relevant, accordingly revise the text. Collaborative writing using this type of format enables better revision processes.

The key features of co-ment are:
- interface to create, navigate and process marginal annotations
- simple workspace where you can manage user rights and versions of texts
- can be used for producing texts together, in particular when a few drafters seek feedback from a larger group of commentators
- annotating existing texts, for instance as part of educational, scholarly or legal analysis processes

I had been using the earlier version at http://www.co-ment.com for classes and I have not switched over to the new service. co-ment has gained some traction for text-centered applications in education and in humanities research and in the legislative and legal domains.

There are actually 3 versions:

  1. For an immediate work on a single text (without quantitative limitations) through the https://lite.co-ment.com free-of-charge service

  2. With a specific workspace where texts and users can be managed in a perennial manner, through the co-ment PRO service at http://www.co-ment.com

  3. By installing your own co-ment server thanks to the COMT free software (AGPLv3), available from the community site at http://www.co-ment.org

Thanks to an open API, co-ment functionality can now be integrated into a CMS such as the Drupal client for making the annotation functionality of co-ment directly and transparently available.

Three More Open Everything Projects

Here are three open education resource projects worth exploring. I categorize these here under my larger umbrella of "open everything" because many people think only of open source software when they hear the word "open" attached to (educational) resources. Open textbooks and other resources make the category much wider and it is also getting deeper every day.

OCW Scholar courses from MIT are designed for independent learners who have few additional resources available to them. The courses are substantially more complete than typical OCW courses and include new custom-created content as well as materials repurposed from MIT classrooms. The materials are are also arranged in logical sequences and include multimedia such as video and simulations.

SmartHistory Kickstarter is a campaign to create 100 new art history videos. See the blog post by Philipp Schmidt, Director and co-founder of the Peer 2 Peer University and watch the SmartHistory video there.

Smarthistory.org is a Webby-award winning, free and open educational resource for the study of art history. Smarthistory was created by two art historians, Beth Harris and Steven Zucker, each with twenty years of teaching experience, who saw an opportunity to use conversation and the web to make art history accessible to their students. The Smarthistory website currently covers more than 300 works of art and is fast becoming a viable alternative to the commercial textbook.

Commonwealth of Learning President and Chief Executive Officer Sir John Daniel says that the World Library of Science announced on January 14 is "the most important event of the year for the future of education globally – and certainly the most important initiative to date in the Open Educational Resources (OER) movement.  It is a partnership between UNESCO and the Nature Publishing Group.  See http://www.col.org/blog/Lists/Posts/Post.aspx?ID=107

The Social Side of the Internet

There is a brand new Pew Internet Research survey out called The Social Side of the Internet which is all about the impact of the internet on GROUP-FORMING. I'm just starting to dig into the data about Internet users joining groups - which includes "associations".

The internet is now deeply embedded in group and organizational life in America. A new national survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project has found that 75% of all American adults are active in some kind of voluntary group or organization and internet users are more likely than others to be active: 80% of internet users participate in groups, compared with 56% of non-internet users. And social media users are even more likely to be active: 82% of social network users and 85% of Twitter users are group participants.
Group engagement - which certainly should be of interest to educators - is impacted by social media and internet use in general.

...social network site users and Twitter users are much more likely than online group members who do not use these tools to say that the internet has a major impact on almost all aspects of their group engagement.  This relationship is confirmed in regression analyses when other important factors such as age, education, income, personal efficacy, religiosity, and trust are controlled.In fact, among all of these key predictors of online behavior and group involvement, being a daily internet user, being a social network site user, and being a Twitter user are among the most powerful predictors of whether people perceive the internet as having a major impact on their ability to find groups that match their interests, bring others into their groups, keep up with the groups they belong to, organize group activities, contribute money or volunteer their time, and even create their own groups.  Moreover, among active group participants who are online, social network site use, Twitter use, and daily internet use are more powerful predictors of discovering new groups online, participating in “a lot more groups,” and spending more time participating in groups than other factors such as age, income, education, and efficacy.

Groups and their members are using social networking sites. Facebook was used by 62% of those surveyed. Twitter only had 12%. Blogs, and texting was used by 74% of the cell phone owners in the survey.

48% of those who are active in groups say that those groups have a page on a social networking site like Facebook
42% of those who are active in groups say those groups use text messaging
30% of those who are active in groups say those groups have their own blog
16% of those who are active in groups say the groups communicate with members through Twitter

Social network and Twitter users are also more active in some parts of group activity. For example, they post about group activities on their Facebook pages and Tweets. They are more likely than others to invite new people into a group. They are more likely than others to be targeted for invitation to groups, and use the internet to discover new groups.

This report is based on a survey of adults and does not focus on a student population. If we can see any transfer of these results to the use of social sites for a course, then we should also find that students feel enabled to participate in more groups and more likely to say they spend more time on group activities. Logically, social media users are significantly more likely than other group participants to go online for group activities. Can we say anything similar for students who take online courses?

Internet users are more active participants in their groups than other adults, and are more likely to feel pride and a sense of accomplishment. The survey asked group members whether they had done several core activities with their group in the past 30 days and internet users were significantly more likely to have done all of these activities.

Perhaps, the takeaway for educators is more about thinking of social media as a way to engage students rather than a distraction or a way that students become dis-engaged from their coursework.

The engagement measured in the report (see below) is Real World engagement. That's something that students often report appreciating in a course, but often find lacking.

chart 2