As Sal Khan admits in his book, One World Schoolhouse, that he has not proposed anything particularly new, but the popularity of his non-profit Khan Academy website has given him a prominent platform to advocate for educational change in the United States and around the world.
Ever since my high school aged son started using Khan Academy lessons to help him with the Physics class he was struggling with, I’ve been impressed with how helpful the web based lessons can be to helping students learn and master difficult mathematical concepts. Some students and teachers use the Kahn Academy for more than just remedial tutoring, and instead replace in-class lectures with the lessons, and then spend the majority of class time working through problems and related projects.
This teaching method struck a chord with me, so much so that I’ve created “flipped” or “blended” versions of two of guest lectures that I give at my University. I’m happy to report that the observed learning outcomes and student feedback from the new blended format lectures has been excellent.
In One World Schoolhouse, Sal talks about how the tutoring of one of his nieces was the impetus for him to begin tutoring part time, while working as a hedge fund manager. This snowballed, and turned into his passion, as he tutored more and more relatives and family friends. After a lot of positive feedback to both the lecture videos and online exercises, he took the plunge and started a one year experiment, to see if he could turn his passion into a career. After struggling for several months he, received one or two foundation grants to fund his little non-profit. With the publicity this garnered, he received several more large grants from the likes of Bill Gates and Google, and his organization was fully funded and in a position to hire some full time staff to help him.
For the past four years I’ve taught the session on Knowledge Management tools for Law Students in an Advanced Legal Research a Writing class. In an effort to help the students get more out of the session, this year I “flipped” the class. Instead of lecturing and demonstrating software for 80 minutes, the students watched the short instructional videos I prepared and installed software on their laptops in preparation for the class. This took them between 40 and 60 minutes depending on their technical ability.
Then in a shortened 40 minute class, I put the students together in groups of 2 or 3 and had them work on some exercises. This allowed them to practice using the using the tools they learned about in situations approximating how they’d be used in legal research.
The feedback from the students on the new class format was very positive. 83% of students preferred the blended class style to a traditional lecture, and 75% said that they felt more confident using the tools covered in class than they would have with a traditional lecture. At the end of both classes, most of the students stayed behind after the class was dismissed to continue playing with the new software tools.
Below, exercises A to H are to be completed before the class. The in class exercises are at the bottom. These materials are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License to encourage their use and re-use. In plain english this means that anyone can modify the materials, as long as they share the modifications back to me, and the materials can be used for commercial purposes.
We’re going to look at 7 different tools that will help you develop a more efficient research work flow. It is not expected that you’ll use all the tools, but most students find that they’d have a hard time living without two or three of them once they see how the tools make their research lives easier.
- The tools we’ll look at are:
- Desktop Search,
- Zotero for citation management,
- Evernote for saving general notes, capturing web pages and pictures for future reference,
- JotNot Pro to take the place of a photocopier,
- Google Drive for collaborative document editing,
- Google+ Hangouts for online meetings and document co-editing, and lastly
- backup options so that your digital life is safe.
Before you move on, please make sure that you have a Gmail account, and have signed up for Google+, as you’ll need access to a Google account for the exercises in this module (and in the next class). If you don’t have an account, you can sign up here: http://gmail.com
B. Desktop Search
- Using your desktop search tool, see if you can find a paper you wrote last year.
- Also using your desktop search find all the emails you’ve received from a friend. How many were there? (if you don’t see any emails in your desktop search you’ll need to add your webmail account to your desktop email program).
A lot has been written about the rise of Coursera and MOOC’s (Massive Open Online Courses) over the past year. Increasing numbers of prestigious universities are offering online courses for free to anyone in the world with an internet connection, spare time and motivation. Is this the direction that higher education in Canada will take? I don’t think so. Except for a small number of courses on the fringes of academia, MOOC’s will not go mainstream in Canada. Why not? Because hybrid classes – a mix of web based recorded lectures and exercises, so professors can spend more time in class interacting with students – are more effective and less costly than traditional lecture based classes. Here are three reasons why MOOC’s will not become main stream in Canadian Higher Education:
#1 As far as I can tell, there is currently no evidence that MOOC’s are as effective as traditional lecture based classes or hybrid classes. The two positive things we know for sure about MOOC’s as they are currently being run, is that they are much less costly, and are more accessible to people who do not live close to universities. My sense is that eventually studies will show that MOOC’s as they are currently run, are less effective at achieving learning outcomes than hybrid courses, and lecture based courses.
#2 Student interaction, socializing and networking are something that MOOC’s will have a hard time replicating. Friendships and relationships formed in by students are they earn their degrees can be as important to the success of students in the long run as the degree itself. In addition, while hard to quantify, I believe that a significant amount of learning at Universities happens between classes and in social settings on and off campus.
#3 Hybrid classes (or flipped classrooms), in at least some disciplines, are significantly more effective than traditional lecture based classes. From wikipedia: “Flip teaching [or a hybrid class] is a form of blended learning which encompasses any use of Internet technology to leverage the learning in a classroom, so a teacher can spend more time interacting with students instead of lecturing.” Hybrid classes are not only more effective, but in the long run will cost less for universities to run because of the lower use of classroom time. There will still be papers and assignments for professors and teaching assistants to mark for each student, but less time in classrooms mean that universities and colleges can serve more 50-100% more students without adding additional classroom space. Hybrid classes are not yet common in higher education, so there is significant room for disciplines to take advantage of the cost savings and learning outcomes.
Universities in the US and Canada are currently under enormous pressure to reduce the cost of educating students. The extremely low long term costs associated with running MOOC’s must be tantalizing to university administrators. While tantalising, they will not work as well as hybrid courses, or even lecture based courses in most disciplines, especially where lab time and experimentation are important. There is also the issue of how universities can make money while running MOOC’s. One option is to offer the MOOC’s for free or low cost, and then charge fees for testing and credentialing to pay for the courses.
MOOC’s are currently being experimented with at major universities around the world, however I believe that they will only displace traditional lectures at institutions where cost constraints are so severe that they have no other choice. Fortunately most Canadian universities and colleges are not in that position. That is why I believe they will pursue the Hybrid or Flipped classroom model, as they offer the potential to reduce the cost of higher education (for governments at least), and improve learning outcomes for students.
Introduction to the Survey Results
In addition to the technology questions we’ve been asking UVic Law students over the past ten years, we decided for the first year to ask more detailed questions about student use of tablets and e-readers for academic use, along with questions about their usage of “cloud” services for file storage and collaboration. This survey was completed by 126 incoming and transferring law students, which is a strong 90% plus response rate.
- 89% of incoming law students own “Smart Phones” that can browse the internet (up from 84% last year and 50% two years ago), with 48% of the total being iPhones, 29% Android and 11% Blackberry (Blackberry usage down from 27% last year).
- 31% of students own tablet devices or ebook readers, up from 19% last year.
- When it comes to reading school related documents, students report reading those documents in bound books 46% of the time, on laptops 35% of the time, on laser printed pages 16% of the time, and on tablet devices 3% of the time.
- 99% of students own laptops. 49% of laptops are Mac’s, and 48% Windows.
- The students’ average typing speed is 49 wpm.
- 68% of all students bring their laptops to school most days.
- 75% of students use laptops to take class notes, 63% use pen and paper, 6% use tablets and 3% use their cell phones.
- 53% of students use Gmail as their primary email account, 7% use UVic email and 20% Hotmail.
- 33% of students identified Google Drive as their favorite tool for collaborative document editing. 22% favor DropBox, 4% Apple iCloud and 3% Microsoft Sky Drive.
- 95% of students use Facebook (down from 97% last year, but up from 91% two years ago), 34% user Twitter, 21% Linked In, 10% Google+ and 4% no online social networks.
Smart Phone / Cell Phone Ownership
89% of students own “Smart Phones” or phones with built in web browsers that allow them to surf the internet on their cell phones. That is up significantly from 84% last year, and 50% of smart phone owners two years ago. Blackberry ownership dropped significantly from 27% last year to 11% this year.
On the other end of the spectrum, 4% of students do not own a cell phone at all which is up from 2% last year. This is still significantly lower than the 11% of our sample of all law students who reported no cell phone in the spring of 2010. Just as laptop owner ship has been close to 100% since 2007, cell phone is now almost 100% as well.
From the library and faculty’s perspective this is an important area to watch, as there are a number of interesting new technologies (like QR Codes, NFC, Mobile websites and Adaptive websites) that could potentially enhance the services that depend on library patrons having access to the internet on their mobile devices.
I’ve used Google+ Hangouts for several meetings now out of the necessity of bringing together three other colleagues from across North America to collaborate on a day long seminar. I was pleasantly surprised at how well it worked, not only as a group video conferencing tool, but also as a document collaboration platform (using the embedded Google Docs functionality). For me these two features combined made it almost easier to conduct our meeting remotely from the four corners of North America than it would have had we all been in the same room.
In preparation for our meeting I initially assumed we’d be using Skype for the meeting, and wondered if anyone had a paid account so we’d be able to use the group video conferencing feature (person to person video is free on Skype, but multi-person video is only available if one of the participants is a paying customer). When I realized that the main focus of the meeting would be to prepare the outline for our seminar, I remembered reading something about the collaborative document editing feature in Google+ Hangouts.
My suggestion to use Hangouts was agreed to, and the meeting was very productive. The video and audio quality were excellent, and the ability to co-edit a our outline document, and see who is editing the document in real time, was extremely useful. The ability to take and share our notes speeded up the meeting considerably, as once a point was typed out, if everyone agreed, we simply moved on. If there wasn’t agreement, we discussed further and the point was edited. No misunderstanding, no rehashing who agreed to what days later. Here is a short video (with no audio) demonstrating the co-editing feature of Hangouts.
That said, I highly recommend you give Google+ Hangouts try for an upcoming meeting, even if the participants are local! Here are the pros and cons of the software from my perspective:
Google+ Hangouts Pros:
- High quality video and audio for up to 10 users.
- Cross platform: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS.
- Collaborative document editing.
- Screen Sharing.
- Sketch pad capabilities.
- Hangouts on Air feature allows more than 10 users to view the meeting.
Google+ Hangouts Cons:
- Everyone has to use a google account to participate.
I’ve just finished creating eBook and paper book versions of a paper that I recently wrote called, “Research & Collaboration Tools for Students, Staff & Faculty: Creating a Modern Memex“. It should be helpful for anyone doing research, but especially for high school students, university students, teachers and faculty. At 55 pages in paper book format, it is a short but informative read.
As a personal learning project, I’ve made the book available in multiple formats, so that it is accessible to everyone who is interested in reading it. Feel free to send a link to this page to anyone who you think might find this short book helpful. I’ve published it using the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
If you have an iPad, be sure to download the “iBooks for iPad only” version, as it is a multi-media edition, that includes embedded videos that unfortunately the other formats do not yet support.
Please let me know if you have any questions, concerns, comments or suggestions for the book. If you read a free version of the book, please leave a review in the Kindle Store, as I suspect this will help others discover the book.
Why would someone use an web based word processor for a school paper instead of Microsoft Word? Here are three reasons:
- When collaborating with classmates on a group project, do you get tired of trying to figure out which of the versions that have been emailed to you is the most current?
- Do you get discouraged when you are faced with the task of merging edits from 2 or more students into a single document near the end of the group project?
- Do some of your edits get lost in the group collaboration email shuffle?
If you’ve said yes to any one of the questions above, then you should take a serious look at using either Google Docs or Microsoft Word Web App for your next group project. That said, here are a few things to keep in mind as you being to collaboratively create and edit documents on the web:
- While the look and feel of Microsoft Word Web App is very similar to the desktop version of Word, you cannot add or edit footnotes, end notes, or tables of contents in the online version of Word. You can connect to the file from your desktop version of Word to add and edit those elements in your group document however (on a Mac you’ll need Mac Office 2011 to do this).
- Google Docs supports foot notes, end notes and tables of contents in the web browser, but the editing interface is not as rich as the desktop version of Word. For some people this is not a problem. For others it is a show stopper. You can decide for yourself.
In any case, if you need to collaborate on a document, don’t just reflexively email it to your collaborator, instead think about writing it in Google Docs and sending them a link and leave the email document shuffle behind.
I gave a 5 minute “Ignite” presentation at the 2011 CALI Conference at Marquette Law School in Milwaukee this past week that I hope you enjoy…