Answers for 2012

Every year I try to do a Questions for the year – themes that I think will be interesting to explore and think about. At the end of the year, I go back and see how wrong I was.

For 2012, the Questions are here.

For those questions here’s some answers:

1. Pearson LMS? No big deal. I think the Blackboard free LMS is more important in the LMS space, but Pearson may be doing some things, but nothing big or earth shattering. Of course, a lot of faculty I work with don’t use Pearson texts.

2. Web mining useful? Ultimately yes, but increasingly difficult to do. With Twitter becoming more walled off, Instagram way more walled off and Facebook increasingly walled off, it’s much more difficult to use something like Ifttt to get something cool to mashup. It’ll be interesting to see how open data sources survive, and whether APIs will wither. I’d like to see more open data – I think it’s where we’ll see growth and interesting possibilities emerge. From an economics standpoint, these sorts of niche areas will be tremendous economic generation in the future.

3. MITx? In and of itself is not that big, but EdX, Udacity, Coursera and the others are making MOOCamania running wild on you. Credentials is still a big thing, but I suspect that’s the gateway and where these startups will make their money – partnering with a school who will rubber stamp their findings – or partially rubber stamping credit.

4. Android tablets in Education? Big fart of air. iPads still rule. Android will suffer for the hundred of crappy tablets and lag of killer apps on the platform. For phones, it’s fine; for tablets, not so great.

5. Learning Technologists? Still play their/our marginal role.

Questions for 2012

1. Does the Pearson LMS gain traction with anyone seeing as Desire2Learn and Blackboard have both integrated with Google Apps for Education? It’s interesting for me because the University I work at now is looking at replacing their internal e-mail system with Gmail for students to start off with, but will later expand that to everyone. They’ve also made an announcement that Google Apps for Education are coming, which I think is a huge deal, but everyone else seems to not be talking about too much.

2. Will web mining for information be a growth concept in 2012? I’ve seen Pattern, a python based toolset to access information, as well as sites developed like Ifttt which makes programming logic available to the masses in an easy to understand format (almost like Yahoo Pipes). There’s a lot of hope for Ifttt, at least from my perspective, it does take a bit to manipulate to get it to work.

3. Does MITx make an impact? I suspect it will, it could change the whole model of distance education and if it’s MIT that’s assessing and stamping approval, that’s a huge thing. However, does it mean that the credibility of MIT as a credential granting source takes a hit (ie. does more people with MIT education mean that it is worth less in the long term?) or are we looking at a real paradigm shift, where the credential means less and the knowledge exemplified means more?

4. Android tablets are cheap, but are they any match for the quality (and sheer amount of apps available for media creation) of an iPad in education? I know there’s no evidence to suggest that iPads help learning (starts halfway down that page), however it does allow a form factor that beats a laptop as a mobile learning device – as we could consider any Internet enabled device a learning device – it’s up to that pesky user to actually do something with it rather than play Angry Birds or Super Stickman Golf. By the way, Android tablets also have Angry Birds. And Super Stickman Golf – so consider your productivity screwed on either device.

5. Will Learning Technologists become even more important a bridge for faculty and technology? I provide support for the LMS at the institution but I also can help design learning, use different strategies and suggest ways to embed learning deeper by using different tools in and outside the LMS. I’m a big fan of wikis providing they are used in a way that support and demonstrate the learning. I think there’s two ways institutions can go – one tell faculty to just worry about teaching and research, and let the technical side be developed by a techie. The other is to demand the faculty learn the technology, and use it to be supported by a techie. Either way, the technologist is there to support. I think the successful institutions will have technologists that can be given room to explore where the technology is going without being too far ahead of the faculty needs. That sweet spot is hard to find, and lots of institutions will fail at it.

Use What Works.

Use what works. That’s what it always comes down to for me, especially when people are talking about technology. That’s why I got interested in this comparison between iPads and Netbooks in a 1:1 project. This first article in a promised series focuses on cost. Yes, I do admit that cost is always a factor, a concern and a pressing interest from supervisors and those who control the purse-strings. Yes, it’s important to not flush away money (my bank account and pitiful pension contributions can attest to that).  Isn’t there something else to consider though – the experience?

The article concludes with a rousing support for Netbooks, and in the current way education works, it makes sense. Yes, Netbooks are cheaper, provide more bang for the buck, may even be a better tool for the job. Maybe the iPad, or any other tablet if you want to cut costs, works better for collaboration (in fact, I’d suggest based on how I’ve seen it work, it does). Anytime you have a keyboard you inevitably have one controller of the device. With tablets, I’ve seen first hand how people are more willing to share duties on it – searching for something on Google, then passing the tablet to a colleague, then collectively watching a video. I’m not saying that people can’t do that on a Netbook, they absolutely can, but intuitively, they treat them differently. I think people treat different computers, well, differently.

For the purpose of the comparison, they needed students to create media. I’m still not sure on how good a media creation device the iPad is. I think the iPhone has much more capabilities for better media capture out of the box. Certainly the form factor of an iPad is a draw back for media capture.  I’m actually going to be a bit of a snob and say that neither a Netbook nor an iPad are ideal. I’d say buy a fleet of Netbooks, then add a dedicated video/audio multimedia machine with the savings. With all that said, I think the iPad is a much better device, for surfing the web (even with the Flash embargo, most well designed modern sites that use Flash have an alternative available) and for consuming media. I also feel that the iPad despite it’s heftier price tag is a more enjoyable experience rather than a Netbook. Most of my Netbook issues are that the whole device is cramped and poorly laid out. It’s why I didn’t buy a Netbook two years ago and instead bought a larger laptop. Ultimately, that was probably a wrong decision as the laptop is not a great device either. Needless to say, I like the time I’ve spent with the iPad and other Android based tablets, I haven’t liked the time I’ve spent with laptops and Netbooks.

My dad, who’s always been a tradesperson, told me very early on, use the tool that works. In fact it’s been words to live by for me. I grew up using a 386 PC for games and Macs (a IIci that cost me a bundle) because they provided better audio tools at the time. Later I programmed using a PC that I built myself because the integrated programming environments were Windows only (this is pre-OSX). Even more recently I use the tool that works for me in the situation. I am lucky to be able to do that though. I realize that not everyone has the luxury or access to do this. I’m only here as a reminder that a dedicated tool for something is usually better than a multitool. Of course, your mileage may vary.