Tuesday, April 28, 2009

tt4t_084 Anytime, anywhere, any path, and any pace

It’s Tuesday, April 28th, 2009 and welcome to episode 84 of TechTalk4Teachers, I’m Tom Grissom. It is getting to be that time of year again where the work load crescendos to the point of becoming out of control as the last week of the semester is upon us and our final exams are coming up next week. This time of year both teachers and students rush to complete assignments and projects. Teachers are working hard to get all the grading completed so we can wrap up another semester and get ready to begin a new one.

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This cycle however is not as strict as it once was for universities as new technologies now make it possible for anytime and anywhere learning that can completely disregard the old-guard academic calendar cycles. This transition has been going on now for more than a decade for many universities and today the learning never ends. Whether you are taking a formal college-level course, pursuing work related training, or just updating your knowledge and skills in an area that interests you the possibilities for learning new things have never been greater. There is NO EXCUSE for not learning something new EVERYDAY. In fact in todays global economy it is absolutely necessary to be a continual learner otherwise you are falling behind. The days of getting a college degree and being set for life are long gone.

Now the other pieces to this story besides the anytime and anywhere learning opportunities are the any path and any pace possibilities. In the age of the Internet data is scattered everywhere, turning this data into knowledge that can be acted upon and learned from is a highly valued skill in this age of information overload.

We are just beginning to harness the power of any path and any pace learning. This new model presents significant challenges to traditional organizations that still use the agrarian calendar as the basis of grading periods. People are however harnessing this power for themselves as they pursue their own interests in the quest for continually improving themselves. Some seem better equipped than others to gain new knowledge and skills on their own and at their own pace and path.

It will be interesting watching the any path and any pace possibilities develop over the coming decade. Teaching is hard work, many teachers struggle to manage the learning of individuals that are grouped (we call these groups classrooms), the complexities become infinite when considering individual learning plans for each student for an any path and any pace model. I believe it can be, and indeed is being done, but it does represent significant challenges to traditional systems that have been organized around the classroom model of sit and get for the past 100 years.

The only way that I see that this any path and any pace model working is with the significant introduction of new technologies to assist teachers and students with developing, delivering, and managing their own learning goals. Many teachers do an admirable job with individualizing instruction even in a classroom environment by using project-based learning activities and other methods that draw upon student interests and knowledge levels. Taking the any path and any pace learning model to the next level however will require the development of new systems to assist with the individualization of learning goals and to assist with determining prerequisite knowledge so that previous knowledge can be built upon.

This evolution will be difficult as the current system is setup with a structured curriculum and is often monitored with standardized testing. This structure has often caused lock-step instructional methods and a teaching to the test mentality. I believe the technologies are already present and that the greater challenges will be the political and societal forces that are often satisfied with the status quo despite the rhetoric. This model will turn the current system upside down by working with individual students that will drive their own personalized curriculum rather than a top-down approach.

Another barrier is that computer-based instruction has left a bitter taste with many teachers as many of these systems have not fulfilled their early promises. In fact I myself have been a victim of computer-based instruction as a student where the curriculum was delivered via a computer with poor results so therefore I am both sensitive and skeptical of these systems when they are promoted. A combination of the teacher in the lead as the expert with carefully selected technologies will be needed to make this a reality and finding the right balance will be the key if this model is to become more prominent in the future. Going from the unknown to the desired known will require a combination of the teacher and the student working together on an appropriate learning plan to get there.

Technology Pick of the Week

My Technology Pick of the Week this week is a fun site that will predict where you would end up if you were able to dig a hole through the center of the earth. A link is available in the show notes.

Dig a hole through the Earth

Of course there are all kinds of caveats to this imaginary journey such as gravity pulling you back to the center of the earth once you past the center point and it would be unbearably hot and the molten magma might prove a problem as you would never be able to survive the journey. Even given the impossibility it is interesting to note exactly where you would end up if this were possible. At this website you are presented with a Google Map and you are to click on your location on the map and then click the Start Digging link. When I selected my location in Illinois and clicked the Start Digging link I ended up in the Indian Ocean off the western coast of Australia.

I grew up hearing the phrase digging a hole to China and that cliché has stuck with me all of these years, I believe the first time I heard this was from a Bugs Bunny cartoon from my childhood. After playing around with this website for a little while it was interesting to note that I actually had to be in the proximity of Argentina and Chile if I wanted to dig a hole through the center of the earth and end up in China. I guess Bugs Bunny lives in South America, who knew?
On a more serious note my second Technology Pick of the Week is a new service from Mogulus called Procaster that looks very promising for teachers wanting to produce television type streaming webcasts complete with picture-in-picture and screenshot capability.

Currently Procaster is free and available only for the Windows platform, a link is available in the show notes.

Procaster – Live Streaming and Broadcast Production Tool

Mogulus – streaming service

The Mogulus service is similar to Ustream in that it allows you to stream live content over the Internet. It is now possible for everyone to have their own broadcast channel. I have not had a chance to try this new offering of Procaster out yet but it is on my short list for promising new apps to be used to benefit teaching and learning. I only hope that some quality content is offered and that this service does not become a wasteland of inappropriate content. Of course this new technology provides yet another example for the need for organizations to update their policies of Internet use in the classroom and further refine acceptable use policies but the possibilities are limited only by your imagination.

The one weakness to this type of video deployment is bandwidth availability. Using streaming video services requires massive amounts of bandwidth and a broadband connection is a must to use these types of services. The other factor that will limit the popularity of video streaming is that of bandwidth caps that some Internet providers now place on their services. I worry about both of these requirements being that I am from rural Illinois where broadband access choices are limited and my wireless data service is capped at 5GB per month. Trying to be innovative with these restrictions is difficult.

If you are very comfortable with using technology and interested in creating your own video content I would encourage you to give the free Procaster a try as I believe we are finally at a point where the technology has matured to a point of ease-of-use that anyone now has the opportunity to be a producer of quality content. The technical details are getting easier, the bigger challenge is coming up with the content. Just make sure you get approval if needed and always observe your organizations policies on Internet use. Now combine the anytime, anywhere, any path, and any pace learning possibilities with teachers creating their very own personalized video content then new opportunities become quite intriguing.

Let’s do something good with this technology and use it to improve the human condition, are you up to the challenge?

That wraps it up for episode 84 of TechTalk4Teachers. Transcripts and show notes for this episode and archived episodes are available at the Eastern Illinois University Instructional Technology Center website at http://www.eiu.edu/itc just click on the Techtalk4Teachers Podcast link. If you have questions, comments or suggestions please send an email to techtalk@eiu.edu or leave a comment on the TechTalk4Teachers blog. Until next time, this is Tom Grissom, keep on learning.

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