Google Helpouts: Access to Industry

‘Real help from real people in real time’ is Helpouts [sic] tag line. It’s essentially an online service where one can find an expert in a given field, and pay by the minute to receive realtime help and guidance from the expert using a web cam.

Google Helpouts takes a great idea already used in education – ad hoc mentoring, apprenticeship, or research – and makes it available to the masses. It takes the concept of a village, where you could walk across the street to ask the baker how much sugar to use, and puts it into a digital world. More proof that the walls between industry and educational institution are dissolving, and even flipping in some cases.

Totally useful for higher ed institutes, where it can fill all types needs, and a good model and stepping stone to help merge industry and institution.

Read the whole story here: Why Google’s Helpouts is a Brilliant Idea for Online Education. Although, I argue that this isn’t a new idea for education at all; it’s just the tools are catching up with the methodology.

Using mobile behavior data to build better mobile learning

In the early days of online education, our industry copied what worked in the classroom into an online environment. Over time, we found that students did not behave the same online as they did in the physical space, and that a new form of teaching needed to be developed. We are on a similar threshold with mobile learning, but we need to learn from our experiences: we cannot take what we know about learning via a computer and apply that to a mobile space. Let’s first learn how people naturally behave in this medium and marry it with learning science. Then can we build to its strengths, understand its limitations, and integrate its capabilities to support learning in everyday use.

Exact Target recently released the results of their Mobile Behavior study. Although the study focused on consumer behavior, the data provides insight into the natural tendencies, habits, and thought-process of all people as they engage on their mobile devices, including learners. Other studies have been conducted in the past, specific to the educational field – such as Fares Benayoune and Luigi Lancieri’s study in 2004 and Noel-Levitz survey in 2012 – but the Mobile Behavior study tracks user behavior on their devices and conducted a survey to provide context and insight to behaviors. Also, we needed a study on devices that weren’t around in Benayoune and Lancieri’s study (i.e. smartphones and tablet computers). Below are the key take-aways for us in education.

Mobile means behavior, not transportability

People associate the term “mobile” with specific capabilities and behaviors – not transportability. Note: the study refers to all participants as consumers, but the word user may be more apt. “Consumers most frequently associate ‘mobile’ with a smartphone/cellphone (54% selected this association), while only 14% said tablets/e-readers” (6). The reason for this is based on what users do on each of the devices.

[box type=”shadow”] Tablets are used more frequently than smartphones for passive activities like watching videos or movies (40% do this on a tablet, vs. 30% on a smartphone) and reading (57% do this on a tablet, while 43% do this on a smartphone) (7). [/box]

Tablets, although are compact and transportable, are not sen as mobile devices by users because they are more often used for sedentary or passive activities, such as reading and videos (7) rather than shorter bursts of interactivity: texting, emailing, etc. On the other hand, the most performed activities on a smartphone are those that engage with someone or something else: 91% check email at least once a day, and 90% text at least once a day (13) on their smartphone.

Armed with this, we can create frameworks for mobile education that seamlessly fits with the natural behaviors of tablet smartphone usage:

  • Tablet behaviors: learning knowledge transfer (reading, videos), mid-form writing (i.e. longer emails, more comprehensive dialogue, etc.), quizzing, etc.
  • Smartphone behaviors: communication activities, like discussion boards, group chat, FaceTime, short-form email, texting with faculty or TAs, etc.

When building educational technology for the mobile devices, ensure your feature set supports activities for each device appropriately. For example, all LMS mobile apps should allow for seamless access and input to the discussion boards and/or instant message.

All About Ease of Access + Completeness of Content

Ease of Access

Unsurprisingly, “90% of consumers say access to content any way they want is important to them” (17). People like choice, and when it comes to adult learners especially, having your learning content available on all forms of devices is vital.

In addition to having content on any device, ease of access is also important. Using any extra technology, like QR codes or augmented reality, can get in the way of the end result if too much cognitive demand is needed to navigate the systems. “In some cases (like scanned coupons or QR codes), people may not know how to activate these mobile relationships. Brands must overtly explain how to opt in, the frequency of communications, and above all, why opting in will be of service” (26). Our key take-away from this is that we need to use technology to get itself out of the way of the learning. Don’t use it for use sake, but use it because it makes the learning experience EASIER, more accessible.  “The brands with the easiest-to-access content wins”. (34)

A simple helpful tool: make a week’s learning content a downloadable zip file. People can download everything they need for the week and take it offline.

Completeness of Content

“While 54% of consumers agree that it’s easier to find information on mobile-optimized websites, 54% are also dissatisfied, saying mobile-optimized websites don’t provide enough information…they aren’t meeting the user’s demands for how much content is actually stored on a mobile site.” (27). I would argue that this is true of all online learning content: if students can’t get to the content they need, it lowers their chances of getting to it at all.

Create for All Devices

We see this all the time in online education – content is not developed for consumption on a mobile device. There are few schools that have a robust mobile strategy that takes into account the multi-device accessibility of an online course and the ease at which they are accessible. Are videos designed with the intent of being watched on a tablet? Are discussion questions written in a fashion that can be answered on the train to work? Can a student take a quiz over the lunch break on their Android? Our content isn’t being developed with the behaviors of the student in mind. We’re building to an outdated design – let’s shake that off and do something better. Something more human-centric; if we really are trying to foster life-long learners, we need to integrate learning into their daily lives, their daily behaviors.

NPR’s strategy, Create Once, Publish Everywhere (COPE) is a great example of how this can work in action. Check out NPR’s Zach Brand’s slideshare on how they implemented their system.

Equity for Accessibility

[box] Those of lower income (<$25K) [users] are significantly more likely to spend more time per day on their smartphones (reporting 4.6 hours a day of use, compared to the average 3.3 hours a day) and tablets (they reported 5.1 hours a day of use, compared to the average 3.1 hours a day) than all other income levels. (12)[/box]

Our greatest charge in digital education is accessibility for all. The gap between the have and have-notes is directly correlated to the number of immediate access points a household or individual has to the internet.  We’ve known this since 1995, when the U.S. Department of Commerce conducted a slap-in-the-face survey of rural Americans. Although it focuses on connectivity, my favorite line from this sums the issue up nicely: “While a standard telephone line can be an individual’s pathway to the riches of the Information Age, a personal computer and modem are rapidly becoming the keys to the vault.” I would argue that with the creation of the smartphone and the tablet, this divide is growing at a startling rate.

This throws an interesting curveball for curriculum designers building for those types of students. Often, because of budgetary or time constraints, they can only design for one medium: smartphone or tablet. However, if you are in education and you are not creating learning content that can be accessible on a smartphone, you are not providing equitable access. Rethink your design strategy. There is an answer out there waiting to be found. Go forth and find it.

Smartphone Behaviors

A few key points that we can immediately bake into our DNA:

  • Smartphone activity is highest between 8am – noon & then again from 6pm – 9pm
  • Total amount of time on a smartphone per day: 3.3 hours

Use this to help identify when students will be likely to text faculty with questions, drop ideas into the discussion boards, or even check in to download the week’s material.

Push Notifications

People interact with push notifications at an alarming rate of consistency: “Only 8% wait or ignore the notification before checking it” (22) However, this should come with a warning: like any good thing, moderation is key. If you over-send push notifications, users will turn them off and you’ve lost them. They should be poignant, at a time where they can respond or interact with them (8am – noon or 6pm-9pm), and short.

Some great uses of push notifications in mobile learning:

  • Announcements
  • Notification that someone responds to you on discussion post
  • Someone instant messages me: The education field really needs to figure this one out. An LMS should have an instant message baked into it. Take a cue from Gmail: I can chat with someone in the browser and I can continue that chat via the Google Hangouts App on my phone. Texting and IM is the way we communicate now – more so than email.

Closing: Why mobile?

Our goal of educators is to develop life-long learners, which means we need to integrate learning into everyday life. We have a rare opportunity in this age to disperse our learning science application into everyday behaviors, breaking down the idea that “acceptable” learning only happens in the confines of a building. Injecting ourselves into the natural behaviors of the everyday is a tall order, but you know what: challenge accepted.

Go Digital in the Classroom

Incorporating technology in the classroom doesn’t render the role of the instructor obsolete—it’s just the opposite: technology can extend the teacher’s role as a facilitator to keep students engaged. Going digital allows greater opportunity for students to collaborate, and for instructors to provide feedback in an effective and instantaneous fashion
Dr. Lynda Haas outlines 4 great reasons for going digital in a classroom.

SXSWEdu: Students in Higher Ed: New Student Normal

Provost Robert Groves from Georgetown explained that Georgetown puts strong value behind a brick and mortar, physical face-to-face with faculty type instruction. Good news: there will always be a percentage of the student body and of the marketplace that needs this type of education. Other good news: our student population and marketplace needs are diversifying, and we have an opportunity to diversify our education support all students wanting to learn.
Thankfully, we have some clarity around how our student types are diversifying. There are three main elements that help us understand student needs, which can help us better architect learning to support them: student learning goals; student psycho-social goals; and factors that influence student lifestyle.

1. Student Learning Goals

George Tang, Make Milliron, Parimender Jassel, and Ray Martinez outlined the typical student learning goals in their panel Students in Higher Education: the New Student Normal:

  • Students looking to sustain: keep themselves relevant in their fields.
  • Students looking to advance: want to challenge themselves into new roles/ways, but within the same fields.
  • Students looking to change careers: those who want new direction in different fields. (This includes those students coming in directly from high school – they are looking to enter a different field.)
  • [I add “Renaissance” students who want to change their SELF: the rare bird who is looking to learn from a more humanistic standpoint; think Joseph Campbell. As these are the rarest type – and some argue that such motivation should be built into all students – I’ll focus on the first three.]

2. Student Psycho-Social Goals

The panel continued to outline two psycho-social goals of students – an important element that is too often overlooked, but equally important to understanding students. Although the two goals often blur, one is typically a larger driving force than the other:

  • To be part of the community: the emphasis here is on the process of learning
  • To have the degree: the emphasis here is on the product

3. Factors that Influence Student Lifestyle

Finally, external factors that directly pull or push our students (i.e. family needs, physical location, etc.). These factors are unique to each student, but we can see common themes:

  • Time frame – aka Time to Degree. How long students are willing to spend longterm for the education.
  • Assembly of time – How the time students can dedicate to the classroom is assembled or distributed within their life.
  • Resources – This includes everything from technology to emotional support. The environment in which students life will always influence their success.
  • Demands – How education fits into their priorities.

The intersections of those three things provide a foundation to help an institution architect the delivery of the educational experience. Given such variance, we find new needs for educational delivery arising.

This is where I think it’s foolish of us to assume that what works for any one university will work for every institution. For some students, the physical face-to-face, 4 year full-time on campus is exactly what the student needs. However, the percentage of students who fall into that contingency is no longer the majority. It’s important to find what’s right for your institution, your student population, and the market you serve.

Blending Industry & Education

Back in the Industrial Revolution, workers were hired into a shop, learned the technical skill sets needed on the job, and worked – all at the same time. Many scholars are calling the time we’re in the Information Age, and the need for skilled workers to do things like write and edit code is akin to the sudden need the Industrial Revolution had for skilled workers. Although we’ve gotten better about working conditions, child labor laws, and other such things, we haven’t seemed to figure out that maybe we’re back to the need of apprenticeship in our culture.
James E. Zull, a Professor of Biology, Biochemistry, and Cognitive Science at Cast Western Reserve University, points out that we have an unneeded wall between education and the workplace. He argues that in order to really teach the needed skills of the world, students need to be exposed to specialists while in the field:

[Students] need models…If this were so, schools would be viewed as ‘boundary-free.’ They would be less of a place and more a range of opportunities. The entire community should be available for discovering what experts actually do, what they care about, and how they work and learn. Apprenticeships and co-op activities might be the norm rather than the exception.  ~ From brain to mind; Using neuroscience to guide change in education. (2011). pp 43-44.

Not every skill can be learned on the job and there is definitely a place for college-based education, but there is a loud cry for people to execute work that doesn’t require a 4 year degree. For example, the number of software developers  needed in the field is expected to grow 22% between now and 2022, which is about 14% faster than the average job growth (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013), and more and more companies are hiring based on the programming experience over the weight of the degree. It’s why so many new avenues to learning code have cropped up. Just see Code Academy, Dev Boot camp, and Mobile Makers. People have figured out how to gain the training needed outside the price tag of a 4 year degree.

The information industry is hungry for workers, and I think apprenticeships are necessary in some of these fields. However, I think three things need to happen in order for us, as a society, to meet this demand:

  1. A separation between tactical skills and strategic competencies needs to be established in the educational structure. Many colleges and universities are struggling because they often teach theory and high-level strategy skill sets for an industry that may really need builders. If everyone’s a manager, who’s actually building the product?
  2. Additionally, we need to let go of the belief that a full-time 4 year degree education is the necessary step after high school. Why do the theory and managerial skills have to come directly after high school? Why can’t someone work in a field and then go back to gain the theory and managerial skills when s/he is ready to move into that role? The better approach would to get our young citizens working, and integrate education into the right times of their careers. If we preach life-long learners, we need to accept that education occurs at injected points throughout life, not lumped together into isolated years after high school.
  3. Students need to be willing to start as executors, and we need to celebrate those values. Many people dream of leadership roles, but that doesn’t mean everyone should start as a manager.  There is much to be celebrated as one who executes the work and builds the product; we as a society should celebrate those values again. Not everyone can or wants to be a leader, and that’s okay.

For industries that need workers and executors, a suggested path would be:

  • Student graduates high school and becomes an apprentice.
  • Apprentice simultaneously learns and works on the job. Direct, tactical skills to build or execute. Grows to become strong worker and moves up the ranks.
  • When worker is ready – or when company deems it – worker integrates theory and strategic competency education (usually via part-time degree program) to either increase skill set, get promotion, or is just generally ready/curious.

Regardless, the separation between education and industry needs to be re-evaluated – as there are many fields in which the 4 year full-time degree programs are not providing the industry with the needed workers. We need a new path to get students what they need and the industry the workers.


Social media: Blinders won’t help

The myth about social media in the classroom is that if you use it, kids will be Tweeting, Facebooking and Snapchatting while you’re trying to teach. We still have to focus on the task at hand. Don’t mistake social media for socializing. They’re different — just as kids talking as they work in groups or talking while hanging out are different.

– Viki Davis

We cannot put blinders on this issue. We HAVE to teach social media skills: it’s a key component to being a digital citizen.

Perhaps we fear teaching social media in the classroom because it’s a non-Newtonian medium: it’s a solid fluid, hard to create clearly parameters around it. However, that shouldn’t stop us from using it and teaching our students about it. If we don’t help collaborate with our students to learn about this medium together, they will be happy to define it without our input and then we will be the ones who are lost. I’d venture so far to say that we may already be in that position.

Regardless, here’s Viki Davis’ entire article.

Market’s Demands versus Public Perception


I don’t agree with everything Allie Grasgreen says, but a side-by-side of the graphs from her article Ready or Not about how the workplace puts weight behind different criteria than the public is interesting:

Key take-aways:

  • Business Leaders look for more knowledge and skills than the degree.
  • Americans are focusing on the degree more than the skills or knowledge.

We need to recalibrate: it’s a good challenge [accepted] to us in education to add value to the knowledge and skills of our students – as that’s what they’ll use in the field. If our grads cannot apply what they learn to be productive citizens, we are watering down our own image. Let’s help the perceptions align by providing good education, not just pomp and circumstance.

Strength-training creativity

Many scholars from Sir Ken Robinson to Albert Einstein have recognized the importance of creativity in our lives. However, our culture too often forgets to make practicing creativity and imagination part of our mental workout routine. We fill our time with academic focus on deliberate skill sets specific to our field or job.
Yet, if we listen to those who understand neurology, like Scott Barry Kaufman and others, we’ll see that creativity is one of the highest functions: allowing ourselves to deconstruct and reconstruct prior knowledge in a unique situations to develop innovative perspectives/solutions. Dr. John Kounios defines it “as the ability to restructure one’s understanding of a situation in a nonobvious way.” A clinical way to say that creativity allows us to see the world anew, full of new beauty and possibility. Regardless of the definition, the message is the same: practicing creativity and imagination is imperative to our cognitive health.

So, I encourage you to include a creative event or “goal” in your professional development plan. Encourage yourself to go to something like Creative Mornings. Or sign up for a photography course at your local community center. Stretch yourself out beyond the direct-measured professional development to become a better thinker and problem solver. Don’t let your creativity atrophy.

Balance between project-based and linear-based education

ARTICLE: Confessions of a Subversive Student
An interesting read about the need to balance linear, predetermined paths of curriculum with loosely structured situations wherein messy, exploration-based learning can occur. Reminds me of Seyour Papert’s interview, wherein he argues that academics must

“give up the idea of curriculum. Curriculum meaning you have to learn this on a given day. Replace it by a system where you learn this where you need it. So that means we’re going to put kids in a position where they’re going to use the knowledge that they’re getting. So what I try to do is to develop kinds of activities that are rich in scientific, mathematical, and other contents like managerial skills and project skills, and which mesh with interests that particular kids might have.”

Regardless of level, those messy and chaotic moments in project-based learning provide a real opportunity for learning that is different than linear-based. A balance is needed to be sure.