Ramblings on Digital Education

I’m interested in education. I, like many people, have been educated at some point in my life. So, I can relate to those being educated. But beyond that, my first three years out of college were spent developing educational software at a now defunct branch of The Mazer Corporation.

A few items/products/discussions/tidbits about discussion had crossed my plate recently and I figured I’d write about them. They are

iTunesU

I had heard about iTunesU a while back, but a recent post on The Unofficial Apple Weblog made it enter my consciousness again. What is it? iTunes U is a way for universities to make content available to students and faculty through the iTunes Music Store. As Apple itself says it:

iTunes U* is a free, hosted service for colleges and universities that provides easy access to your educational content, including lectures and interviews 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It’s the most powerful way to manage a broad range of audio or video content and make it available quickly and easily to students, faculty, and staff.

So, what makes this worth talking about? The possibilites. Only a handful of schools are taking part, but this really could provide a whole additional business model for the iTunes/iPod combo. For me (and many others), podcasting changed the way I used my iTunes/iPod. I was educating myself on web design news and trends and also keeping myself entertained. Taking that education and actually making it a regimented full-fledged course seems like a logical next step. Forget the implications this has for universities—how about training companies that want to charge a few bucks per “episode”? It could use the same foundation as TV shows. A “season” is a “class”. “Episodes” are “lessons”. Buy one class or buy the “season pass” to enter the class and receive all lessons for a flat rate. It doesn’t have to be just tech training. People can be trained on ANYTHING. How to make the best minestrone soup? How to lay down a perfect bunt? How to teach your dog to sit? User generated training? All in iTunes? Apple, of course, gets to take their cut and the author gets the rest.

I’m sure there are many other implications of this (who hosts the content, what pricing model, who handles the tech support, etc.), but those can be answered later. This, obviously, is a braindump.

TeachMac

I first heard of TeachMac because they are a proud sponsor of a great podcast—Mac OS Ken. TeachMac is “The Modular Macintosh Learning and Teaching System”. A lot of what I just said about iTunesU is being implemented here. It is user generated content. TeachMac takes a cut. The author takes a cut. But it is all Mac training. The shell and technology really are independent of the content. They could use this to host training programs of any kind. They just choose to focus on the Mac.

iTunes is huge, though. They could afford to branch out and the be the home of all things training. They already host podcasts from NPR and music from Paris Hilton. Training as diverse as making apple pie to building a skyscraper is hardly pushing the envelope.

So, what I like about TeachMac is they are already doing something that I think iTunes could easily do but hasn’t yet.

Digication

What pissed me off the most when I heard of Digication was the fact that about an hour before listening, I told my boss about how something like it would be a great idea for a product. They thought of it first (and quite a while ago). Congrats to them (seriously, nice product).

Anyway, keeping with the trend of where I heard about these products, Digication was featured on Amber MacArthur and Leo Laporte’s wonderful podcast, Inside the Net. Digication is a social networking site (yes, another), but this one is for the use of education. One line I like to use at work is that we have to start designing for people that grew up on Halo and MySpace. Digication uses the great communication and collaboration features of MySpace, but in a learning-friendly way.

Kids are still going to use their MySpaces and their Facebooks, but at least this site helps make education a bit more compelling for them in a format that has already been proven to reach students (just look at any stats on MySpace’s usage). Digication is a walled garden. Students cannot see content or link to people outside of their assigned classes. The discussion is supposed to revolve around the coursework, though I’m sure the teachers and developers would rather see classmates chit-chat about off topic material on Digication than on any of the alternatives. The site features threaded message board discussion, calendars and tasks, easy course material creation, grading (nice addition, better keep that secure though!), and more.

Digication is free to the first 1000 students. There is a monthy, per student charge after that. I’m not a user of the site, so I wonder if the value comes when a single class starts using it or when a whole school is on the system (and that’s if a teacher can even sign up if the whole school is not in the system). For teachers at schools that won’t adopt something like this, a class blog would be a good alternative (though you probably want to password protect it for just your students). Although, I do like the idea of Digication being something a bit more regimented and school-approved. Teachers are human, too, so you never know what they might be saying to your kids on a personal blog. I guess the key here is for parents to just be more observant and involved. Of course, that’s a blog post (or an entire blog) for another time.

The Future of Education in a Digitally Convergent World

I’ve mentioned a few hundred times that I love podcasted conference sessions. One from South By Southwest 2006 that was a good listen was The Future of Education in a Digitally Convergent World. I actually didn’t know anybody on the panel and don’t remember a ton from listening to it, but I remember it being a good conversation. Here’s what the site says about it:

From online degree programs to instant knowledge available on Google and interactive online education in the K-12 space, digital convergence is transforming education in meaningful ways. But we are only beginning to explore the ways in which digital technology can change and improve education around the world. From virtual online communities to adaptive learning programs and 3D simulation worlds, the future of technology in education will continue to change dramatically. This panel will explore what is next in the world of technology-enabled learning.

There’s nothing specific to report there, but it was good to hear a few different outlooks on where this whole education thing is headed.

So, there you have some random notes on education. Sorry it wasn’t more formulaic, but it had been stewing for a while and needed to get out.

2 Comments

  1. On October 19th, 2006 at 5:01 pm DIGI[cation] said:

    [...] Traces of Inspiration- Blogger Adam Darowski writes about Digication in his recent post, “Ramblings on Digital Education.” (October 16, 2006) [...]

  2. On June 19th, 2007 at 4:22 pm Eric Smooth said:

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