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Archive for September, 2010

Data Visualization Documentary

September 30th, 2010 No comments

Really nice piece about data visualization, the potential as well as some of misapplications and missteps: Journalism in the Age of Data from geoff mcghee on Vimeo.

The focus here is on journalism (and communicating to a lay audience), but has clear application beyond that for the academic/educational context. Also some solid basic lessons about communicating information that are of value for creating simple slide decks like PowerPoint.

A few of the resources mentioned later in the video are:

Tools

Google charts

Protovis

Flare

Swivel

Blogs

Information Aesthetics

Flowing Data

Swivel (company blog)

Jaron Lanier Essay

September 21st, 2010 No comments

You could spend all day reading literature about educational technology without being reminded that this frontier of ignorance [i.e., how the brain works] lies before us.

Jaron Lanier, from his “Does the Digital Classroom Enfeeble the Mind?” — an interesting short piece from The New York Times Magazine education issue (09.19.10) on the persistent tension between knowledge and information.

Categories: Best Practices, Curriculum, General Tags:

Curb Cuts and iPads: Universal Design meets Technology in the Classroom

September 17th, 2010 No comments

Reading two seemingly unrelated blog posts and comments in the Chronicle’s online ProfHacker series got me thinking about distance learning – one was about the lack of universal design, accessibility accommodations in universities, particularly web sites (http://chronicle.com/blogPost/Academic-Resources-and/26497/). The other was about a professor who declared his summer English Lit classroom a technology free zone (http://chronicle.com/article/College-20-Teachers-Witho/123891/).   

The first blog discussed the notion that websites, especially those at universities, should build accessibility into their web design process by embracing the concept of universal design, design to make life a little easier for everyone. Like curb cuts, the author said, quoting Dwell magazine’s article “Introduction to Universal Design,” those dips in the curbs at intersections designed to accommodate wheel chairs. Those dips also make curbs easier for everyone to navigate, from parents with strollers to commuters with rolling briefcases.

The second post, as one might imagine, launched much debate about the general merits of technology in the classroom. One comment noted that it all depends on the user, much like a terrific chef using “a pile of sticks and a match” creates a far better meal than a lousy chef who has the “fanciest commercial stove on the market.”

So what do curb cuts, chefs, universal design, and technology in the classroom have to do with distance learning? Everything.  If universal design can make something more accessible for everyone, why not apply that same thinking to utilizing technology in the classroom or to designing courses in general? I’ve since come to find out, that this is not the novel idea I first thought it was – turns out the concept of universal design for learning (UDL) has been around for a while.  Its principles were developed around 1997 and the term, “universal design for learning, coined by CAST, the Center for Applied Special Technology (http://www.cast.org/).  

The idea is to make courses more “useful,” or more “accessible,” for all students. Much of the current research related to higher education and UDL focuses on accommodating disabled learners (http://www.ahead.org/resources/universal-design). However, since the term universal design applies to everyone, let’s take it step further to include whether or not students participate at a distance. Many of our courses at IIT are blended: students attending remotely learn right alongside (virtually, at least) students attending the live session.  What might be considered an accommodation of distance learner, might also assist the student attending the live session, or vice versa. The trick is in intentionally selecting tools to engage all students.

The first step, as with almost everything, is to define the issue –identify what needs to be accessible. With courses, I would argue, the answer is the course objectives. What do students need to master in the course? Faculty answer that question all the time. Once the objectives are established, look for the best tools and resources that will help all students.  Here’s where we can think outside the box, as it were. Again, intentionality is key. The best tool may or may not be a traditional course lecture. And it may or may not be the next cool thing in technology, like the iPad, or its newest rival. Technology must always support course and program outcomes, not “coolness” factors. More likely than not, there is no one right tool, but a combination of tools to engage multiple learning styles and environments. IIT has a wealth of resources for faculty in its Blackboard system – every course at IIT has a Blackboard (Bb) shell, whether or not it is designated an internet course.  Perhaps one Bb feature, discussion boards, graded or not, could be used to reinforce lecture points for both distance and non-distance learners, for all students.  Interestingly, this is keeping with what that Dwell article identifies as a principle of universal design, making “information … available through several senses at once.” After all, aren’t learning styles based on senses?

Debating the use of technology in the classroom has gone on and will go on for ages. In the meantime, answer this question, how can technology support all students’ mastery of course objectives?  So how do you use technology to make your courses “accessible” for all of your students, both those sitting in class and at a distance? 

Read more about it:

http://chronicle.com/blogPost/Academic-Resources-and/26497/

http://chronicle.com/article/College-20-Teachers-Witho/123891/

http://www.dwell.com/articles/an-introduction–to-universal-design.html

http://www.udlcenter.org/

http://www.udlcenter.org/sites/udlcenter.org/files/UDL2ndDecade_0.pdf

http://www.cast.org/

http://www.ahead.org/

Online & the Classroom

September 17th, 2010 No comments

Wanted to share links to a few recent posts from the New York Times BITS blog (Business*Innovation*Technology*Society).

The first (Study Finds That Online Education Beats the Classroom) is from August and describes the results of a report produced for the US DoE about the effectiveness of online courses compared with that of comparable face-to-face offerings.

The second (Second Thoughts On Online Education) is a follow-up that discusses another study, funded the the DoE and the NSF, in which the finding were more nuanced in important ways. The comments readers posted in response to this second piece were also fairly thoughtful as well.

Would love to hear other responses from within the IIT community.

Categories: General, News, Research Tags: