Monthly Archives: May 2014

What Makes Good Quality Online Educational Content – a Mini Survey

About a week ago I approached my PLN on Twitter with this question: “What attributes would you say best describe good quality online educational materials?” Thanks for getting back to me! I divide the attributes I received into three categories:

  1. those which I consider to be inapplicable to print but only working in digital medium
  2. those which are media-neutral, applying to digital and print alike
  3. those which I think are easier to implement with digital tehnologies than print (but still work also on print)

Computer & book

Almost half of the attributes were of the first category, digital-only. Things like responsive design & BYOD, support for peer-editing, integration with Google, video content, and being available as an app.

This tells me that online content has several unique features determining its value. It shouldn’t be strictly compared with print materials. I’ve heard comments like “nothing can beat the feeling of a paper” or “its easier to make quick notes to a page of a book” enough times. No, online educational content has its own good qualities such as the ones mentioned above.

Only a quarter of the responses I got were media-neutral, applying to digital just as well as to print. Examples are being aligned with Bloom’s taxonomy, visually friendly, and arriving at a common goal for learners.

The final quarter of the responses were somewhere in between. Doable in print but somehow more natural or just better as digital. Personalization for topic and pace is a clear example. We can create learning paths in print materials as well, but it consumes a lot of paper & ink. Furthermore, online we can automate parts of personalization and create these paths dynamically.

Driving students to ask questions and engage in interactive tasks (rather than just consume information) is another example: perfectly doable in print but a lot easier to implement in right contexts with computers. Students can be prompted to carry out tasks at apporpriate times by the system/environment they use for accessing the online content.

Often technology changes faster than human habits. That is why this last group of attributes is very important now, on the verge of digitalization. With those we can leverage on practices familiar from using print materials, but little by little bring them to the next level. This way students and teachers can adopt digital materials in small steps, without going all-in.

Flickr image CC credits: Nic’s events

Creating Educational Content Is Good Service To Teachers

Earlier this spring the old debate restarted in Finland: should teachers create their own educational content or not? Here my two cents on the topic. First the mandatory disclaimer: I work for Sanoma Pro, a provider of educational materials and solutions.

Teacher, learner, and content.

Teacher, learner, and content. Original source: http://steve-wheeler.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/knowing-and-doing.html

The foundation of my argument is as follows: the time teachers spend interacting with their pupils/students should be maximized, both in quality and in quantity. I believe this is the most important part of teachers’ job and needs every support possible. This is why I like for example flipping the classroom as a framework.

There are many daily bottlenecks getting in the way of this interaction. Examples are grading assignments, assessing tests, searching for information, and organizing classroom seating. Teachers should be offered with easy-to-use tools for managing these kinds of activities. Whatever parts can be automated, should.

The above are what I would call routine tasks. They can indeed consume a lot of time but are not in the heart of teaching and pedagogical thinking. Creating pedagogically sound educational materials and building courses on top of them is very different. Far from routine, I’d say. So it is more important to help teachers with this activity than it is with say assignment grading.

Even if a teacher had the skills to create fine educational content—and many do have!—we shouldn’t assume that they do it on top of the actual teaching. At least not in the current model of how their work is organized. Note that I am here referring to primary and secondary education, not to higher ed.

Each teacher is an individual and has a unique way of running the class. Therefore it is important that the educational materials are not “one size fits all”. Of course we should provide teachers with a solid curriculum-aligned default path through a course. But that’s only the baseline.

Functionalities for adapting and personalizing the course are also very relevant. My experience with teachers is that this is generally what they want. They want content they trust to be of good quality, adapt and enrich it to fit their personal preferences, not create such content from scratch.

These functionalities become a lot better now when the educational materials are shifting from print to digital. They can be complemented with online tools of all sorts. The teacher can easily select the content he or she is most comfortable with and also choose to fit the pupils’ individual styles and characteristics.

Catering the personal preferences of teachers and pupils alike can presumably lead us to more engaged students, increased efficiency in teaching, and ultimately to better learning outcomes.