Tuesday, April 20, 2010

eReaders Loose Out to Paper and Ink?

A friend of mine sent me a link to a study of eReaders at Reed College. In his E-mail message he stated that "Looks like real paper and ink wins...."

I didn't get the same impression from reading this article. In fact, the only real educational issue raised in the study was related to comprehension. It turns out that not being able to highlight the text made students more passive in their reading of the material and, therefore, were less able to comprehend and retain the information. However, the authors noted that new technology (already in the iPhone and iPad) will allow for electronic highlighting which they suggest will, in the long run, improve comprehension over traditional paper and ink methods.

"Both faculty and students agreed that this problem, though critical to the academic use of eReaders, could be easily addressed by technology that would allow quick and easy text highlighting and annotation. Indeed, they pointed out that effective digital highlighting and annotation would have the benefit of being easily searchable, shareable, and usable for doing research and writing papers. While the Kindle DX had a negative impact on content comprehension, there was considerable optimism that future eReaders would be able to overcome this problem and might actually help to increase comprehension."

The days of the Kindle may be over, but not electronic readers. I can't remember where I heard this but I believe that most of the traditional texts students read in English course are already available via the Gutenberg Project and other eReader options.

In the end the authors of this study conclude:

"In closing, we may note that while students and faculty in Reed's Kindle study were unanimous in reporting that the Kindle DX –– in its current incarnation –– was unable to meet their academic needs, many felt that once technical and other issues have been addressed, eReaders will play a significant, possibly a transformative, role in higher education."

I usually don't like to predict the future. In this case I can see this technology reduce paper use, decrease the weight of backpacks as well as the cost of class materials, and quite possibly improve the educational outcomes of our course work.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Online Learning -- Is It Right For Schools?

I am somewhat bothered by current discussions to take our school's courses online. Part of my concern is that some people see it as a money making opportunity. I'm not opposed to the idea but too often the opportunity to make (or save) money overshadows the pedagogical choices we make in how we design our schools.

I have a hard time getting my arms around the idea that our classes can somehow be taught better online then they are taught in the classroom. I have yet to see that be the case.

Mostly I don't believe we should loose the direct contact our teachers have with our students.

All of us, especially young people, spend an increasing amount of time online:

"Average number of hours a U.S. child aged 8 to 18 spends using an electronic device or watching television each day: 7.6" - Harpers Index, April 2010 (from Kaiser Family Foundation study 2009).

What we need in education is more time spent engaging with each other as humans and less time engaging with each other via electronic media.

Do I believe we should be using more interactive tools in education then we currently use? Yes, of course we do. This does not necessarily mean we ought to be teaching our courses entirely online. Are there opportunities to open a new world of learning through online courses? Yes, but this does not mean all or even most of our courses make sense being taught online.

Even though the tools of online learning have improved significantly over the past two decades they still remain simply that -- tools. Tools for the educator to use (or not use) depending on the subject and content. We should use these tools wisely and make sure we stay in touch with our human side.