• 16Aug
    Author: Katherine Pisana Categories: Education, Technology Comments Off on Opening to Openness

    What does ‘open’ mean in the context of education? Many have shared their opinions on what they think ‘open’ represents, but that’s not really the point, is it? I mean, sharing our views may contribute to the discussion, it may open some eyes and maybe even change a few perspectives, but it hasn’t led us to the answer yet. Does that mean no one really knows the answer? Merrily skipping a little further down this stream of thought, I wonder, if no one really has the answer, there’s no reason for me not to share my point of view too. What’s the worst that could happen – I look silly, unaware, perhaps a touch confused? However I look, everyone else is varying shades of the same color, so here’s me jumping into the debate.

    To this humble student of life, ‘open’ education means accessible education. If it weren’t for openness, I wouldn’t be picking up my masters degree in a few weeks, I wouldn’t be singing the potential benefits of technology to whomever will listen, and I most certainly wouldn’t have had the pleasure of collaborating with brilliant minds from all over the world, all interested in pursuing their passion to explore how technology can impact the way they learn and teach.

    ‘Open’ doesn’t necessarily mean free, but it definitely means affordable – at least to the consumer. Case in point: I am still paying off my undergraduate loans, but I closed the account that funded my masters quite a few months ago. ‘Open’ may not necessarily represent the cheapest option for the institution, but once all that front-end heavy investment has been made, it most certainly has the potential to represent the most efficient, scalable and transferable option. Perhaps if I had waited just a few years, I could have accessed my graduate course materials for free on iTunes U where the OU ranks in the top 5 most downloaded sources in this fruity academic database. That wouldn’t make me eligible to receive my coveted competitive ammunition (a.k.a. my degree certificate), but that doesn’t mean I still wouldn’t be smarter for it.

    To technologists, ‘open’ has a lot to do with trying to figure out how to avoid reinventing the wheel. For legal teams, it’s predominantly about how to navigate the slippery slopes of copyright laws. To academics…well, that one is a bit difficult for me to answer. You see, I’ve spent many years working on the ‘other side’ of the academic profession. I was a part of university administration, which essentially means that I was not ‘one of them’. However, I did have the privilege of working with many of ‘them’ (to at least attempt) to expand their awareness of what educational technology could mean to them and to broaden their understanding of ways in which ed tech could be incorporated into their worlds if they decided to give it a chance. So you see, all I can do is tell you how I perceive the way academics interpret ‘open’.

    There is one school of thought that shuns the concept of digitizing any intellectual materials that it undoubtedly took these brilliant minds centuries to cultivate. These ‘inner two-year-olds’ barely feel comfortable releasing 8th generation photocopies of PowerPoint presentations to their well-paying students (6 per page so as to ensure maximum note-taking real estate). The idea of adapting their materials to fit an electronic learning environment suitable to enrich the lives of an exponentially larger group of eager beavers is simply out of the question. Why? Good question.

    The other school of thought, the one with which I had much more of a pleasure working, accepts the notion that perhaps there may be some benefit to learning new ways of communicating. They concede that there may in fact be some truth that changing the way we communicate might better enable the current generation of teachers to convey information to their audiences in inspirational ways. As you can see, the title of ‘information sharer’ fits this Generation 2.0 of teacher much better than the ‘sages on dusty stages’ that precede them. Think of it like an iPhone versus a telegram – both get a message across, but the quality of the message, the way we go about receiving it and how we choose to interact with it are very different. Students may be sitting in lecture halls, texting and doing their very best to provide evidence of just how many twits there are in the crowd, but in this unfortunately common act of ignorance, they’re also sending a very valuable albeit crudely packaged message to their leaders and guides: we use technology to get our messages across, why aren’t you?

    I realize I’m generalizing, but at this stage of the debate about openness, it’s difficult to deny that we haven’t yet come close to finding a middle ground. But why look at technology through bitter colored glasses smeared with resistance? After all, technology is as much a vehicle of information transfer as paper is. The difference is that whereas paper can be viewed as the byproduct of massacred forests, the Internet (for to use the term technology would be much too gnarly a maze to navigate in the context of this discussion) could just as easily be seen as a voracious devourer of our privacy. The production of paper is contaminating our planet. The Internet is home to evil predators. Producing paper pollutes our water supplies. Surfing the electronic waves of the Internet is dangerous because ‘they’re watching you’.

    Is it at all clear how ridiculous the argument against anything can become whenever we refuse to bend our perceptions just enough to see things a little differently? Paper has also been an invaluable tool facilitating communication through generations. Some of the most important decisions made on the planet have been recorded on paper. Art, history and love have been created on paper. As for the Internet, it has provided access to medical care in some of the most remote places on this planet, given the opportunity for children to learn in areas where traditional schools don’t exist, and facilitated the cultivation of countless communities of like-minded individuals seeking ways to connect and contribute value to society.

    And what about teachers teaching teachers? Isn’t it possible that there are new instructors out there, just entering into the world of knowledge sharing, who would greatly appreciate a benchmark approach to course development? Wouldn’t having access to some of the most renown higher education institutions’ courses (Yale and MIT come to mind) have the potential to add value to the educational offerings provided by any countries at all interested and able to access and make subsequent use of the information, regardless of whether it’s to inject new lifeblood into university, high school or even elementary school curricula?

    All I’m saying is…try being open. The middle ground isn’t that far away.

  • 24May
    Author: Katherine Pisana Categories: Education, Technology Comments Off on The iPhone Moment

    Have you ever been out to dinner with a group of people and experienced the ‘iPhone Moment’? It’s the moment when a question is posed by someone and once the alpha members of the group realize that they’re not able to come to a quick consensus on an answer, everyone automatically pulls out their iPhones and starts dislocating themselves from the physical world in an effort to plug the relevant node into the appropriate information socket in order to suck out the exact notion required to put everyone at ease that the crisis has been averted and the correct factoid has been successfully isolated. And thus, the iPhone saves the day. Everyone is happy. Everyone looks relaxed again. Everyone can unclench and comfortably move on to the next topic of conversation…that is, if you can still call this morphed social phenomenon a conversation.

    I’ve noticed that unless you choose not to pull out your iPhone during the iPhone Moment, you won’t be privy to the cultural nuance taking place. (And yes, in this context, I’m going to make a generalization that you have an iPhone, but if that really offends you, pick your tool of choice and move on with the story). I like to have my phone with me when I go out. It makes me feel safe to know I can make a call if I find myself in an emergency situation. It comforts the admittedly anti-social side of me that sometimes wishes she was invisible so that she could mercifully escape from a social event unnoticed, but since we’re still dealing with the limitations of invisibility technology, having an iPhone is the next best thing – even if it is just to update my status on Facebook (and hope that no one else in the room who happens to be in my network notices). But having observed this scenario numerous times (as depressing as that is), I have noticed that those pulling out their pocket rockets seem to be so intoxicated with the idea of having information instantly accessible at their fingertips that the lack of social awareness manages to escape them. Suddenly it’s ok to ignore their surroundings while silently tapping their screens as they progress on their labyrinthian journey of hyperlinks leading to the golden chalice of knowledge, wisdom and all things technology. But does technology have a place at a dinner party?

    Why am I asking myself this question (particularly since I’m still quite a fan of the iPhone and enjoy the lifestyle improvements its bestowed upon me despite the occasional collision into the over-technified social gathering)? Well, it’s partly because I’m wondering where we’re headed as a civilization if we revert to telephones to communicate with people who are sitting right in front of us. And perhaps it’s also partly because I’m trying to understand the nature in which we acquire or accumulate or access information (depending on your school of thought) in the first place and what we do with it when its served its purpose. And that really begs the question of how we view information in the first place if we simply see it as a piece of disposable data. What happened to enriching our own personal lexicons, taking the time to listen to fascinating stories told by masters of the literary world (both revered and emerging), learning new things about the ecosystem in which we live and then melding all that information into an exchange with other like-minded individuals who are all present and aware and engaged (as well as engaging)? And maybe I’m also asking myself this question because of something I read today.

    Larry Sanger, one of the founders of Wikipedia, wrote a paper published by Educause entitled, ‘Individual Knowledge in the Internet Age‘ in which he stands on quite an intriguing philosophical platform as he examines the impact that the relationship between education and the Internet is having on society and the individual. Does memorization have a place in a world where we can create an iPhone Moment whenever we want? Are we cultivating the next generation of independent and novel thinkers or very expensively trained parrots?

    But he goes much deeper than just an exploration of the residual effects of increasingly easier access to information. He broaches the topic of individual vs. collaborative learning. Is one better than the other? Communities of practice are popping up faster then mushrooms in the dark, damp forests of Northern California. Pedagogies are celebrating the virtues of students learning from one another and teaching each other in group contexts. Everyone is being encouraged to learn in a social context…but when does deep contemplation take place? Where do we find the silence in which information can germinate, intermingle with our existing knowledge structures and eventually contribute to a rich perceptive worth sharing? How do we support the creation of new knowledge (and by new knowledge, I don’t mean opinion on top of commentary and sprinkled with a dash of guesswork)? In a world in which organizations put pressure on their top researchers to find a fast answer to an immediate issue, how do we make the time to think about the long-term solution?

    And then we get to the topic of ‘boring old books’ – are they outdated forms of irrelevant information that are simply doing an injustice to the world population of trees, or is there value in a book? To try to answer that question for myself, I’m going to look back to my recent graduate studies. I studied online, I studied independently, and I was encouraged to study in groups. Out of all the ways that I studied, I didn’t manage to study from books. That is a horrifying realization, albeit a general one (for yes, there were times when I studied from books, but the point is that I was by no means spending my days surrounded by towering shelves of books in one of those….what are they called….museums…..no…..shrines……no…..ah, yes! Libraries!). I remember receiving my very first course package and opening up a box full of books. I was so excited. I couldn’t wait to start reading them. I still can’t. They sit largely unopened in the part of my personal library dedicated to all things elearning. I’m sure I’ll get to them one day, after all, free time is an inevitability at some point in one’s life…right!?

    I’m not suggesting that I have the answers, but I do admit to liking the questions, which, if I go by Sanger’s reasoning, means that I’ve at least grasped a bit of knowledge to know some of the questions to ask, and that’s nice to know. Technology is a tool, but we are the instrument. Let’s not forget that.

  • 09Apr
    Author: Katherine Pisana Categories: Educational Technology, Mind Amplifying Tools Comments: 4


    Today’s post is about online study aids for students. For the most part, we’ll be looking at different variations of online flashcards. It’s up to you to determine whether they can add value to your teaching strategy. As a learning technologist, I would normally sit down with one or more instructors and discuss the nature of the course/module, how it fits in with the curriculum, the desired learning outcomes, the makeup of the student profile, the resources available within the classroom and throughout the term of the course, as well as how the teachers envision their instructional journey. Seeing as we don’t have that luxury here, I’ll do my best to provide you with an overview of some of the tools available to you – all free, all relatively user-friendly. One thing I will caution is that there is often a stigma associated with flashcards in which they are perceived as being useful only for elementary level learning, but with a bit of creativity and imagination, it’s possible to harness their power to aid in memory work and apply them beyond the basics of any subject – languages, geography, medicine, science and technology, history, etc.

    brainflips-logoBrainflips is the first tool on our list. The site has a great interface, each set of flashcards comes with a score board, timer, navigation panel and total number of cards in the deck, which makes it easy to see where you are in the testing process and how well you’re doing. You can study the materials in three different modes: introduction (question & answer side-by-side), traditional (question then answer), and response mode (manually enter answer). Learners can join groups which means that, for example, you can start a study group where you can create sets of decks of flashcards relevant to a specific class you’re teaching and have your students join your group. It gives you a sense of community and allows you to contextualize the learning in a clear place on the site. In terms of file formats, you can include audio, text, images and video into your flashcards. The search feature could be a bit more encompassing and there doesn’t seem to be much choice in how to filter and sort the results which makes it all the more important to know what you’re looking for.



    FunnelBrain takes a very student-centric approach to learning. Based on the Leitner Method (common in the design of flashcard learning tools), the site emphasizes students working together to collaboratively build their knowledge and skills in common subject areas – a communities of practice approach for students. Mixing the well grounded learning theories with an innovative use of wikis and social software differentiates this from many of the other flashcard tools out there.

    Although student teamwork is a great way to develop social as well as scholastic skill sets, how does the student know if they’re on the right path? Having said that, I understand how bringing teachers into the mix would significantly change the dynamic of a student-focused learning approached and these sorts of social dynamics are really important to consider in all technology enhanced educational settings. For example, there was a long-standing misconception prevalent in the educational community (I’m trying to be optimistic and use the past tense here…) that if students are using technologies so widely in their social lives, they will, of course, pick them up just as readily to support their learning. Then we found out that as soon as the context became more formal and people started watching (and assessing) what the students were doing with the technology, voluntary participation dwindled to a meager few. At best, you got a lot of lurkers and a very lonely eModerator creating monologues in the place of what was hoped would become enriching online discussions.

    Collaborative online learning is brilliant – I’m a strong advocate of erasing borders, delimiting limitations and just getting on the with the work. Empowering students to take control of their learning is an initiative that, as far as I’m concerned, couldn’t be supported enough.

    studystack-logoStudyStack has a nice feature of allowing users to rate collections of flashcards (a.k.a. ‘stacks’) using a star rating system. Users can sort search results by stack ratings, by date or by the description given to each set of flashcards. Some additional features include the ability to export content to mobile devices, sharing content through digg, twitter, etc. and there are even a few games mixed in for fun. (On a side note, if you’re looking for a way to create quizzes that students can complete on their mobile devices, you may want to consider Mobile Study.)


    If I had known about StudyStack when I was using Ciao! to study Italian, I would have certainly saved myself some time writing out list after list of vocab and verb conjugations! Students are lucky these days!

    quizlet-logoQuizlet has a great demo video walking you through the key features of the service. What struck me is that it’s narrated by Andrew Sutherland who appears to be creating a quiz set of some French vocabulary for his high school French class – and he’s not the teacher! He’s the student! Why isn’t the teacher running the demo? Why aren’t teachers the ones advocating this tool? Why is a high school student showing teachers how to create learning resources? Or is this just a marketing strategy designed to make the tool more relatable to students?

    In any case, this is a great site full of social networking features, very visual, very user-friendly, and it seems to have a lively community of members. If you get tired of flashcards, Quizlet can convert the information from the flashcards into online quizzes (written answer, matching, multiple choice and true/false formats are available) and if you’re really in the mood for some learning fun, you can play some online games to test your knowledge.


    Because these tools are so similar in their functionality and rely so much on the creator of the study aids to suit the needs of the target students, much of the success of online flashcards depends on what you make of them. Remember that this is all based on your summative assessment strategy, so ask yourself a few questions when considering the use of online flashcards:

    1. Do you as the instructor design the questions or do you have your students design the questions as part of the learning process?

    2. Do you follow up and survey students’ scores, or do you mention the study aid once and hope they pick it up on their own?

    3. Is there even a need to design your own cards considering the amount of content already available online?

    4. Are you using textbooks that already make online study aids available to students? If not, do online flashcards work any better then end of chapter questions paired with a pencil and paper?

    …and remember to have fun with it!