Feb 11, 2011 0
This isn’t limited to academic ideology. The idea of information as power has never been more evident than this past month as the riots in Egypt are unfolding as much via blogs and twitter as in the streets themselves.
Education, and access to it, needs to be accessible, and have the ability to be held within any medium. The limitations are no longer paper, because digital media can be viewed in hundreds of ways. Language is becoming irrelevant as Google and Microsoft make real-time translation a reality. Even literacy itself is less of a hurdle with audio and visual content available for every level of education.
The paradigm has changed and with it, we need to change the vehicle that we are teaching with. Books, text books especially, are slow moving and come with many barriers. Costs, flexibility with curriculum, distribution-all acting as barriers to the act of learning.
Information is changing faster and faster. Although printing on demand offered sophisticated educators flexibility and materials that can be tailored to particular course work or degree paths, licensing and costs can make wide spread use unpractical. Many educators are looking to web-born tools like licensed content via course-based portals. Laptops and netbooks have become cost-of-entry for college students and the media lends itself well to real-time updates and customized courses.
The surge in popularity of the tablet, championed last year by Apple’s iPad, presents students of all ages with a viable option for a portal device that delivers a viable text book replacement. These tablets devices can last long hours, present typography well and support a wide variety of media. There are many, many examples already in the Apple AppStore that showcase what a flexible educational tool the tablet can be.
The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) recently produced an tablet application to accompany guests visiting their Abstract Expressionist New York showing. The application provides guest of the MOMA with details about each piece in the show and background including video of the artists, commentators and critics explaining some of the nuances of the exhibit. As an educational tool for those not able to view the showing in person, the application is a potential substitute featuring detailed photography and the capability to zoom into each piece for a level of detail that rivals the more expensive art books covering the subject.
Inkling, a new solution for text-book like solutions designed to take advantage of iOS, offers content authors a publication platform with a distribution channel built within. The software allows for the more pedestrian presentation of text in a page-by-page format. Beyond that, illustrations feature the ability to zoom, pitch and make use of high-resolution imagery as well as 3D models built directly into the pages. There is also the ability to tie video and motion-graphics into the pages.
One of the features that are important to college users, and also the charm of paper-based learning tools, is the ability to add highlights and noted throughout the text. Notes appear in sidebars and are able to be exported as separate documents.
Currently, titles are limited, but there are new entries frequently and a brief overview of the materials shows that no detail from standard text is missing. A determent to this system is cost. The texts are priced similar to standard text and locks users into the Inkling software ecosysytem. Inkling is an excellent example of how innovative companies are approaching the challenge of new learning and eBooks with technology and practical infrastructure.
Apple and iTunes U strengthens a brand once synonymous with classroom computing. Apple presents a truly modernized approach with iTunes U, a treasure trove of edu material available in it’s free software. It’s an example of new media learning at its best. I’ve written previously on the tremendous offering of free material is available within iTunes and my feeling is still the same.
There is an almost limitless well of material (Apple reports over 350,000 lectures and pre-recorded presentations) for every course description. Every level of higher education is represented: Ivy league to progressive county colleges. Some are integrated into degree requirements, others are offered as supplemental material. The level of finish also varies from amateur to professionally produced.
What is so compelling for me and why I believe iTunes U is so progressive is that it presents a learning opportunity for anyone who has access to a computer. Designed to work on iPods and iPhones, Apple’s free iTunes software can introduce anyone to higher learning. It also provides a method of learning that doesn’t require a high level of literacy. Many of the course provided are 101 and entry-level discipline courses. A majority of the content is available via audio and video media.
Apple is also offering ePub solutions via the iTunes U distribution channel. This provides a vehicle not limited to audio and video, but also text-based learning and read-along materials. This mated with translation services removes language as a content barrier.
Paper is a cornerstone of education. It is a permanent, portable and technologically agnostic method that the world is comfortable with. It’s cheap, recyclable, and can be produced in countless forms. For a new generation of students, young and old, there is a better way to learn. eBooks and new media learning provides exposure to materials from all over the world and for a myriad of cognitive abilities. It can provide basic reading and writing materials, complex diagrams, video material and audio. It is persistent and the barrier to entry for content producers is low. Regardless of your course material or the focus of your class, a new breed of “book” can act as a vehicle for all of your thoughts and become a mega-phone to a global classroom.