Friday, October 07, 2011

Interview with Joe Landsberger, Website Study Guides and Strategies

Welcome to an interview with Joe Landsberger, who has put together extensive online study guides and study tools to meet the needs of students everywhere. While courses can be relatively easy to find and OpenCourseWare more prevalent, it is often difficult to find effective study tools, particularly in different languages.

Joe Landsberger:
For the past 16 years, I have researched and authored content, as well as developed and financially supported its Website Study Guides and Strategies. This stemmed from my professional and educational background in assisting learners and developing training modules in a university setting, as well as discovering the educational potential of the Internet back in the early 1990’s. In a chance encounter with an academic support professional at a conference, I discovered that a Website should be a useful tool delivering study strategies in a learning center environment. With publication of those first pages in a Website, I immediately began to receive appreciation from developing countries. A cadre of dedicated volunteer translators and collaborations also emerged to where its resources are translated in 39 languages.

Joe Landsberger
Study Guides and Strategies

Over 250 topics in content have been developed. Some have been developed as part of a logical sequence, some by chance encounters identifying a need, and even a few by request. They include options in learning as types, in the classroom, with others, online; time and project management; test preparation and taking; reading and writing guides. Each Webpage adheres to a similarly bulleted style and format in a consistent design and navigation template, which is of course reversed for right-to-left text as Arabic, Hebrew, and Persian.

Initially the content was verbal without images, but as capabilities progressed more were illustrated. In 2003 Flash was deployed in order to facilitating engagement with content, and over 100 interactive exercises are now online as well. Aside from developing these exercises, another effort toward enhancing the effectiveness of the resource has been made to group, and even sequence topics. One limit to the singular nature of the Website, is that there is no institutional affiliation, which impedes research into determining effectiveness or in terms of outcomes, and also limits my opportunities for funding (while a public service, the organization is not non-profit, just without profit!). However, over 60,000 (educational) institutions link to the site worldwide, and traffic has continued to grow each of its 16 years, currently increasing at 23% in 2011 to over nine million visitors.

Due to the anonymous nature of the Internet, it has been difficult to gauge characteristics of visitors, whether student, teacher, support professional or parent. however presented this profile (December 2010): "Compared with internet averages the site's audience tends to be aged under 25 and 55-65; they are also disproportionately low-income, moderately educated, childless women browsing from school and home." English accounts for about 80% of pages accessed. Interestingly, only about 5% of visitors use handheld/mobile devices.

Approximately 51% of traffic originates in the US, 6% the Philippines, 4% Canada, 3.6% Mexico, 3.5% India. Over the years the international traffic has increased as more guides are translated. One curious source of traffic originated in a developing country. When I inquired from a researcher the reason, he stated that the guides seemed research-based, freely accessible, and that his country did not have the resources either to develop them, or to provide academic support in school settings.

Aside from adding topics, translations, and exercises future projects will respond to advances in technology. Recognizing the limitations of Flash and evolving standards and specifications for web-based e-learning (SCORM), I eagerly await HTML5, as well as other applications and developments in promoting interactivity for the topics and content of the Website.

Currently all 1500 pages of content are being migrated into CSS, with 20 of 39 languages completed. This effort has magnified the limitations of myself as developer. I had to dedicate several months of time not only to assess the next iteration, but also, lacking any collegial environment, teach myself the development and implementation. This last has involved a line-by-line review of not only code, but also the content itself. Foreign languages presented a unique challenge that was remedied by machine translators and Internet searches to verify and optimize text!

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