Content Trap

Wannabe edupreneurs would do well to read Bharat Anand’s The Content Trap. The book addresses the naivete of creators assumption that success will come from simply creating great content. Using a great number of what are likely to be familiar examples the book identifies factors that determine what gets noticed and what has influence. Success comes mostly from content and connections – creating and enabling connections among people, connections among components of content, and connections between content and larger systems.

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Apple vs Google and Adwords

Apple and Google have very different revenue models and these differences in their stance of embedded, online ads. Just to be clear the issues associated with ads can be argued on different levels (do producers deserve compensation, what information should consumers have to reveal, etc.). As one might expect, the positions taken may be argued on the level of consumer or production rights, but the positions taken also tend to align with the revenue models of the companies arguing for the services they provide.

So Apple makes it money on equipment and offers other services at very level cost to support the value of the equipment. Apple’s browser, Safari, might be considered one of the added services. Apple has modified Safari to offer information consumers protection against unwanted ads.

Google makes money off ads. Google tries to use an approach to ads and revenue generation for producers by the use of ads that are minimally obtrusive (at least the link ads are small and do not limit consumer attention to content. Google also argues that its ads are smart and offer opportunities that may be of interest to consumers. To offer smart ads, Google has to collect information about users. How and what information is sold to third parties is an important issue and one that is not perfectly clear to me.

Google is seeking a middle ground by attempting to address the problem of “third party” cookies. A third party cookie collects user information – information collected across sites. In a way, this is what Google does, but in a way I think is different. Google collections info from services such as your search history to inform the ads it displays when Google ads are used. Other services use cookies that reside within your browser and send back information to services other than the service/host that you happen to be using. As I understand the Google model, the idea is to delete third-party cookies after short periods of time. This supposedly allows immediate benefits to consumers, but not the long-term accumulation of information. Of course, this fits with Google’s general approach. If you are searching for new car dealers today, you might be interested when ads for local car dealerships show up when you view other web pages. There is little need to keep track of this information on you for 6 months.

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Top online EdTech MA/MS programs

I ran across this listing of the top online edutechnology master’s programs. The methodology for the ranking is not provided. It seems to me that the top programs are long standing and long visible. When those who work in such fields are asked to suggest outstanding programs (aside from their own), they tend to list such programs. These programs also have larger and more diversified programs that may offer opportunities to those in the online programs and contribute to visibility.

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When is it innovative?

I am not a Betsy DeVos fan, but I think public schools put themselves in a vulnerable position by limiting the ways in which they are willing to be innovative. The base position for public schools seems to be assuming a traditional staff of teachers and administrators. This finance focused blog post argues that the staffing costs of schools on average make up 81% of the budget and within a minimal resource environment this limits what changes can be made.

Private schools do not necessarily start from the same assumption (from the finance article):

For example, the often touted Rocketship model (a chain of charter schools), makes extensive use of learning lab time in which groups of 50 to 70 (or more) students work on laptops while supervised by uncertified “instructional lab specialists.”

I cannot claim that this is wise and I am sure many would argue this is horrible, BUT such options do allow significant innovations to be tested. Just for sake of argument, it might be suggested that such an approach offers some similarities to a “flipped model”. If presentation-oriented tasks can be completed in a more efficient manner, interactive experiences with experienced teachers might occur at a higher rate.

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When states and communities don’t/can’t support

The NYTimes article on companies supporting teachers to use their products has generated quite a response in the community of ed bloggers I follow. The new thing appears to be statements of personal policy when it comes to accepting resources. A follow-up opinion piece to the original article continues the conversation.

The follow-up describes the plight as being in an interesting bind and likens it to educators who spend some of their time writing grants or launching online fund-me drives to provide resources for their own professional needs and for students. All of these efforts raise questions of best use of teacher time and equity when it comes to the students who learn in classrooms of teachers unwilling or unable to be fund raisers.

[my original post in reaction to the Times article]

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Remembering – again

Repost of a blog post following Katrina (unfortunately, the pictures are gone)


Andy Carvin urged bloggers to devote entries of Sept. 2 to the survivors of Hurricane Katrina. It is an extremely difficult topic and a situation in which words sent from a distance seem of little consequence, but I thought I would try.

Grand Forks FloodAt first I thought I might have something to say to the people suffering in the aftermath of Katrina. I know what it is like to leave your home as water comes up your street in the middle of the night. I know what it is like to worry what condition your home will be in when you are allowed to return. I know what it is like to stay in a shelter. While I was there for only one night, I remember the smell. I remember the sound of helicopters circling overhead. The picture above is from the Grand Forks flood of 1997.

Our experience was regarded as a great disaster because the flood required the evacuation of the entire community and nearly every building was damaged in one way or another. In comparison to your situation, it was nothing. There was little actual threat to human life. Help was close at hand and it was a disaster only in economic terms.

The present circumstances seem more akin to the terror of combat. The devastation is so total and the needs of people so basic. What I see on television is haunting and disturbing. I cannot understand what I see.

When I was first back in Grand Forks after the flood, I posted a web page with some pictures of the damage and some I thought portrayed the goodness in people I observed while living through the experience. I looked for these images for a long time tonight, but without any luck. However, remembering was a good thing for me.

What I hope for all of you presently living in such misery is that a few years from now you are able to look back and have memories that also convince you of the goodness in the people around you. I have no explanation at present for how this will happen, but I urge you to know that you are not alone.


Words are not likely to be enough – a little more is required from all of us.

If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do,
If you haven’t got a ha’penny then God bless you!

(Not sure why “Christmas is Coming” keeps running through my head, but the sentiment seems appropriate)

Hey, you are just going to spend it on gas anyway. (Ways You Can Help).

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Devoid of original thought

Whatever value Twitter might have, it is not my opinion that it is not particularly useful as a service for meaningful conversation. I have commented on this opinion in previous posts. As twitter chats have been a popular format among educators for professional development, I have recommended that an analysis of the tweets during such chats would make a great grad student research project.

This type of analysis is beginning to emerge. Social media discussions have been proposed as a way for researchers to interact concerning published research. The study cited in “Inside Higher education” was not particularly positive.

Much of the activity about academic journal articles posted on Twitter is “mechanical and devoid of original thought,” according to a new study that calls into question the value of some alternative metrics used to evaluate research.

Twitter may be a way to increase awareness, but not to promote productive discussion.

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Preview – Turbonote

I read somewhere (The Content Trap) that content providers focused on something new should offer information in stages. The first stage involves alerting followers to what is now available. A later stage would involve a full description and analysis. This idea made some sense to me. Early on in the area I address most frequently (tech in education) there are those who want to be aware of new developments and may be willing to try them out. Think of them as the innovators and early adopters in that classic model of how changes move through a population. I have also learned that there are dangers in pushing new ideas too strongly. An interesting product I promoted heavily in a textbook once went away when the company behind the product was purchased by another company and the product that interested me turned out not to be of interest to the purchaser. The service I describe here as yet to reach release 1.0 and issues such as whether there will be a cost to the service (it is now free) and what this will be have yet to be provided.

I have written extensively about online services allowing what I describe as layering. What I mean by this is that an educator or designer can add learning prompts, questions, comments,  etc. on top of web pages or video provided by another party. I see this as turning content into an educational resource. TurboNote is my newest find of this type. TurboNote offers an advantage over several services I have previously reviewed because it can be used to layer educational prompts on both web pages and video instead of one or the other.

TurboNote is a chrome extension that provides a couple of features I believe to be essential in an educational layering service. First, it allows the addition of prompts. The image shown here involves adding comments to a video. Click the note icon – the video stops and the post-it type window appears. Enter a comment that is saved. Click the stored note and you also return to the video timeline marking the spot associated with the note. The second priority is the opportunity to share the layered product with a specific group. This is difficult to see in the image, but there is a share icon generate a URL that is sent to those who you want to view the comments you have added.

More to come as this product matures.

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Searching with the duck

I like the idea of keeping competition going even when there is a large lead for one online service. DuckDuckGo continues as an alternative to Google. DuckDuckGo advertises its advantage as privacy and I read that the number of searches using this alternative has doubled since concerns with the collection of search data have surfaced. I found that switching to DuckDuckGo within Safari was easy as it was one of the options provided. Chrome lists alternatives to Google, but not DDG. I added DDG as the default search tool within Safari so I search using different tools when I use different browsers. Why not?

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Cult of Hattie

The “research based” label still carries some weight in education. To me, the term means that a given suggestion has been offered knowing that researchers have collected data warranting a positive opinion on whatever is being recommended.

One thing that tends to frustrate practitioners is that impression that advocates can always find research to support their recommendation. This is kind of true – a hedge. One attempt to deal with the complexity of research is to make use of techniques that aggregate multiple students. Aggregation can be done in multiple ways. A popular statistical technique is called “meta-analysis” and makes use of the statistical effect sizes (could be negative or positive) generated from multiple students. An easy way (not exact) would be to think of this as finding the average effectiveness of a technique.

Different folks have made doing aggregation studies their thing. In my own classes, I have long assigned meta-analyses conducted by Bangert-Drowns. If you have read much educational research, you may recognize this name. A new and influential player in this space is John Hattie. Dr. Hattie has generated lists of effective and ineffective educational tactics that some have found quite helpful. He has also written a book – Visible Learning for Teachers – that explains his findings.

As a prof, I work very hard to take a research-based approach. I have my students read original research associated with the different topics I want students who work with me to think about. Is all of this necessary when referencing a popular list as provided by Dr. Hattie necessary?

I recently encountered a blog post on this topic that encouraged me to offer my own opinion. Consider a position I sometimes find myself in. I talk about project based and problem based learning in my Instructional Design and Technology grad classes. These tactics appear on Hattie’s low effectiveness list and this ranking does not surprise me. I am aware of other aggregation efforts that have reached a similar conclusion. On the other hand, I am aware of specific, very well implemented studies (see the work of Deanna Kuhn) that show such methods can be quite successful. How do you recognize such findings? One approach might be to suggest that such tactics are complicated – some versions are not well implemented and some situations may not be suited to such approaches. It might be fair to suggest that as a general “best practice” any version of such techniques cannot be counted on. This is not the same as “this approach does not work”. Why this is the case becomes another topic for researchers. I know this sounds like the mantra – more research is needed. It may also suggest those who implement must give some careful thought to what makes a good use of some specific tactics.

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