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Archive for May, 2011

Hypermedia: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

In 2011, webpages look worlds different than the plain text and links of the 90’s. Between some amazing Flash and Java examples out there now, educational websites have come a long way in the past couple decades. …that being said, not all websites / hypermedia examples are created equal. Here is a list of three that gives a good overview of the state of educational sites in 2011.

The GOOD: BrainPop.com

 BrainPop is a really good example of an educational website that has both content and quality of construction. The content spans most school subjects (from English to History to Art) and each page leads to other nested sub-pages so that users are truly given a self-selected, personalized experience each time they visit the page.

Instead of a random grouping of activities, each video, song or game on BrainPop is easy to find because of the very clear category navigation built in to the site.

Though the main idea behind BrainPop is that each mini-subject gets its own video(s), there are also other activities and quizzes to round out the package. There is also usually an “FYI” section that is more text based, for those learners that retain more through print than visual media.

BrainPop gets a solid “A” for both content and presentation of media.

The BAD: Starfall.com

 It amazes me that this ranks up there as one of the “best” or most popular educational sites for kids on the web. When you go to their main page and all of their individual pages, your senses are bombarded with a million flashing icons (of questionable quality) arranged in seemingly thoughtless patterns.

When you go to the “Learn to Read” page, for instance, it is doubtful that a child would find the page appealing or user-friendly at all. There is just too much information jammed into a small space and limited instructions for choosing activities.

Though the content itself may be helpful for younger learners, the outdated layout, cheesy icon sets and ugly split homepage make this a less than stellar example of hypermedia in this day and age. (Get it? Stellar?)

StarFall gets a meager “C” from this reviewer, due to the less than friendly navigation and presentation of the media in question.

THE UGLY: EducationWorld.com

Now, before the EW people come after me and leave nasty comments, let me say this: EducationWorld does have some great stuff for teachers, including some helpful lesson plans that I used a time or two myself back when I was teaching.

…that being said: EW has to be one of the worst viewing / user experiences on the web for this category of website. Almost every navigation results in an annoying pop up with a force close built in.

The home page looks like it’s stuck in 1993 with almost all “old school” text and links and only a single “high tech” scrolling area with a picture and some relatively current info. The individual pages (such as “worksheets”) are no better, with corny graphics sparingly dotting the page to save the eyes from constant reading and glossing over hyperlinks.

It’s like Wikipedia, but your Uncle Bob’s version (the one whose only had a computer for three days and built his page using a GeoCities template).

The icing on the cake? The GIANT Oscar Meyer Ad on the front page flashing at me despite multiple refreshes to see if another ad would pop up. Yep, this page is the “mystery meat” of the educational website world. Grade: “F minus”.

Digital Natives & Digital Immigrants (MSTU 4036)

Marc Prensky, in “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants” delineates the divide between the students of today and the students of yesteryear who are now teachers themselves. For these “wired” students who watch twice as much TV as they read books, “modern” schooling is both a bore and an anesthetizing waste of time, in many cases. Why would teachers force students to spend time searching through dusty textbooks when they can pull up the information on their smart phones in a tenth of the time, in other words? Prensky makes a strong case that the education we are providing today’s youth (whose brains may have literally been altered by their consumption of media and instant knowledge-gratification) is both outdated and stifling…but he doesn’t stop there.

I think it is a wild stretch and gross overstatement on Prensky’s part, however, to say that the gap between digital native students and digital immigrant teachers is the “single biggest problem facing education today” (2001, p. 2). This comment shows a naivety on Prensky’s part, or at the very least, an oversimplification that attempts to gloss over the very real and pressing issues that are at the center of our problems with education in America, namely: poverty and income stratification. When PISA test scores come out each year and the U.S. turns in a dismal showing, no one talks about the *fact* that America’s middle-class and affluent students perform just as well as any students in Singapore, Finland or other “high performing” countries. Income inequality and unequal educational opportunities are doubtless far greater risks and problems than the “digital divide” between teachers and students. It doesn’t even seem like a close race.

In the end, for all of his overstatement, Prensky does evince the importance of altering our current methods and topics (and mindset!) to better suit the interests and trajectories of today’s youth. Increasingly few students are going to find themselves needing the lessons taught in “shop” class at work, for instance, but nearly every kid in every context will need knowledge of the internet, productivity and word-processing software, and media (social and otherwise).

I consider myself a (mostly) Digital Native. I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s, and by the time I was in high school, the internet was a constant companion for entertainment and learning. I taught myself the guitar and piano, Spanish and statistics…all with the computer and the web. I often found myself bored in classes where tasks were outdated or the content uninspiring when I literally had the *world* at my fingertips. I taught for three years in a school where 90% of teachers, if not more, were…”senior” members of the Digital Immigrant population. Many of them struggled with simple tasks such as uploading an Excel sheet grade-record and sending via email, despite this being the method we used every six weeks, year after year. There was definitely a “divide” between the students who (thanks to Mayor Bloomberg’s myopic policies on the issue) dropped off their iPhones and Sidekicks at the metal detectors, and the teachers who were scared to delete desktop icons for fear of erasing entire programs.

These observations tell me that Prensky was surely on to something (despite his overstatement): we do need to better consider the world which our students inhabit—and have lived in all their lives, knowing nothing else—when we design instruction and educational activities and programs. Standing at the board and lecturing for 45 minutes is a sure-fire way to lose the attention of these digital-age students so accustomed to quick cut-aways on the TV and hypertext that lets you bounce from topic to topic as the urge—or need—strikes. There is a very real need to align the interests and habits of today’s youth with the education they receive, which unfortunately, still too closely resembles the Industrial Revolution conveyor-belt style of schooling that should have been left behind decades ago. The real challenge is to find a balance between the needs of the Digital Natives and the beliefs and habits of the Digital Immigrants…a heady challenge, indeed.

iPad Apps for Education: Free App of the Week

So, I’m about to sit down and do some studying for the GRE this July, and as I pulled out my iPad 2 and fired up my favorite app for doing math practice, I figured I could take a second and share it with all my fellow students and teachers (and parents!) out there.

This week’s app–which is totally free!–is called Adobe Ideas. Basically, it’s a white-board that fits in your hands. For teachers, imagine how easy drawing, erasing and writing would be on this thing (with it’s nifty handwriting improvement) hooked up to your projector or TV? For myself, I love to use this in lieu of paper and pencil, which in addition to saving the earth, is a lot easier and cleaner (for lefties like myself who always get graphite all over the side of their hands).

Adobe Ideas can be used for many subjects (like science, as the picture shows), but I prefer to use it mostly for the ease of solving math problems on the go. It’s easy to zoom in and drag around the paper, and I only need one “sheet” per study session, usually, which you can either then save or delete as is your will.

So, that’s this week’s Free iPad for Education app. Check it out now on the App Store while it’s still free.

Mass Customized Learning = The (Best Possible) Future of Education?

Check out this great new article reviewing a book about MCR or as I’ve been calling it, personalized education. It is one of my chief areas of interest and I plan to post and do more research around the issue soon. I play to write more in the next few days around this topic, but for now, just check out the article!

http://www.learningfirst.org/interview-education-authors-charles-schwahn-and-bea-mcgarvey

P.S. Sorry for the lack of updates; I’m in full on finals frenzy, but thankfully that ends today.