Initial thoughts on tools + learning

Don’t want to make this too in-depth since we’re all doing proper reviews of these tools next week and I don’t want to pre-emptively do anybody’s chosen tools.

Looking through the list of tools on the doc, I think I’ll tackle some of the prompts one at a time.

“How many of the proposed tools are contextualized primarily for teacher presentation (passive learning)?”

Well, as is, most of the ones that are the biggest / most popular / most well-funded tools there (Prezi, Camtasia, Khan Academy, TeacherTube, Moodle, iTunesU etc.) are very much tuned around that “sage on the stage” approach to delivering material. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, I think, at some point all learning requires at least some listening, but it is striking that many of these things that people call “revolutionary” are really just digital versions of lectures and slideshows. The revolution has been digitized.

“Which have potential for active learning or afford students opportunity to display a product of their learning?”

Hmm. Not many, really. ¬†Moodle sort of does, I guess, as does Evernote and Edmodo, but that’s pretty much it. Most of these tools are tools for teachers, not necessarily tools for students. I don’t think the list is really curated for student active learning, so maybe this is an unfair assertion, but it certainly looks like our list is passive.

“Which of the tools have potential for developing or enhancing the community of learners? Which features most actively support learner engagement in a community?”

I’m really biased in favor of the tools I use myself (Camtasia, Evernote, Drive) but I think learning community wise, Edmodo is going to be seen as the grandfather of some great tool that helps with this. It’s not going to be Edmodo, because it kind of sucks, but I think within the future of social media (yuck) we will find some new version of the old BBS forums from the mid 2000s that will help revolutionize the way online learning communities function.

And that, I think, is how I feel about all of these tools. I know the internet and technology move very fast but let’s not forget that technically all of these tools are infantile in the span of human development. It’s not surprising that the perfect online tools don’t exist yet since the internet only went public in our lifetimes (well, okay, not MY lifetime, but people who are older than me). I imagine my reviews next week will be of a “this will be great in the future” flavor, since that’s how I feel about a lot of educational tools online. That they work, right now, but once we have a workforce of teachers who can create and customize their own tools, that’s when things are really gonna get interesting.


2 thoughts on “Initial thoughts on tools + learning

  1. Hi Nicholas,


    You might be too young to remember something called Usenet? It is basically a huge online forum organized by subject. Here’s a quick overview (thanks wikipedia!)

    The interesting thing about Usenet, (and I was a pretty big user back in the day) is how much it resembles the forums you mention. As Reddit does now. Do you use Reddit?

    I’ve often thought of hosting an open online course within Reddit. In fact, with one instructor, a Petroleum Engineering faculty member, we created a sub-reddit for P.E. research. He was hoping to get students to share their inquiry and collaborations. G+ ended up being the better platform and that community is going great.

    I wonder how much forums have really improved? The “skin” of some of these tools has changed, but the learning capacity hasn’t all that much, perhaps? We’re talking here online via essentially a forum. Post. Comment. etc.

    I do see huge leaps coming in the world of VR and Augmented Reality. We are just at the beginning there, for sure. But online forums… how would we improve things? What’s the next step?

    Also, regarding the potential for active learning, how might we use some of these tools for a more active model if we had to? Like Camtasia, for instance. How could that be used to “afford students opportunity to display a product of their learning?”


    1. I do use Reddit, and I’ve often thought about a class could be built on it. The problem that can’t really be avoided is that there is a humongous amount of inappropriate content on Reddit…it’d be strange if your students who were subscribed to /r/alaskantiveliteraturecourse were also subscribed to some weird dirty subreddit and told their parents “but mom, it’s for school!” Ha.

      I know this is a problem with open online platforms, as opposed to close ecosystems like ours. I’m not sure how to get around it! I’ve heard of Usenet but never used it, but I imagine things were a little different back then.

      I might just go ahead and make another Reddit account and reserve a few subreddits for the sake of experimenting. I will see how the structure of Reddit can be used for creating educational environments. It’s a cool idea.

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