Laptops: Not the only moble device

My friend Rick West brought up an important topic in his blog: Should laptops be required for all university students? This is a topic that has come up a lot lately, including here at BYU. Quite honestly, I think talking about every student needing a “laptop” is a bit short-sighted. The discussion, in my mind, should be whether or not students should be required to have a “moble device”. There are many effective mobile devices other than laptops (such as the Blackberry 7230, a Tablet PC, a cell phone, or a PDA). This may seem like a nit-picky little arguement, but I think it’s very important to realize that there are many other ways to be mobily connected other than just through a laptop.

That said, should mobile devices be required on college campuses? Yes and no. Requiring students to use specific learning tools is goofy. Let me give you an example from my junior year in college. I decided that I was not going to buy any textbooks that semester. I would find all the materials that I needed in the library or on the internet. I saved hundreds of dollars and performed very well in all of my classes. Why then should anyone have requred me to buy my textbooks? [by the way, I have rarely purchased textbooks from that point on]. Now, if the universities see some new forms of learning that are available through the use of mobile devices, then they should start teaching that way and the mobile device situation will take care of itself. There will be a point where students just feel that it is impossible to survive without their mobile devise (like many today feel they cannot survive without buyng expensive textbooks). In that paradigm if a student can get by without the devise, then why not?

This is another issue that may seem like a minor wording change, but I think it’s an important paradigm shift. It’s also a perfect example of the backwards thinking that we do so often in educational settings. Find the best way to teach [period]. If that way requires mobile devices then students will get them. If it requres a mechanical pencil, they will get them. If it requires a paintbrush, they will get the. To be cliché, cure the problem, don’t just try to treat the solution. If the cure means that students will be walking around with Blackberry devices (which I think it may) then so be it.

See my post on mobile education

Top 10 Reasons to Mobilize – Chris Thomas (Intel)

This week I had a great opportunity to listen to Chris Thomas, Chief Strategist for Intel (thanks to an invite from my friend Curt Allen of Agilix Labs). He gave a very interesting top 10 list of reasons to mobilize.

Before jumping into his list, I want to summarize (to the best of my ability) what he meant by mobilizing. His solution is that we look for ways to get the content directly to the users. For example, instead of having to go to a portal. like Blackboard, students could get the documents directly on their mobile devices. One way to think of it would be like e-mailing the documents to the students. The difference though, is that it would keep track of updates and changes to documents and automatically update your local files as needed. There are products that make this type of system work today. Bloglines and other blog aggregators work in this way, they give you a list of all of the changes and additions to the blogs that you are subscribed to. Agilix’s goBinder software provides this same type of functionality for Balckboard. Content from a student’s course is automatically downloaded to their computer and synchronized every time a student gets online.
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The Blog-olution: Using Blogs in Education

One significant “wake up” moment for me happened about 4 years ago when I took my first trip to Guatemala. I was working as a technology consultant for the Rose Education Foundation at the time. While I was there I had the chance to see issues in the news, both about the world and about the United States, from a Guatemalan perspective. It was surprising how different the stories were from what I had heard on CNN and other US news services. US reports of our global good-doing did not correlate with the reports in Guatemala. This was how I began to understand that “free press” does not necessarily equate to “true press”.
To take an example a little closer to home, I don’t think I’ve ever been quoted correctly in BYU’s newspaper, the Daily Universe (this bothered me until a friend pointed out that the Daily Universe is like the supermarket tabloids – everyone knows that it’s just a jumble of poorly written, inaccurate articles – but once you realize that, it’s kind of fun to read). In addition to making me slightly leery about what I hear on the news, these experiences have made me look for other sources of information, such as Blogs and Wikis.
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Content Diagrams & Rube Goldberg

When planning a project, often “content analysis” diagrams are made. This was the case during the implementation of Blackboard at BYU and other large instructional design projects that I’ve worked on. However, every time I look at one of these things, I can’t help thinking of one of Rube Golberg’s drawings…
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Science vs. Technology

There is an apparent confusion or blur between the role of a “scientist” and “technologist”. According to Andy Gibbons, this blur can lead to technologists thinking of themselves as “wannabe” scientists, a self-image that is “damaging to technological research, especially to research in instructional technology”. (Thr Practice of Instructional Technology: Science and Technology, Gibbons 2003) In his article, Gibbons makes the distinction that science “builds conceptual models… to explain observed effects,” while technology “builds different causal models… to describe how artifacts can created.” Charles Reigeluth makes this point clearer in his article “What is Instructional-Design Theory” by stating that instructional design theory (technology) is “design oriented” while science is “description oriented”.
Dr. Alan J. Friedman, Director of NY Science Hall sums up these differences in a simpler way.
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Needs Assessment and Post-it Notes

My father is a well-known speech pathologist. On the first day of teaching his “intro” classes he always ends by saying “All you have to do is speak louder and slower. Congratulations, you are all now speech pathologists.”

Of course that isn’t really all there is to being a Speech Pathologist. From that point on, the students begin years of learning about the intricacies and details of the field. But his point is that, even with all of the additional information they are going to learn, it all comes back to some simple principles. Applying my dad’s wisdom to instructional design, there are all kinds of models and ideas, but when it’s all said and done, Instructional Design is really just a bunch of common sense. In this way, we’ve all been Instructional Designers to some extent for a long time (as Geoff Wright puts it in his blog). However, even in Instructional Design we can get so caught up in the models that we loose trace of the purpose of this whole thing in the first place.
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What’s my number? (Cognitive Processing)

This Sunday, as we sat at dinner, someone brought up an interesting question: “Can you remember your phone number from when you were a kid?” We were surprised to find out that we could still remember, not only our own phone numbers, but those of our friends and other family members from 10 or 15 years ago. In the book “Learning and Cognition”, Driscol reminds us of the characteristics of long-term memory. “Long term memory cannot be filled up. As far as we know long-term memory is capable of retaining an unlimited amount and variety of information.” (Driscol, M. 2000)
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Too Many Messengers

In the movie Sneakers, Martin Bishop (played by Robert Redford) is trying to steal a little black box from professor Gunter Janic who felt there were too many secret codes in the world. In fact Bishop discovers that the name of Janic’s fictitious company, “SETEC Astronomy”, is really a scrambled version of “too many secrets”. That’s kind of how I feel about Instant Messenger programs. Everyone has a service they prefer (Yahoo!, MSN, AIM, ICQ, etc) which takes away some of the practicality of using instant messenger software in the first place. It is kind of like saying you can only send e-mails to other people who use your same e-mail service. In the movie Sneakers, Janic’s solution to the too many secrets problem was the invention of the little black box that could decoded any encryption on any online system. Wouldn’t it be great if Janic had created a little black box to get all of the instant messenger programs talking to each other? Well even though he was killed by Cosmo before he had the chance, fortunately someone else has done it.

Using the XML protocols established by Jabber, several companies have made Instant Messenger programs that will let you see all of your buddies from all of the major chat systems. And best of all, it’s free! Many free instant messenger apps can be found at Rumor has it that Google will soon be releasing their own Jabber-based IM software as well, which will undoubtedly be the best on the market (if it is consistent with their other products like gMail). Until then, my recommendation is Fire by Epicware – that’s for Mac OS X, but there are a ton of Windows clients too for you PC users on the Jabber site.

So bring all of your buddies together and have a grand old IMing time, and if you haven’t seen Sneakers yet, go to Blockbuster ASAP.

Why are they clicking there?

Several months ago, I produced a Violin Pedagogy site. Because of the time involved in capturing and editing the video clips used on the site, a friend of mine suggested that I use a Rapid Prototyping model of development. This is the idea (described by Dorsey, Goodrum, & Schwen 1997) that content is developed in iterations, testing it with “end users” along the way. Confident that I really didn’t need end-user feedback, I produced about half of the video clips before reluctantly doing finding a violinist to look at the clips. The first user, after about 30 seconds of looking at the clips, said, “It’s too far away. This won’t help at all.” Humbled, I finished the project adhering strictly to the iterative model of Rapid Prototyping.
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Blogs for Dogs

One of the great things about blogging is that it gives everyone an opportunity to have their voice heard. You never know who will be interested in what you have to say. To quote Strongbad, “Maybe tomorrow you’ll be really big in Pakistan… Or at least with some guy named Stan”.

Anyway, to prove my point, take a look at this blog from Freddie…
I particularly enjoy his most recent blog called, “Ruff, ruff ruff.”