Monthly Archives: January 2012

Is iAuthor a Learning Management System?

By Dr. Suzanne Kissel

This was the question I found myself asking this weekend as I attempted to move my robust ENG 201: Writing About Literature course into the format.  Compare iAuthor to any LMS feature list and the application fails, miserably.  It doesn’t have a gradebook, discussion forum or chat; it isn’t designed to integrate with any SIS or offer any sort of Single Sign On capabilities.  In fact, it doesn’t take long to realize that comparing iAuthor to any LMS on the market is like comparing apples to oranges — quite as frustrating and quite as futile.

Of course, iAuthor isn’t meant to be an LMS.   It’s an alternative; not a competitor.   iAuthor takes one aspect of putting a course online and does it extremely well.  It manages content.  This makes sense as that is what iAuthor is meant to do.  Arguably, iAuthor puts content online better than any LMS out there.

There’s definitely a learning curve.  After a short weekend investment, I had all of my pre-written content divided into sections and up in an iAuthor template.  The table of contents was created automatically and the use of styles allowed me to change all of the formatting in a single swoop.  This is also one of the main attributes of the template.  Much more time would be required to make my course content unique and a true showcase, but the time I invested was a good enough start.

Here’s a quick snapshot of what the iAuthor interface looks like and what I was able to do in about five hours over the weekend:

In doing one thing, and doing it extraordinarily well, iAuthor exposes another chink in the armor of the traditional LMS.   There are single products out there for almost every function of the LMS; they do it and do it better.   This is one reason why some contend that the days of the LMS are numbered.  iAuthor does a great job of presenting content, even more so because it allows for the seamless incorporation of Creative Commons and other open materials.

However, the reason why iAuthor’s powers of disruption are limited is that it is tied to the iPad.  In order to invest the time it takes to learn the full capabilities of iAuthor, you had better be sure that your students have access to this technology.  As far as academic use is concerned, the fate of one seems tied to the fate of the other.  All we can do now, is to keep testing the viability of the iAuthor + iPad in the classroom to see if the utility of the two together is enough to overcome the cost.

In the coming months, we will be posting on one experiment of designing a course on iAuthor and using that course in the face to face classroom.  Stay tuned… it’s going to be an exciting ride!

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Filed under eBooks, education course content, education technology, iBooks, Learning Management Systems, online education, Suzanne Kissel

President Obama’s State of the Union: The State of Education

by Hap Aziz

I admit the title of this blog entry is misleading; that is, President Obama did not actually provide a deep state-of-education speech last night. However, he did provide some insight into the direction he feels is important for the United States to map out regarding the education of our students, and he specifically called out higher education in some instances. One of his concerns is the cost of higher education, and the control that higher ed institutions should exercise over those costs:

“So let me put colleges and universities on notice: If you can’t stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down. Higher education can’t be a luxury -– it is an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford.”

What this might mean for institutions, both public as well as private, was not entirely clear from the context of the speech. Certainly, the cost of obtaining a quality education is very important to students (as well as the families of those students that are helping with financial support). Additionally, this theme has been important to the Obama administration historically. In a meeting held in early December of last year, both the president as well as the secretary of education, Arne Duncan, met with several college presidents and some leaders of non-profit education organization to discuss the topic of rising costs (and graduation rate improvement).

Jane Wellman is the founder and director of the Delta Project, which is a non-profit organization that studies the costs of college education. She commented that there “was good discussion on how we drive down tuition, and what the right role is for the federal government.” It’s the role of the federal government–and how it will chose to execute that role–that represents a big question mark to a lot of people and institutions. As a companion piece to the State of the Union speech, the White House released the document An America Built to Last that serves as a blueprint outlining the themes of the speech. Take a look at page 6 of the document and you’ll find this interesting piece: “The President is proposing to shift some Federal aid away from colleges that don’t keep net tuition down and provide good value.”

How that statement transforms into policy is a wide open question, but there could be some significant conditions and additional expectations attached to federal funding for higher education. It is not necessary to enter into a political discussion of the appropriate role of the federal government in order to see the possibility of a shifting funding landscape. And it doesn’t take much prognostication power to see that institutions that act proactively regarding costs are going to be standing on a much better foundation in the years ahead. Certainly, the informed use of technology in the teaching and learning environment will have a great impact on how institutions are able to move forward. I, for one, am very interested in seeing how this all unfolds.

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Filed under Congress, cost of education, U.S. government

The Real Apple Education Gamechanger… iTunesU?

by Dr. Suzanne Kissel

When reporting on Apple’s entry into the educational space, most commentators lingered fondly over iBook and capabilities offered by iAuthor.  However, the new iTunesU App may be the real game changer in how institutions offer and students interact with course content.

It’s easy to understand why the new iTunesU App played third fiddle to the other initiatives.  A mostly bypassed button on iTunes, iTunesU offered free-to-watch lectures and audio podcasts.   In Apple’s iPad-centered view of education, the capabilities of the iTunesU App for content delivery and interaction could render technologies such as the Learning Management System, obsolete.

Here are some of the reasons why:

1)   Ease of Use:  Quite simply, materials offered in iTunesU look like the typical course binder where learners can view course information, posts, notes, and materials.  The only “electronic” thing about this is that it’s offered on an iPad.  This is a far cry from current electronic delivery methods that require elaborate help mechanisms and student orientations.

2)   Single Point of Access:  From the iTunesU course binder, learners can download all course materials whether they’re videos, apps, or books from iBooks.  This also includes lecture, notes, study sheets and PDF’s that can be attached to the syllabus.  Moreover, instructors can create materials in iAuthor and make them available in their iTunesU course binder.  iTunesU is not only the glue that holds iBooks and iTunes together, but it’s the mechanism that could weave these applications into the very fabric of education.

3)  Interaction:  We’ve already seen how iTunesU allows the instructor to gather materials in one and offer them, possibility even free of charge, to students.  What hasn’t been apparent is how the applications offers students the same capabilities.   Learners can synch their notes and course information between devices, all kept in their iTunesU account.  In addition to taking notes on the material, iTunesU offers students a checkbox for each course section, allowing them to track their progress.

Although there are many questions still to be answered, iTunesU holds enormous promise for the delivery of content.  Not only does it promise to be the venue for integrating low-cost textbooks in the lives of students, it offers instructors the means to tap the endless customization promised by iAuthor.  Anyone who has witnessed a learner pay over 90 dollars for a textbook and than another fee on top of that for access to electronic materials knows that textbook cost is an issue.  Anyone who has seen instructors pour hours into revamping a course when publishers release new editions or ask students to buy several textbooks, only to read a chapter from each one, can see problems in these practices as well. It could be, with iTunesU, that the revolution is finally at our door.

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Filed under eBooks, education, education course content, education technology, Learning Management Systems, online education

From eBooks to iBooks: Apple Repositions Itself in the Education Space

Dr. Suzanne Kissel provides thought leadership to a number of higher education institutions in the Teaching & Learning areas. She has been in instrumental in developing Academic Technology Strategies for colleges and universities throughout the United States, and she provides valued leadership in program development, academic assessment, and strategic planning. Suzanne joins the Learning Through Play & Technology blog with her first post here on Apple’s announcements of the day regarding the education market.

Upon hearing the word eBook, most students and faculty members imagine lines of text with an intermittent picture or two.  Purchase models for these books vary, with some available for lease.  Despite a decent amount of hype in 2011, eBooks had what can best be described as a very uneven reception in pilot programs across the United States.

In a much anticipated announcement, Apple positioned itself to make the eBook story a very different one in 2012.

Speaking from the Guggenheim Museum, Apple representatives announced two new applications.  The updated version of Apple’s popular iBook application, iBooks2 is free and available from the app store beginning today.  The other of the two applications, iBooks Author, allows any interested party to easily create interesting, interactive iPad lessons.  Rather than simply putting a book on the screen, iBooks Author allows authors and publishers to harness the multimedia advantages of the tablet to transform text into experience.  For instance, learners can electronically “mark up” their iPad books and keep those annotations, along with the books, after the conclusion of the course.

In addition to the two applications, Apple announced that it was expanding iTunesU beyond the realm of higher education to reach into elementary and high schools.

Apple iPad with iTunesU – Photograph: Shannon Stapleton/REUTERS

To support this initiative, Apple has formed partnerships with Pearson, McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.  These three publishers are responsible for 90 percent of the textbooks used with courses taught in the U.S.  In addition, DK. Publishing, which offers vividly colored books for younger readers is also joining the team.

The promise of this announcement is that it could pave the way for the release of highly customized, interactive, and inexpensive textbooks.  According to Phil Schiller, Apple’s marketing chief, the new, interactive iPad books would cost $14.99.  Whether the low cost of the textbooks could outweigh the comparatively high cost of the iPad itself (beginning at $499) remains to be seen.  Regardless, the announcement certainly pulls the eBook to the foremost of the new advances promising to change the face of education.

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Filed under eBooks, education, education course content, education technology, iBooks, technology

Jane McGonigal: Gaming Can Make a Better World

by Hap Aziz

I’ve always been a proponent of the sentiment that people learn best when they play. In fact, people of all ages can learn some very significant things when they are playing–things about the world, society, each other, and themselves. Learning is, of course, a prerequisite to doing. By encouraging game play, we can expect some very good and important changes to take place within the game playing community in terms of what they have learned how to do. And if we spend enough time playing the right kinds of games, we might even be able to solve some of the world’s most challenging problems.

Ready for some brilliant inspiration? Take a look at Jane McGonigal’s TED video below.


Filed under computer games, games, simulation

The Deceptive Attraction of Emerging Education Technologies

by Hap Aziz

In his recent EmergingEdTech blog post “When It Comes to Education Technology, Video Won’t Kill the Radio Star,” Andrew Clark* paints a compelling picture of emerging education technologies being used by teachers in boldly innovative ways, empowering them with new tools and techniques to improve learning outcomes. Like many that have presented the potential for positive disruption, he begins with an exciting illustration:

“Imagine a class of 50 students preparing for a biology exam on a digital learning platform. Patterns emerge from the students’ annotations in the cloud: perhaps more students are highlighting and discussing sections in the book related to Mendel’s Model of Inheritance than any other topic. From course analytics, the instructor can see which discussions are more likely to lead to an improvement on the exam, and which ones are correlated with discussions and exam outcomes in other subject matter. The result: the instructor can tailor his or her course curricula, and student understanding of Mendelian inheritance improves.”

How likely is such a scenario, given what we know of the prevalent culture within higher education? Do our colleges and universities have the resources and infrastructure in place that are required for this kind of forward movement? Walsh provides examples to make his point regarding the kinds of initiatives and benefits that are being realized; for example, the measurement of online activity to predict student performance with a relatively high degree of accuracy. However, as practicing educators, we all know the more common situations and stories: the struggles of moving course content into a learning management system (and when it gets there, it looks like a text-heavy website from 1998); the lack of an institutional strategy to develop online courses other than to hire a couple of instructional designers who are then tasked with running Blackboard or Moodle workshops for faculty; the institutional purchase of hardware and software without a clear vision of how or why the tools should be implemented in the teaching and learning environment. While there are some pockets of exemplary work being done at a relatively few number of institutions, the broader landscape reality is much more chaotic and confused, with significant progress coming almost accidentally and certainly much more slowly.

So while I agree with Clark’s overall premise, let me mention three institutional characteristics that tend to get in the way of any real, systematic progress regarding the use of emerging tech in education.

  1. Lack of incentive – What are the incentives for faculty to develop more interactive online environments for their students? Whether there are contractual performance clauses or professional development opportunities that provide clear benefits (along with institutional commitment for that support), there is little reason for faculty at most institutions to do much more than place syllabi online (if teaching residential courses) or to do more than place a lot of course notes in the LMS shell and respond to some discussion posts (if teaching online).
  2. Lack of support – If the incentive piece is addressed (or an institution is fortunate enough to have innovative and enthusiastic faculty), how will the use of emergent technologies be facilitated and ultimately supported? So much of online instruction at institutions has relied on having faculty with technology outside of their areas of subject matter expertise. But for those faculty that are willing to incorporate serious gaming techniques into their courses, there is little, if any, support to make it happen. And even at institutions that have instructional designers available for course development, the majority of those instructional designers may be familiar with navigating through the complexities of a learning management system, but they are not prepared to develop interactive software that leverages social media, video games,  and other robust methods of engagement.
  3. Overabundance of inertia – Finally, even if the first two characteristics are adequately addressed, there is still inertia across an entire institution that can restrict the process of innovation before any changes are made. This type of inertia is comprised of several factors including inconsistent communications between academic and technology constituents on a campus, fear of negative budget impact, weak academic leadership, poorly framed and articulated mission regarding the role of academic technology, and an ambiguous governance structure when it comes to making technology decisions that will have an impact within the teaching and learning environment.

Where does all of this leave the future of education technologies? Clearly people outside of the institutional environment are greatly enamored by the promise of what the future might hold in education. But this is the deception of that compelling attraction to emergent education technologies–this group of people is unaware of the challenging realities. Still, there are people inside the institutional environment as well, and they are aware that such potential exists. However, because of the characteristics listed above, it is much easier to maintain the status quo or move forward taking tiny steps, while letting the innovators elsewhere take the giant-leap risks. Is this mechanism that we as educators can accept? Perhaps a good way to answer that question is to take a look at how the state of education technology has changed over the past 50 years or so, and consider whether or not the transformation that was promised was the transformation that was realized.

*This updated post corrects the cited author of “When It Comes to Education Technology, Video Won’t Kill the Radio Star” as being Andrew Clark, and not Kelly Walsh as originally named.


Filed under education technology, emerging technologies

From Skylanders to Arena: Board Gaming Gets a High-tech Twist

by Hap Aziz

In the last post, guest blogger Martin LaGrow discussed the online education potential of the new Activision computer game Skylanders. Martin’s premise in part was related to the compelling nature of the real-character and virtual-environment combination in game play along with the observation that the virtual environment is actually engaging beyond the typical collection of text-heavy web pages. Skylanders represents the first of a new wave of interactive software, and that will prove to be extremely valuable in the context of mastering educational content. Provided, of course, that game designers and publishers are able to “get their act together” when it comes to designing and delivering game content.

At the website, Chris Morris has written about a new product technology demonstrated by ePawn at the Computer Electronics Show called Arena that will connect to a computer in order to facilitate greater interaction between player and game system. Arena potentially goes one better than Skylanders by providing a reconfigurable game board surface in the form of a 26 inch interactive screen display surface, and physical objects placed on the screen surface will be tracked in real time. Thinking outside of the box from the education perspective, one can imagine a variety of scenarios in which the Arena display can be used as an extension of course content. The first question that comes to mind, though, is, “What game development company would be willing to take the lead on this content development for the education marketplace?”

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Filed under education, education technology, games