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Archive for June, 2011

Learning via Podcasts

 

For the past year or so, I’ve availed myself of audio and video podcasts from iTunesU and YouTube (though you need a separate downloader for that last one). The web is such an endless source of information and learning opportunities, and the ability to take these podcasts with you on your phone or iPad opens up learning to other places and times and people.

Here is an example of one particular “podcaster” whom I’ve been following for a while now, “Senior Jordan.” He has a low-budget but high content quality video blog / podcast that goes over several years worth of Spanish vocabulary, grammar and other lessons. He mixes in images and animations with his narration in a way that, for me at least, augments my learning.

Check him out here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3jVyHCD3faU

And of course, if you want a more “traditional” podcast experience where easy of transfer / download to portible devices is ensured, then it doesn’t get much better than the TED talks which are put out each week. You can watch these online or download them in various formats (MP3 (audio only), MP4 (video podcast), etc.) to your devices and listen / watch on the go.  A popular podcast–and one which I find both interesting and educational–is Ken Robinson’s video podcast below:

Check it out and you will likely look at schools and schooling in a new light: http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html

 

 

 

An Image Worth 1,000 Words?

I’d like to take a brief moment (the time it takes to read this blog post) to point out the importance of properly and skillfully integrating graphics and images into websites and textbooks. Done right, and graphics can save readers a lot of time and better explain some concepts in ways print and text just can’t compete with. That being said, there are far too many examples (sadly) of images and graphics done the wrong way, where they become an eyesore and detractor to a page and to a readers’ enjoyment and comprehension of the content. I offer up two examples to make my point:

The Good: Apple’s “Apps for Education” Showcase.

http://www.apple.com/education/apps/

What’s great about this page is that each category (or school subject) is augmented and enhanced by the included pictures. Each section is not overwhelmed by the graphics and the menu below each graphic allows the user the option to see more graphics and examples, rather than the page being cluttered by potentially unnecessary images.

 

The Bad: Discovery Education’s Lesson Plans Page

http://www.discoveryeducation.com/search/page/-/-/lesson-plan/technology/index.cfm

Though it isn’t a truly “bad” example of graphics implementation (meaning that there is obviously a rhyme and reason for the placement of the graphics), Discovery’s page shows a less than stellar effort where graphics are involved. Each page, regardless of the topic or difficulty of subject matter, only has one picture. Each picture is a rather non-descript thumbnail that truly neither adds to nor detracts from the page. The images themselves are mostly low-res and don’t offer any functionality or improved experience to the user. …they are just pictures, and not worth a thousand words, or even two.

Traditional Text vs. Hypertext

photo credit: brown.edu

There are many features of traditional text that can (and should be) adopted in hypertext. Just think about when you are reading a textbook, for example. What are the features of the text that most stand out to you and are the most helpful? For me (and most readers, I’d assume) the most helpful features are: the headline, subtitles, keywords (or vocab) and captions to photos.

In hypertext, all of these features can be made active, through their own links. Instead of having to read through all the subtopics, for example, a discerning reader could jump (via a clickable subtitle at the topic of the page) straight to a section he or she needed to bone up on.

Likewise, instead of having a giant index or list of terms at the back of each chapter, with hypertext, you could create a check-box style list of words where readers could self-select only those words he or she didn’t know, and the hyperlink would lead to a pop-up (or other style) definition. Much better than a textbook with far fewer choices, in my opinion.

In hypermedia, the game expands even further. Imagine a dense introduction to a fiction novel, full of lush prose describing the setting and era of the scene. For readers with less background knowledge (or visual learners in general) you could have a brief intro video that showed the layout of the land, some of the costumes from the era, etc. I bet that most students would have better recall and higher levels of engagement if these sorts of changes were made to traditional texts. So…why aren’t we doing these things in schools? Why have we persisted in purchasing “old school” textbooks by the truckload that end up stolen, damaged or lining the shelves of a dusty stockroom? …Don’t ask me, as I find it makes neither sense nor cents.