Thursday, December 30, 2010

Orbis Pictus: The earliest picture textbook for children

Johan Amos Comenius (1592-1671) Källa: Aug. Sc...Image via WikipediaI have been ranting all holiday about John Comenius' textbook, Orbis Pictus, from 1658. It is the first known illustrated text book for children. It has 240 short chapters with an illustration and text that corresponds to the picture with letters or numbers. I have been looking at the English translation by Hoole from the 1659 from Gutenberg's copy of the Orbis Pictus.

"Comenius advocated relating education to everyday life by emphasizing contact with objects in the environment and systematizing all knowledge. He did not regard religion and science as incompatible. Teaching was to be in the vernacular rather than in Latin, and languages were to be learned by the conversational method. He worked for a universal system of education offering equal opportunities to women." - The Free Dictionary

We are familiar with that teaching method in the K-12 schools where the instructor asks the students questions about a picture and the text gives the students the vocabulary and images to refer to and answer the questions. It is a very effective technique and it is amazing that with all of our technological advances this level of interaction is still missing from much of online learning (and our face-to-face classes!).

What is interesting about the book is the visual learning aspect and also the fact that it is a good review of Latin. It also provides interesting insights into the society and time that produced the book, and what Comenius' and educators must have thought of children and society. Each chapter gives a picture of some aspect of the world or a description of an occupation. The first chapters deal with creation and the natural world and moves on to farming, hunting, religion, etc. A student in the 1650s (and for nearly 200 years after) would be introduced to the world and society including "The tormenting of malefactors." The description of Islam is particularly interesting, but they sum up the religion of the Native Americans as devil worship. In 1727 the book was put into the two-column format with English and Latin.

"The most eminent educator of the seventeenth century, however, was John Amos Comenius . . . . . . His Orbis Sensualium Pictus, published in 1657, enjoyed a still higher renown. The text was much the same with the Janua [a text he also wrote], being intended as a kind of elementary encyclopædia; but it differed from all previous text-books, in being illustrated with pictures, on copper and wood, of the various topics discussed in it. This book was universally popular. In those portions of Germany where the schools had been broken up by the “Thirty years’ war,” mothers taught their children from its pages. Corrected and amended by later editors, it continued for nearly two hundred years, to be a text-book of the German schools." (History and Progress of Education, by Philobiblius, N.Y., 1860, p. 210.) The English translation was a standard textbook in English and American schools and Comenius was so respected as an educator that he was invited to become the president of Harvard. 

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Monday, December 20, 2010

Instructional Design: Beyond the Formulas

A social network diagramImage via WikipediaI am reviewing ID literature and textbooks, and I am dissatisfied with the formulaic approaches that assume things like uniform standards, that the stake-holders know what the standards are, all the students will meet the same outcomes the same way, etc. You can read many of these books and articles and actually pretend that the Internet never happened. There has not been much progression beyond ADDIE. Instructional design, seen from the standard literature, feels mechanistic and trapped in a behaviorist input-output model. The huge holes in current thinking on instructional design include the Internet, social networks, and new media. The other missing piece is the social milieu of the individual schools and programs: each school has a different student population, different teachers with different backgrounds and experiences. I am still having conversations with teachers and other ID folks on constructivist (student-centered) approaches to teaching and learning versus behavioralist (carrot and stick). Meanwhile, current instructional design models and their proponents are all looking at what is happening online and trying desperately to hammer it into our conceptions of pedagogy that were not just created before social networks but before the internet. I read about a model that was being proposed in a copy of "eCampus" a while back and it included all of these great interlocking circles and arrows about content and visual pedagogy (on top of the usual behaviorist model) and no where in the model was there a connection between the students and teachers.

We have an opportunity in course design, to bring all of the stake-holders to the table. Course design should not just be up to a dept. or a single teacher. Course development can be an opportunity to bring in a librarian, someone from student advising, disabled student services and programs, and developmental education. A course design process can show an instructor how to connect their classroom with other students, instructors, and experts in the field. It can be an opportunity to connect students with professional networks as well as other colleges and schools.  What I have been finding is that when you bring everyone to the table to talk about a course, you can discover many different ways to connect your course to the community than you would have ever thought of yourself.

I would like to write (or facilitate) a course development guide that will incorporate open education resources and social networks and connectivism. This project will be hosted in Google Docs or on a wiki. If you are interested in participating, leave a comment below and I will include you on the list.
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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Open Textbooks: A Diversity of Voices in Open Learning

Creative Commons SemaforoaImage via WikipediaOpen textbooks are textbooks that are released with an open license, preferably with a Creative Commons "attribution" license. The textbooks under that license should be free to students and free to instructors to download, reuse, and remix. In other words, the least restrictive license possible. If an author spends years of hard work developing  ideas, why should he or she just give them away? There are a lot of reasons why , but they do not have to just give it away. There are a number of compensation models including grants, stipends, release time, tenure, etc. There is still a paradigm in this culture where corporations will be happy to pay for your ideas, repackage them, and sell them to others for a high price, and yes, you may even see some of that money. The problem is that the corporate business model is no longer sustainable. It will be for a while, but at one point, you have to accept that fact that by participating in that model, we are participating in a model that is more and more exclusive. Students have to walk away from the table because of the costs of education in general and the cost of textbooks in particular. There are ways to compensate authors for their work and cutting out most of the middle-man. There are commercial models for open textbooks but unless they are, in the words of the Open Textbook bill "made available free of charge to, and may be downloaded, redistributed, changed, revised, or otherwise altered by, any member of the general public" then they are only kind of open. Commercial corporations will still be screening the content, screening the authors, controlling the access, and setting the price. Why should an academic community give that much power to the book trade? There is too much concern about making the model sustainable for corporations and not enough concern for making education open for students

I can give you numerous examples of people embracing a new idea but attempting to solve a problem using the old paradigm. My favorite is a boss I used to have who would ask me to post information on the internet and then look at the webpage and say, "that is great, now print off 60 copies and distribute it out to the other departments." And we are this kind of cross-roads - we have a perfect storm of technology, ideas, and people, and we are ready for a change. As an instructional designer, I am interested in bringing instructors together to share their work and experiences and letting "textbooks" or OERs be the natural outcome of those communities. Instead of working on a single expensive book that benefits one person (the book publisher), lets foster a community of open scholarship that sustains the on-going work. Maybe we can even mentor students into the process.

The real value to the authors of open texts is that they are not drawing on their own work alone but they are getting access to a community of authors, revisers, practitioners, researchers, and adapters; a community of scholarship that will support the work of the textbook. A commercial textbook cannot take into account the social conditions of your community. A traditional commercial college textbook cannot be adapted to the deficiencies or advantages of the local high school. You can, for a price, however, buy "supplements" which is the commercial publisher of not-quite-entirely-unlike open textbooks hole card. Why let book printers in another state determine the needs of your community? I believe that a community of scholars can support an online English grammar better than any book publisher trapped in the two-year publishing cycle model. These conversations and decisions should be happening in colleges, not corporate boardrooms. Grammar, for instance, should not depend on a single authority, but should be recognized as the dynamic and living voice of the language. A community of open scholarship can take into account the evolution of language that is always going on around us. 

We need to recognize the value of having a diversity of opinions working on these problems. Characterizing these kinds of discussions as "bickering about licensesis just the kind of attitude that does not foster critical academic inquiry which is exactly what is needed for the sustainability and credibility of open textbooks. Critical thinking, apparently, is bad for business. I am not interested in stopping businesses or starting some revolution, but I think this is a great time to bring teachers together as communities of open scholarship (we have the technology, grants, and people) and not allow ourselves to be blinded by the pittance that corporations will offer us to look backwards. 

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Wednesday, December 01, 2010

EduStream at College of the Redwoods

RedwoodsImage by Brain Toad FlickrOver the last few days here at College of the Redwoods we have been working with EduStream. This is a very remarkable group. I would love to see more services work this way. College of the Redwoods is now a member institution of EduStream (at no cost to the school because it is grant-funded), a free video hosting service and educational video and learning object library created by San Bernardino Community College and Seattle Community College Educational Television. It includes space for instructors to upload their own content. This is similar to Youtube except that it is protected, advertising free, and will accept almost any kind of file. Instructors can create an account, upload video, audio, image, or any other kind document and link the materials to online classes. Instructors can also add video to their course from Edustream’s online library of educational video from Dallas Telelearning and other sources. Edustream will be expanding their video collection and services next year. They are also providing free training. Osman Parada provided admin training yesterday and then there will be faculty training next week. Osman is an excellent facilitator - he had us up and going with creating accounts and linking content into Sakai within 40 minutes.

From their website:
" was initially conceptualized as a means of addressing the increasing concerns of academic rigor with traditional television courses. Today, is poised to help educational institutions embed educational videos into their online content, expand staff and professional development programs, increase the reach of their workforce and economic development programs..."

What is really interesting to me about this is that it did not arise out of a commercial corporation creating a problem and then coming up with a service to solve it. Educational institutions have brought together their resources and abilities to create a service by educators for educators. There are services that one can buy from EduStream but the services that they provide out of the gate have to potential to save us thousands of dollars already. In some ways, the Sakai foundation is like this; those with the highest stakes will be willing to provide the most support. Also, small colleges like College of the Redwoods has a lot to gain by investing in such partnerships.

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