From campfire to holodeck

Educational futurist David Thornburg calls for redesigning classrooms in his new book, From the Campfire to the Holodeck. Learning environments should provide Campfire spaces (one person lectures), Watering Holes (classmates converse), Caves (for quiet reflection) and Life (places where students apply what they’ve learned).

Thornburg created an “educational holodeck,” inspired by Star Trek’s simulation space, he tells The Atlantic.

. . . we’ve taken a good-sized room and covered the surfaces, no external light coming in, and in the front of the room put a large projection screen. . . .  On the side of the room, there was an interactive whiteboard and around the periphery, personal computers. Kids come into the room to go on a mission.

One that we did was a mission to Mars, to let kids explore whether Mars has or had, life. There are challenges when you’re taking off in a spaceship, and they have to solve problems. It’s very interesting, because it’s an immensely interactive environment, and after a little while they almost feel like they’re there.

A year after their holodeck mission, students knew “much more” about Mars than they had at mission’s end, says Thornburg. “They were so interested in it that they continued to study the topic on their own.”

In a painting of a classroom from 1350, “students are talking to each other or falling asleep while the teacher drones on,” Thornburg says. (But none are checking their smart phones!) Why do teachers still lecture?

Henry of Germany delivers a lecture to university students in 14th-century Bologna

Teachers often use technology to do the same old things, Thornburg says. Interactive whiteboards often are used “to replicate the full-frontal model of teaching by having a big board in front of the room that the teacher uses.”

E-books have advantages, but they also let people say, “Well, to change my teaching, I’m using new technology. For example, our kids have e-textbooks.”

You’re still doing the same old thing. Maybe we should be doing other things with these tablets and other technologies. You can create your own movies, write programs and applications, things like that. That’s taking new tools and using them in powerful new ways.

Good classroom design makes sense. But every teacher can’t be holodeck designer, writer, movie maker and programmer . . . It’s too much.

Ann Althouse thinks flipping the classroom is for teachers who think their students can’t or won’t read.

‘Teacherpreneurs’ — and free e-books

Teacherpreneurs tells the stories of eight classroom teachers who are shaping policies and practices at their schools.  All are members of Center for Teaching Quality’s  Collaboratory.

Download free-e-books: Michael Petrilli’s The Diverse Schools Dilemma and Education Reform for the Digital Era are available.

Also available as a free download: Mark Schneider’s The Accountability Plateau analyzes No Child Left Behind’s effect on NAEP scores (math achievement is up) and warns that gains may be leveling off.

E-book nation

E-book Nation
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E-textbooks for K-12 schools aren’t ready for prime time, reports Ed Week’s Digital Education.

E-textbooks: What’s the rush?

Don’t rush to adopt e-textbooks, advises Daniel Willingham. It’s not clear they’re better, at least as currently produced, and students prefer traditional textbooks. “Some data indicate that reading electronic textbooks, although it leads to comparable comprehension, takes longer.”

Further, many publishers are not showing a lot of foresight in how they integrate video and other features in the electronic textbooks. . . . multimedia learning is more complex than one would think. Videos, illustrative simulations, hyperlinked definitions–all these can aid comprehension OR hurt comprehension, depending on sometimes subtle differences in how they are placed in the text, the specifics of the visuals, the individual abilities of readers, and so on.

What works for e-books — putting the same words in a new format — may not work for e-texts, Willingham writes. “Textbooks have different content, different structure, and they are read for different purposes.”


Tuning up higher ed

What does a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering mean? What about an associate degree in nursing? Colleges and universities in seven states are “tuning” courses and degree programs, setting clear standards for what graduates in a specific discipline should know and be able to do.

E-textbooks aren’t much cheaper than traditional books. Apple’s iBook app will require students to use an iPad. To really slash rising textbook costs, college students need access to o-books — free or very cheap open-source learning materials — advocates argue.

Apple offers iPad texbooks

Apple will sell e-textbooks designed to run on iPads.

Apple unveiled a new version of its iBooks digital book software that supports textbooks featuring quizzes, note-taking, study cards and other features like the ability to interact with a diagram of an ant.

The service will launch with a small number of high-school titles from McGraw-Hill Cos., Pearson PLC and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Textbooks for courses such as algebra 1, environmental science and biology will be available first, priced at $14.99 or less. Eventually, Apple said, it expects textbooks for almost every subject and grade level. The company also announced iBooks Author, to help developers create interactive titles.

In a media event held at New York’s Guggenheim Museum, Apple executives said textbooks should be portable, searchable, easy to update and provide immediate feedback.

Self-paced math lab replaces remedial classes

Frustrated by high failure rates in remedial math classes, one community college now assigns all remedial students to a math lab, where they work at their own pace, moving on when they achieve mastery.

Free e-books may be a bad deal for tech-poor students, a community college dean writes.

Korea to use all e-books by 2015

South Korea will digitize all textbooks by 2015, reports GizMag. The Education Ministry will spend $2.4 billion on the plan, which will include free tablet PCs for low-income families.

The Korean government’s “Smart Education” scheme will see the creation of a cloud computing network in order to allow students to access digital textbooks and store their homework so it can be accessed via any internet-connected device, including tablets, smartphones, PCs and smart TVs. The plan also includes introducing more online classes from 2013 so that students who are sick or unable to attend school due to weather conditions will be able to participate in virtual classes.

Students will take national exams online.

The new e-books are expected to be cheaper than printed textbooks.

Students seek cheaper books, degrees

On Community College Spotlight: As textbook prices rise, students turn to rentals and hope for e-books.

Also, Florida community colleges are adding low-cost bachelor’s degree programs, especially in nursing, education and applied sciences.

E-textbooks: Will they be better?

Digital textbooks are inevitable, writes Gilbert Sewall of the American Textbook Council in Education Week. Many expect Apple’s iPad to be used as an e-reader (and e-TV). But will e-textbooks be better?

The big textbook publishers now face competition from small online publishers and non-profits, Sewall writes. They may be unable to preserve their “lucrative near-monopoly” on elementary and secondary textbooks.

Look for the major publishers to repackage and redo what exists in their computer banks, including abundant online and CD-based supplements.

. . . On the other hand, digitized textbooks offer teachers and districts the chance to break out of standard lessons and use something better. Increased competition and open-source instructional material challenge the monopoly market, and could result in alternatives to the glossy mediocrity that flows from established publishers.

However, Sewall warns that “electronic formats are not conducive to sustained reading.”

Emory University English professor Mark Bauerlein warns that concentration and attention span are all-important in reading comprehension, and that reading on screen does the opposite. Books encourage focused reading. Electronic screens promote “scrolling” and “scanning” with superficial attention and sketchy pickup. Online readers of all ages and educations, most reading specialists say, are growing impatient with slow-motion printed narrative, perplexed by solid blocks of text without bullet points, pulled quotes, or “clickability.”

Currently, digital textbooks make up less than 5 percent of sales, including at the college level. Sewall predicts e-books will prove more useful in high school and college than in the primary grades.

More important than medium, however, is content. Regardless of who the digital winners among publishers are, dumbing-down and trending-up textbooks has been a steady moneymaker over the past 20 years. To attract the widest possible audience, “text light” and “entertaining” have usually carried the day. If new media go in this direction, only more so, the losses to teaching and learning will be catastrophic.

E-books will be able to substitute videos for text. The temptation to go for the glitz is hard to resist.