Monthly Archives: August 2014

Reading Assignment: The Future of (MIT) Education

If you have completed all your summer reading books, or even if you haven’t, an important addition to your list is the final report from MIT’s Task Force on the Future of Education.  As with many committee reports the news is not so much in the newness of the ideas but in who is saying it.  In this case the report presents 16 specific recommendations for consideration.  Many are internally focused and fairly specific to MIT.   However most could be applied or at least usefully considered at any institution of advanced training — whether a traditional university, a corporate training campus, or perhaps an industry association.

Modularity is an important theme through much of the report.  In terms of pedagogy, the authors noted new digital technologies make possible an unbundling of the traditional model of providing higher education with key benefits in the areas of flexibility, connectedness, contextualization, and assessment.  A hybrid or blended model of online and traditional learning models they felt could offer many promising avenues worthy of exploration and experimentation.    Importantly, however, the report stresses that technology should follow and support the values and principles of the institution —  good advice for all of us.

I particularly liked the important role community played throughout the report.  Online learning can be isolating if taken out of context and done without the benefit of peers looking to solve the same or similar problems.  Thoughtful strategies include forming student cohorts that progress through online learning experience roughly synchronously.  Setting context within social, global, science, and technology frameworks leads naturally to identifying communities of interest which, of course, have long been a fundamental motivation for individuals getting online.

There is much to consider in the report but one last item to which I would draw your attention would be a pragmatic issue repeated several times in the report:

To achieve this kind of fluidity and malleability in learning, the Task Force recommends exploring options for establishing a module repository. To support student selection of  modules, there must be some mechanism for storing and curating the content. Whether  through tags or filters, a simple but effective repository would allow students and  educators to identify and utilize the modules that best meet their needs. (p. 14)

As much as digital tools and services are increasingly recognized as likely to change the face of education across the board, there are  basic foundational digital building blocks that need to be established in a thoughtful manner — among the most important and readily started are curated repositories of learning modules.  I would only add based on my decades of experience with online media, that such repositories should be tightly and integrated with appropriate learning and teaching interactive communities so as to become truly dynamic, timely, and constantly renewed source of content and data.



Please Don’t Disturb Dr. Jones, She is Platforming Her Course

The convergence of digital publishing, online communities, and online education continues at a rapid pace and those of us in the business have to adopt new language to describe processes and outcomes that did not exist years or even months ago.   An August 1, 2014 article in the media section of the New York Times, titled “More Online Publishers Let Readers Fill the Space” captures this very nicely:

For publishers, the new meaning of “to platform” is something akin to: Take a traditional media company and add technology that allows readers to upload digital content as varied as links, text, video and other media. The result is a “publish first” model in which a lightly filtered, or unfiltered, stream of material moves from reader to reader, with the publication acting as a host and directing conversation but not controlling it.

The same logic and process applies to online courses, digital “textbooks,” and curated educational collections.  Students/learners can and do make tremendous contributions to learning resources through online learning communities.   The Animal Diversity Web (ADW) hosted by the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology is a great example:

An essential feature of the ADW is student authorship of species accounts. Students learn considerable detail about the biology of a species, then share their work with users worldwide by making it part of our permanent database. Our web-based template ensures a consistent format for accounts. Help pages suggest content and sources. The system checks that no one else is writing about the student’s chosen species, checks spelling of scientific names, and fills in the scientific classification. Instructors and ADW staff review and edit accounts before they are added to the site. Classes at dozens of universities and colleges contribute to the ADW project. The resulting growth of the database makes us even better for inquiry learning.

Most educational educational enterprises — from universities and colleges to corporate universities and continuing education enterprises — are not prepared for a world where learners contribute substantial content as participants in a learning community.   In addition to requiring that educators and administrators learn new skills, educational institutions face a host of new questions about quality and reputation.  The New York Times article, focusing on news publications, raises the issue which many long-time educators fear:

[E]stablished publications, particularly those specializing in news, have flinched at making it possible for outsiders to upload raw content for fear that the publications’ reputations for reliability — which took decades to build — could be undermined easily.

This is, however, an unstoppable transition.   The challenge for educational enterprises will be to take full advantage of learner engagement in content production and contribution while maintaining quality in educational collections, materials, and services.


Office Mix is in the Mix

Microsoft is continuing the beta rollout of the online education authoring and delivery platform Office Mix.  As we have discussed previously, Office Mix is an add-in to Microsoft Powerpoint which allows one to develop online lectures and presentations that include video narration, inking for noting and highlighting, inline assessments/surveys, and screen capture demos.

Distinguished scientist Anoop Gupta from Microsoft and professor Andy Dam of Brown University gave a demonstration of Mix in association with the recent Microsoft Research Faculty Summit:

Office Mix allows you to use Powerpoint tools to create a rich online presentation on a PC, and then deliver that content via a number of supported browsers in a cross-platform manner using cloud-based storage. Microsoft recently added an API which makes it relatively easy to create “labs” (simulators, calculators, animations, etc.) that will run in the Mix viewer across various browser and OS platforms.

At Course Gateway we consider Mix as a possible game-changer in terms of ease of authoring and delivery, but there are a number of issues we are tracking:

– How well will Office Mix interact with existing Learning Management Systems and Digital Content repositories?
– What are facilities for tagging and searching Mix content?
– What are supported models for sharing and linking Mix presentations, ranging from free public access to fine-grained pay-per-view options?
– What it the depth and breadth of Microsoft’s commitment to Office Mix as part of the evolving Office productivity suite?

Content Management Goes to School

By now Content Management Systems (CMS) are well established in most corporate environments — especially those heavily regulated such as transportation, energy, and legal verticals.  Firms whose product is content have also invested heavily in CMS though typically these systems are optimized for rich media management which brings with it special challenges associated with video and image files.

Today another major content industry, higher education, is on the road to widespread adoption of media management systems.  The benefits of being able to quickly find, view, and understand usage rights to large archives of digital media optimized for integration into courses is increasingly being recognized — not by CIO’s but by course instructors who increasingly rely upon digital material in-class and out-of-class.  As a professor myself, I know I greatly prefer re-use of existing high quality content as opposed to trying to create everything from scratch.  Content management systems can help greatly in easing the discovery, access, and re-use of such content.

Of course existing Learning Management Systems already do incorporate content management to some extent.  However the paradigm has been courses and the major feature driver is automation and administration not rich media management.  Also major publishers are now extending their extensive investments in content management outside their corporate boundaries as learning platforms onto which professors and students can pull and push content.

The important new development however is that today faculty are creating a much stronger pull for sophisticated content management systems.  Software vendors and publishers efforts are now part of increasingly broad content management ecosystem that also includes robust and sophisticated digital media management systems from the open-source communities such as DSpace, Fedora, and Hydra.

To be clear content management systems are just part of the equation. Learning is not just about consuming well managed content (as the IBM White Paper highlighted in our “Noteworthy” section to the right speaks to very well).  It’s always been about students creating, sharing, and discussing content — that today much of this can be done increasingly online provides many more options for students, professors, and learning stakeholders like companies and governments.  As such if your institution has not already invested in a shared platform for content and media management, now is a terrific time to get started.