A Solution To Problems Facings Schools And Universities Today: The New Approach To The Development And Distribution Of Quality Educational Learning Content With Distributed New Media Technology
= breakthrough tool
by Gary Dunn
What are the problems facing schools today?
a) Student Apathy
b) Tradition-Bound Teachers
c) Little Growth in Academic Achievement
d) Shortage of Books
e) Increasing (High) Demands on Teacher and Student Workload
f) Accommodating Different Learning Styles and Abilities
g) Limited Availability of Computers for Student Use
"There are a number of factors which conspire to deter widespread acceptance of educational software.
Quality, suitability, and support are all critical factors in determining the success or failure of educational software titles, but nothing presents as daunting a challenge as cost."
To acquire a variety of commercial titles for every computer in a lab is an expensive proposition -- to outfit every student in the school presents a monumental obstacle.
Closely related to cost is the piracy issue. When expensive software is distributed in a copyable format, cash-poor educators will find it hard to resist the temptation of making extra copies. When vendors respond with copy protection schemes, honest customers encounter problems getting the software to run. Add the threat of legal action and schools find it necessary to devote substantial resources to monitoring, yet cannot eliminate the risk of lawsuits. Clearly, in such a hostile environment the risks can outweigh the benefits.
The Open Slate project fosters the construction and use of personal computing devices designed to facilitate information sharing in loosely structured environments.
Chalk Dust proposes to remedy the problem of cost, and to make an effort to deal with quality and support. The suitability issue will be solved indirectly, as a result of solving the cost problem.
To be fair, Chalk Dust faces its own set of challenges.
For starters there is the challenge of explaining what it is.
The concept is so foreign that people are apt to misjudge it, to pigeonhole it into an unsavory category derived from previous experience.
Then there are those who react the opposite way, who burden the concept with the promise of saving our schools, who will accept whatever the results are because of the process by which the ends were achieved.
Chalk Dust applications must stand by their own strength, and at the same time not have their worth increased or diminished by how they are made.
The Open-Source Model
Compared to today's educational software market, what makes Chalk Dust special is that the applications and content are developed using the open-source model.
(http://www.opensource.org/docs/ definition.php) The most obvious result of this method, and the most controversial, is that the applications are available at no cost.
Chalk Dust is a model of how development is managed, and a stamp of approval. As a result, it offers some measure of quality assurance. Just how good a specific Chalk Dust application is depends on the development team and the feedback provided by its adopters. Given adequate amounts of thoughtful feedback, and a responsive team, excellence will prevail.
A Chalk Dust application is built by a team. Hopefully a team of experts, but the ideal is to encourage various levels of expertise, so that the project becomes a learning experience for the team members.
The team should include at least one person from each of the following categories:
- A university student majoring in the target subject.
- A university student majoring in education.
- A university student majoring in computer science.
- A university faculty advisor from the target field (subject matter expert).
- A classroom teacher interested in using the application.
Before we go on, it needs to be said that there will be many more members of the development team. Honorary members, to be sure, but vital to success. Those are the students who use the application. The process by which they participate will be explained more fully below.
The suggested team structure is offered as a guide. In some situations, a different arrangement will be better. Every project will have to find its own best arrangement. What is important is the intent. A successful Chalk Dust application will require computer technical skills, knowledge of a particular subject, and knowledge of effective instructional strategies. Given the billions of people inhabiting the planet, there are bound to be a few people who are good at all these things, but success will be more likely if we embrace specialization.
This model is based on three existing examples. While none of these parallels exactly the Chalk Dusk format, they demonstrate conclusively that such an approach can work.
a) The first example comes from college. It has become common practice to hire graduate students to teach introductory undergraduate courses. These graduate assistants are not just turned loose to develop their own content, lesson plans and exam questions, they work as a team under the supervision of experienced professors. This approach allows graduate students to develop teaching skills, and oftentimes the responsibility for teaching a class forces a student to re-learn in greater detail the subject matter being taught. A less tangible but equally important effect is the way this process allows the graduate student the opportunity to give something back, to inspire and mentor younger students.
b) The second example comes from open-source software development. Large applications, such as the Apache web server, are the work of a large number of people. Even small, narrowly focused applications that appear to be the work of a single individual rely on the contributions of many people.
c) The third example is taken from a method of music instruction common to many cultures around the world. Such a system consists of a hierarchy, with a master teacher at the top, a group of expert teachers below, and at the bottom, apprentices who have demonstrated adequate mastery of the tradition to teach beginners. The same basic organization is widely used in Japan in subjects as diverse as flower arranging, martial arts, and the tea ceremony.
d) Traditional American -- perhaps "western" would fit -- teaching follows a similar pattern. A master practitioner writes a textbook. Aspiring students go to college to study with the author, then take what they have learned, and the textbook, back to their classroom where they teach what they have learned. Typically the process is not so direct; many college classes are taken, and the textbooks ultimately used may have no connection to the educator's college experience. Despite the disjointed methodology, the overall effect is the same.
One of the ways that Chalk Dust is different is that there is no concept of a textbook. This is not to say that Chalk Dust will be used in addition to textbooks; rather, Chalk Dust will, eventually, replace textbooks. More accurately, Chalk Dust will make textbooks seem as quaint as a charcoal heated bed warmer.
The bulk of the effort of developing Chalk Dust applications will be performed by students. In the recommended model, these students come from three distinct areas of specialization, subject matter, computer science, and instructional design. The work they perform will typically be on-going. It is hard to name a field of study immune from the need to have textbooks revised to incorporate new discoveries. (Anatomy, perhaps?) A Chalk Dust application is by design a dynamic vehicle, easily modified, updated, and corrected. Updates can be implemented without concern for rendering the existing inventory of textbooks obsolete.
The role of the faculty team members will vary depending on the makeup of the team. At a minimum, the faculty members perform a quality assurance function. However, there is nothing to prevent faculty members from taking a more active role, like defining objectives, outlining the presentation, or providing content. While not having any students on the team will be permitted, it should not be forgotten that developing Chalk Dust applications provides a rich, rewarding, concrete learning experience, so student involvement is encouraged.
For more information please contact:
Open Slate Project
Honolulu - Hawaii
To find out more about this fascinating new way of looking at learning and at the technology tools that can provide it please read the next issue of MasterMind Explorer
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