How On-Demand Culture Affects Learning

tv viewerI wrote recently on another site about "cord-cutting" and about the rise of the group I call "The Disconnected" My Millennial son has cut the cord to his cable provider. He did it not only to save money, but because he simply doesn't have time to watch everything that is out there. Like many people, he mostly watches things on demand, either via a DVR or sites that allow on-demand viewing. He hasn't cut all his viewing bills to $0. He purchased Sling services which currently starts at $20 a month and offers streaming options. He still has his Netflix streaming account and can get movies and shows using his Amazon Prime account. He thinks I am a dinosaur for still getting Netflix DVDs in the mail. Netflix probably feels the same way and I am sure mailing DVDs will disappear entirely in the near future. I'm getting all kinds of offers (see bottom of post) to alternatives to my cable subscription.

I picked up a book in the library recently called On-Demand Culture that focuses on how this is changing the movie industry. Media is not my focus on this site, but it is a good example of on-demand culture.

It is not just about people watching films at home, but how the movie industry is changing because of digital technologies. Most people don't think about that film distributors now send films to theaters electronically. But consumers not only purchase or rent movies instantly online, but they are streaming them to high-definition televisions, their laptops and often to small mobile devices. When TV made its entrance bigtime in the 1950s, the movies reacted by going big with wide screens and color that TV couldn't compete with in quality. TV has caught up in many ways with that quality issue. (You can download parts of that book at https://muse.jhu.edu/book/24204)

Amazon is offering me an Amazon Channels Free Trial and suggests using Prime to watch thousands of movies and TV shows on demand. They even asked me to try an HBO Free Trial, which I would think is almost their competition these days.

With all these deals, why wouldn't everyone cut the cord? One reason people hang on is because many of these other services don't offer your local channels and some "basic" cable channels like CNN or sports channels.

modern HDTV antenna

A friend of mine was in that situation and started to investigate the HDTV antennas that are available. This seems like a throwback to the 1950s and 60s when every home had an antenna on the roof or a "rabbit ears" antenna on top of the TV.

The current generation of antennas allow you to pull in HDTV network programming for free - just like in the old days - with no monthly fee or subscription. It sounds ideal, but you are not going to get all that cable content, though you should get your local CBS, NBC and ABC affiliates and some other channels.

Adjusting your TV antenna 60 years ago had become a kind of art. You learned which way to turn it for channel 2 as opposed to how to get channel 7. People hooked up additional wires, tin foil and other things to them to increase the pickup. The new 360º multi-directional designs eliminate constant adjustments and they support up to 1080i HDTV broadcasts. But they have limits.

Many products say they can pull channels from towers that are within 40 miles of your TV. I live well within that range of New York City, so I probably could get all the local channels. Most of these products also have disclaimers that reception quality and channels received will depend on not only your distance from towers, but broadcast power, terrain and other factors like buildings and power lines. 

modern, old-style, outdoor antenna

I found that you can still buy rooftop TV antennas that look a lot like the ones from 50 years ago, though they are much more sophisticated and include amplifiers and other devices.

All of this media movement is part of the "on-demand" movement that started with VCRs that allowed us to "time shift" our viewing habits and terrified the TV industry. We still have some live event TV that is rarely watched at a later date. The upcoming Oscars and certainly the Super Bowl are perfect examples of "event TV" that is viewed live and that advertisers and channels love because they can easily measure the audience share.

I still like to go to a movie theater, but I go far less than I did in the past. Going to a theater has also become a kind of event. I go to films that I don't want to wait to see in a few weeks or month when they make it to my TV.

An “on-demand culture,” is shifting not only our viewing habits but many of our other expectations. When do people want to shop, or fill in an application? Any time at all is the answer. On demand. Even education, which has been my life's work, has gone on-demand with online content and online courses that allow student to time shift their education and pick and choose what content they want to view and when they want to view it. Most college professors have had to become proficient at creating digital content even if they still teach face-to-face in a classroom. Am I ready to cut the cord?  I'm watching the examples of my friend and my son. Maybe this dinosaur sees an asteroid headed his way.


 
 

Learning Theories Into the Wild

Bloom visualized

I have been thinking about how some learning theories have gone "into the wild" in the way that some plants and animals have. People sometimes release pets, fish, birds or plants into the wild. Most of those will not survive, but some that do end up thriving to the point that they become an invasive species that harms the environment. 

Benjamin Bloom, an American educational psychologist, along with collaborators published a framework for categorizing educational goals back in 1956. That "Taxonomy of Educational Objectives" has become known simply as Bloom’s Taxonomy.

It has been taught to many students in education programs. I learned it in my undergraduate education courses. I had workshops about using it in professional development when I was a secondary school teacher. I taught workshops using it when I was doing professional development for college faculty. 

Some educators might groan at the mention of Bloom's Taxonomy because they have heard it so many times. But this framework by Bloom and his collaborators has stuck. It originally consisted of six major categories: Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation.

The categories after Knowledge were presented as “skills and abilities,” with the understanding that knowledge was the necessary precondition for putting these skills and abilities into practice. Each category also contained subcategories set up from simple to complex and concrete to abstract.

But what has stuck as Bloom's framework and gone out into the wild are those six main categories.

Do an image search on "Bloom's Taxonomy" and you will get a wide variety of visualizations of the framework as a pyramid, stairs, wheels, pie slices. (see illustration above).

Since 1956, the six major categories were changed from noun to verb forms. Benjamin Bloom died in 1999, but new versions and interpretations have continued to be developed. I have seen technology-based versions. One version released in 2001 renamed the "knowledge" level as "remembering," comprehension was retitled understanding, and synthesis was renamed as creating. The top two levels of Bloom’s changed position in the revised version. 

One sign that a theory has gone into the wild is that other people start creating variations and visualizations. Imitation may not be the most sincere form of flattery, but it is an indicator that a theory is being accepted and considered in the public. Like any species, once something goes into the wild, it begins to change. It adapts to new settings and gets further away from the original.

DOK
A few years ago, I was working on designing online training for teachers. One of the concepts we were going to cover was Norman Webb's "Depth of Knowledge" (DOK). It is a theory of cognitive rigor. That is a combined model developed by superimposing two existing models for describing rigor. The model is widely accepted in the education system in the United States. Cognitive Rigor is the superposition of Bloom's Taxonomy and Webb's Depth-of-Knowledge levels and the two are often compared. They are used to categorize the level of abstraction of questions and activities in education.

I had found a number of visualizations of Norman Webb's "Depth of Knowledge" online, but I wasn't sure which one was the "official" version and could we use it in our training. Most of them were a wheel design, but others were charts and a few had a steps design similar to how Bloom's Taxonomy is shown. So, I contacted Webb via his University of Wisconsin website.  I was not sure if I would get a response, but thankfully he emailed this response:

"Thanks for your interest in my work. I did not create the DOK wheel. I believe someone in Florida used my work to create the DOK wheel. Because the wheel is not mine, I cannot grant or deny its use. I think the DOK chart is misleading and I do not recommend its use. Depth of Knowledge depends on more than the verb. The complexity also depends on what the verb is acting on. For example, “draw” is in the DOK level 1 sector. But a student who draws a blueprint of a new building is doing more than recall of information. Explain also can be at different levels--explain by repeating a definition (DOK level 1), explain by putting a paragraph into your own words (DOK level 2), or explain by describing an analysis of the factors contributing to the economic down turn of the US (DOK level 3). So I cannot provide you the requested permission and, in fact, I discourage you from using the DOK wheel. It is a simplification of my work that does not fully represent the issues of content complexity. The only possible use of the chart I can see is if someone took a verb and asked how it could be placed in each of the four sectors."

Ultimately, we used his reply and a simple chart version of DOK

intelligencesA third theory that I would say has gone out into the wilds of education is the theory of multiple intelligences. It differentiates "intelligence" into specific modalities. It was proposed by Howard Gardner in his 1983 book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Gardner chose eight abilities/intelligences/modalities: musical-rhythmic, visual-spatial, verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic.

Later, he suggested that existential and moral intelligence may also be worthy of inclusion. Gardner did not like the idea of labeling learners to a specific intelligence, but of course that is what many people have done with his work in the wild.

Before Gardner presented his theory, brain research became more connected to learning theory. When the lateralization of brain function went "into the wild," and many variations on right brain / left brain learners were put forward. Much of this kind of extending of a theory has been questioned, but the wild version of the research is still out there.

In the wild, it is generally called "learning styles" and though the right hemisphere is associated with cognitive skills (creativity, emotion, intuitiveness) the right also controls the left side of the body, so right-brained people are often left-handed. Right-brain dominant people are generalized as artistic, innovative and often random. 

Gardner still maintains that his theory of multiple intelligences (not to be conflated with learning styles) should "empower learners," rather than label them in ways that might actually restrict them. 

ELIZA and Chatbots

sheldonI first encountered a chatterbot, it was ELIZA on the Tandy/Radio Shack computers that were in the first computer lab in the junior high school where I taught in the 1970s.

ELIZA is an early natural language processing program that came into being in the mid-1960s at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. The original was by Joseph Weizenbaum, but there are many variations on it.

This was very early artificial intelligence. ELIZA is still out there, but I have seen a little spike in interest because she was featured in an episode of the TV show Young Sheldon. The episode, "A Computer, a Plastic Pony, and a Case of Beer," may still be available at www.cbs.com. Sheldon and his family become quite enamored by ELIZA, though the precocious Sheldon quickly realizes it is a very limited program.

ELIZA was created to demonstrate how superficial human to computer communications was at that time, but that didn't mean that when it was put on personal computers, humans didn't find it engaging. Sure, kids had fun trying to trick it or cursing at it, but after awhile you gave up when it started repeating responses.

The program in all the various forms I have seen it still uses pattern matching and substitution methodology. She (as people often personified ELIZA), gives canned responses based on a keyword you input. If you say "Hello," she has a ready response. If you say "friend," she has several ways to respond depending on what other words you used. Early users felt they were talking to "someone" who understood their input.

ELIZA was one of the first chatterbots (later clipped to chatbot) and a sample for the Turing Test. That test of a machine's ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human, is not one ELIZA can pass by today's standards. ELIZA fails very quickly if you ask her a few complex questions.

The program is limited by the scripts that are in the code. The more responses you gave her, the more variety there will be in her answers and responses. ELIZA was originally written in MAD-Slip, but modern ones are often in JavaScript or other languages. Many variations on the original scripts were made as amateur coders played around with the fairly simple code.

One variation was called DOCTOR and was made to be a crude Rogerian psychotherapist who likes to "reflect" on your questions by turning the questions back at the patient.  This was the version that my students when I taught middle school found fascinating and my little programming club decided to hack the code and make their own versions.

Are chatbots useful to educators?  They have their uses, though I don't find most of those applications to be things that will change education in ways I want to see it change. I would like to see them used for things like e-learning support and language learning

If you want to look back at an early effort, you can try a somewhat updated version of ELIZA that I used in class at my NJIT website. See what ELIZA's advice for you turns out to be.

 

Is Our Group a Learning Community, Learning Circle or Community of Practice?

Though there are differences, you will often find the terms Learning Community, Learning Circle and Community of Practice used interchangeably. They are all groups of individuals who learn from each other, and with each other, on an ongoing basis with the goal of improving their work. 

Like any network of people, communities of practice are generally self-organized by people who share common work practice. As with the other labels, any of these relationship groupings have a desire to share what they know, support one another, and create new knowledge for their field of practice.

But communities of practice (CoP) differ from networks in that they are intended to be "communities" in which people make a commitment to be there for each other. They should participate not just for their own needs, but to serve the needs of others.

A CoP is very "open source" with a commitment to advance the field of practice and to make their resources and knowledge available to anyone, especially those doing related work.

A learning circle is a highly interactive, participatory structure for organizing group work. The goal is to build, share, and express knowledge though a process of open dialogue and deep reflection around issues or problems with a focus on a shared outcome.

Online learning circles take advantage of social networking tools to manage collaborative work over distances following a timeline from the open to close of the circle. Learning circles usually have a final project or goal which collects the shared knowledge generated during the interactions. Learning circles are a way to organize learning in global projects. They are also being used in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

But again, there is crossover with these terms. I have even seen articles about "Creating a Community of Practice Using Learning Circles

Almost anyone can facilitate a learning circle, whether it is a single learning circle in your home or multiple circles across a an organization like a university or library system. 

Teaching With 40 Year Old Software

I read an article that mentioned that someone teaching game design was using the old game "The Oregon Trail" as a simple example of game design. I felt a little wave of nostalgia for that computer game that I used with middle school students in the late 1970s on Apple IIe computers.

What can we teach with 40-year-old software?

The game was developed in 1971 and produced by the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium (MECC) in 1974. My school subscribed to MECC and received many software packages on the big 5.25 very floppy disks which we could duplicate.

The original game was designed to teach about the realities of 19th century pioneer life on the Oregon Trail. The single player is a wagon leader guiding a party of settlers from Independence, Missouri, to Oregon's Willamette Valley on the Oregon Trail via a covered wagon in 1848. 

But many teachers used it in other ways. In those early day, just teaching students to use the computer and navigate a game was a learning experience. I knew teacher who, like myself, used it was a way to teach cooperation by having players work in pairs or teams and justifiable arguing about choices was encouraged.

I used the game as an example when teaching literature as away to discuss the consequences of actions (draw branching diagram here).
 

Looking at the game again today via one of the several emulators available online (such as https://archive.org/details/msdos_Oregon_Trail_The_1990 and https://classicreload.com/oregon-trail.html), it seems about as primitive in its graphics as it did back in 1975 in my classroom. But it worked. My homeroom students enjoyed playing it just for gaming fun, and I was able to incorporate the decision-making aspects into lessons. I taught English, not social studies, and was less interested in the historical aspects of the game. I did use it briefly in an interdisciplinary manner with a social studies teacher, but having students do research into the real Oregon Trail and that period seemed to kill interest in the game itself. 

Apple IIe screenshotIt was one of the most successful games of all time and “The Oregon Trail” was inducted into World Video Game Hall of Fame in 2016. If you played it a few times, many of its screens are probably etched into your memory. I recall entering my real family members' names into the game the first time I played, and then sadly dysentery them "die" along the trail - probably from dysentery. It had game play moments (like hunting buffalo) and simple animation, but it was mostly text and so involved a lot of reading.

I would have my students work in small groups and map the game both on a real map of the trail, and then later on a decision tree style "map" of the game's options.

For me, the strength of the game in the classroom was in understanding how decisions could change the game's outcomes and their traveler's fates.

I recall that students would argue about the design. They didn't like the random things that would happen, such as a fire in the wagon destroying objects that were worth game points. But that also worked its way into my discussions with them of literature. Things happen in novels - and our lives - that seem random and out of our control, and they have consequences.

The other software that I used back then which was more sophisticated (though not graphically) was made by Tom Snyder Productions. I met Snyder at an educational conference and we talked about his Decisions, Decisions series. The series focused on the best aspects of what I was using in "Oregon Trail." The series included products on politics and the environment and came with printed material to supplement the games, so "research" was easy and necessary to play well.

I had no luck finding online what happened to Snyder and his company. It seems to have been consumed by Scholastic, though the link I found was a dead end.  I did find something on Amazon, but it doesn't seem that the series was continued or updated recently. It could easily be an online or mobile game. 

Can we use old software to teach new skills? Absolutely. Though these software packages seem crude by today's standards, they are also "classic" curiosities. I haven't taught secondary school students since 2000, so my sense of what is acceptable is lost. Certainly some of these games, or similar decision-tree kinds of games are a very viable classroom tool at all grade levels K-20. Maybe someone has already updated them or created new versions. If not, there is an opportunity.