Friday, December 31, 2010

Half-Life of a Blog Post

This is old news for veteran bloggers, but I was just curious about my contribution to the Huffington Post Divorce section on the Divorce Research of 2010 and the comments. 

The article was posted at 3:23 am, Dec 28, 2010.  By Noon that day there were seven comments. 

Here are the number of comments between Noon - 8pm that day

Noon     14
1 pm      38
2 pm      52
3 pm      35
4 pm      22
5 pm      17
6 pm       8
7 pm      11
8 pm        5

Between 9 pm and and 10 pm there were five more comments and then between 11 pm and 1 am on Dec 29, 2010, there were 25 comments In the 48 following hours there were 4 additional comments. 

This does not mean that this contribution is still not being viewed (I don't have access to these data.), but it does mean that at least in  this particular case, the commenting on this post lasted about 12 hours.  I am sure that the Huffington Post has more data about the pattern of comments, the demographics of the "commenters" themselves, but this does give you a feel for the brevity of the life of a discussion on the Huffington Post and probably many "news" sites. 

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Celebrity Divorce as a Teaching Tool

The most frequent topics on the Huffington Post Divorce page is about celebrity divorces. 

I haven't done a systematic analysis, but I would suspect that more than 90% of the postings are about celebrities. 

This has made me wonder about whether there are ways to use people's interest in celebrities to teach or to interest people in useful information about divorce, relationships, family life, etc. 

Here is an example by one of the editors of Us magazine:   There are a couple of ideas that probably apply generally to non-celebrity couples such as spending time together and considering who you share information with about your marriage-- for most of us we have little worry about some meddlesome paparazzi or television reporter revealing our lives, but friends and family can be intrusive or harmful in some cases. 

But much of what is in this article isn't very helpful to ordinary couples because we don't face the same challenges of high-profile celebrities... so I am not sure if this strategy makes any sense. 

It is also possible that "celebrity names and events" can be used to get accidental page views by unsuspecting web surfers or to use as celebrity news events as a bridge to everyday lives.  For example, parents fighting over custody as a basis for talking about the effects of custody battles on children and so forth.  

I am going to look for opportunities to try out some approaches to incorporating celebrities into my postings. 

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Reactions to Divorce Research 2010 Blog Post

About 36 hours ago, Huffington Post Divorce editor, Ashley Reich and I posted the results of ten research articles published in scientific journals in 2010.  (see this post for more background.)

As of this morning there were also 300 comments, over 900 re-tweets, and 60+ shares on Facebook.  Interesting.  The postings are mostly the findings themselves without much embellishment.  Six of these studies were in the news earlier in the year, but four of the studies have not had a news release prepared and/or released to the public.  Readers also have the opportunity to rate the "most interesting" study and/or findings.  Again as of today, the most interesting finding is from Gharzarian and Buehler study of the way in which marital conflict is linked to academic achievement.  (complete study here)  Again this is a study that I don't think has been in the news in general. 

I have not done an extensive analysis of the comments, but they are interesting.  Some indicate that there are some savvy readers such as this comment that shows the author is quite familiar with the research literature and methods:
"There is an entire academic industry based on exploring the impacts of divorce on children. Most use a cross-sect­ional design, examining difference­s between children from divorced & intact households­. These designs lead to self-selec­tion issues (despite attempts to control for confoundin­g factors), as children are not randomly assigned to the divorced or intact group. Longitudin­al studies, which circumvent these problems, are becoming more common and often corroborat­e cross-sect­ional findings, although the effect sizes are typically much smaller. With regards to the tuition finding, an earlier study of Albuquerqu­e men found that men invested most in the college expenses of their biological children of their current spouse, then roughly equal in current step-child­ren and biological children of previous spouses, and by far the least in former step-child­ren from previous marriages. The fact that these effects were found from both the point of view of the child and the father suggests that the effect is real."  
There are also comments like this one which indicates that some readers make it sound like they understand the statistics and scientific methods, but do not completely understand the source and substance of this work:

"I don't doubt at all that divorce has a negative effect on kids... I have made some comments to that idea regarding public education.

But, while there may be correlatio­n—and maybe some causation—­I doubt many of these studies are very statistica­lly significan­t. Are we really supposed to believe that if our parents get divorced we are 100% more likely to have a stroke BECAUSE they decided to get divorced?

Spurious data and info ki//s me... the example we used was that divorce rate (coinciden­tally) doubled for each country club a man belonged to; therefore, 1 membership doubled the chances, 2 membership­s tripled the rate... I doubt that golf is the leading cause of divorce."

Overall, many of the comments suggest that they are reading the findings and thinking about the issues that are presented.  This makes me hopeful about the degree to which behavioral scientists can use new media methodologies to distribute their findings. 

New York Times-- Teaching Family Life Education

The New York Times creates an interesting feature in which they use the "news" as a basis for creating lesson plans for students.  Here is there overall approach and strategy:

Here is a sample lesson on children's experiences of living with with their fathers or mothers after divorce.

In general this work is designed for teachers, but there are opportunities for young people to also contribute or take part in this work.  The overall design of this work is nicely done and would be helpful to teachers.  In general, there don't seem to be many examples that use behavioral or social science materials, but this probably reflects the fact that these topics do not easily fit most school curricula. 

This model might be adapted by teachers and/or curriculum developers themselves to develop lessons from a wider variety of news and information sources.

Here are some examples on the topics of marriage and divorce.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

2010 Year In Review of Divorce Research for Huffington Post

Late on Thursday, Dec 22nd, I got an email from the editor at the Huffington Divorce page about helping to identify the "research findings" for the year 2010. Friday morning, Dec 23rd, I woke up early and did a quick review of my own collection of "interesting divorce articles" and a review of the major scientific databases and identified about 40 research studies that seemed to represent the important new findings that were shaping our understanding of divorce and also might be of interest to the general public. So I sent the following list of topical ideas to the editor:

military service and divorce
patterns of divorce in China
the genetic contributions to divorce
a better understanding of how marital conflict affects children
the risk of former partner violence around the time of pregnancy/birth
perceived household task sharing and marital happiness (or not)
Children with special needs including autism and likelihood of divorce
New online program for stepfamilies that looks promising
New evidence that indicates the effectiveness of mediation programs for divorcing couples

The editor replied that this was an interesting list and asked if I was willing to write short summaries of all of these except autism and the stepfamily program. She either indicated that they already had these or these were less interesting. (not sure of this).

So I began to re-read and summarize each of the articles I had selected on each of these topics. Although this seemed like it would be pretty easy, I suspect that I spent 4-5 hours on this. I spent a lot of time on two articles related to genetics and divorce and I realized I just did not have a sufficient grasp of this science to do a summary that I trusted. One my New Year's resolutions will be to learn more about this area of science so I can better understand developments in this area. Anyway I sent off my summaries which will be edited and become part of this year in review slide show for the Huffington Post. This coming year I am going to spend more time putting this review together and do a quick monthly review of new articles so that I have a better representation of the research at the end of the year.

The following article appeared at the Huffington Post:

Below you will see my original contribution (before editing) of my submission to the Huffington Post.


Interesting Research Studies Related to Divorce (2010). 

Military service and divorce
Military service couples are more likely to get divorced, a recent prevention program offers help. Scott Stanley and his colleagues have designed a marital relationship program called, Strong Bonds, that is designed to teach military couples important communication and conflict management skills. Married U.S. Army couples recently participated in a test of whether this program would reduce divorce. One-half the group participated in the program and the other half did not. The results showed that about 2% of the couples who participated in the program were divorced one year later and 6% of the couples were divorced who did not participate in the program. These findings suggest that couple education can reduce the risk of divorce.

Stanley, S. M., Allen, E. S., Markman, H. J., Rhoades, G. K., & Prentice, D. L. (2010). Decreasing divorce in U.S. army couples: Results from a randomized controlled trial using PREP for strong bonds. Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy, 9(2), 149-160. doi:10.1080/15332691003694901

Patterns of divorce in China
China has been undergoing rapid changes in economic growth and relocation from rural to urban communities. A recent report on changes in the divorce rate suggest that China’s family life is also rapidly changing. Qingbin Wang and Qin Zhou recently reported in the Journal of Divorce and Remarriage that the divorce rate in China has increased over 200% since 1980. There is wide variation in the divorce rate across the various provinces in China which vary in terms of ethnicity, religion, and so forth. These results indicate that those regions with the greatest economic growth the largest number of college-educated people have the highest divorce rate. Xinjiang province had the highest divorce rate, followed by the northeast region of Heilongjiang, Jilin, and Liaoning. Changes in social and family life will be important to the future of China.

Wang, Q., & Zhou, Q. (2010). China's divorce and remarriage rates: Trends and regional disparities. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 51(4), 257-267. doi:10.1080/10502551003597949

A better understanding of how marital conflict affects children
One of the most consistent findings is the link between divorce and marital conflict and children’s difficulties in school. Despite this finding scientists know relatively little about the mechanisms that cause these results and the factors that might prevent these outcomes. Sharon Ghazarian and Cheryl Buehler recently reported on a study that provides new insight into these issues. Based on a sample of over 2,000 sixth grade boys and girls, these researchers measured marital conflict, parent-child relationships, children’s academic achievement and children’s coping with their parents’ disagreements. Their findings indicated that that the way that parental conflict affects young people is through their children’s feelings of self-blame for the conflict. Youth interpret their parents’ conflicts as stressful and they are more likely to blame themselves by these experiences. These results were similar for girls and boys. These findings suggest the importance of helping children understand parental conflict and developing coping strategies that do not involve blaming oneself. Supportive parents and other caring adults also crucial to helping young people whose parents are in conflict. 

Ghazarian, S. R., & Buehler, C. (2010). Interparental conflict and academic achievement: An examination of mediating and moderating factors. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 39(1), 23-35. doi:10.1007/s10964-008-9360-1
The risk of former partner violence around the time of pregnancy/birth
Physical violence during pregnancy can be harmful to mothers and their children. It is estimated that between 4-9% of pregnant women experience violence from their partners. A recent study conducted by the CDC looked at intimate partner violence in more detail. Based on reports from about 135,000 women in 27 states, the researchers examined the extent of violence and the characteristics of the abusers and their living circumstances. The findings indicated that former partners (4.5%) were more likely to be violent than current partners (3.5%). Women who were recently separated or divorced were substantially more likely to experience violence during their pregnancy (12%) compared to women whose marriages had not broken up (less than 2%). These findings indicate the importance of screening pregnant women about violence from both former and current partners. It is also important to have programs and services available to women who are identified to prevent further violence.

Chu, S. Y., Goodwin, M. M., & D'Angelo, D. V. (2010). Physical violence against U.S. women around the time of pregnancy, 2004–2007. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 38(3), 317-322. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2009.11.013

Perceived household task sharing and marital happiness (or not)
Many recently married husbands and wives report conflicts over who does the household chores. Indeed this is often the source of issues related to divorce. However, even though wives usually do almost twice as much work in the home compared to their husbands, they usually report this division of labor as fair. This finding has long puzzled researchers who study couples. Recent data has begun to provide more insight into wives’ views of management of household chores. Sayaka Kawamura and Susan Brown at Bowling Green State University hypothesized that wives’ perceptions that they “matter” to their husbands is strongly related to their feelings of fairness about household chores. In short, they suggest that marital satisfaction has less to do with the equal exchange of resources and more to do with feelings of love and intimacy. They studied over 900 women who reported on the fairness of the division of household labor and the degree to which their husband’s made them feel important or that they mattered. They asked questions such as: “How often does your husband make you feel he is there for you when you need him?” and “How often does your husband make you feel he really cares about you?” The results indicated that wives who feeling respected and cared for substantially predicted being positive about the division of household chores. These findings held up across age, ethnic and economic groups. Kawamura and Brown write, “Mattering taps into an individual’s beliefs about the spouse’s supportiveness, as evidenced by respect, concern, appreciation and so forth…” This may be the source of marital satisfaction.

Kawamura, S., & Brown, S. L. (2010). Mattering and wives’ perceived fairness of the division of household labor. Social Science Research, 39(6), 976-986. doi:10.1016/j.ssresearch.2010.04.004
(no link to study)

New evidence that indicates the effectiveness of mediation programs for divorcing couples
There are numerous horror reports about divorcing couples and their court room battles. For the past 20 years courts and divorcing couples have been trying out alternative ways of reducing the conflict and animosity that is often associated with litigation. The primary alternative has been mediation which involves couples working with a professional who helps the couples find common ground. There have been several evaluation studies of these efforts that suggests this method reduces couple’s conflict and leads to more enduring resolutions of custody and parenting plans. A recent report in Conflict Resolution Quarterly by Lori Shaw provides the most promising evidence to date about the effectiveness of these programs. Shaw combined the results of the five most rigorous evaluation studies to compare multiple methods across diverse settings and circumstances. She reports that compared to litigation, divorcing couples using mediation are more satisfied with the process, the outcomes, their spousal relationship and their understanding of children’s needs. These results have important implications for court systems and divorcing couples. 

Shaw, L. A. (2010). Divorce mediation outcome research: A meta-analysis. Conflict Resolution Quarterly, 27(4), 447-467. doi:10.1002/crq.20006

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Outline of an Educational Blog Post on Divorce

In writing for the Huffington Divorce page, I am trying to develop blog posts that have the following structure:

a) interesting/engaging/provocative opening sentence
b) a couple of interesting practical ideas that could be helpful to someone
c) links, directions, ideas about how learn more or do something to more.

This is one of my better posts in which I feel like I executed my approach well:

Additionally, I cite the research literature when appropriate and I use scientist's names to link to ideas or findings. I am also trying to take a hopeful, but realistic perspective on these issues. To do this I try to distinguish between what can be changed and what can't be changed in order to provide a broader perspective.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Blogging for Huffington Post on Divorce

For the past month or so I have been writing for the Huffington Post Divorce page. This work gives a chance to return to my primary professional work which is as a educator regarding issues related to families.

For several years I have admonished and cajoled colleagues about the need for scientists and teachers to use the web as a platform for teaching. (See my comments about the importance of scientists and professionals blogging about the link between autism and vaccines.) When I was approached by the editors at the Huffington Post about being a blogger for their newly launching web page on divorce , I knew I had to do this. I have now posted four posts (about one per week). (See my Huffington Posts work here: )

My first post on the role of religion in shaping attitudes about divorce got the most (151) comments (both thoughtful and odd). My most recent post on the role of conflict in preventing divorce got the smallest number of comments (2). It is hard to know why one post gets more comments than others.

I will continue to try this medium. Here I will describe my various reactions to "teaching" in the Huffington Post.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Participation vs. Web 2.0

I keep learning new ideas from Henry Jenkins. In a recent note about DIY (Do it yourself) Media, Jenkins makes two important points that are critical to how we think about models of learning on the web.

First, he critiques the use of the term "DIY" noting that the emphasis is not on "oneself," but on a group of people, he writes,
"what may be radical about the DIY ethos is that learning relies on these mutual support networks, creativity is understood as a trait of communities, and expression occurs through collaboration. Given these circumstances, phrases like "Do It Ourselves" or "Do It Together" better capture collective enterprises within networked publics."
I think his emphasis is right. I have the same difficulty with "personalized learning environments" that seem to emphasize the idea that each of us is some type of autonomous learner rather than emphasizing platforms and processes that engage people in the pursuit of a common understanding and learning.

Later in this article he comments on ideas from Gee (2007) saying,
"Unlike schools, where everyone is expected to do (and be good at) the same things, these participatory cultures allow each person to set their own goals, learn at their own pace, come and go as they please, and yet they are also motivated by the responses of others, often spending more time engaged with the activities because of a sense of responsibility to their guild or fandom. They enable a balance between self-expression and collaborative learning which may be the sweet spot for DIY learning."
Again this emphasizes the idea of learning communities rather than individual learning.

The last point in this article is his idea about differences between the Web 2.0 model and "participatory" culture. He writes,
"Despite a rhetoric of collaboration and community, they often still conceive of their users as autonomous individuals whose primary relationship is to the company that provides them services and not to each other. There is a real danger in mapping the Web 2.0 business model onto educational practices, thus seeing students as "consumers" rather than "participants" within the educational process."
I have often used terms like "Education 2.0," etc. but Jenkins makes an important distinction that may be missed as we talk about these ideas. He notes a big difference in these models is the extent to which mentoring and scaffolding is emphasized versus service to the business enterprise. Jenkins is reminding us of an important distinction that is critical to the structure of learning communities.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Talking about Science

Scientists are failing in their efforts to communicate with the public. Dennis Meredith in a new book, Explaining Research and an accompanying blog has some good ideas about how scientists can communicate more effectively about science.

His blog includes examples of video, audio, blogs and more that illustrate effective way to talk about scientific ideas. In a recent commentary he writes,
"Many academic scientists might consider themselves expert explainers because a significant part of their job entails explaining research to undergraduates in their teaching. But even the most skillful scientist-teachers aren’t necessarily skilled science explainers. Speaking to “captive” student audiences is very different from communicating with any other lay audience, who often must be actively persuaded to be interested in a scientific topic."
Educating the public about science is critical to our ability to make effective decisions and to understand how to deal with the many complex problems of human society. We have learned much about the world, but until that knowledge is available and understandable to the public it won't make much difference.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

If you want to understand the future of education-- consider this!

James Fallows has written a fascinating article in the Atlantic How to Save the News that describes the ways in which Google has been working with news organizations and experimenting with ways to continue to have high quality news reporting.

As I read this, I keep substituting the word "education" or "university" for newspapers and keep asking myself how can be take advantage of these ideas.

Here is a quote about newspapers that has application to education and universities.
"Burdened as they are with these 'legacy' print costs, newspapers typically spend about 15 percent of their revenue on what, to the Internet world, are their only valuable assets: the people who report, analyze, and edit the news."
Fallows goes on to note that most of the cost of newspapers in for paper, printing and distribution, not the core aspect of reporting the news.

Now substitute these legacy costs for education-- classrooms, books and you begin to see where we are going.

Fallows describes the conceptual shift that newspapers are going to have to make. He says,
[in the past] "'publishing' meant printing information on sheets of paper; eventually, it will mean distributing information on a Web site or mobile device."
The conceptual shift is from viewing the work as "distributing information." In a similar way most educators have defined "education" as face-to-face lectures with some form of testing. We are going to need to begin to see our job "engaging people in learning activities" without reference to the form or location of those activities.

Education will also have to think about its business model in the online world. Fallows suggests that the the new business model for the news business is as follows:
"The three pillars of the new online business model, as I heard them invariably described, are distribution, engagement, and monetization. That is: getting news to more people, and more people to news-oriented sites; making the presentation of news more interesting, varied, and involving; and converting these larger and more strongly committed audiences into revenue, through both subscription fees and ads."
This may seem obvious, but Fallows goes on to describe tools that Google has been inventing such as "living stories," "fast flip" and "youtube direct" which seem to have interesting applications to teaching. More importantly, these innovations remind us that teachers need to be asking technologist for the tools that will help us with distribution, engagement and monetization. There are undoubtedly some betters ways to do instruction online that are currently available.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Survey of Parents who use the Internet

Despite all the anecdotal evidence that parents are using the Internet as a part of their role in parenting there is very little solid scientific evidence that tells us much about what they are doing.

Colleagues from the University of Minnesota are trying to fill in this gap with a survey of parents.

The Parenting 2.0 research project, sponsored by the University of Minnesota, is looking for parents who use the Internet to participate in an online research study. The study involves filling out a 20-minute online survey about how and why you use the Internet. If you know parents or work with parents, we would appreciate your sending the message below to them. Attached, we have also included a message that can be posted on websites or Facebook. Please use the message that best meets your needs.

The purpose of the Parenting 2.0 research project is to learn more about the ways that and the reasons why parents use technology. Results from this study will be used to help develop parent education resources.

If you have any questions about the study, please visit our website at:

or contact Dr. Jodi Dworkin at or Dr. Susan Walker at If you are interested in getting information about the results, click here to sign up to be notified about the findings.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Integrating Ubiquitous Fragments of Knowledge

The idea that learning can be embedded in many contexts, setting and experiences is among the most powerful ideas related to new media and education. Cope and Kalantzis in their chapter on an agenda for educational transformation, suggest that educational transformation needs to blur the boundaries between institutions, space and time in an effort to create learning opportunities that are embedded in many other parts of life.

At one level this seems exactly right. I don't want to have to attend a class every time I have a question or want to learn something. There are a lot of advantages to me learning it at the moment, in the setting I happen to be in. However, as we unpack learning from classrooms, curricula and face-to-face teaching, how to be retain the "structure" of instruction and guidance that were woven into these learning experiences? We still need structures and scaffolding for learning experiences in many cases. Each learner should not have to find their own path through the thicket of fragmented bits of of "ubiquitous" learning. Likewise, teachers (both formal and informal) should all have to build their own learning platforms in order to teach.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Ubiquitous Learning: An Exploration

At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the College of Education has launched an initiative to explore "ubiquitous learning."

As a part of this initiative Bill Cope and Mary Kalantzis edited a book that begins to explore the idea of ubiquitous learning.

Beginning today and over the next several weeks, I am going to read this book and comment about the ideas.

First, what is the definition of "ubiquitous learning?" Several definitions are offered by the authors of this book.

1. the definition of "ubiquitous" [learning] include[s] the idea that learners can engage with knowledge about "anything", and that this learning can be experienced by "anyone" (Kalantzis & Cope, 2009, p. x).

2. "the process of learning and the products of learning are rapidly merging into ubiquitous knowledge engagement" (Kalantzis & Cope, 2009, p. x).

3. "Ubiquitous learning is more than just the latest educational idea or method. At its core the term conveys a vision of learning that is connected across all stages on which we play out our lives. Learning occurs not just in classroom, but in the home, workplace, playground, library, museum, nature center, and in our daily interactions with others. Moreover, learning becomes part of doing; we do not learn in order to live more fully but rather learn as we live to the fullest. Learning happens through active engagement, and significantly, it is no longer identified with reading a text or listening to lectures but rather occurs through all the senses-- sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste" (Bruce, 2009, p. 21)

So do we need a new term for learning? There many other new terms-- elearning, mobile learning, "learning anytime, anywhere," etc. Bruce's definition above captures for me the central idea that term is trying to convey-- this idea that learning is not set apart from the other parts of living. And, of course, it never was except that as education was formalized and led by professionals, we have tended to ignore the vast amount of learning that was taking place outside of classrooms and formal institutions. Using today's technology tools we can begin to rebuild an integrated learning platform that bridges informal and formal learning opportunities in new and and interesting ways-- this is ubiquitous learning.

But as Cope and Kalantzis note, "Digital technologies arrive, and almost immediately, old pedagogical practices of didactic teaching, content delivery for student ingestion, and testing for the right answers are mapped onto them and called "learning management systems" (2009, p. 4). In short, despite the opportunity to create learning opportunities that are different from our current classroom-based, group instructional model, we use our new tools to create the old model. So how do we do something different, some better? This is the problem that this book is designed to explore.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Informal Science Education--Could this be the future?

"The seemingly endless debate about how to improve US science education seems to make the tacit assumption that learning happens only in the classroom" (p. 813) So begins an interesting editorial in Nature, April 2010, titled, "Learning in the Wild" that suggests that we need to be paying much more attention to informal science learning. The authors go on to write,
"researchers who study learning are increasingly questioning this assumption. Their evidence strongly suggests that most of what the general public knows about science is picked up outside school, through things such as television programmes, websites, magazine articles, visits to zoos and museums — and even through hobbies such as gardening and birdwatching" (p. 813).
This goes right to the heart of the idea that we need to build alot of science microlearning opportunities that engage people's interests and lead them into deeper more complex learning activities. In the editorial the author's note,
"This process of 'informal science education' is patchy, ad hoc and at the mercy of individual whim, all of which makes it much more difficult to measure than formal instruction. But it is also pervasive, cumulative and often much more effective at getting people excited about science — and an individual's realization that he or she can work things out unaided promotes a profoundly motivating sense of empowerment" (p. 814).
I am in agreement with this statement:
"education authorities need to recognize the importance of informal science education and do more to promote it — if only as a way to motivate students in the classroom" (p. 814).
Rather than thinking of science education as either formal or informal, we need to build learning systems that move easily from the informal playful educational experiences to the deeper, richer experiences. This will both foster better learning, but it will be much more fun.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Games Can Change Behavior-- Jesse Schell

Could we use games to teach important ideas and change behaviors. See an edited clip (about 7 minutes long) from Jesse Schell about the future of games. At the end he asks "who is going to lead us to this future?" Will the answer be some educators or will we let game designers invent the future of learning?

See the complete talk on the Future of Games (30 minutes).

Friday, February 26, 2010

Guest Post: Bootleg Education-- Myles Horton & Open Education

With the burgeoning of free university courses offered on the internet, such as MIT’s OpenCourseWare, there has been much buzz in the media lately about how technology is “democratizing” formal learning, and how higher education is experiencing nothing short of a revolution.

While the Internet has certainly made higher education accessible to an astonishing number of people from all backgrounds, the idea that learning must reach beyond the traditional, university-educated elite is not new. In fact, the philosophical underpinnings of today’s open education movement can be seen in the life and work of southern activist Myles Horton.

Beyond academic circles, not many know of Myles Horton’s contribution to educational philosophy in the United States. In 1932, Horton founded the Highlander Folk School in an effort to educate poor Appalachian whites as well blacks. A solid two decades before desegregation was even discussed, Horton’s school accepted students from any background, regardless of race or class. Although the school was shut down during the McCarthy era because it supposedly propagated sedition, the school still runs to this day, in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, as an educational research center.

In extensive interviews with Paulo Freire, a renowned South American educational theorist, Horton discusses his views on using education as a tool for social change. These interviews were eventually gathered in a book called We Make the Road by Walking.

In one interview, Horton explains,

“Here in the mountains we’ve had moonshiners and bootleggers, people who make illegal whiskey and sell it…so the phrase I’ve always used when I talk is, ‘You’ve got to bootleg education.’ You have to find a way to bootleg it. It’s illegal, really, because it’s not proper, but you do it anyway.”

Here, Horton was referring to his vision of changing the way we think about education. He felt what was wrong with traditional education is that it places limits on learners. He once wrote, “We have plenty of men and women who can teach what they know; we have very few who can teach their own capacity to learn.”

In many ways, the Internet itself is teaching the world this “capacity to learn,” simply because with open courseware technology, the emphasis is shifting from the material to the learner. Now, self-learning students, with the help of passionate educators, are directing their own studies, and in so doing, creating their own paths. Internet trends suggest that adults interested in continuing education--the people Horton was most wanting to help--are the ones who are benefiting exponentially from online learning.

The “Cape Town Open Education Declaration” , only one of the many such declarations drafted by important world organizations, including UNESCO, asserts,

"[Educators in the open education movement] are…planting the seeds of a new pedagogy where educators and learners create, shape and evolve knowledge together…”

This statement sounds similar to Horton’s writings.

Although Horton was pushing for education so that the disenfranchised could more actively participate in the American political system, open education through the Internet today strives for similar goals, only on a global scale.

This guest post was contributed by Katheryn Rivas, who writes on the topics of online universities accredited and can be reached at:

Monday, February 08, 2010

Digital Nation-- A Good Example of Web-based Instruction

Digital Nation, a PBS documentary, developed this website which has many features that demonstrate how to create an effective educational website.

First, this is a 90 minute television program, but on the web the viewer is given a variety of options for viewing the program. First, you can see the 90 minute program in total just like the television program. However, the viewer also can view the program in various other ways. First, the program has been divided up topically such that you can see the themes of the program such as living faster, learning, etc. Within each of these thematic areas, you can view all or some of the various segments. These range from 1 t0 4 minutes in length.
In short, you can watch the program in any order you want to and you can focus on those segments that are of most interest.

Within each of these thematic areas there are places to share stories, comments and discussion by the persons interviewed in the video and other interactive features. Here the program creases to be merely a passive process, but becomes a place to discuss these issues, explore these ideas further and find additional resources on the topics.

This seems to be a good example of what a class lecture could become-- a series of short comments on various themes around a larger idea that invite discussion and interaction among students and the public.

Netflix Data--- What it tells us about culture.

The New York Times has a very interesting set of interactive graphs that provide information about the top 100 movies rented from Netflix in 2009. The data are graphed on maps of the major cities in the United States so that you can see which movies were the most rented in various neighborhoods in these cities.

In some cases it shows how homogeneous our movie watching is-- see the pattern for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and in other cases the interesting regional variations-- see Last Chance Harvey.

It is also worth reading the comments as well--- everything from outrage that this data is public to curiosity and puzzlement.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Vaccine-Autism Link & Professionals

The major study that ignited parent's fears that the MMR vaccine was linked to autism was retracted from the scientific literature this week. The 1998 study published in the Lancet by Wakefield and his colleagues was withdrawn from the journal.

This is a highly unusual step in the scientific publication process, but it reflects extensive review and investigation that revealed that both major ethical flaws in the data collection as well as scientific flaws in the methods.

Beford and Elliman wrote a very thoughtful editorial in the British Medical Journal on this issue highlighting the importance of educating the public. The note that health professionals were reluctant to engage in public debate on this topic. They write,
"If future debacles are to be prevented, professionals must enter the public arena, even though there can be unpleasant ramifications (both the authors of this editorial have received hate mail and an American researcher has even received death threats). However uncomfortable this may be, we must be firm advocates of what is best for children’s health, even if this seems to run contrary to 'patient choice'."
They also suggest ways that professionals can talk with parents about controversial issues stating,
"For these parents, providing clear and accurate information on the benefits and risks of the vaccine as well as the dangers of the diseases is only part of an effective approach. The nature of the communication with parents is crucial. They are more likely to respond to a professional who listens carefully and respectfully to their individual concerns, answers their questions honestly and openly, and acknowledges when information is lacking about a particular matter. With this approach, and repeated opportunities to talk, parents who at first decline immunisation may be willing to reconsider."
In short, it is not just the information that matters, but how we communicate the information. There are many important lessons to be learned from this controversy over the link between vaccines and autism. See other comments about the autism-vaccine issue.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Online Education the next public education

"...the fact remains that digital educational enterprises are to the 21st century what public universities were in previous generations: accessible and more affordable means for people to better their minds and their lives"

John Meacham, Newsweek, January, 2010.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The World is Open-- Open Courseware is Just the Beginning--6

Providing access to lectures, notes and other course materials means that lots of information is available to others interested in these materials, but Curt Bonk reminds us that this is really just the beginning. He says,
"We can all see that entry into the world of higher education, whether as an individual, department, organization, or community, just became easier. However, this content is typically not credentialed and often is simply lecture material or associated content to review. As such, it is what I call Level One Knowledge-- basic facts" (p.177-178).
His point is that for someone who is willing to teach him or herself or for an instructor who is seeking supplementary material this content is helpful, but in most cases it is not possible to have access to teachers and to get feedback or clarification about ideas in these open courses without enrolling in the course or the university.

Kevin Kelly on the Internet & Knowledge

In this article,AN INTERMEDIA WITH 2 BILLION SCREENS PEERING INTO IT Kevin Kelly, describes the way in which the Internet has affected our "knowledge." I have highlighted sentences that capture the spirit of his thinking.

"But my knowledge is now more fragile. For every accepted piece of knowledge I find, there is within easy reach someone who challenges the fact. Every fact has its anti-fact. The Internet's extreme hyperlinking highlights those anti-facts as brightly as the facts. Some anti-facts are silly, some borderline, and some valid. You can't rely on experts to sort them out because for every expert there is an equal and countervailing anti-expert. Thus anything I learn is subject to erosion by these ubiquitous anti-factors.

My certainty about anything has decreased. Rather than importing authority, I am reduced to creating my own certainty — not just about things I care about — but about anything I touch, including areas about which I can't possibly have any direct knowledge . That means that in general I assume more and more that what I know is wrong. We might consider this state perfect for science but it also means that I am more likely to have my mind changed for incorrect reasons. Nonetheless, the embrace of uncertainty is one way my thinking has changed.

Uncertainty is a kind of liquidity. I think my thinking has become more liquid. It is less fixed, as text in a book might be, and more fluid, as say text in Wikipedia might be. My opinions shift more. My interests rise and fall more quickly. I am less interested in Truth, with a capital T, and more interested in truths, plural. I feel the subjective has an important role in assembling the objective from many data points. The incremental plodding progress of imperfect science seems the only way to know anything."

Shirkey on Participation & Openness

In "The Shock of Inclusion," Clay Shirkey reminds us that our success in the age of the Internet will be determined by the ways we use this new tool or the ways we fail to use this new tool.

Using an analogy from the intervention of the printing press, Shirkey suggests that alchemists (who were working on turning lead into gold) failed and chemists succeeded in large part because of how they used the availability of printing to share their work. Shirkey writes,
"The problem with the alchemists had wasn't that they failed to turn lead into gold; the problem was that they failed uninformatively. Alchemists were obscurantists, recording their work by hand and rarely showing it to anyone but disciples. In contrast, members of the Invisible College shared their work, describing and disputing their methods and conclusions so that they all might benefit from both successes and failures, and build on each other's work."
In short, Shirkey suggests that developing a culture of "sharing" through print is why chemists and other scientists succeeded... not print itself, but a willingness to share using print.

Shirkey extends this thinking to the Internet writing,
"As we know from, the 20th century model of publishing is inadequate to the kind of sharing possible today. As we know from Wikipedia, post-hoc peer review can support astonishing creations of shared value. As we know from the search for Mersenne Primes, whole branches of mathematical exploration are now best taken on by groups. As we know from Open Source efforts like Linux, collaboration between loosely joined parties can work at scales and over timeframes previously unimagined. As we know from NASA clickworkers, groups of amateurs can sometimes replace single experts. As we know from Patients Like Me, patient involvement accelerates medical research."
He notes that although experts such as professor, physicians and others who have held a privileged position in regards to the ability to publish their ideas know longer have that position and that we will "will complain about the way the new abundance of public thought upends the old order, but those complaints are like keening at a wake; the change they fear is already in the past. The real action is elsewhere."

Shirkey suggests that we have the opportunity to use the Internet
"as an Invisible College, the communicative backbone of real intellectual and civic change, but to do this will require more than technology. It will require that we adopt norms of open sharing and participation, fit to a world where publishing has become the new literacy."

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Using Research to Mis-inform

Too often news accounts of scientific research fail to inform the public or fail to use research in useful or helpful ways. This is often frustrating to scientists and at times these failures can be dangerous or damaging. (I have written elsewhere about the debate about the link between vaccines and autism as an example.)

But I find it particularly troubling when a source of information about higher education fails to engage scientific research in a useful and thoughtful manner. In this article,Facebooking Won't Affect Your Grades, Study Finds. At Least Until Next Month's Study Tells You It Will,
Marc Parry provides the worst example of reporting on scientific information.

1. He presents two studies that on the face of it seem to come to different conclusions about the impact of "Facebook" on student grades without any consideration of the methods or approaches.

2. He then compounds this weak exploration of the issue with the citation of the relationship between the use of Facebook and divorce. In this case, he cites no research, but merely provide links to other news articles as if these were sources of evidence.

3. Finally, he concludes with a flip statement that next month's research findings will make counter claims and that all of this is just a matter of "he says, she says" and not really a matter of science.

Rather that provide any sort of thoughtful discussion of the evidence regarding the impact of social networking activities on personal relationships or educational outcomes the reader is left with the idea that scientists studying this issue have nothing really useful to say on this topic.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The World is Open-- Growing Content--5

The first "opener" in The World is Open, is the growing availability of information on the web and the fact that much of this information is completely accessible without subscribing to the material, enrolling in a course, and so forth. In short, the content is available and accessible.

In this chapter Bonk highlights the increased availability of books noting the efforts by Google to scan in books and other projects such as the Open Content Alliance and Open Library that are working to make more books available to people on the Web.

He also highlights efforts to create free open-source textbooks such as those developed by the Global Text Project.

This is truly a revolutionary aspect of the Web as more content becomes available each day. This is a powerful foundation on which to create educational and learning opportunities.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

World Is Open-- UCLA Summer Digs Blog is Closed--4

Curt Bonk's, The World is Open, begins with an interesting and exciting story about the way in which web can bring science into the lives of many people outside of universities. The example is the UCLA Summer Digs program.

Bonk highlights a number of articles in the UCLA magazine about this project and writes,
"The Summer Digs Project is also a virtual apprenticeship for thousands or perhaps millions of online Web surfers....It is quite plausible that many people stumbling on their blog posts from Chile or Peru a few years, decades, or even centuries from now might become energized by them..." (p. 4)
Whoops.... if you click on the UCLA Summer digs, you get the message "this blog content is no longer available." This is a reminder that the Web content is fragile and that it isn't always reliable and engaging.

It is not clear what happened to this content or why it is no longer available. You can find a blog about a current UCLA archaeological dig in Egypt... but it seems less inspiring than Bonk's description. For one, there is no mechanism to comment or ask questions to the students or faculty. It looks like there are 5 posts over the course of the fall semester. Nice, interesting, but not exactly inspiring.

None of this means that Bonk is not correct that the Web creates the opportunity to bring the scientific discovery process into new places and engage new people. I have described Folding@Home" as an example of this type of work, but the disappearance of this blog and the limitations of its current Web presence reminds us that this type of learning is very much a work in progress and not well understood.

Monday, January 04, 2010

World is Open-- Informal Learning--3

In my continuing reading of Curt Bonk's, The World is Open, he identifies what I think is the most important development within educational innovation-- the expansion of informal learning.

He writes,
"There are no credentials that this worker receives from going on the Web to learn what a wiki is, or to view a map of a country she intends to visit, or perhaps to buy [Jay] Cross's book [on informal learning]-- yet each of these information searches entails learning" (p. 40).
I continue to think that the most powerful transformation in learning is taking place in this invisible process of informal learning. Just as most of us have been learning a lot informally from television we are now learning a lot informally on the web. The unfortunate part of this is that just as most educational institutions have not actively participated in the creation of television material (other than through athletics!), our educational institutions are currently missing the opportunity to create great Web material.

The Cape Town Open Education Declaration challenges educators to actively participate in the creation and use of open educational resources, authors and publishers to release their resources openly, and higher education and other institutions to make open educational activities a priority.

These are the important challenges in the creation of informal learning.

World is Open-- Macro Trends--2

In my continuing reading of Curt Bonk's, The World is Open here is an important perspective he has about the "macrotrends" related that will have an impact on learning and education:

These are:

1. the availability of tools and infrastructure for learning (the pipes);
2. The availability of free and open educational content and resources (the pages);
3. a movement toward a culture of open access to information, international collaboration, and global sharing (a participatory learning culture). (p. 52).

Bonk writes:
"The convergence of these three macro trends has put in motion opportunities for human learning and potential never before approached in recorded history" (p. 53).
There is a lot of evidence that these trends are moving in the direction that Bonk suggests, but it is far less clear that most of the educational institutions are contributing towards the development of open educational content and a participatory learning culture. Bonk correctly cites some of the important developments (Connexions, MIT Open Courseware, and a few others), but these are still limited efforts.

In fact, these are relatively old (2-3 years ago) developments and there have not been significant other developments in terms of institutions following their lead or in innovative new versions of open educational resources. Perhaps these developments are smaller and less visible, but there have not been any major developments.

What are the real trends in these areas? Are major educational institutions joining the open education trend? To what degree are online learning platforms fostering a participatory learning culture?