Thursday, October 28, 2010

Innovators in E-Learning: eStudies Weekly

Welcome to an interview with Ed Rickers, founder of Studies Weekly, and is interested in the format because the tight, condensed format is a good way to help students (and teachers) develop schemata for organizing what can often be an overwhelming amount of material. Their format also incorporates appropriate graphics and media which further help forge classification /organization schemes in the learner's mind. They take advantage of semiotic epistemological considerations (signs / symbols, etc), as well as text / audio / language-based ones. In addition to developing schemata for cognitive systems to help with data retrieval, the format can, when used within a solid instructional strategy, be used to optimize working memory. In the meantime, it's useful to note that the publication's stated design and information presentation objectives engage and create positive conditions for learning.

1. What is your name and your relation to e-learning?
We are Studies Weekly Publications with our electronic equivalent There are more than 1.5 million K-6 students per week that receive curriculum content fro Studies Weekly publications. eStudiesWeekly is the electronic version of those publications. Students with a subscription to Studies Weekly may login and take advantage of augmented learning opportunities available online.

2. What is eStudiesWeekly?
eStudiesWeekly is the online version of the print publications published by Studies Weekly. These are primarily science and social studies publications that cover the state standards at each grade level. Students can take assessments online, read all the content, search the content topically, take advantage of speed reading, or fluency, tools, point and click for on demand vocabulary and pronunciation. Developing readers can even have eStudiesWeekly read the content to them as the words light up on the screen.

3. What motivated you to put together the project?
Teachers have expressed a need for powerful online components that do more than deliver a PDF version of the print media. We've developed eStudiesWeekly to help teachers use time saving tools that help them have more time for their students. If a teacher can spend 15 minutes one-on-one with a student that she would have had to spend grading assessments, then we feel we've accomplished one of our goals.

4. Who is the targeted audience? Who will benefit and how?
The target audience of eStudiesWeekly are the print subscribers to our publications. There are 1.5 million students in grades K-6 that use Studies Weekly on a weekly basic to learn required learning objectives.

eStudiesWeekly is an augmentation of all the Studies Weekly content. We realize that it may not be in the next 2 years, but eventually more and more of educational content will be accessed online. We're building eStudies in preparation for that day and we're off to a good start.

Eventually, we think the day will come when we will deliver all or most of our content exclusively online. When that day comes, we'll be competing not only with other online systems, but with teachers themselves. Due to the capabilities inherent in multimedia platforms, economic factors may foster the necessity to transfer more and more of the responsibility of teaching required learning standards to the medium itself. In the future, online system that incorporate video presentations of master educators combined with media of all other forms, will be the most efficient way to transfer required knowledge to students.

However, one of the biggest challenges will be to develop systems that adapt to the individual aptitudes and capabilities of students. Currently, only teachers are intelligent enough to do this, but their ability to do this varies greatly. With computer-based systems this may be accomplished by providing a multitude of choices at each learning juncture by which the learner will self navigate to fulfill their utmost potential, yet still accomplish the goals set forth in the frameworks mandated by the state. The pace and depth of learning will finally be determined exclusively by the learner. Without computer-based individualized instruction that is scalable to accommodate an unlimited number of students we will not move forward in our effectiveness in educating our society to fulfill its highest potential.

This is not to say that computers will replace educators. This is to say that computers will enable society to extend the reach and influence of our greatest educators. Computers will give these great teachers access to unlimited teaching resources to teach an unlimited student audience.

Like all potentially good things there is an opposite negative potential. If this model is brought to maturity and offered to the public by a small number of providers—presumably large corporations and/or government agencies—there is an enormous potential for large scale bias transfer. Instead of our current system that relies on the collective goodwill and sensibilities of millions of educators, the future computer-based system would be controlled exclusively by relatively few people. This group that would choose tomorrow's educators and learning systems may have more direct influence on the minds of young people then any group in history. If this happens it may be said at some future point, "Never have so many been influenced, for good or for ill, by so few." That is the risk.

However, if competition is maintained among providers the dynamics of the free market system will as always safeguard the best interest of our common welfare.

With all this we're talking about what might happen in the future. Since this is the present, we believe that magazines with textbook content that is updated only as needed is the most efficient curriculum delivery system available. The magazines cover the standards; for the same cost as one textbook you can subscribe for 12 years; they are more fun; they don't require user names or passwords; you don't need the latest download of Flash in order to run them; no hard disk is required; no screen is needed; and they're available right now for an affordable subscription rate.

5. Is eStudiesWeekly mobile-friendly?
eStudiesWeekly is designed to be used on a classroom or home computer. However, we're just getting started. Later we hope to develop lots of other games and content that may be used on mobile devices, Kindles, iPads, etc.

Additional bio details:
Ed Rickers is a self-taught publisher / entrepreneur who started the business in his basement based on a publishing concept that was proven by his father-in-law a retired educator of 32 years. Paul Thompson (father-in-law) published Utah Studies Weekly, the first Studies Weekly publication, from 1984 to 1998. In 1998, Ed Rickers got involved and started hiring teachers, writers, and artists to create textbook substitutes in newspaper format that would teach state history to fourth grade students. Eventually this model was expanded to K-6 social studies and science. There were other relatives of Paul Thompson that also started publishing on the same concept at the same time. Eventually, Rickers' company acquired the other Studies Weekly publishing companies from the other relatives and has been building the Studies Weekly brand nationwide under one banner now since 2007.

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