Mobile Reading Comprehension

Mobile Content Is Twice as Difficult, is the headline from Jakob Nielsen
"When reading from an iPhone-sized screen, comprehension scores for complex Web content were 48% of desktop monitor scores.User comprehension scores on the Cloze test were 48% of the desktop level when using the iPhone-sized screen. That is, it's roughly twice as hard to understand complicated content when reading on the smaller screen.
Why? In this case, people were reading only a single page of information, and they were shown that page as part of the study without having to find it. Thus, navigation difficulties or other user interface issues cannot explain the increased difficulty. Also, users were tested in a lab, so there were no issues related to walking around with the phone or being disturbed by noises or other environmental events. (In the real world, such distractions and degradations of the user experience further reduce people's ability to understand mobile phone content during true mobile use.)
more at http://www.useit.com/alertbox/mobile-content-comprehension.html

And Then It's Gone

We love free stuff. We love free online services and tools. Educators particularly like them because they often don't have a budget for anything else. No money to buy a photo editing program or online photo storage account? Just use Google's Picasa, Flickr or any number of free services. There are better commercial products but...

sunsetNeed a place to store and share files with others? Google Docs or Dropbox will work. Want to share your presentations and have a way to embed them on other sites? Try Slideshare.

The problem comes when we rely on these services and they suddenly go away.

In August, Google announced that Wave would no longer be developed as a standalone product, but that the Wave technology would survive in other products. I wasn't a big fan or user of Wave, but I know people who were using it in courses for collaborative space. What happens when you build curriculum around a tool or service and it disappears?

The Yahoo product team announced plans to “sunset” (shut down) eight products and consolidate others. Products on a list include MyBlogLog, Yahoo! Picks, AltaVista, Yahoo! Bookmarks, Yahoo! Buzz and Delicious.

Delicious was the first and most prominent social bookmarking tool. I used it in my courses as a way to share links in an organized and dynamic fashion. It was a signature Web 2.0 tool.

It makes sense that Google has just rolled out a tool for importing your Delicious bookmarks to Google Bookmarks. It's easy and it imports all your bookmarks, preserving labels or tags. It also moves you into their Bookmarks which launched in 2005 but never really got much use. Yahoo plans to sell Delicious, but the Google tool probably knocks any asking price down.

A colleague had sent me news that Adobe is dropping their 'Rome' project. What happens to all your "user-generated content" now?  Here is what the company told him:

Dear Project ROME user,
As part of the recent announcement by Adobe to stop development on Project ROME, we will be shutting down the ROME Websites service and removing all user-generated web content that is hosted by Adobe under the project-rome.com domain on January 20th, 2011. You have thirty (30) days to move your website to another hosting provider.


Sounds like a pain, but at least you can reboot somewhere else, right? Depending on your tech skills and patience, how easy do these steps sound to you?

To publish your website on another web server, please take the following steps:   1. If you are using the AIR version of Project ROME, please make sure you have updated to the latest release. (If you are using the web version, you are always on the latest release.)  2. Open up the .anh file of your website and export it through Output>ROME Website. This output channel has been updated to create a set of files on your hard disk (index.html with embedded .swf and referenced media files) that make up the entire website.   3. Upload the set of files (e.g. via FTP) to the root folder of your web server.    Regards,  The Project ROME Team

I have had two blogs on services that bit the dust and I couldn't pull the content off in a format that could be easily rebuilt on another service. Microsoft recently switched users of their Spaces blog type tool to Word Press.

So many of the big players like Google, Microsoft and Adobe don't seem to be able to pull off Web 2.0 services. Plus, they bail out after 6 months or a year when the service fails to make any money through ads or by selling a "premium" version.

With FREE, you often get what you pay for, and can always get a full refund on your purchase price. When you use a free service and invest many hours into using it and create content that matters to you, it hurts a lot more to see the service ride off into the sunset.


A Shared Culture

I often write here about "open everything" and the openness that is leading to a shared culture.

Below is a video that was made as part of a campaign for Creative Commons that is a good introduction to the ideas behind this concept. I like to use it in presentations to get the concept out there and start conversations.

The filmmaker is Jesse Dylan who also did the Emmy Award-winning “Yes We Can” Barack Obama campaign video collaboration with rapper will.i.am.

It introduces the Creative Commons mission by giving us some of the "thinkers" behind Creative Commons.

Copyleft and the idea of trying to “save the world from failed sharing” through free tools that enable creators to easily make their work available to the public (rather than copyrighting it to prevent sharing) for legal sharing and remix.

In the video, the photos shown are ones offered to the public for use under CC licenses, and the instrumental pieces by Nine Inch Nails used as the video’s soundtrack music are similarly CC-licensed.  (See attribution details)



What happens in schools when life has become an open-book test?

This is just a pointer to a piece by Peter Pappas from his Copy/Paste blog. I suppose I could have just tweeted the link, but I'm not sure that is enough.

I came across it while searching for some totally unrelated open source materials. The title question caught my attention.

Here is a teaser to hopefully make you want to read more:

What happens in schools when life has become an open-book test?

The legacy mass media aren't the only ones struggling to adjust to the transformation of information. Today, students feel in charge of information - their landscape is explored with an expectation of choice, functionality and control that redefines our traditional notions of learning and literacy. Unlike newspapers, schools aren't quite yet an endangered species - at least until someone figures who will watch the kids all day. But schools run a greater risk of becoming irrelevant to students.

It's time to redefine to the information flow in schools. Educators must realize that they cannot simply dispense information to students. They will lose the battle of competition for student attention span. Instead they must teach students how to effectively use the information that fills their lives - how to better access it, critically evaluate it, store it, analyze and share it.

Students are adrift in a sea of text without context...





Defining a Third Dimension in Online Learning

Three friends have forwarded me the link to a NY Times article "Online Courses, Still Lacking That Third Dimension." It was written by Randall Stross, "an author based in Silicon Valley and a professor of business at San Jose State University."

He kicks it off with a sentence that must have caught their attention: "When colleges and universities finally decide to make full use of the Internet, most professors will lose their jobs."

He is talking about online courses, but you need to look at his definitions.

He says that he "began teaching classes online 10 years ago" but then defines his online teaching as being hybrid - "part software, part hovering human."

Then what is an "online" course? For him, a "genuine online course would be nothing but the software and would handle all the grading, too. No living, breathing instructor would be needed for oversight."

Does anyone have those courses at their college? Is that how you would define a genuine online course?

I don't think that the examples given - from the Gates Foundation vision, to the Open Learning Initiative, back to Plato software in 1960 - would really be attempts to get to courses without instructors. Even the "computer-aided instruction" and CBT that was once a big topic, seems to have pretty much disappeared from discussions.

There are online offerings of course materials without instructors. Academic Earth and Open Courseware sites from MIT and other universities offer videos, syllabi, assignments and presentations, but I have never heard them presented as an online course.

In fact, whenever I talk to faculty about using such sites, it's as a resource for themselves to see what is being done in their discipline elsewhere.

"And why would professors give up their "intellectual property" online?" is something other less-open professors will always ask me? Besides the openness concept, I think it's partially because they know that having the materials is not having the course experience with the original teacher. A student using MIT's OCW is not getting an MIT education.

Stross mentions the book Unlocking the Gates: How and Why Leading Universities Are Opening Up Access to Their Courses by Taylor Walsh which I have added to my to-read list. The book looks at the OCW efforts by MIT, Columbia, Harvard, Yale, the University of California, Berkeley, and others. What piqued my interest was the comment that "course credit can be earned at other institutions" if instructors send their students to these OCW sites. I was not aware that students could pay registration fees ($15-60) to Carnegie Mellon and the university would send "data about each student’s progress" to the instructor at the student’s home institution.

That third dimension of teacher and student interaction may not be the biggest change that this online content will drive. When courses are offered without credit or degrees, I think we are moving towards School 2.0. That school (high school through graduate) is one that exists in a world that does not value a degree as much as before.

As businesses begin to prefer new employees with good learning skills who can be easily taught what they need to know on the job, I think the degree will lose favor. Certifications and credits will still have value because we will need to validate the student's work, but the degree itself will lose its value.

The dimension of engagement with the instructor and with other students in the class will still be valuable in this School 2.0. It certainly is valuable in online courses. It is frequently the missing element in those courses and a reason why students feel disconnected and we see high dropout rates online.

I have been designing, teaching and taking courses online since 2000. I teach in a graduate degree program that is earned entirely online. But there is a teacher and a high level of interaction in all the courses. If all it took to educate someone was to deliver content, we would have never developed the schools we have. If all it took to put a course online was to deliver the content online, the concept of online learning would have disappeared years ago.

Are there face-to-face courses that lack that third dimension? Yes. Are there online courses that lack that third dimension? Yes. Are there differences between the two? Yes.

Can social networking boost college completion?

The edtech company Inigral has a product called Schools App. It is built upon the Facebook platform and aims to connect students and so increase their integration and involvement in campus life.

Can social networking boost college completion? Would that kind of connection increase the likelihood they will graduate or even graduate "on time"?

Well, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation seems to think it is possible. Inigral has received $2 million in funding from them. And, significantly, this is the first direct equity investment by the Gates Foundation in a for-profit company as part of its charitable mission.

The money will be used to develop and market Schools App. The app is already being used by 11 schools (Arizona State University is one) to connect with students who share their interests and to receive and share academic and social information about the academic and social environment at their school.

Inigral is a for-profit, so there is a cost. According to readwriteweb.com the pricing (based on the number of students) typically runs between $10-50,000 per year.

Being involved in an initiative myself where we hope to show increased retention and a positive effect on the graduation rate, I know that we need much more research on this. Showing a link between social media connectiveness and retention and graduation is difficult. ("connectiveness is not in my online dictionary - "Did you mean: connectedness?" it asks.)

And, do students want their academic and personal social lives to merge?

My own college has a low graduation rate that has been stagnant for the past 10 years, and that is not very different from most colleges. Even an increase of 1% would be significant, but with all the factors that affect that rate, it may be impossible to control for one factor, like social media use.

Read/Listen to an NPR piece on this topic.