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.