Friday, 27 February 2009

iTunes U better than attending class?

ReadWriteWeb and New Scientist picked up on a preliminary piece of research that suggests better retention and learning is achieved through using an audio podcast of a lecture than actually attending it.

To find out how much students really can learn from podcast lectures alone - mimicking a missed class - McKinney's team presented 64 students with a single lecture on visual perception, from an introductory psychology course.

Half of the students attended the class in person and received a printout of the slides from the lecture. The other 32 downloaded a podcast that included audio from the same lecture synchronised with video of the slides. These students also received a printed handout of the material.

The researchers told the students they would be tested on the material in a week, and they also asked students to hold onto their class notes.

The results?

Students who downloaded the podcast averaged a C (71 out of 100) on the test - substantially better than those who attended the lecture, who on average mustered only a D (62).

But that difference vanished among students who watched the podcast but did not take notes. Students who listened to the podcast one or more times and took notes had an average score of 77.

Stephen Downes rightly questions the soundness of the research but this is just preliminary results and hopefully more substantial findings will be reported, not just the attention grabbing headline. However we already know from plenty of other studies that note-taking forms a big component of effective reflection and processing of new information. We also know that the ability to learn at your own pace, rewind/review video and audio must aid comprehension. We also know that it is extremely difficult for most human beings to concentrate fully in a lecture environment which has far too many environmental variables that are likely to compete against the goal of effective knowledge transfer and comprehension (interruptions, noise, stilted delivery of speaker, poor viewing position etc). Note that I make a clear distinction between a lecture/presentation and a carefully designed interactive session/workshop.

So, while this study is not enough on its own here are some other supporting studies.

There is another specific study that comparatively tested podcasts, video and text transcript as distance learning alternatives to physically attending lectures and found positive results - can't find the reference myself - can anyone help on that?

Monday, 23 February 2009

Sir Ken in his element

I have a lot of time for Sir Ken Robinson. Here he is essentially promoting his new book The Element which champions the notion that education should first and foremost be about self discovery and self development, actively supporting us as individuals to discover our talents and passionate interests. He does so with wit and with a quiet persuasion that really needs a wider audience if the changes he calls for are to be realised.

But I share his belief that real, tangible, fundamental change is drawing closer, and the fearful ostrich that is our education system can no longer hide its head in the sands of inertia.

Some of my choice quotes from the video above:

"Education should be about promoting diversity rather than conformance."

"Education is not about standardising, it's about raising standards - something very different."

"People are only transformed when they are engaged."

As he points out, it's a sad endictment of our times when the US state of California will, in 2010,  spend more on its prison system than on education. And perhaps the "epidemic" of kids diagnosed with attention deficiency disorder (8 million) in the US is more a sign of a desperate attempt to hold a broken system together.