Category: Education

Low-tech high-value instructional video

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By Larry B, March 4, 2010

Lots of us involved in instructional technology content development are rightly cognizant of high production values and a carefully edited script.  In my prior job as director of educational technology development at Harvard Business School, we were very focused on making highly-designed instructional products that looked great, sounded great, and didn’t waste a syllable in their tightly edited, word-crafted voiceover.

Nothing wrong with that, if that’s your target market and you’re planning to productize the content at a high price.  But there’s another way, as Jon Udell highlights in his conversation with Sal Khan, principal of Khan Academy.org.  Khan (interestingly, an MBA graduate of Harvard Business School) has created over one thousand instructional videos aimed primarily at middle/high school and college students on topics from Biology to Physics to Economics to Mathematics.

Khan uses nothing more complicated than a screen capture program like Camtasia, a Wacom tablet and a $20 headset to create powerful, explanatory tutorials that give the feel of looking-over-the-expert’s-shoulder.  Khan’s videos are posted to YouTube, which has granted khanacademy an exception to the ten-minute limit that applies to conventional YouTube channels.

What’s amazing is the scalability of this approach. Khan has been able to create this vast collection of material because he’s found the right combination for effective teaching while having a scalable process. You might think that reaching kids today means competing with video games, high-def TV, sophisticated animations and graphics by trying to beat those formats on their terms.  Khan’s gone the other way, and hit a home run, as evidenced by the popularity of his site and the feedback coming from kids, parents, and teachers.

There’s lots of rich detail in Jon’s interview with Sal on IT Conversations and it’s worth a listen (even if you don’t usually find podcast interviews compelling – this one is worth the download). Khan is working on analytics, assessment, and other innovation around the library of content he’s creating.

But at its heart, the lesson I see in this is that it’s not always about having the most advanced technology and picture-perfect production. Figuring out how to reach your audience and be effective, might mean going decidely low-tech.

Disrupting Class – Takeaways for Parents (and Instructional Technologists)

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By Larry B, February 10, 2010

Clay Christensen’s latest book, Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns, applies the rules of Disruptive Innovation to the landscape of public K-12 education, and describes the ways in which the writing is already on the wall: public education as we know it will be transformed by application of computer-based instruction.  Boldly, Clay and his co-authors make a startling prediction: by 2019, 50% of high school courses will be delivered primarily online. That will require some changes and advances in instructional technology: authoring, scalability, instructional design, personalization, assessment. I’ll be following some of these advances and writing about them in the coming months. But the technology predictions are not the most startling thing in the book.

What’s most startling to me is their discussion of what researchers say is THE most important predictor of cognitive capacity in children.  The LENA Foundation sums up the findings of Todd Risley and Betty Hart succinctly:

  1. The variation in children’s IQs and language abilities is relative to the amount parents speak to their children.
  2. Children’s academic successes at ages nine and ten are attributable to the amount of talk they hear from birth to age three.
  3. Parents of advanced children talk significantly more to their children than parents of children who are not as advanced.

More importantly, the amount of talking that parents do to babies under one year in age, before they have demonstrated any meaningful language ability, is crucial.

The children whose parents did not begin speaking seriously to their children until their children could speak, at roughly age 12 months, suffered a persistent deficit in intellectual capacity, compared to those whose parents were talkative from the beginning.

Risely and Hart call it “language dancing” – ongoing, sophisticated speaking to a pre-talking baby – as distinct from “business talk” (“now roll over”, “do you want a bottle?”, and other more “utilitarian” talk). Again, from Disrupting Class (italics exactly as in the original):

One of the most important findings of the Risley-Hart study was that the level of income, ethnicity, and level of parents’ education had no explanatory power in determining the level of cognitive capacity that the children achieved. It is all explained by the amount of language dancing, or extra talk, over and above business talk, that the parents engaged in.  It accounted literally for all of the variance in outcomes.

I think we all knew that talking to kids is important, but showing that extra talking to babies this early has THE dominant effect on cognitive ability later in life is simply stunning.

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