NYC tech takes on the classroom | Crain’s New York Business

New boost for interactive content:

Partly spurred by its concentration of intellectual talent, New York is also becoming a hotbed of innovation in educational technology. Venture capital investment in education-related startups in the metro area totaled $95 million in 2011—an 84% spike over the prior year, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers/National Venture Capital Association. The number of startups receiving investment money rose to 14, up from eight in 2010.In the long run, newfangled interactive textbooks like the ones Apple and its publishing partners previewed last Thursday are likely to be a minor aspect of education’s digital revolution. But Apple’s entry is certainly helping the revolution along.

All doesn’t seem to be well, however:

In the fourth quarter, VC financing in the New York area plunged 40%, compared with the prior quarter, to $545.1 million.

But experts say the tech-education industry is just getting started. The U.S. business for e-learning products and services in the pre-K to 12-and-higher education markets will grow to $11 billion in 2015, from $7.6 billion in 2011, according to research firm Ambient Insight.

(Via NYC tech takes on the classroom | Crain’s New York Business)

Hat Tip: Samudra Sen

Digital is Different

“The most important thing is not to optimise what you do, but to find out and decide what you should be doing… find out where you should really be and to make sure that you are climbing the tallest peak, not just a false summit…If you get stuck on a small mountain, you get to the top and look around and you find you’re on the wrong mountain. A mile away is a mountain that’s twice as tall…Learn how to search the landscape very widely, and to make sure we find the tallest mountain to climb – that we find the right thing to do. And having done that, if we find ourselves on top of a false summit…In other words we’ve got to get down the mountain, and cross that desert, and come up on the tallest peak. And that’s called letting go, killing a product at its peak.”

(Via Brave New World: Rethinking the Future: The Digital Divide)

This might sound quite abstract by itself — as a ‘thing to do’, but when you read the full article, you will know that it makes perfect sense. Martyn Daniels asks why the publishing industry is still stuck on the print model of the product and tries and retrofit this model in the digital world.

Digital is different and needs to be approached differently — not just as a medium but the social context of what digital is, how it is consumed, and how it is produced. There are no more ‘passive consumers’, and the more we treat them as such, the more we are alienating them from consuming our products. While Martyn makes a specific case in publishing, I suspect it is true across industries; education being no exception.

Hat Tip: Eoin Purcell

Content, Thou art Eternal!

George Siemens makes an interesting note about the state of content around the world – and how it is still alive and kicking, more so because of globalisation.

Education is in the process of being globalized, as is evident through integration of various service provided by big companies (content, LMS, synchronous classrooms, testing/evaluation). While we’re tinkering away with “web 2.0″ and social media, power within education is increasingly being consolidated and models for content roll out and delivery are being scaled up – streamlining production and scaling systems to gain economic advantage reflect the global aspirations of education companies.

via elearnspace › That whole “content is dead thing” isn’t true. Globalization reigns.

To my mind, what’s becoming interesting that all providers of platforms, tools and technology have realised that the trinkets alone can do far less than what they first imagined.Whether it is Blackboard and McGraw Hill or Moodle and Cambridge, what’s really happening is that the content and container are coming together, in a way that makes best sense for consumers of content in this age.

As far as the death of content is concerned, it’s inherent nature is that of being eternal. While it has changed forms and modes of delivery over centuries, it cannot “die” in the true sense of the word. What dies (or rather, slowly fades into oblivion) is the platform from where it is consumed.


No Next Button – Some Examples | MinuteBio

Having seen my share of eLearning courses, built a few, and reviewed quite a few, this link was interesting to read.

No Next Button – Some Examples | MinuteBio

The Back/Next navigation, which relegates interaction outside the content has been done to death, almost like PowerPoint. The learner is a passive consumer of the content – the said interaction is no interaction, but a chore to push the passive state of content from one screen to another. There is no excitement in the “interaction” and the said “interaction” is in a frame that contains the interaction.

Instructionally, this imposes a way of navigating on the learner, that leaves no scope for discovery or exploration. More often than not, moving media (animations, video clips) embedded in the content is often passed for interactive content. This is, at best, active content.

Not all samples in this link are the best in terms of instructional design, but they definitely make a case for breaking away from frame-based navigational interaction.

Hat Tip: Stephen Downes

The Teacher as an Editor

An interesting read today about the new dynamic nature of textbooks.

“Macmillan, one of the largest textbook publishers in the world, is introducing a new software for instructors that will allow them to change the online versions of textbooks that their students use.

According to the New York Times, with DynamicBooks, ‘Professors will be able to reorganize or delete chapters; upload course syllabuses, notes, videos, pictures and graphs; and perhaps most notably, rewrite or delete individual paragraphs, equations or illustrations.’”

(Via Macmillan to allow professors to change textbooks online, on the fly: )

Yet another “path-breaking” initiative from Macmillan (I am referring to the Publishers’ Manifesto [Summary | Full PDF Download] that they came up with a while ago)

This is truly an interesting take on text books by Macmillan. However, as the article rightly suggests, it has it’s dangers about how the textbook may be used by a teacher; and the potential for misuse.

So, does a dynamic textbook have its place in education? I think it does. Only, however, if the delete action is restricted. It is one thing to allow creating context to the content; yet another to allow editing that can change meaning.

Also, I think it is better to leave the “editing” of a textbook to the publishers, who have been doing it well for years. How many teachers would really be qualified to “edit” content? The deletion part – then – is quite scary.

Finally, I wish it was clear how students would use these books. Would they also be allowed to make their own notes and pictures in the text book?

Talk of prosumer content!

An Asynchronous Evolution

This is an issue that has bothered me for long.

Language in the Digital Age: “Text messaging, blogging, emailing, twittering, etc. in many cases force us to use less words. What does this do to the way we interpret what is being said?
Since a desired intent can not come across because of word limitations, the meaning is therefore altered. I think many problems arise from this which are probably more substantial than what is recognized. Entire thought patterns are disrupted by misinterpretations. Our processing of other information has drastically changed. Our intake of information from the vastness of the World Wide Web differs greatly from the way in which we obtain information by reading a book.”(Via Hanna Wiszniewska.)

After you read this article, make it a point to read the source – an article in NY Times. In this article, Anand Giridharadas, wonders

Blogs, though they seek to bring out the writer in us, are notable for how little stress they put on the actual writing. How many literary greats has the rise of the blogosphere produced?


E-mail, meanwhile, has become a linguistic wasteland — even among language lovers. Cellphone keypads make us promise to “call u back after the mtg.” Twitter coaxes us to misspell to meet the 140-character maximum.

There is one argument against the argument that favours the use of good language — evolution. (and this point is well presented in the NY times article) However, the true problem of the decline of language is not so much in the cultural and social implications of the decline as much as in the technical problem that it presents – the loss of meaning due to the absence of context. Meaning has always been bound to context in some form or the other. Context has enriched meaning and provided a basis to build on. It diminishes vocabulary, forcing a loss of nuances, that a rich vocabulary otherwise provides.

We have somehow been forced to multi-task, even with the tasks that we do not really need to do. We are forced to follow everything in this world, although this may not be really relevant to what we need to know. Attention spans decrease, available time is limited, and entire conversations are the proverbial “bullet-riddled PowerPoint presentation”, Giridharadas mentions in the article.

He concludes the article with:

Language may suffer in the coming age simply because we have so many people, near and far, to address, so little time in which to do so, and diminishing patience for rules that slow the headlong rush into linguistic limbo.

However, the dreaded limbo is a factor, to my mind, of the lack of synchronisation of the evolution of language and the human mind.

Open-source or Open-ness?

Michael Feldstein analyses a Blackbord response to the pilot study by the University of North Carolina for Sakai, which will lead to a further investigation of Sakai as a replacement for Blackboard. While it’s a long post (and it should be, for it is an excellent analysis), one thing that caught my attention was about Support Risks (quoted below)

Blackboard’s Response to Open Source: Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt: “If Blackboard can’t help you fix your problems, you’re out of luck, because nobody else understands their code or has the right to look at it. If your Moodle vendor can’t help you, you can go to another vendor, or find another adopting school that knows how to fix the problem. You can also fix it yourself. You don’t have to, but unlike with Blackboard, you can. Likewise, if Blackboard were to go out of business (ask WebCT or ANGEL customers if this sort of thing ever happens), you would’t be able to find somebody else to support and continue to develop your platform. Not true with open source support vendors.”

(Via e-Literate.)

This is a very interesting situation to be in, for almost all product companies, in a way, against their open-source alternatives. And I keep coming back to the iTunes App Store model for the iPhone (and therefore the proposed Google Wave/Android App Store). So, it may still work if the product company retains the core platform (Apple in this case), but does open up the platform — to an extent — to allow extensions to the core platform.

I suppose it’s really the confidence of the customer that is at play and at risk here than anything else. It is not necessarily open-source and the cost of free that is in play, but the experience of being locked to an obscure roadmap that’s making more folks consider open-source.

Your take?

Creative Use of “Boring” Tools

Michele Martin, in her Bamboo Project blog, links to a great post from Sarah Horrigan and laments how instructors use learning systems, specifically VLEs.

It’s Not the Tool That’s Boring. It’s You.: “That’s the thing about technology and learning. People are quick to blame the tool, rather than looking first at their own behavior with it. It’s PowerPoint that’s the problem, rather than how it’s used. Or they hate web conferencing because it’s ‘dull.’ And don’t even start with social media–blogs, social networks, Twitter et. al are just a ‘waste of time.’”

(Via The Bamboo Project Blog.)

It may be a worthwhile debate to discover if most VLEs out there have somehow contributed to the boring aspect of online learning. Sarah talks of how we look at a box vs. how we would have looked at it when we were younger. There may be more to enabling engaging learning through VLEs — these systems (and the people who made these systems) will need to first engage with the instructors with a “map” of how interactive and engaging learning can be made possible — beyond PowerPoint and Lecture Notes. What were they (those who built the systems) thinking when they built the systems? What vision of online learning did they have? How would they like the instructors to make best use of the systems?

The onus, to create interesting learning online, I believe, is not just on the instructors.

Destabilising Establishments

While the news in itself isn’t something that is new or unique, it certainly is one in line for establishing a trend that labels will have to rethink their strategy.

Prince Gives The Finger To The Labels—Again: “[...] So it’s fitting that, his latest project, aims to offer fans a smorgasbord of digital content with little to no label interference. [...] Since die-hard fans will only be able to legitimately access this content through the site, it’s a nod to my colleague Rory’s suggestion that labels (but also artists) set up their own digital-distribution platforms instead of relying on third-parties like iTunes and Amazon.”


Music, somehow has always set an example for other content to follow. Will authors publish themselves? And while the Artist formerly called Prince probably has the wherewithal to set up a platform to distribute music, what of the individual author?

Of Slow Blogging and Active Participation

Recently, I took up another of Lorelle’s Blog Challenge on my personal blog. This time around, the challenge was to write about favorite blog post failures (the parameters were primarily about attention and statistics). In my analysis, of a post that I believe failed, I wrote that my post failed because:

1. A high-level of abstraction,

2. A lack of direct (or any) context for the reader,

3. An assumption of what starts a conversation,

4. A dense word-smithery, and

5. While I didn’t mention it explicitly, the length of the post.

In a personal blog, one might think that these factors are permitted, given the nature of the content and the purpose of the blog. However, I insist that if a blog exists, readers are expected and therefore there needs to be (at least some) regard for the audience.

And some rules will apply, irrespective of the genre of the blog. I am grateful to Lorelle for putting these rules in a structured way. A better analysis than mine.

I have further come to believe that very few people read long posts (see #5 above). We have a fast shrinking attention span. We read only that which relevant to us, for that specific moment, and usually forget it after that data point has served its purpose. We seem to be seeking data rather than access knowledge. Byte size is over-hyped (is that a tautology or excessive exaggeration?)

Google search, for example, has caused a certain behavioral change in some of us, where we choose not to remember things (all things can be stored for future access). Anything can be Googled, even from a mobile. Doesn’t matter where you are.

And while I was almost succumbing to this notion of progress and change in lifestyle, of living life byte-sized, I read:

“[...] I do slow-blogging or meditative blogging. At least that’s what I’d like to work towards. It takes time for the many loose strands of thought to converge into a unified post; it takes a lot of effort, a lot of energy, and a lot ( I know, I know sometimes too much) writing. And some posts never quite find their footing; they remain awkward and tangled when I don’t have enough time or courage or energy or ability to go deep.” Slow Blogging: Context, Transitions and Traditions « (the new) bgblogging:

(Via George Seimens @ elearnspace > Chris Lott @ Ruminate.)

Along comes Michele Martin’s post on Learning through Blogging, where she summarizes responses from bloggers and learners, of how participation helps the learning process, and within that, possibly, how the level of active participation affects the level of learning:

“I don’t disagree that learners can get a lot from reading and ‘lurking’ online. Certainly I learn a ton from reading and I know that many others do, too.

[...] what I take issue with is the level of learning that takes place when you are only reading and not actively engaging with the content.

Looking at Bloom’s Taxonomy, for example, we can see that passive reading might be effective for lower-order cognitive skill development, but when we start to move into higher order thinking, we really need to start actively engaging with information. How can I apply, analyze, evaluate and create without in some way interacting with this information? And even if I can, is my learning going to be as deep?” The Bamboo Project Blog: More on Learning Through Blogging: What Readers Think

Seeing the analysis of my failed post, I do realize now that it is not so much the length or the abstraction of the post that caused it to fail, it is perhaps that I wrote it fast and have not bothered to spend time (even after it was published) to check if I said exactly what I wanted to say, if I was coherent, complete and precise. And if the post was capable of transmitting the same message to my readers.

Slow blogging starts making sense now. In a way that, with enough and relevant thought, it enables slow, thoughtful and active participation, which further allows you to refine and build upon your ideas.

Link: How to Write for E-Learning

Once in a while, you come across information that says the things so clearly that you always knew, but did not. This is one good example of that. It is a must, if you ask me, for any instructional designer, even if you go through all of it and say to yourself, “I knew it all along.”

In fact, I recommend that this be made mandatory reading on the first working day of every month. I know how easy it is to fall in the trap. And keeping your own creative juices flowing — especially if you work on an eLearning project for months, not weeks.

I got this from Cathy Moore‘s site — See the Slide Show for starters:

“Dump the Drone slideshow [...]

* What makes online courses boring
* How to create compelling characters and stories
* Ideas for adding ‘safe’ humor
* How to tighten flabby text
* The best uses for readability analysis

See the slides (HTML): Lots of fun pictures! Not much text.
Download the slides (5.8 MB PDF)
Download the handout (8-page PDF): Few pictures. Lots of fun text! “

(Via Making Change: Ideas for Lively Learning.)

No, please don’t miss it. However, busy you are.

Arrogance and Humility

I agree with Mark Oehlert, the sentence below is the best in the essay: A Brief Message: Arrogance and Humility (UPDATE: Google tells me that the links points to malware – be careful if you search for this). Thanks, Mark for pointing this.

Arrogance without humility is a recipe for high-concept irrelevance; humility without arrogance guarantees unending mediocrity.

200 words say a lot.

RSSing Comment Conversations – II

This is becoming really interesting.

Here is a representation of what I wrote hastily in the post below.


(Funny, that I was building this graphic, while Michele wrote her post, asking for one! Sue was also looking for a graphic, a tool actually, to draw her idea out). While this may help bring a larger conversation in context, I believe it also lends itself to create a body of knowledge (BoK). Before that, a few notes about this intelligent RSS and about the graphic:

We all subscribe to blogs, so we sure know how to to do that. We can also mark individual posts to track comments on them. (I know this happens in a few RSS readers – RSSBandit, for example, and I am missing it sorely since I shifted to a Mac).

Here is how I think this “Intelligent RSS” thing might work. (Apart from what RSSbandit is able to do, all the stuff hereafter is imaginary).

  1. In our RSS reader, we set up something called an “Intelligent Topic Feed”, or ITF. We pick a topic, Michele’s topic called “How Can We Facilitate Conversations BETWEEN Commenters on Our Blogs?” for example, and add it to the ITF called, let’s say, “Facilitating Conversations“.
  2. We set the ITF ‘depth’ to Level 1 (more about this level thing, in a minute).
  3. What the ITF now does is tracks all comments on Post 1 (see image). So all comments on Michele’s post are delivered to the RSS reader. Skelliewag’s idea still holds true and let’s assume that commentators are conversing with each other on the post.
  4. Then, Michele’s post gets a pingback (trackback).
  5. The ITF automatically adds the posts from the new blogs (e.g. the post on Kenfinity and Designing for Civil Society, viz, Post 2 and Post 3 in the image).
  6. The ITF now begins to track the comments on Post 2 and Post 3.
  7. As you would expect, there will be further pingbacks on Post 2 and Post 3. This is where setting the ‘depth’ of level comes in. For example, if I would have set the depth level to 2, the ITF would automatically add all the posts that link to Post 2 and Post 3. This has the potential to become unwieldy, therefore, the option to set the depth.
  8. (While we are imagining things) I could then be asked by the ITF if I would like to add further posts (manual setting) to the topic and I could then track a larger conversation. I could choose the posts that I want to track and leave the others for the “dumb” RSS to pull.

Potentially confusing, but I hope, it isn’t too confusing.

What has fascinated me about this idea is the potential about the thoughts that this ITF can contain. It has a chance of becoming a significant body on a particular topic and can be used as a learning aid.

If the RSS Reader becomes even smarter and is able to create a document about this topic …

RSSing Comment Conversations – I

Michele Martin of the Bamboo Project has asked in interesting question about “How Can We Facilitate Conversations BETWEEN Commenters on Our Blogs?

The post has some interesting responses…er…including mine. In some form or the other, most commentators do ‘converse’ with other commentators on a post — however it is all informal and unstructured. It is usually like, “I don’t agree with what X is saying though Y has an important argument about what Z wrote above, and my take is….” X, Y, and Z all being commentators on a post, i.e.

Christy Tucker makes an interesting point about the nature of blogs in that:

Part of it boils down to the fact that blogs really are designed more for the conversations around one person’s ideas than around each other’s ideas. Conversations that are really in-depth are often more suited to become actual posts, either on the original blog or on the commenter blogs. And blogs in general are more for parallel dialog than direct dialog;…

And I am in agreement — after all a blog is an individual’s take on topics — if there is a conversation that is to occur between many people then there is always the discussion forum. Sue, on the same post, notes an observation about what happens when a “thread” is implemented in place of comments.

RSS to the rescue?

WordPress has an interesting feature (now Blogger has it too, thought most ‘Bloggers’ haven’t implemented it), where it is possible to subscribe to a feed of the comments on a post (or the entire blog). If we go by Christy’s thought — which I completely agree with — and in-depth responses to posts are presented as posts on the commentators blog, then we have a small problem of tracking the entire conversation. What we have is a multiple posts as responses — and someone who is tracking the topic, now needs to go many places to see what people are responding.

Is it possible for RSS to become slightly more intelligent such that it tracks (a) the comments on Michele’s post, (b) the response posts to Michele’s post, and (c) the comments/responses to the response posts on Michele’s post?

As I write this, I am already imagining the load on my RSS reader — yet, am sure I don’t mind a bit of manual intervention to teach my reader where to stop.

What I am visualising is a very rich body of knowledge on that one topic/subject/thought which can be a relevant educational aid.

Guess we will have to wait for RSS 2.0