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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Gather Data: Audience Polling Technologies

Podcast / downloadable mp3 file

Turning Technologies has announced the release of a cluster of products that are likely to change the nature of educational interaction in classrooms and online. The new technologies also have the capacity to shape the future of census data-gathering, and consequently, Congressional districts and power distribution in Washington, just to name one "off-label" possibility.

What is the main complaint about the traditional lecture model which may include 300 hundred or more students packed into lecture halls with the sage on the stage professor? Most people would say the problem is the lack of student engagement. In the past, it has been impossible for students to meaningfully interact with the professor and with other students.

Now, thanks to Turning Technologies, professors can take attendance, poll students, ask for opinions, and then display responses with their PowerPoint presentation - all with a click of a clicker, provided by TurningPoint software.

Turning Technologies has an array of audience response cards, or "clickers," which work well with many lecture applications, ranging from K-12 to higher education, corporate training, and government.

The Rochester Institute of Technology has been using Turning Technologies' response cards in its lecture-based courses that include 150 or more students. Using wireless response cards, students not only interact by voting and providing opinions on topics. They can also take quizzes (multiple choice, etc.), and can check roll. The results are gathered in a comma-delimited spreadsheet and imported directly into Desire2Learn, the learning management system used by RIT.

To encourage remote interaction, Turning Technologies is preparing to announce the general release of its VPad, software that allows individuals who are participating in a webinar or other synchronous online activity to vote and for the results to be instantly tabulated and displayed. The possibilities are pretty staggering, particularly in an election year, and in a time when people are seeking ways to improve efficiency in marketing research, census data collection, and

I'd like to see Turning Technologies use their products to gather census data. Their products, if used effectively, could collect the kind of data that could help states such as New York, collect census data accurately and thoroughly, and possibly avoid slipping to 4th place (behind Florida) and thus losing even more Congressional representation. Conversely, Florida could use the technology to gather data in hard-to-gather locations, en masse (say, in departments of motor vehicles), to overtake New York.

These are just a few of the possibilities. The point is, the future is interactive, and data gathering is accurate, efficient, and more flexible than ever.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Professional Development and Corporate Training: The Webinar Weakness

Podcast - downloadable mp3 file.

Anyone who has taken online courses through a college or university is likely to be very disappointed by the webinars commonly offered in corporate and professional development training. Even though new versions of webinars use software such as elluminate ( /) , which allows synchronous audio, presentation media, and streaming video, the experience often leaves a feeling that something was missing.

So, how can webinars be made more effective?

The answer lies in learning strategies.

All too often the assumption is made that if individuals can come together in a virtual space, they'll get as much from the experience as being in the same room together. However, just as meetings can be unproductive, and classrooms boring, a virtual meeting can fall flat. Weak webinars are doubly frustrating because they implicitly communicate a negative message about learning and information technologies. Such a message is doubly ironic in a time of iPhones and ubiquitous wifi, incessant video and text-messaging.

Here are a few ways to strengthen a weak webinar:

Capture the learner's attention at the beginning. Be catchy. Connect with your audience. Engage their emotions, pique their curiosity, appeal to their sense of self and community. By doing so, you'll be creating conditions of learning (Gagne), and making it more likely that they will actually follow through and watch the entire webinar.

Build a cognitive framework at the beginning. Be sure to list learning objectives and outcomes. By doing so, you're helping the learner develop schema, which can be thought of as file cabinets in working memory.
A recent article on cognitive architectures and mobile learning describes some of the processes at work in an effective elearning or mobile learning course.
click here

Encourage interaction. The sage on the stage exudes authority. Although it is a good idea to establish credibility with your program (for example, the American Management Association ( ) touts management luminaries and gurus such as Peter Drucker in its online seminars, offered with a learning management system), if your learners simply sit and passively watch, their recall is likely to be close to nil. Get them involved. Ask them to type in questions, use voice-over chat, videocast their images from webcams. Encouraging interaction will create conditions of learning.

Make it real: connect to audience experience.
The American Marketing Association ( )
offers webcasts in topics that are designed to appeal to its members. With webinars (both live and recorded) in branding, B2B, direct marketing, Internet marketing, market research, marketing return on investment, marketing strategy, and more, the members are likely to find something they can relate to, and which will help them. Without an opportunity to further the connection, and to respond to questions or ideas that ask the individuals to problem-solve for their own particular needs, the audience members are likely to be bored.

Show me the money: reward the learners. Some learners are happy with the emotional "reward" that comes with interaction. It's sufficient emotional affirmation and it satisfies their need for affiliation. Other learners are happy to be able to take a test or a questionnaire that "rewards" them by showing them how much knowledge they've gained. Still other learners are motivated by certificates and other ways to show they have achieved a level of professional expertise. A good example is the exam to become a Professional Certified Marketer. Ostensibly, one can take webinars, which will help an individual prepare to take the exam, which is offered through the American Marketing Association ($100 to register, $435 to take the test / discounts available for members).

Unfortunately, though, most webinars do not establish a clear pathway between their courses and a certificate, college credit-eligible course, or degree.

Repurpose with a purpose. If you're repurposing old videos from the 60s and 70s, keep in mind that the technology, clothing, and hair styles have changed dramatically. You'll need to remember that the anachronistic elements are potentially a huge distraction from the actual message. So, if you're repurposing old video or media assets, be sure to do so with a clear purpose in mind. Repeat the outcomes, the categories of knowledge, the key points, and the desired outcomes. Keep the learner on track. Continue to point to the reason for the presentation or topic.

Respect culture and language. Your webinar may appeal to a very narrow audience, and yet you may need to show it to people from diverse cultures, languages, and geographical regions. Be sure to incorporate the cultural assistance you'll need. Create a mediated space by including bilingual cues and guides, links to helpful dictionary or encyclopedia entries, and explanatory sidebars.

A very useful article that addresses the issues is one on bilingual education located here:

A video that deals with motivation and cultural difference can be found here:

For corporations, professional associations, and organizations with a large inventory of stored "webinar events," the opportunity to strengthen them and expand their reach and impact should be cause for celebration. The "Webinar Weakness" can be overcome by using effective learning strategies.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Analyzing Television and Film in E-Learning

Downloadable mp3 file: podcast

In 2004, two television series, Joan of Arcadia and Wonderfalls, both of which were critically acclaimed but fairly quickly cancelled despite fervent fan bases, featured young, underachieving “slacker” females who started to receive messages from a higher power, through both human and inanimate messengers. Both series address issues that elearners are likely to find thought-provoking, and provide excellent opportunities for discussion, collaboration, and highly situated learning.

In Joan of Arcadia, protagonist Joan Girardi, a 16-year-old C-average high school sophomore at Arcadia High School, reluctantly comes to believe that the individuals she happens to encounter in her daily life are actually God. The way they appear to her is disconcerting: God takes human form as a little girl wearing mismatched outfits, a gruff, elderly dogwalker, a high school maintenance man, to a punk high school student with piercings and safety pins in his lips, and many other individuals one might meet in a medium-sized city. Individuals watching Joan will most likely understand her plight: she is being asked to join activities and do things that not only push her out of her comfort zone, they make her confront unresolved issues and anxieties the she has denied and/or repressed.

For Jaye Tyler, a Brown University graduate with a degree in philosophy, who decides, to the dismay of her over-achieving family, to work as a clerk at a gift shop at Niagara Falls and to live in a down-at-the-heels trailer park, the voices do not purport to be God, but they still give her divine instructions. Jaye’s divine edicts are delivered to her by inanimate objects (all with a face) that suddenly start to bark cryptic orders at her. They range from a taxidermied trout on the wall of a Niagara Falls bar, a malformed wax lion, a chameleon puppet, plush animal souvenirs of Niagara Falls, and even the carved head at the top of a wooden totem pole outside a gas station.

At the beginning of both series, both Jaye and Joan are quintessential slackers. They resist attachment or involvement in the lives of their family and community. Further, neither Jaye nor Joan is religious nor has religious leanings, although Jaye’s brother is working on his doctorate in comparative religion and Joan’s mother is immersing herself in Catholicism. Nevertheless, somewhere within a nihilistic consumer culture in a kitschy tourist destination where Native American myths and heritage have been commercialized (Niagara Falls) or a decaying, ethically empty American city (Joan’s Arcadia), voices appear, and they ask the young women to resist the constructivist pressures of their environments, and to replace emptiness and passivity with activity.

For Jaye Tyler, each action comes with a series of ethical dilemmas. Most have an absurd element, but most do have a core dilemma that most people can relate to. Each episode provides students and opportunity to discuss causal relationships, and the limits of agency. Further, students can discuss how much self-determination or control that individuals really possess.

Both Joan of Arcadia and Wonderfalls reflect contemporary culture’s anxieties about imparted wisdom, and they question the assumptions that are embedded in the skepticism that characterizes an existentialist legacy. Yet, Gen Y lives and operates in a world where there is enormous tension between observable, Newtonian views of reality and seemingly irrational quantum world of unpredictable possibility. The generation is comfortable with believing in processes they can neither see nor understand. In Joan of Arcadia, Joan’s younger brother, Luke, is an honor student whose interest in science and physics gravitates him toward string theory, quantum mechanics, and Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, which he describes in almost every episode. With a degree in philosophy, Jaye Tyler is comfortable with multiple explanations for reality, although she does worry about her sanity when the wax lion speaks to her.

Further, Gen Y and the “millennial generation” are of special concern because they seem to be two generations that embody the digital divide. While other generations have learned to navigate a world with rapid technological change, they are not “digital natives” like Gen Y and the millennial generation. Are “digital natives” truly different? If one believes in environment pressure and adaptive speciation, there is cause for concern.

Rather than relying on the latest handheld device, powerful computer, or wireless gadget, both Jaye and Joan tend to find their messages in people or “things with faces.” As a result, one might conclude that the digital natives may be skeptical of digital information (knowing that everything digital can be manipulated) while people and stuffed animals possess more authenticity.

The film techniques used in creating the animations in Wonderfalls, and the mise-en-scene used in Joan of Arcadia to cinematically represented connectedness and interdependencies within families and communities can also be discussed by the students.

The two series also reflect a certain view of Gen Y’s response to a context that includes both religious fundamentalism and New Age spiritual eclecticism. As platforms for re-examining determinism, free will, ethical dilemmas, and other philosophical issues through often quirky, touching Gen Y lenses, they provide a fascinating opportunity to examine how kitsch and popular culture are deployed to impose a sense of mission and purpose upon two nervous, intimacy-averse, Gen Y slacker grrlz.

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