Monday, December 24, 2012

Higher education: our MP3 is the mooc

Clay Shirky: ‘We lecture other people every day about learning from history. Now it’s our turn’ Clay Shirky: ‘In the academy, we lecture other people every day about learning from history. Now it’s our turn’. Composite: David Levene/Sarah Habershon/Guardian

Fifteen years ago, a research group called The Fraunhofer Institute announced a new digital format for compressing movie files. This wasn't a terribly momentous invention, but it did have one interesting side-effect: Fraunhofer also had to figure out how to compress the soundtrack. The result was the Motion Picture Experts Group Format 1, Audio Layer III, a format you know and love, though only by its acronym, MP3.

The recording industry concluded this new format would be no threat, because quality mattered most. Who would listen to an MP3 when they could buy a better-sounding CD? Then Napster launched, and quickly became the fastest-growing piece of software in history. The industry sued Napster and won, and it collapsed even more suddenly than it had arisen.

If Napster had only been about free access, control of legal distribution of music would then have returned the record labels. That's not what happened. Instead, Spotify happened. ITunes happened. Amazon began selling songs in the hated MP3 format.

How did the recording industry win the battle but lose the war? They crushed Napster, but what they couldn't kill was the story Napster told.

The story the recording industry used to tell us went like this: "Hey kids, Alanis Morissette just recorded three kickin' songs! You can have them, so long as you pay for the 10 mediocrities she recorded at the same time." But Napster said: "You want just the three songs? Fine. You want every cover of Blue Suede Shoes ever made? Help yourself. You're in charge."

The people in the music industry weren't stupid, of course. They just couldn't imagine that the old way of doing things might fail. Yet things did fail, in large part because, after Napster, the industry's insistence that digital distribution be as expensive and inconvenient as a trip to the record store suddenly struck millions of people as a completely terrible idea.

Once you see this pattern – a new story rearranging people's sense of the possible, with the incumbents the last to know – you see it everywhere. First, the people running the old system don't notice the change. When they do, they assume it's minor. Then that it's a fad. And by the time they understand that the world has actually changed, they've squandered most of the time they had to adapt.

It's been interesting watching this unfold in music, books, newspapers, TV, but nothing has ever been as interesting to me as watching it happen in my own back yard. Higher education is now being disrupted; our MP3 is the massive open online course (or mooc), and our Napster is Udacity, the education startup.

We have several advantages over the recording industry, of course. We are decentralised and mostly non-profit. We employ lots of smart people. We have previous examples to learn from, and our core competence is learning from the past. And armed with these advantages, we're probably going to screw this up as badly as the music people did.

A massive open online class is usually a series of video lectures with associated written materials and self-scoring tests, open to anyone. As we learned from Wikipedia, demand for knowledge is so enormous that good, free online materials can attract extraordinary numbers of people from all over the world.

Last year, an online course in artificial intelligence from Stanford, taught by Peter Norvig and Sebastian Thrun, attracted 160,000 potential students, of whom 23,000 completed it, a scale that dwarfs anything possible on a physical campus. As Thrun put it, "Peter and I taught more students AI than all AI professors in the world combined." Seeing this, he quit and founded Udacity, an institution designed to offer moocs.

The size of Thrun and Norvig's course, and the attention attracted by Udacity (and similar organisations like Coursera, P2PU, and University of the People), have many academics worrying about the effect on higher education. In a New York Times OpEd, Mark Edmundson of the University of Virginia focused on the issue of quality, asking and answering his own question: "[C]an online education ever be education of the very best sort?"

Now you and I know what he means by "the very best sort" – the intimate college seminar, preferably conducted by tenured faculty. He's telling the story of the liberal arts education in a selective residential college and asking "Why would anyone take an online class when they can buy a better education at the University of Virginia?"

But who faces that choice? Are we to imagine an 18-year-old who can set aside $250K and 4 years, but who would have a hard time choosing between a residential college and a series of moocs? Elite high school students will not be abandoning elite colleges any time soon; the issue isn't what education of "the very best sort" looks like, but what the whole system looks like.

I was fortunate enough to get the kind of undergraduate education Edmundson praises: four years at Yale, in an incredible intellectual community, where even big lecture classes were taught by seriously brilliant people. Decades later, I can still remember my art history professor's description of the Arnolfini Wedding. But you know what? Those classes didn't create genuine intellectual community. They were just great lectures: we showed up, we listened, we took notes, and we left, ready to discuss what we'd heard in smaller sections.

And did the professors also teach our sections too? No, of course not; those were taught by graduate students. The large lecture isn't a tool for producing intellectual joy; it's a tool for reducing the expense of introductory classes.

Cheap graduate students let an institution lower the cost of teaching the sections while continuing to produce lectures as an artisanal product, from scratch, on site, real time. The minute you try to explain exactly why we do it this way, though, the setup starts to seem a little bizarre.

Every university provides access to a huge collection of potential readings, and to a tiny collection of potential lectures. We ask students to read the best works we can find, whoever produced them and where, but we only ask them to listen to the best lecture a local employee can produce that morning. Sometimes you're at a place where the best lecture your professor can give is the best in the world. But mostly not. And the only thing that kept this system from seeming strange was that we've never had a good way of publishing lectures.

The top 50 colleges on the US News and World Report list only educate something like 3% of the current US student population. The entire list, about 250 colleges, educates fewer than 25%. The very things the US News list of top colleges prizes – low average class size, ratio of staff to students – mean that any institution that tries to create a cost-effective education will move down the list. This is why most of the early work on moocs is coming out of Stanford and Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. As the academic and games designer Ian Bogost has said, moocs are marketing for elite schools.

Outside the elite institutions, though, the other 75% of students in the US —over 13 million of them—are enrolled in the 4,000 institutions you haven't heard of. When we talk about college education in the US, these institutions are usually left out of the conversation, but Clayton State educates as many undergraduates as Harvard. Saint Leo educates twice as many. City College of San Francisco enrols as many as the entire Ivy League combined. These are where most students are, and their experience is what college education is mostly like.

The fight over moocs isn't about the value of college; thousands of institutions you haven't heard of provide an expensive but mediocre education. For-profit schools like Kaplan's and the University of Phoenix enrol around one student in eight, but account for nearly half of all loan defaults, and the vast majority of their enrollees fail to get a degree even after six years. Reading the academic press, you wouldn't think that these statistics represented a more serious defection from our mission than helping people learn something about artificial intelligence for free.

The fight over moocs isn't even about the value of online education. Hundreds of institutions already offer online classes for credit, and half a million students are already enrolled in them. If critics of online education were consistent, they would believe that the University of Virginia's Bachelor of interdisciplinary studies or Rutgers's Master of library and information science degree are abominations, or else they would have to believe that there is a credit-worthy way to do online education, one moocs could emulate. Neither argument is much in evidence.

That's because the fight over moocs is really about the story we tell ourselves about higher education: what it is, who it's for, how it's delivered, who delivers it. The most widely told story about college focuses obsessively on elite schools and answers a crazy mix of questions: How will we teach complex thinking and skills? How will we turn adolescents into well-rounded members of the middle class? Who will certify that education is taking place? How will we instil reverence for Virgil? Who will subsidise the professor's work?

Moocs simply ignore a lot of those questions. The possibility they hold out isn't replacement; anything that could replace the traditional college experience would have to work like one, and the institutions best at working like a college are already colleges. The possibility moocs hold out is that the educational parts of education can be unbundled. Moocs expand the audience for education to people ill-served or completely shut out from the current system.

In the US, an undergraduate education used to be an option, one way to get into the middle class. Now it's a hostage situation, required to avoid falling out of it. And if some of the hostages having trouble coming up with the ransom conclude that our current system is a completely terrible idea, then learning will come unbundled from the pursuit of a degree just as songs came unbundled from CDs.

If this happens, Harvard will be fine. Yale will be fine. But Bridgerland Applied Technology College? Maybe not fine. And Kaplan College, a more reliable producer of debt than education? Definitely not fine.

Udacity and its peers try to answer some new questions, questions that the traditional academy – me and my people – often don't even recognise as legitimate, like "How do we spin up 10,000 competent programmers a year, all over the world, at a cost too cheap to meter?"

Udacity may or may not survive, but as with Napster, there's no containing the story it tells: "It's possible to educate a thousand people at a time, in a single class, all around the world, for free."

Once you imagine educating a thousand people in a single class, it becomes clear that open courses, even in their nascent state, will be able to raise quality and improve certification faster than traditional institutions can lower cost or increase enrolment.

College mottos run the gamut from Bryn Mawr's Veritatem Dilexi (I Delight In The Truth) to the Laboratory Institute of Merchandising's Where Business Meets Fashion, but there's a new one that now hangs over many of them: Quae Non Possunt Non Manent. Things That Can't Last Don't. The cost of attending college is rising, while the premium for doing so shrinks. This obviously can't last, but no one on the inside has any clear idea about how to change the way our institutions work while leaving our benefits and privileges intact.

In the academy, we lecture other people every day about learning from history. Now it's our turn, and the risk is that we'll be the last to know that the world has changed, because we can't imagine – really cannot imagine – that the story we tell ourselves about ourselves could start to fail. Even when it's true. Especially when it's true.

This is an extract from a longer article. Read the original here.

• Clay Shirky is associate professor at New York University and a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society

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Friday, December 21, 2012

Exploratorium preserving past, preparing for future

See it on TV? Check here. SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The countdown is on with two and a half weeks until we say goodbye to the Exploratorium in San Francisco. The hands-on science museum will reopen in the spring at a new home.

The staff is racing to preserve the past as it prepares for the future. It's still hard to tell these are the final days at this historic place. The Exploratorium opened at the Palace of Fine Arts in 1969, a first of its kind museum with interactive exhibits making science fun. A memory wall is up now where staff and visitors are sharing photos and thoughts about four decades of experiences. One of the visitors who came back to take a look is Brian Mathews. "It made a big impression on my childhood. I have vivid memories of it and I really wanted to save it for the future," he said. Brian is an engineer with Autodesk. He's an expert in what's known as "reality capture" and he decided he should be doing it here. "So, I called up our friends at the Exploratorium and like any other experiment, they were game," he said. Brian got a few other volunteers and they are working as fast as they can to make a three-dimensional record of the building and the exhibits. They are using a couple of different technologies including one that starts with photos from a still camera, "a process called photogrammetry," Brian explained. You take photos from lots of different angles, feed them into a computer, and an amazing software program puts them together into this incredible image. "That software can analyze all those two-dimensional pictures, triangulate and make a three-dimensional model just from an ordinary camera," Brian said. They're also using two laser scanners, starting in the machine shop where all the exhibits are made. Again, a sophisticated software program analyzes the millions of data points from the lasers and combines them. The result is an image so detailed, it could be used to create an exact replica of the space and everything in it. Exploratorium exhibit makers are thrilled to get the data now even though they are not sure how they will use it. "What exactly we do with that - that's sort of what we do. So we will have, fortunately, years to figure that out," New Media Director Bill Meyer said. They are also sorting, cleaning, packing, and puzzling over the 43 years of accumulated stuff behind the scenes of the museum. First they just have to figure out what they have. Next, they decide what makes the cut. Whatever they decide to keep will go to Pier 15. After two years of top to bottom renovations, it will be the Exploratorium's new home. A hundred tiny zebra fish and some spiky sea urchins were the first to make the move out of a cramped backroom in the old building into the new high-tech life sciences lab. The urchins started exploring right away, moving their tiny arms to check out their surroundings. One of their main jobs is to produce material for an exhibit on reproduction and the move seems to have put them to work -- the sea urchins are already spawning. The Exploratorium will be open during its regular hours at the old building until January 1. On January 2, the last day, admission is free. After that, they will have small exhibits all over San Francisco, popping up in surprise places until the new building opens in April. (Copyright ©2012 KGO-TV/DT.

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Technology in Vocational Education

Testing a speedometer

The vocational or trade school educational environment has often been on the short end of spending for computers and information technology. It is far less pronounced than it was just a few years ago, but for many trade or vocational high schools there is still a noticeable difference. Even 20 short years ago this could be easily justified based on the very different curricula that existed between different types of high schools.

My sense is that this is short sighted given the fundamental changes that impact vocational education. With the role of information technology increasing across every industry, turning out vocational school graduates that are comfortable and knowledgeable about the information systems they will be using every day is essential.

Working on cars used to be a fairly simple process, many of us grew up doing major work on our first junk box car. However, in today’s automotive industry, the technician needs to start with computer based testing and diagnostics before even picking up the first wrench. Today’s cars are a series of complex computing systems. Although these systems are very different from using Microsoft Office, the tech’s ability to understand basic computer functionality and technology enhances their ability to do their job better. This knowledge also leads to less frustration and lost time during the actual repair.

Even small independent repair shops rely on management systems that track all the costs and are the basis of how automotive technicians are paid. Techs now interact with dealer management or shop management systems that track parts, time allowances, and often provide links or actual access to repair bulletins and other critical information. Many of these are like any other order entry or CMS system that is used by white collar employees. Being facile and effective with these systems results in a better employment experience and raising the odds of advancement. Further, thorny problems may require traditional computer based research skills to find new fixes or input outside of the shop system.

The automotive industry is just one example of the many areas of vocational school specialties where the need for strong technology education is important the overall success of the graduates. Simply put, there are few trades that haven’t become dependent on technology for the actual work, the business side, or both.

For many vocational schools, the new complexities and demands of many trades have taken up much of the focus for curriculum change. The demands of technology must be part of this change, and can’t be ignored. The ability of trade professionals to comfortably use the trade specific and more traditional computer systems is required to make them work force ready. The ability to use these vocation skills within the framework of the systems that support them is driving modern vocational schools.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Internet 2.0 in Schools

Next-generation school desks

We live in a highly connected world, and the use of the internet and public networks extends downward into lower age groups, even to 8 and 9 year olds. Kids in primary schools today have effectively grown up in a connected world, and going to school cannot be a return to 1990 if the learning environment is to be effective. If we look to Internet 2.0 for the schools, it’s consists of a combination of more school centric content and integration of web based resources into the curriculum.

In order to work well, moving to Internet 2.0 requires making a few changes at the same time so that there is no negative impact on learning and to mitigate confusion. The goal is consistent steps of improvement, not a massive “jump shift” from one year to the next. In addition, while fundamental new technology that changes the game like the “Star Trek Classroom” is nice, the budget realities make this an unlikely outcome.

One of the biggest problems facing next generation access in the school is the issue of budget. It’s also where we need to start thinking outside the box. Going to some sort of “sponsored” model is the most common, and potentially it can be very attractive. Selling “ads” increases the opportunities for revenue enhancement. Imagine a two month ad cycle for a store that sells prom gowns during prom season. This approach does require someone to work with local businesses, and can be a member of the PTA as a volunteer. Grants are also available, but harder to come by. If the budget can be augmented by just $10,000, it makes a big difference.

While we’ve seen some really cool examples of new uses of the internet within the schools, there is more that can be done. With so many students looking for activities that will attract colleges, consider ways for them to bring their web creativity to the school. One local school here has “web shows” every day with interviews of a student athlete, the first chair in the band, and even a student that has made an impact in the community. And another place that I think creativity can be brought to bear is on the school’s website. Does yours look the same as it did in 1990?

One of the best ways of ending hours of Facebook is to have the students use their computing tools for other tasks and drive focus there. This is where curriculum that leverages the internet can make a difference. This shouldn’t become a case where a teacher spends hours finding resources, but start with a task or knowledge set and have the students showcase what they’ve found. Let’s not determine the outcome before we start.

Re-thinking the role, usage, and value of the internet in primary schools is possibly the single biggest challenge facing educators today. This blog is not meant to provide every possible change or new approach that can be delivered in the concept of Internet 2.0. There are also some very useful functions that can be built in like location sensing, and the use of chat/skype/Facetime and other tools that enhance collaboration.

However, if we start from the perspective of how we find some budget, what new things are possible, and how to enhance learning, it’s a good start. And never bite off more than you can chew. Small incremental improvements, on a regular basis, are the way to go.

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Free Assessment Tools for Classrooms Using One-To-One Technology

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Facebook success highlights challenge of turning friends into learners

facebook on phones A girl takes a photo with her mobile phone in Cairo. Cheap handsets are opening up access to social media sites such as Facebook for young people across the Middle East. Photograph: Peter Andrews/Reuters

A Facebook page aimed at English language learners in the Middle East and North Africa is attracting more than 10,000 new fans every week. The Learn English MENA page, which is maintained by the British Council has over 1 million "likes", an increase of more than 200% in less than 18 months, the Council says.

Those figures put Learn English MENA far ahead of other English learning pages on Facebook. The Learn Real English page, which offers lessons based on authentic conversations between native speakers, has over 300,000 likes, while Voice of America's Special English page attracts over 200,000 endorsements for its video based learning content.

The Council says that demand for English is growing rapidly in the region as is the popularity of Facebook which has 45 million monthly users. But the success of the page is also down to careful targeting and promotion.

Learn English MENA is designed for young people who receive daily alerts to learning content across a range of British Council Learn English websites. They can also ask for advice from the "English Doctor Service". These are interactive sessions held three times a week during which a British Council teacher is available online to answer learners' questions and help them develop their skills.

According to Dalia Adel, MENA digital English project manager at the Council, Facebook provides valuable data on how learners are using the page. "We use surveys and analytics to ascertain what the fans want on the page, and then provide appropriate and engaging new content every day in order to help boost confidence and improve vocabulary, grammar, conversation skills, fluency and pronunciation," Adel said.

The success of the page is also down to a long-term marketing campaign by British Council offices in the region. Caroline Moore, a former Council manager who helped to set up its Learn English website and who is now an education app publisher, says that MENA staff have been using Facebook to build relationships with learners and teachers for many years.

"This success hasn't just come out of the blue. Council staff have been building audiences through Facebook for some time now. Where ever they go they are using Facebook to keep in touch with the teachers and learners they meet," Moore said.

But while the numbers of likes are impressive, Moore warns that the real test of a Facebook page is the depth of engagement. "You can collect thousands of likes for a page but getting people to return to it on a regular basis is the hard part. Facebook works best when there is interaction and exchange between users."

Satish Mayya, CEO of BPG Maxus, a leading digital media consultancy based in Dubai is impressed with the way the Council is using social media in the region.

"It has understood the importance of Facebook and has tailored its social media strategy to target its audience through the platform. The British Council is making the best use of technology to reach those who have limited access to training, and supporting learners in the region. It has done this through maintaining a balance between listening, talking and engaging with their users on this social platform."

Others are more cautious. Leading ELT digital technology trainer Nik Peachey says that the content that the Council produces on its Learn English websites is impressive, but there is less evidence that its Facebook page is contributing to learning in the region.

"The Council is using Facebook effectively to put people in touch with really good quality learning materials, but most of those materials are delivered through independent platforms. Facebook is just a means to funnel people to those materials. Real learning is dependent on the quality of those materials and the quality of interaction built around them," Peachey said.

He points out that the English Doctor Service attracts only 200 likes per session which is a tiny fraction of the total. "I think before making bold claims about the effectiveness of Facebook as a learning tool we have to be realistic about just how much engagement that amounts to."

But while the Council might need to try harder to convince some that its current Facebook presence is having real impact, education experts agree that the social media site continues to be relevant.

"Facebook is a logical choice as a learning platform for a variety of reasons, not least of which is its near global coverage, its ability to work on cheap phones, and the prevalence of mobile phone infrastructure over fixed-line broadband coverage," said Gavin Dudeney, of online training providers The Consultants-E

"In many contexts it makes little sense to adopt or build other platforms when potential learners are already in a space, communicating and engaging with content. Interacting in the spaces where learners already exist gives a higher chance of getting them to engage with learning content," he said.

Peachey says that Facebook can be most effective when teachers use it to extend their students' learning beyond the classroom.

"A lot of teachers are using Facebook to supplement face-to-face teaching mainly because their learners are already on Facebook, It's easier to use than email and it's more interactive," he said.

Peachey has seen at first hand how Facebook is providing a bridge beyond the classroom in countries such as Pakistan and India . "In many of the schools I visit student are demanding that their teachers 'friend' them. The use of Facebook is being driven by students who don't want their interaction with their teachers to be limited to classroom time."

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Top UK universities launch free online courses

Prof Martin Bean, vice chancellor of the Open University, which has led the way in online learning Prof Martin Bean, vice chancellor of the Open University, which is funding FutureLearn. Photograph: Kelly Cooper

Eleven top UK universities are joining the Open University to launch free internet courses, in a bid to catch up with the elite US institutions that have led the way online.

King's College London, along with the Universities of Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, East Anglia, Exeter, Lancaster, Leeds, Southampton, St Andrews and Warwick have partnered with FutureLearn, a company set up by the Open University that will offer free, non-credit bearing courses to internet-users around the world.

The courses are modelled on the US phenomenon 'massive open online courses' (Moocs), which have attracted millions of users across the globe, and are especially popular in emerging economies – a key market place for UK universities.

FutureLearn will promote UK institutions to international students, said Prof Martin Bean, vice-chancellor of the Open University.

"At the moment foreign students' perception of UK universities is: wonderful history, great tradition, really good teaching, but a bit boring.

"It's absolutely unacceptable that the number one or two brand for higher education in the world should be lagging in the areas of innovation in terms of HE. We need to inject that front-foot, innovative flavour if we're to compete with the US."

Universities minister David Willetts said the partnership – which has received cross-party support and involves universities from Scotland, Wales and England – will put the UK at the heart of online education.

"Massive open online courses present an opportunity for us to widen access to, and meet the global demand for higher education. This is growing rapidly in emerging economies like Brazil, India and China."

The UK higher education industry, which is worth £14 billion, stands in the top five export earners for Britain.

Moocs have grown rapidly in the US over the past year, with two providers leading the field. Coursera offers courses from 33 universities, including Princeton, Brown, Columbia and Duke and has reached more than 1.7 million users.

EdX, a nonprofit start-up from Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has 370,000 students enrolled on online courses this autumn.

Simon Nelson, one of the key architects of BBC Online, will head FutureLearn as launch CEO. He says that the company will focus on providing quality education rather than targeting large numbers but expects it may attract millions.

"It's a really enlightening move for these universities to come together – we'll punch so much harder collectively than any other university would individually."

Partner institutions will be responsible for their own content while the OU, which has been providing distance learning courses since 1971, will assist with course delivery and infrastructure.

While the courses are not meant to rival traditional degrees, Prof Bean hopes the partnership will help democratise education.

"This is also about unlocking institutions to citizens in the UK as well as abroad. There will be people who want to use it for employment outcomes, and we contemplate users will be abe to do a formal inviligated exam if they want to show they were tested to a higher standard of rigour."

A charge for (optional) certificates and exam inviligation will form the company's primary revenue stream. The Open University is the company's only shareholder, though it is not expecting big profits, says Prof Bean.

Details of further universities who may sign up to the deal will be revealed in the new year, as will the courses on offer. "People are really interested in breadth," says Prof Bean. "FutureLearn will roam the tapestry of HE and not be bound to any particular discipline. But ultimately the crowd will decide."

Leighton Andrews, Welsh minister for education and skills has welcomed the partnership, saying: "I have encouraged the higher education sector in Wales as a whole to engage with this is a serious way. The area of open education resources is a fast-moving field in which the power of the internet and information technology can transform access to learning globally."

Leeds University say the partnership will also benefit students studying on campus: "And our current students will have access to a rich, interactive set of resources, from both Leeds and our partners. In line with the Leeds Curriculum, this will help give them a deeper and fuller understanding of their field of study as well as encouraging them to broaden their education beyond their main subject areas."

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Saturday, December 15, 2012

3D Printing – Shop Class for the 21st Century

3D printer in action

It may seem unexpected, but in Junior and Senior High School, my favorite subject was shop class!  Building things, learning how tools work, and gaining a lot of knowledge about how devices actually work was not only engaging, but resulted in a few lamps, bowls, and other items that I still proudly own some 40 years later.  However, thanks to regulation, safety, and cost, many districts have basically eliminated shop class.

So what does that have to do with 3D printing?  More than you might imagine.

The biggest consistency between shop class and 3D printing is the notion that there is a great deal of learning that comes from actually making a physical object.  Holding something that you made and seeing how it actually works or fits the purpose intended, how it might be improved, and how it interacts with the other elements of the design provides a number of lessons that are hard to get without a physical manifestation of the problem.  And with 3D printing, the ability to compare your work with others to see how efficiently manufacturing or “printing” is done is a great learning experience.

One of the biggest problems in shop class was safety.  While I never saw fingers removed, there were accidents with belt sanders and lathes that resulted in blood, but no permanent disfigurement.  3D printing doesn’t have the safety issues associated with power tools.  This is a critical consideration in today’s highly litigious world.

If you are as old as I am, you remember that boys went to shop class, and the girls went to home economics.  That’s not going to work in a Title IX world.  3D printing is great because the design and manufacture of whatever you are making can easily appeal to both sexes.  There is no “girl” or “boy” centric nature to the use of this technology as a means of teaching students about the design and manufacture of different items.

Of course, there are still a few issues that will need solutions if we are to use 3D printing as the incredible teaching tool that it can be in today’s primary educational institutions.  While the price of the printers themselves are dropping dramatically and are now within the budget reach of most schools, the cost of supplies can be substantial.  This can be an issue for cash strapped schools.  In fact the supplies cost makes “re-doing” a project cost prohibitive.  There is also the issue of finding teachers that have enough training and familiarity with the software and hardware used for 3D printing.  This is a very new technology.

My sense is that this new learning solution may come into schools in the guise of an after-school “club” or similar endeavor.  In this way we can start the use in a highly managed and better supervised setting.  Yet, no matter how it starts, I expect that 3D printing will truly create numerous new (or resurrected) curriculum opportunities.

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Friday, December 14, 2012

UK universities are wary of getting on board the mooc train

Prof Martin Bean, vice chancellor of the Open University, which has led the way in online learning Prof Martin Bean, vice chancellor of the Open University, which has led the way in online learning. Photograph: Kelly Cooper

About once a fortnight Matt Robb, senior principal at consulting firm Parthenon, has a conversation with a financier who wants to inject serious finance into a British university. According to Robb, the right idea could net finance of between £50m and £100m. Yet this isn't about new lecture halls or research facilities. Financiers are hearing stories about a global revolution in online learning in the US, and they are eager for that revolution to catch on over here. But so far they have been disappointed. "UK higher education is extremely good, but the scale of ambition is low," says Robb. "I was talking to an investor the other day who said: 'At the moment no university is looking at anything big enough for us to write a cheque'."

In the UK, distance learning remains a niche concern – something that is seen as more the territory of the Open University than the mainstream. Universities say they've been offering their learners online options for years. But there is scarcely a whiff of the evangelism and excitement bubbling away in America, where venture capitalists and leading universities are ploughing millions of dollars into mould-breaking massive online open courses, or moocs, which offer free education to huge numbers of students across the world.

Though the technology has been around for some time, the mooc legend really began last year when a Stanford University professor, Sebastian Thrun, experimented with offering an artificial intelligence course free online. In just a few weeks, 160,000 students from 190 countries had raced to sign up. Thrun's days of teaching 200 students in a lecture hall are now over. He has launched Udacity, which aims to "democratise education" by offering free, bitesize courses, ranging from starting a business to software debugging, taught by leading academics, to up to 200,000 students at a time.

Udacity joins other big American mooc players including edX, a combined venture from Harvard, MIT and more recently Berkeley; and Coursera, a second venture from Stanford. More than 30 elite universities from around the world now offer free courses as part of the Coursera platform, including Edinburgh and the University of London. Both British universities see this as a chance to dip their toes into uncharted seas with little personal risk.

But their decision to do so is controversial. The blogosphere is alive with warnings about moocs, and many commentators are speculating that universities are opening the floodgates to something that will cannibalise traditional higher education. The fear is: if students can learn in their pyjamas with academic stars for nothing, why would they pay fees of £9,000 a year for a normal university course?

Prof Martin Bean, vice-chancellor of the Open University, describes this as the "Napster moment for higher education", and many experts agree. The advent of Napster – which allowed fans to share music for free online – upended the traditional business model for the music industry forever. Although the Open University already offers free tasters of its education via YouTube and iTunes, and plans to do more online, Bean warns that universities that rush into moocs are "irresponsible".

Prof Sir Adrian Smith, the new vice-chancellor of the University of London, is pragmatic. "A lot of individuals might have a first reaction that this is a threat, but you can't hold back the tide. This is a big wave and you have to work out how to surf it rather than drown under it."

And it seems talk of big waves is not mere hyperbole. Within 24 hours of going live with Coursera in September, 9,000 students had signed up to the university's five free courses, and that figure has now hit 60,000.

But for now, moocs are still a work in progress. While student numbers are potentially massive, it is not yet clear how these sites will make money. As Peter Reed, e-learning co-ordinator at Manchester Metropolitan University, says: "Undoubtedly, the opening up of education – and in many cases from world leaders – is a great thing, but I'm not sure if moocs have really got their business plan sorted out."

For now at least, moocs are missing two major things. The first is that students do not walk away with an internationally recognised paper qualification.

Second, they cannot offer the same level of personal support as a traditional university. Although moocs operate through online forums and communities, and some students have already arranged to meet and study together, many academics argue that this is no substitute for intensive tutor support.

Edinburgh was already offering some of its professional master's courses such as law and veterinary medicine entirely online when it joined Coursera – it aims to have 10,000 fee-paying students online in the next few years. Prof Jeff Haywood, vice-principal for knowledge management at the university, explains that their free "taster" courses on Coursera are very different: "We don't select any of the learners, and we don't teach them. We design a course and monitor and lightly support them. Instead of a staff ratio of one to 20 on our standard online courses, it might be one to 20,000."

Some universities argue that while the mooc model remains imperfect, it doesn't make sense to take the reputational risk of getting involved.

Smith adds that universities are never going to be at their most innovative at a time of huge policy change. "Institutions and individuals only have a finite amount of energy and with the volatilities of recent years people are taking stock, stacking up their cash balances," he says.

The danger is that if there is a global online revolution, it may not wait for Britain. "I don't think investors are misunderstanding the market," Haywood says. "One question is, do you just get one splash at this, with Udacity and Coursera et al? Have they got the first movers' advantage and now it's gone? Or will all this disappear in three years' time? We just don't know."

View the original article here

Monday, December 3, 2012

How to use Big Data in Elementary Education

Working towards the goal

The Big Data initiative is all the rage for commercial and industrial organizations. The term itself conjures up images of huge rows of high end hardware with lots of expensive software and amazing subject matter experts that are creating new breakthrough business opportunities. And while there is some truth in that vision, when we talk about Big Data and elementary education, we need to focus less on a data center image, and more on how the approaches found in Big Data can provide us with new information to assist in providing a better educational environment and improved results.

The fundamental idea behind Big Data is to combine a larger number of data sets into our analysis to get better information that helps improve the processes of the organization. And for elementary education, this holds great promise.

To start, most school districts in general have not seen much analysis and analytic work to find out what is really happening. So the idea of starting the process in earnest to assess results with more and broader input is a huge positive. For example, consider assessing the results of big annual standardized tests by analyzing students’ results from quizzes, homework problems, and other intermediate metrics in their classes and contrasting it with these standardized test results. Could we find a curriculum hole? Or a set of skills that aren’t developed well enough to succeed? By taking the Big Data approach of analyzing metrics that are allied with the standardized test to better understand why the test results are as they are, we can develop ways to improve the outcome.

It doesn’t take a new data center or huge investments in new staff and software to do this kind of work…. it takes initiative. By using existing data and information and combining it in new and different ways, you can get the benefits of Big Data without a lot of new costs. One issue may be moving your school toward more information being stored in classroom or grade management systems so that it can be accessed for this analysis. And with the “carrot” of improved understanding of student results, it may be easier to get better and more comprehensive use of these systems.

And it doesn’t stop with just grades and curriculum. Big Data can be used to help the district understand their budgets better, and find ways to save money. Consider a simple task like optimal bus routing. If a school has 7-10 separate bus routes each day, and a Big Data analysis finds a way to eliminate just one route, that’s a 10-14% savings right there!

Simply put, Big Data is really just a marketing way of talking about smarter use of existing data to save money and improve results. There are numerous ways this can help a school district, and with this next generation of tools that simplify the task and can handle many kinds of data, we can leverage this trend to meet the tight budgets and rising demands on primary education.

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Salmon released as first step to restore San Joaquin

MERCED, Calif. (KGO) -- Scientists and environmentalists in the Central Valley are working to restore the San Joaquin River, it's a story ABC7 News has following for years. On Wednesday, we were there to witness a historic milestone.

70 years ago, hundreds of thousands of salmon swam from the ocean through San Francisco Bay and the Delta and then up the San Joaquin River to spawn just north of Fresno.

However, for the past 60 years, the stretch of river from near Merced upstream to Friant Dam near Fresno has been impassable. Not a single salmon could make the trip, until now.

Scientists with the California Department of Fish and Game are on a rescue mission. They are trapping Chinook salmon in this part of the San Joaquin River near Merced, in an effort to restore these fish to a river that's being brought back to life.

"This is an important milestone in the San Joaquin restoration programs," said Dave Koehler, Executive Director of the San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust.

Koehler explains this is part of a decades-long effort to restore the San Joaquin River, which used to be the home waters for Chinook salmon. Old timers who grew up on the river say the spring salmon runs were something to see.

"You could run across their backs and not touch the water," said Central Valley farmer Walt Shubin.

Shubin is talking about Gravelly Ford, a part of the San Joaquin that's been dried up for most of the past 60 years, ever since the Friant Dam was built in the 1940's to block up the San Joaquin and to divert the river water into channels to irrigate Central Valley farms from Bakersfield to Chowchilla.

The fish just weren't that big a consideration. But in 1988 the salmon caught a break.

The Natural Resources Defense Council led a coalition of environmentalists and fishermen in a lawsuit against the government run dam and the water district. In 2006 a settlement was reached and now these first salmon are being trucked around the dry beds and other obstacles 160 miles upstream to be reintroduced into the river below Friant Dam. By next spring, the NRDC scientists believe the last of the details will be sorted out.

"Once we have these easements in place, we'll have the river all year round in perpetuity and that's really exciting," said Monty Schmitt with the NRDC.

California Fish and Game hopes these fall run salmon will spawn and produce offspring. But just to make sure, they are scooping eggs from some females and artificially spawning them. The young will be raised in protected pens below the dam and then released.

"And hopefully get out to the ocean mature and come back and spawn in approximately three years," said Gerald Hatler with California Fish and Game.

By then the San Joaquin River should be restored all the way from Fresno to San Francisco Bay. It's safe to say that growers who've relied on the river water to irrigate their crops are not happy about the fish.

Walt Shubin has heard plenty from his neighbors, "They're telling me to go back to San Francisco and I'm a farmer born and raised here in the valley."

Shubin supports the restoration of the river. He believes it will recharge underground aquifer and bring back California's salmon fishery, "There's ocean farmers and there's land farmers and we can coexist, there is enough water for everybody but not enough for everybody's greed," Shubin said. "That's the problem -- greed."

Shubin talks of compromise, and that's what we're seeing on the San Joaquin. But even as that long battle comes to an end, another water war is heating up -- this one over the governor's plan to build a delta tunnel to send Northern California water south.

(Copyright ©2012 KGO-TV/DT.

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Greenpeace seeks to protect underwater canyons

Bay Area conservationists are back from a dramatic deep sea expedition to research and protect huge underwater canyons in Alaska. The area is the heart of the state's $1 billion-a-year fishing industry and the canyons may be a vital link in the lifecycle of fish that you eat.

San Francisco-based Jackie Dragon with the conservation group Greenpeace is one of several staff members trained to pilot a submersible, deep into two mysterious underwater canyons off the coast of Alaska.

"They are the largest underwater canyons in the world, larger than the Grand Canyon," Dragon said.

Greenpeace shot video of the expedition with high definition cameras and lights that revealed canyon walls covered with life and patches of deep sea sponges and coral no human eyes have seen before.

The submersible has robotic arms to pick up samples and lasers are used to determine the size of each exotic creature. The team found surprises right from the start.

"On my first dive we encountered a huge skate nursery, an area as large as a football field, covered in piles of leathery skate egg casings," Dragon said.

The canyons are in the Bering Sea, along the continental shelf off the coast of Alaska. The area is so full of fish and nutrients that it's known as "The Greenbelt".

This is one of the most productive ecosystems in the world, generating more than half the seafood sold in the United States.

If you eat fish sticks, fish fillet sandwiches, even imitation crab in sushi, odds are you're eating fish from the Bering Sea.

Greenpeace and other conservation groups believe many of those fish depend on the canyons for essential food and shelter at some time during their lifecycle.

"This is really important because if we want to continue to have fish sustaining us for the future, we need to make sure that we protect the habitat," Dragon said.

Conservationists have been working for a decade to get government protection for the canyons. That could mean a ban on fishing in some areas.

However, the fishing industry has consistently said there's not enough scientific evidence.

So Greenpeace is trying to get more data. This is actually their second expedition into the canyons. They're working with a biologist from UC Santa Barbara's Marine Science Institute. He's still analyzing the video, but says the canyons do have ecological importance.

"We found much higher abundances of corals in the canyons than had been found in most other deep water habitats that have been looked at. And we also found that the fish in the canyons were using the corals as habitat," UC Santa Barbara biologist Robert Miller said.

So how could all this affect you and your fish sticks? Well, at least one major retailer believes saving the canyons could be good for the long term future of commercial fisheries.

Safeway is one of the nation's largest seafood buyers. Safeway would not talk to ABC7 News on camera, but sent a letter to the Fishery Management Council urging them to investigate options to protect the canyons because as Safeway said there's too much at stake to take risks.

Commercial fishermen are watching closely. The majority of Alaska's fishing industry backs a group called the Marine Conservation Alliance and they've got their own expert from Washington State University analyzing the Greenpeace data.

The group's executive director told ABC7 News that the fishing industry is dedicated to keeping the Bering Sea healthy.

"We have a process and a scientific standard that has really been used as a model for the rest of the world," Marine Conservation Alliance executive director Merrick Burden said.

In the next few months, researchers for both Greenpeace and the fishing industry will submit their findings to government scientists.

The next move will be up to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which has ordered a review of the research and has the power to enact protections for the canyons.

If you'd like to see more of the underwater canyon video, Greenpeace has an interactive video online.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney

(Copyright ©2012 KGO-TV/DT.

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Growing movement to make cured meats

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KGO) -- For thousands of years, people have been curing and preserving meat. In modern times, we just go the grocery store and buy it.

But as more and more people want to know what's in their food, there is a growing movement to learn how to cure your own.

At the Salumeria in San Francisco's Mission District cured meats are hot. Making it is even hotter.

"This thing just asked to be aged, you know," Salumeria chef Matt Sigler said.

Sigler is known for his cured meats. He helped open the Salumeria earlier this year. When it opened, 20 percent of the meat was house made. And it quickly sold out.

"Hopefully three months down the road, about 50 percent will be ours, and in a year 100 percent," Sigler said

The Salumeria is just one of a growing number of places around the Bay Area and the country making and selling their own artisan cured meats.

"It's a really old world technique and tradition and I think that it was lost for a long time," Sigler said.

According Sigler, it is a game of patience. It can take up to 18 months for meats to cure before they can be eaten. Because they only make small batches, the end product tends to cost more than what you might find at the typical grocery store.

"You know from fermenting, to aging, to rotating, to introducing molds, and then being patient," Sigler said.

At The Fatted Calf in Napa they don't just sell the cured meats, they make them. And they'll teach you, too. They're bringing the art of charcuterie to the masses.

"A charcuterie is basically a place where meat products are bought and sold," Boetticher said. "So that could mean anything from a few different kinds of sausage all the way up to what we do, which is a bit of everything. It's an important craft that should be preserved and passed along."

Most cured meats are made with pork fat and meat, spices and curing salt. Combined, they are left to age by hanging to dry; some at room temperature, others in refrigerated conditions. Like cheese, mold can help define the flavor of the end product.

The classes cost $175 per person and are so popular they've already sold out through February. Everyone has their own reasons for taking the class, but everyone agrees it's a good time.

"I like to cook, and thought it would be fun to do, so here I am," said Oakland resident Gwen McDonald.

Napa resident Nina French adds, "I came to the class because I wanted to learn a little bit more about food and the food I eat, I figured I'd end up with this class either never eating salami again, or really loving salami and sausages and understanding where it comes from."

And Oakland resident Wendy Morin said, "It's the only cooking class I could get him to take with me, because it's kind of a guy sort of thing."

San Francisco resident Brad Robinson says he'd, "recommend it to anybody."

Salame makers say they welcome the renewed interest and even the potential competition.

"To me, the whole reason I got into this was because I wanted to learn something different," Boetticher said.

Sigler adds, "Just want to help be here to help educate people and help people, you know, enjoy food, you know, enjoy life."

Written and produced by Ken Miguel

(Copyright ©2012 KGO-TV/DT.

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Interior Secretary to decide CA oyster farm's fate

POINT REYES STATION, Calif. (KGO) -- After years of debate, the fate of a popular North Bay oyster farm may soon be decided. Wednesday, Secretary Of The Interior Ken Salazar heard from both sides of this contentious debate at the Point Reyes National Seashore.

They have been commercially harvesting oysters at the site of the Drakes Bay Oyster Company since 1934. But that may soon end; its lease to operate will expire at the end of the month.

Salazar will make the final decision. He toured the farm with owner Kevin Lunny, talking to workers and seeing first-hand how the farm works.

Lunny bought the aging farm in 2005, hoping he would be able to renew the lease if he fixed up the operation. The farm estimates it produces 40 percent of the state's oyster harvest.

"I would not be here today if this was not a profoundly important decision," Salazar said.

Wednesday was Lunny's first and only chance to sit down with the secretary and explain why he should be allowed to stay.

"I felt that he was trying to get fully educated to make, you know, an informed decision," Lunny said.

But some environmentalists argue that the area was designated as potential wilderness when the park was created in the mid-1960s. They say it is time for the farm to go and shared their concerns with the secretary.

"We're really pleased that he came out to listen to us to hear the tremendous support from our organization and the many local and national conservation organizations," National Parks Conservation Association spokesperson Neal Desai said.

The secretary will base his decision in part on a controversial environmental review released Tuesday night by the National Park Service. It has been the source of scientific debate between the park service and advocates for the farm.

"Understanding what's happening, meeting with Kevin and his family on the oyster farm and meeting with his workers that was very important for me to understand that, because there are consequences to the decision that I will make," Salazar said.

The secretary says he will announce his decision by the end of next week.

Written and produced by Ken Miguel

(Copyright ©2012 KGO-TV/DT.

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Drakes Bay Oyster Co. forced to leave Pt. Reyes

POINT REYES STATION, Calif. (KGO) -- The fate of a controversial North Bay oyster farm has finally been decided. On Thursday U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Drakes Bay Oyster Company will no longer operate at Point Reyes National Seashore. It is a victory for environmentalists who have fought against it for years.

At 9:45 a.m. Kevin Lunny received a phone call that would change his life. It was Secretary Salazar, "And my daughter was standing on one side of me and my son was standing on the other and they were in tears before the end of the phone call just by looking at my face, they knew what I was hearing," Lunny said.

The oyster operation had a 40-year permit to operate through Nov. 30, 2012. Lunny acquired the business from the Johnson Oyster Co. in 2004 and was seeking a 10-year extension of the permit.

Salazar, who toured the oyster company on Drakes Estero last week, decided the let the permit expire Friday as scheduled. This decision will end the company's operations within the Point Reyes National Seashore, including an on-shore oyster processing facility and offshore oyster harvesting activities that occur on 1,000 acres of estuary.

Environmentalists and the National Park Service argued that the location was designated a wilderness area when the land was transferred to the federal government in the mid 1960's. The groups also objected to the oyster company's operations, claiming they were a threat to endangered species, including harbor seals.

"Congress back then intended for Drakes Estero at the end of the 40 year operating rights to become full wilderness, to become the West Coast's first marine wilderness and today he made it clear he's going to honor that intent," said Amy Trainer, executive director of the West Marin Environmental Action Committee.

The oyster farm decision had many powerful allies, who fought vociferously on its behalf.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and the National Academy of Sciences claimed park officials were trying to get rid of the oyster farm by exaggerating its negative impacts on the environment.

On Thursday, Feinstein said she was "extremely disappointed," writing on her website, "The National Park Service's review process has been flawed from the beginning with false and misleading science. (This) effectively puts this historic California oyster farm out of business. As a result, the farm will be forced to cease operations and 30 Californians will lose their jobs."

To resolve the dispute over the seals, more than $1 million in taxpayer money was spent on environmental assessment studies, according to records. That study was used by Salazar to make his final decision.

In a statement, Salazar said, "After careful consideration of the applicable law and policy, I have directed the National Park Service to allow the permit for the Drakes Bay Oyster Company to expire at the end of its current term and to return the Drakes Estero to the state of wilderness that Congress designated for it in 1976. I believe it is the right decision for Point Reyes National Seashore and for future generations who will enjoy this treasured landscape."

California's other senator, Barbara Boxer, issued support for Salazar's choice, saying "in the end, he made his decision based on the science and the law."

Jorge Mata has worked here for 30 years. After Friday, he'll be unemployed, "I feel bad for the company here, my job, my home, and all my family all works here," Mata said.

The closure will also have an impact on the market. According to the farm, it produces nearly 40 percent of California's oyster harvest.

But Trainer says Humboldt Bay in Northern California has been expanding operations to fill in the void. Other environmental groups have promised to help find jobs for the workers of the farm.

Meanwhile, Lunny's future is uncertain, "This started with Native Americans and it became a commercial operation almost 100 years ago. It's really not just about one family. I had to deliver the news to our 30 workers that the Secretary of the Interior has decided to put them out of work and out of their homes. Many of them are highly skilled workers who have been here 30 years. They grew up in our community. This will forever change West Marin."

Lunny's family also runs a cattle ranch, but the oyster company, which he said brought in about $1.5 million annually, was the family's main source of income.

(Bay City News and The Associated Press contributed to this report)

(Copyright ©2012 KGO-TV/DT.

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Hosseini talks about desperate times for many Afghans

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- The man who wrote the best-selling book, The Kite Runner, lives in the Bay Area and is asking for help for homeless Afghan refugees. Dr. Khaled Hosseini wants students in the United States to learn more about people in Afghanistan who have the same dreams and hopes.

Hosseini was born in Afghanistan and he started the The Khaled Hosseini Foundation. He lives in San Jose now and is internationally known for his best-selling books set in Afghanistan, "The Kite Runner" and "1,000 Splendid Suns". He spends his free time raising money to build shelters for homeless families in Afghanistan, and to provide educational opportunities and healthcare for women and children. The need is overwhelming after 30 years of war.

"A lot of people are left homeless, without jobs, without food, access to clean water, education, healthcare," said Hosseini.

Some people there resort to living underground to stay alive.

"It would be anywhere from 15 to 25 people essentially living in these holes that have one opening at the very top as a 'window.' And they were living there for two, three and three-and-a-half months. Winter in Afghanistan in many parts of the country is brutal with freezing temperatures. Routinely I would go to villages and see elders complain about the sick and the elderly and the children freezing every winter due to the cold," said Hosseini. "So this is one reason why we've been building these shelters, which cost $2,000 for a family of six or seven people. For a small amount of money, it could be a life-saving structure."

Families get a pre-packaged kit and build the shelters themselves.

"They're given the raw materials. They're given the window frames, the doors, the beams," said Hosseini.

So far, The Hosseini Foundation has raised enough money to build nearly 400 shelters to house 2,300 people. His wife, Roya, is helping afghan women who remain in refugee camps in Pakistan, with a sewing program. They make jewelry and other items through a non-profit called Zardozi.

"All of the income generated by these items is reinvested in the lives of those women in helping with food, jobs, the medicine," said Hosseini. He is tapping into his young fan base to help in his mission. "I've had so many letters from high schools saying, 'I'd like to do something for Afghanistan and I'd like to do something for kids like me in Afghanistan,'" said Hosseini.

He designed a program called "SOS" -- Student Outreach for Shelter.

"All of the students are reading my books in their classroom, but there is a service learning component, in a curriculum that we have devised, which students can then partner with us and help us raise funds to build shelters for returning refugees in Afghanistan," said Hosseini.

"I'm going to be fundraising for this club. I'm going to be helping out Mr. Hosseini and his organization in any way that I can," said student Sidhart Krishnamurthi.

Krishnamurthi attends the Harker School in San Jose. He's passionate about his new fundraising drive on campus to help homeless Afghans.

"I just feel that's unfair to them, because they worked so hard to establish themselves. Then all of a sudden, a war happens and they're pulled out," said Krishnamurthi.

Hosseini is hoping that a lot more young people will want to get involved with his foundation and help homeless Afghan families. And when they do, it will be a real live history lesson.

"I hope that this really works and I hope we can change people's lives and I hope we have a big part in rebuilding Afghanistan," said Krishnamurthi.

Hosseini will be speaking at the Harker School in San Jose on Friday. Cheryl will be the moderator.

(Copyright ©2012 KGO-TV/DT.

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Arousing interests in students for e-learning courses through creative means

There is no dearth of e-learning courses around the globe. But the question is: are these courses really enhancing the knowledge of children? While researching on this subject I came across staggering results. I found that although the numbers of e-learning courses have increased considerably in recent past; students are still unable to derive 100% benefit from these courses. I know 100% benefit is a mere myth and cannot be achieved in one grasp; but still there has to be a way through which students retain majority of portion in one go without any outside interface or pressure from parents. Once that has been done, the real worth of e-learning courses can be derived.

It is often said that content is the king. This is absolutely true for good e-learning courses. Although designing an e-learning course is also an integral part of the big deal; without game-changing content, it is very difficult to arouse interest in the minds of the students. Now this is a very big deal, because if you make students yearn for your course; half of your problem is solved. With so much competition, the expectations are quite high in terms of quality content delivery and on top of it; the other criteria is that content should be in sync with the designs of the website. This is really a high pressure situation, because you need to be at the top of your game to succeed at this level.

Tutors also need to be in regular touch with the students so that they can provide proper guidance to them after specific period for instance; weekly or fortnightly as per their convenience. This will enable students to get personalized touch from the tutors. The major objective of providing personalized touch in e-learning courses is to make students genuinely interested in the course. They can then ask relevant questions to the tutors thereby getting additional knowledge on the subjects.

Although every e-learning course provider rhetorically knows about these basic ideas they are not able to transform them into realities. Now this is a big problem; and this question always remains unanswered: How does one arouse interests in students through e-learning courses? I know you are jumping off your seats and are saying every other fellow knows the answer. But is the answer really that simple? Are we really able to understand the needs of the students? What are the different factors which make or break the success of an e-learning course? In this blog; I will try to answer all these questions and hopefully when I end this blog; you will have a rough idea of what exactly is required in terms of creativity to encourage students to study hard for the respective courses? How can you make a boring subject interesting for the students?

Now remember that when I talk about students I am talking about children within age group of 4-15 years. This is the age where children learn from their surroundings and are able to grasp things quite easily. This is also the age wherein; the inbuilt creativity in children can be developed without any force or compulsion. The basic objective of an e-learning course should be to encourage the students to use their creativity and get innovative solutions on their own by solving the problems. Remember that getting a different solution for a problem every time does not make a child dumb. It is our perception which makes things right or wrong. Once we have adapted to the way a child thinks, it will be very easy to design a course curriculum which will not only impart knowledge; but also enhance the creativity in children.

I am yet to come across an e-learning course which takes the point discussed earlier into consideration; while designing the course curriculum. This is a very sad thing because it also shows that e-learning course providers are not able to understand the needs of the children and hence, are failing to create interests in students. So, the very first point to consider while arousing interest in students is to THINK LIKE A CHILD; and design the course curriculum keeping in mind the creativity aspect of children that can be enhanced through designing innovative course curriculum.

Thinking like a child is not an easy thing. You might also question me: what do you mean by creating a course curriculum presuming yourself as a child? Now this is a very important question, which needs to answered in detail; because most of the e-learning course providers miss out on understanding this simple criteria; and end up messing up with their entire course curriculum.

You will not end up with the same fate; as you have already begun the success journey which will guarantee that your course is quite different and unique from other e-learning course providers. Remember when you were a child there were three most important things which created interests in your minds. Let me list these three things:

Let me explain each of these points in detail with a scenario-based example which will clear the concepts in your mind:

Engagement: Imagine your childhood days are back again. You are sitting on your couch playing video game. As you cross each level the excitement arouses and you are totally involved in the game. In other words you are engaged in that activity which keeps you from doing other activities till you have completed the game thoroughly. Now get back to the present and visualize whether the course content that you have developed has engaging points in it. Whether it can keep a child involved for a majority of their time without diverting to other activities?

If your answer is yes; then you have found the perfect winning formulae for designing the e-learning course. In that case you do not have to read further. But if you are still confused and are asking the same question i.e., How to engage children in the course curriculum? The answer lies within the problem. Create the curriculum in such a manner that it seems like fun to the children. Make it so engaging that they do not wish you get off their study room till they have completed the specific chapter or the desired objective. You can do it with interactive videos or pictures that engage students to the course. You can also create a unique concept which will give you the first-mover advantage over other e-learning course providers. The key to the solution is to think creatively and differently from others. Remember if your course is not different or unique then it will not survive the tough competition in the market. Be very proactive research a lot and come up with creative solutions. By being creative and different you are giving yourself an opportunity to engage the children to your e-learning course. That should be the ultimate bate to attract parents and children.

Competition: Remember the good old times in your childhood when you used to have a healthy competition amongst your friends while playing cricket or football to become a wicket keeper or goal keeper. Try to visualize the kind of competition that used to take place to bat first or to keep the wickets while playing cricket. Likewise try to remember the competition that used to take place to fight for your place as a goal keeper while playing football. Counting the number of runs or goals scored by each individual to prove your mantle in the entire group and surpassing that figure to become the ultimate winner used to be your sole objective.

Likewise, in the present scenario, games have changed; but with the help of social networking sites it is always possible to share your academic scores with your colleagues, so that there is healthy competition amongst all the children and everyone can give their best to achieve their academic goals. Thinking out-of-the-box can also be quite profitable for an e-learning course provider; as they can cater to an all-together new market. For example; integrating games with course curriculum can increase the potential of success for the e-learning courses.

Rewards: As a child, remember the enthusiasm that you used to feel while getting a reward for a sport. It was considered to be a big achievement. Likewise when children are rewarded for the dedication and application that they show for learning and scoring good marks in the quiz; it results in positive reinforcement. This is the ultimate game changing moment for the e-learning course provider since; they now have all the cards in their hands; and deep down in their heart they know that their course is an instant success with the children. They can then experiment with something unique and different for the betterment of the course curriculum.  

In the end; I would like to conclude this blog by highlighting couple of things which will give an opportunity to e-learning course providers to get success with flying colors.

Always give importance to learning and knowledge rather than marks and ranking system.Even if a child does not score well encourage him/her with positive feedback so that they can get back to studies and perform well in the next quiz/exam.

About emPower

emPower  is a leading provider of comprehensive Healthcare Compliance Solutions through Learning Management System (LMS). Its mission is to provide innovative security solutions to enable compliance with applicable laws and regulations and maximize business performance. empower provides range of courses to manage compliance required by regulatory bodies such as OSHA, HIPAA, Joint commission and Red Flag Rule etc. Apart from this emPower also offers custom demos and tutorials for your website, business process management and software implementation.

Its Learning Management system (LMS) allows students to retrieve all the courses 24/7/365 by accessing the portal. emPower e-learning training program is an interactive mode of learning that guides students to progress at their own pace.

For additional information, please visit

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E-learning courses have seen a downward trend in recent times. In this article; we look at several misconceptions and realities associated with e-learning courses.

E-learning industry has been going through a tough stage. There are mixed reactions which have been received from students about the quality of e-learning courses. There are some misconceptions associated with e-learning which needs to be clarified. Let us look at these misconceptions and the realities associated with it:

Myth: Quantity is as significant as quality. Generally e-learning is priced according to the volume produced. Even customers are concerned with the volume of content rather than the quality of the content. But this is not correct.

Reality: If the e-learning course is designed taking into consideration quality of the content, then the same course can get reduced by a considerable margin. This will ultimately result in saving of time. The employees can then concentrate on their work and learn through practical case studies provided in the e-learning courses.

Myth: All the content is important.  Lots of times customers feel that all the content is important for the e-learning course. However, that is not the case.

Reality: There is no guarantee that everything displayed in the course will be understood and recalled by the student. Hence; it is important for the customers to understand that all the content is not required for the course and only the important parts that comprises of major learning needs to be integrated in the course. Content should be designed keeping in aspect different things like: usability approach, frequency, importance and type of use etc. Once these aspects have been decided then the content is prepared keeping in focus the training, reference material and things to exclude from the content.

Myth: E-learning is just a course. Most of the customers believe that e-learning is merely an electronic textbook that replaces classroom training. That is not true.

Reality: It is more involved in practical approaches which help people in improving their performance. It should comprise of various different subjects like:

Knowledge managementPerformance support systemsIntranetsPractice environmentsStandard electronic coursesMyth: Things will become easier once the technology improves.  There is a common belief that e-learning is falling behind because of the current state of technology. There is always a hope for a miracle cure round the corner but the major problem is the level of training at the level of delivery. Reality: Lot of time is devoted to understand the content management and training approach which will never go away. This does not mean that improvements in technology, standards, and theories will not help but it will not cure the current problems faced in designing e-learning courses easily.Myth: E-learning is easy.  Clients believe that they are paying for simplicity. But is it so simple to make the complicated subject simpler?

Reality:  Clients often expect simpler solutions to complicated ones. But e-learning has always been more about making complex things clearer and simple.

Myth: E-learning provides one-time quick fix solution.  It is often believed that e-learning provides quick fix solution to practical problems in real time. However; that is not true.

Reality: It really takes time and energy to develop content for the courses in accordance to the target audience.
E-learning courses give practical exposure to the students. With the help of these courses; corporate executives can learn to solve practical problems faced in the organization. An efficient e-learning course provider should take these points seriously and create a proficient course that meets the needs of the target audience.

About emPower

emPower  is a leading provider of comprehensive Healthcare Compliance Solutions through Learning Management System (LMS). Its mission is to provide innovative security solutions to enable compliance with applicable laws and regulations and maximize business performance. empower provides range of courses to manage compliance required by regulatory bodies such as OSHA, HIPAA, Joint commission and Red Flag Rule etc. Apart from this emPower also offers custom demos and tutorials for your website, business process management and software implementation.

Its Learning Management system (LMS) allows students to retrieve all the courses 24/7/365 by accessing the portal. emPower e-learning training program is an interactive mode of learning that guides students to progress at their own pace.

For additional information, please visit

Media Contact (emPower)
Jason Gaya

12806 Townepark Way
Louisville, KY 40243-2311
Ph: 502 -400-9374


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