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  • E-interview with Dr. Larry Johnson

    Dr. Johnson is an expert on emerging technology and its impacts on society and education, and has written five books, seven chapters, and published more than 50 papers and research reports on the topic. He speaks regularly on the topics of creativity, innovation, and technology trends, and has delivered more than 125 keynote addresses to distinguished groups and organizations all over the world. Johnson currently serves as Chief Executive Officer of the New Media Consortium, an international not-for-profit consortium dedicated to the exploration and use of new media and new technologies, and Director of the Edward and Betty Marcus Institute for Digital Education in the Arts (MIDEA). Having served as president and senior executive at institutions in both the higher education and not-for-profit realms, he has nearly 30 years of experience in the global education arena, and has served in campus roles from professor to dean, CIO and provost, and president.

    What is the future potential you see for extending, upgrading and transforming higher education through development of online learning and other means?

    I see this as a critical growth path, especially in the developing world, as it is the quickest way to scale both adult learning and teacher training. We now know a lot about online learning, and the potential is well established. If it is to truly transform higher ed, however, it cannot simply be lectures on video -- it must be personalized, content rich, and interactive.

    What are the most important issues to be addressed and initiatives needed to upgrade and transform higher education globally?

    Globally, the most pressing issue is access to the Internet. We must address the digital divide via policy and government initiative, as it will not be solved by industry. The challenge parallels the era of electrification -- there are simply areas business will not see as viable if this is left solely to the market place.

    How can systems of accreditation be effectively extended to support open online education at the national and global level?

    This is mostly a matter of political will. There is nothing inherently different between the large lecture class and online education, yet no one questions the efficacy of the large lecture. There is a great body of research that has established that online learning is not inherently inferior -- in fact, it is more flexible for most people, and affords critical support to learners who need more time, or want to review prior learning. We must not let accreditation be confused with quality, as most system of accreditation focus on inputs, rather than the outputs that are true indicators of quality.

    The internet has facilitated greater accessibility and democratization of education. But how can quality of online courses be ensured, maintained or even improved at the same time?

    I would frame the question the same way and ask about how the quality of classroom learning can be ensured, maintained or even improved at the same time. There is typically nothing in accreditation that looks at learning outcomes in any way. Because online learning establishes a clear trail of effort and activity for every student, it has genuine advantages over face-to-face when it comes to documenting learning outcomes. In fact, the reality is that in today's world, every class, whether fully online or not, should be making extensive use of the internet, as a source of content, as a way to collaborate, and as a way to extend learning beyond the classroom.

    How best can advances in internet communications be utilized to reduce the gap in access to knowledge between economically advanced and developing countries? i.e. what can developing countries do? What type of system and actions will be most effective? What are the radical changes needed in educational delivery systems?

    The key here is expanding access, via municipal wireless networks or even cellular (3G) networks, subsidized smart phones and tablets for the economically disadvantaged. There are many ways for developing countries to address the access issue, and great models -- Project Ceibal in Uruguay, for example.

    If you were asked to design a world-class system of higher education available to people everywhere, what key elements would you include and how might it differ from the MOOCs that are rapidly developing today?

    I would ensure that the system allows for personalization, student choice, curricular flexibility, multiple modes of delivery, and a strong emphasis on applied mathematics, science, and communication.

  • E-interview with Jeremy Dean

    Genius(formerly Rap Genius) makes it easy to assign students peer-reviewing or reading and annotating an assignment, publicly or privately. Students can add comments, notes and links for YouTube videos, music, photographs to amplify and annotate what they are reading. The students sharing comments on the passages they are working on in real time helps improve the learning experience. The tool's profile and point system features help the teacher to grade the students and keep track of students' improvements in a large classroom. It is implemented in Stanford University, UC Davis, MIT, Maret School etc.

    Jeremy Dean is the chief of education at Genius. He earned his doctorate in English and enjoyed his career as a schoolteacher in Texas. Jeremy innovatively adopted new technology in his class and tried the popular rap lyrics annotation site Genius as a teaching tool. He integrated the platform into his class syllabus so that his students would visit the site twice a week and add commentary on the poems and novels they had been assigned. The success of the project gave him the new job as the Education Czar, evangelizing for genius and working with educators to integrate its use into their curriculum.

    What is the potential of peer-to-peer learning techniques for enhancing the effectiveness of education?

    In my experience using Genius in the classroom and working with teachers who are using Genius in the classroom, students both learn from each other--reading one another's annotations--and collaborate on creating knowledge--using our suggestion feature to develop deep, co-authored analyses of text.

    How does the Genius platform motivate learners to interact with one another more effectively? ?

    Genius demands that students respond to each other’s work, either by simply upvoting or downvoting an annotation or by adding a suggestion to a previous annotation. These activities are accompanied by messages on the site that notify students about interactions with their work. These notifications encourage them to revisit their ideas (and the words of the original text) and converse with each other about these ideas.

    How would you rate the potential value of multimedia for higher education? To what extent is that potential being utilized today?

    Multimedia is deeply important in education and it certainly seems to me that schools are eager to take advantage of emergent multimedia platforms. Specifically, I believe multimedia platforms make education more engaging, for instance texts are brought to life with pictures and video. It also allows different types of students to engage with content. A visual learner might be more comfortable to offer an image as a statement of meaning than a text.

    What evaluation methods are used in Genius to assess the learning experience?

    We have an IQ system in place that is related to a student's contributions to the site. You can learn more about it here. Every student also has a profile page that collects all the student's contributions to the site that teachers can use to monitor the student's work. See more information here.

    What are the principle deficiencies in the current system of higher education? What are the most important steps that should be taken to enhance or change the system?

    I'm not qualified to comment generally on the state of education in the world.

    What role do you envision for on-line education in the future of higher education?

    I like to think of online education as changing the future of higher education in two ways. One, online tools allow us to sustain and enhance the intellectual energies of a brick and mortar classroom across space and time. An assignment on Genius asks students to interact in much the same way they might in a seminar class at a college, but they can do so both before and after the class meets. When physical face-to-face meeting is not possible, emergent technologies can create a seminar atmosphere for those teaching and learning at great distances.

    The internet has facilitated greater accessibility and democratization of education. But how can quality be ensured, maintained or even improved at the same time?

    Democratization of content, like putting a lecture online, is one thing and a great thing, but only a simple first step. Truly democratizing knowledge is about knowledge production not just consumption. Students from across the world need to be given the tools and opportunities to share their ideas and converse with traditional experts and each other more effectively.

    If you were asked to design a world-class system of higher education available to people everywhere, what key elements would you include and how might it differ from the MOOCs that are rapidly developing today?

    I've been relatively unimpressed with many of the MOOC platforms that I've experimented with. They are not fully utilizing the emergent technologies that are making the web a more interactive and collaborative space, and thus they are not as fully engaging students as they could be. Again, it's not all that radical from a pedagogical perspective to put a video of a lecture online or add images to make it more multimedia. What's innovative is giving the students a way to interact dynamically with that content. MOOC providers are going to need to partner with the smaller firms that specialize in these innovative tools--like Genius is for social annotation--in order to fully harness the power of online learning.