Learning about photography for #3SkillsYEG

I’ve had a digital camera (many, actually) for as long as I can remember. You know those really old Casio digital cameras that produced super grainy, low resolution photos? Yep, had one. Today my primary camera is a Canon 6D, which is a full-frame DSLR. It produces incredible photos, technically speaking. But as any “intro to photography” book or course will tell you, it’s not the gear that produces great photos, it’s the photographer. The hardware has changed an incredible amount since the advent of digital photography, but the principles of taking better photos have changed much less. Like most people, I never really learned those principles. I picked some stuff up by watching other photographers of course, like my Dad whose work I really admire. But mostly my strategy has been “spray and pray”. Take lots of photos and hope for the best. I decided to change that for the “Creativity & Expression” theme during #3SkillsYEG.

Cloverdale Footbridge
Me taking a photo on the Cloverdale Bridge last summer

Obviously there are dozens and dozens of resources for learning more about photography through EPL. I decided to narrow it down to digital resources, and it wasn’t long before I stumbled across the amazing content available through Lynda.com. It’s truly amazing that Edmontonians have free access to this incredible resource with a free library card. I still can’t get over it, to be honest!

Photography is one of the top-level categories at Lynda.com so there’s definitely a lot of content to choose from. There are 643 courses and 28,488 video tutorials related to photography, to be exact.

“Whether you want to be a photographer or just love taking pictures, learn what you need with our in-depth courses in photography: how to shoot photos that tell a story, choose the right gear, create a photo book, and more. Get tips on photo editing, studio photography, and lighting, too.”

Here are the courses I completed:

I also skimmed through parts of a course on Lightroom, which I am using to edit and organize photos. Even with just those five courses, I learned a ton. I now have a good idea of how much I don’t know! I especially enjoyed the videos with Ben Long and was very happy to see that he has a weekly show on Lynda.com called The Practicing Photographer. I found his style very approachable and well-paced. At one point he shares that he used to get asked a lot what type of photos he likes to take – landscape, portraits, etc. He reflected on it and decided that he likes to photograph light. That really stuck with me.

Here are some of my favorite photos that I took while working through the videos:

Spring Snow
One of the first photos I took with my new 50mm prime lense

Peace Bridge
Always love the Peace Bridge in Calgary

Sunset Reflected Downtown
Experimented with stitching photos together here, using ICE

Morning Sunlight
I had Ben Long’s comment about shooting light in my head for this one

Victoria Promenade
An example of crouching down to get a better shot

Flying over the old Molson Brewery
Good timing, but also I like the color contrast

High Level Bridge
Another example of changing my perspective to get a different shot

I have started on my next course already, Foundations of Photograpy: Composition. After that, I’ll move on to the other videos in the Foundations of Photography series, including Black and White, Night and Low Light, and Flash.

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time you’ll know that I am a sucker for gadgets. So it was a little dangerous to dive further into a topic like photography where you can spend thousands of dollars on gear! I did pretty well though, and ended up only making a few purchases. The biggest was the Canon 50mm f/1.8 STM, my first prime lens and a great deal at just $170 or so. I also picked up a lens cleaning kit, and a few accessories from Peak Design to go with my messenger bag.

I have really enjoyed learning more about photography and working to improve my skills and I look forward to continuing it with the resources available through EPL! The #3SkillsYEG campaign is over for 2016 (I’m way behind on posting this) but that shouldn’t stop you from learning about something that interests you! If you need an excuse, remember that we’re a City of Learners!

Learning about pulses for #3SkillsYEG

Over the last month, I have been learning about pulses and how to cook with them as part of the #3SkillsYEG challenge. Cooking with pulses seemed like a great topic for me given the suggested theme for February was “Personal Growth & Wellbeing” and that 2016 is the International Year of Pulses.


Learning about pulses

It just so happened that the Canadian Association of Foodservice Professionals (CAFP) and the Alberta Pulse Growers (APG) hosted a dinner early in the month called Everything is PULSEible. I was fortunate enough to attend with Sharon, who had been invited to blog about the dinner. It was a great way to both taste and learn more about pulses, though I suppose I didn’t realize just how familiar with them I already was. Here’s an excerpt from Sharon’s post:

“After reading Mark Bittman’s Food Matters more than five years ago (his mission was to encourage more conscious consumption of non-meat proteins), I was inspired to start including more beans and lentils in our diet. In 2011, Julie Van Rosendaal and Sue Duncan’s cookbook, Spilling the Beans, was released, becoming one of our go-to guides for meal inspirations. Now, pulses have just become a part of our regular rotation, both as a meat alternative but also to enhance soups, salads and mains, stretching the meal all while adding nutrients. At this point, our pantry and freezer would feel bare without having some variety of pulses on hand.”

She’s not kidding! Our meals often have beans and I guess I just didn’t think of them as pulses. So what exactly is a pulse? From Pulses.org:

“Pulses are the edible seeds of plants in the legume family. Pulses grow in pods and come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recognizes 11 types of pulses: dry beans, dry broad beans, dry peas, chickpeas, cow peas, pigeon peas, lentils, Bambara beans, vetches, lupins and pulses nes (not elsewhere specified – minor pulses that don’t fall into one of the other categories).”

Canada is one of the leading producers of pulses in the world. In 2011, Canada produced over a third of the world’s lentils and had the largest amount of dry pea production in tonnes. Saskatchewan is the largest pulse producing area in Canada with about 80% of the market, followed by Alberta at 20%, according to Statistics Canada. There are more than 2,300 farms growing pulses here in Alberta, which accounts for about 10% of the province’s crop acres. There’s good reason that the prairies are so good at producing pulses:

“The Canadian prairie soil and climate conditions, research for developing new varieties that resist lodging and disease or have a shorter growing season, agronomic and economic benefits when planted in rotation with other field crops and the growth of processing facilities all contributed.”

Unfortunately it’s not as easy as you might think to locate pulses grown here in Alberta because the packages most often end up with a “product of Canada” label. But as Sharon noted, “Alberta grows a variety of pulses: primarily peas (green, yellow, marrowfat), but also beans (great northern, black, cranberry, pink, small red), lentils (red, green) and chickpeas.”

Cooking with pulses

Pulses are very versatile ingredients and offer some excellent nutritional benefits. Pulses are gluten-free and vegetarian, low in fat and high in protein, and they’re a great source of folate and high in fibre. They’re also relatively cheap, especially when compared with meat. But despite all of those benefits, we don’t eat very many pulses. “A small amount is used by Canadian consumers and has increased over time, but is still relatively low compared to countries where pulses are a dietary staple,” wrote Statistics Canada. Many organizations are working to change that, including the Global Pulse Confederation and of course Alberta Pulse Growers here at home. One of the ways they’re doing that is by developing recipes that show just how easy it is to prepare dishes with pulses.

CAFP Alberta Pulse Dinner

The most surprising dish to me at the Everything is PULSEible dinner was the dessert – Lentil Fudge Pie. “This fudge pie is so delicious, you’ll never guess there’s lentils in it!” They were right. It was very tasty and had I not been told, I’d have never guessed that it contained a red lentil purée. I’m not much of a baker, but I’d be willing to give this a shot.

For a variety of reasons, I ended up doing a lot of the cooking in February. I did my best to use plenty of pulses and I’m happy to report it wasn’t hard! I made dishes in which the recipe called for pulses, like Mushroom Lentil Bourguignon (from Spilling the Beans). I also made some dishes that I simply added pulses to, like Carrot, Spinach and Rice Stew which I added chickpeas to. One of the more interesting dishes I made again tonight so I could take some photos – Curried Lentil Soup.

Curried Lentil Soup

The soup calls for both French green lentils (or dupuy lentils) and chickpeas (garbanzo beans). The lentils are easy to work with – simply rinse them and then add to the pot. I used stock instead of water, and they cooked nicely in about 30 minutes.

Chickpea Butter

The chickpeas take a bit more work as you need to purée them into a butter. I added a can of chickpeas to the food processor along with the garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil and before long I had a nice buttery spread. The last step is to add the chickpea butter to the simmer soup and combine, which gives it a beautiful, rich consistency.

Curried Lentil Soup

The soup is one of Sharon’s favorites, and I have to admit I’m quite fond of it myself. Easy to make, extremely tasty, and pretty healthy too!

Working as Sharon’s sous chef in the past, I don’t think I appreciated just how easy it is to add pulses to a dish. I have a better appreciation for them now, and am happy that our pantry is always stocked with beans and lentils!

Next steps with pulses

To help celebrate the International Year of Pulses, Pulse Canada has teamed up with the American Pulse Association to promote the Pulse Pledge:

“Commit to eating pulses once a week for 10 weeks and join a global food movement! Eating dry peas, lentils, beans and chickpeas helps reduce your carbon footprint – and it’s great for your health. Every 1/2 cup of cooked pulses delivers 9 grams of protein. Get rewarded for eating these miraculous superfoods.”

Pulses once a week? Piece of lentil cake!

I encourage you to give pulses a chance. And as a Learning Champion, I definitely encourage you to check out #3SkillsYEG! The theme for March is Creativity and Expression, and I have decided I will learn how to use my macro camera lens. That’s what I used to take the lentil and soup photos above! You can pick any skill you like, of course, the theme is just to get you going. Be sure to share your learning journey and enter the #3SkillsYEG contest.

I wish you tasty pulses and happy learning!

#3SkillsYEG, Edmonton Tool Library, LRT operators like pilots

Here’s the latest entry in my Edmonton Etcetera series, in which I share some thoughts on a few topical items in one post. Less than I’d write in a full post on each, but more than I’d include in Edmonton Notes. Have feedback? Let me know!

3SkillsYEG – what three things will you learn?

Today the Edmonton Public Library launched a new City of Learners campaign called #3SkillsYEG:

“#3SkillsYEG invites Edmontonians to create their own version of Robinson’s adventure by learning, teaching and sharing three new things with each other in 2016. By declaring to learn a skill related to “Personal Growth & Well-Being” in February; “Creativity & Expression” in March; and “Making Our City Better” in April, and sharing it on social media, participants will be entered to win an iPad, $200 towards Metro Continuing Education and tickets to the Telus World of Science.”

You can learn more about #3SkillsYEG here. Participating is simple – just pick three skills you want to learn and commit to learning one each month. You don’t have to follow the monthly themes, but that’s potentially a good way to stay on track. There’s going to be events related to each one too. You can enter the contest by declaring the skills you’re going to learn here.

Making a Better Burger
Me learning to make a better burger at Farmfair back in November

I really like this initiative, so I agreed to be a Learning Champion. What that means is that I’ll be participating and sharing my progress and encouraging others to do so as well. My list of “things to learn” is far longer than I’m able to tackle, but I will pick three for #3SkillsYEG and will be writing about each one in the coming months.

Edmonton Tool Library

Here’s a great idea that’s long overdue that two Edmontonians are finally doing something about. Leslie Bush and Robyn Webb are starting the Edmonton Tool Library, which will let you borrow tools just like you can currently borrow books and other items from the public library. There are tool lending libraries all around the world, including in many Canadian cities. Here’s the news from CBC Edmonton:

“The plan is to open the new tool library downtown, where many residents don’t have the room to store many tools. The group doesn’t yet have a firm opening date in mind, but is hoping to be up and running later this year. Edmontonians who sign up for an annual membership will be able to borrow tools for limited periods of time.”

For now they have a Facebook page and an idea. Sometimes that’s good enough to get something going. If you want more information or to find out how to get involved, sign up for their mailing list here.

Vancouver Tool Library Est. 2011
Vancouver’s Tool Library launched in 2011, photo by Richard Eriksson

This idea has come up dozens of times in recent years, especially after Make Something Edmonton launched, but to my knowledge no one has actually tried to make it happen. There are some related initiatives that have been very successful in Edmonton, like ENTS which does provide access to a variety of tools including drills, saws, and more for use in their space. But to be able to borrow a power tool for use in your home, that’s pretty interesting.

The other obvious initiative that comes to mind is EPL’s Makerspace. Like ENTS, there are some tools there you can use on-site, including a couple of 3D printers. There’s no tool library though, at least not yet. With the revitalization of the Stanley Milner library downtown gearing up there’s a related effort called “Makerspace 2020” to determine how the Makerspace should evolve. I know for a fact that tools have come up in consultations on that project, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see EPL itself offer something in the near future.

The LRT driver who sounds like a pilot

If you’ve been a passenger on the LRT recently, you might have heard Jon Morgan. He’s an LRT operator who entertains passengers by giving them updates on connections, the weather, nearby attractions, and more. I heard him recently and was amused, and judging by the smiles, it seems my fellow passengers were too. Here’s what he told Global Edmonton:

“I love our city and I like to learn as much as I can about our city, relay it across to the people. I just like to brighten people’s days as much as possible.”

I’d say he’s doing a good job of that!

If this all seems oddly familiar, that’s because it is. Back in 2010, essentially the same story was written about Tim Mireault. And then again in 2012. Good stories are worth repeating, I guess!

TEDxEdmonton Education: Discussing the evolution of learning in the City of Learners

Hundreds of Edmontonians will gather at the Winspear Centre on Saturday for a special TEDxEdmonton event focused on learning.

In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, join us for a special edition of TEDxEdmonton around a conversation on how learning is evolving and impacting our schools, workplaces and industries. We’ll come together to kickstart a discussion on learning among students, educators, entrepreneurs, artists, scientists, and community leaders. How do we disrupt the status quo and replace traditional approaches to learning? How do we leave the politics of education behind to focus on impact and innovation?

TEDxEdmonton Education is open to anyone interested in the topic, and will bring a number of intriguing speakers together for what should be a very inspiring day. You’ll hear from some local folks such as Ashlyn Bernier of the Graduate Students’ Association at the University of Alberta as well as some special guests from out-of-town like Stephanie Lo, Product Manager of TED’s Education initiative. The full line-up looks amazing!

tedxedmonton education

Education is a topic I have been thinking about a lot lately, mainly from two perspectives: technology and cities. I’m unfortunately going to be out of town on Saturday, but I wanted to share a few thoughts in advance of the event.

Massively Open Online Courses

It’s shocking to me that we, more or less, teach the same way today as we have for centuries, despite incredible advances in technology. A teacher or professor in front of dozens of students in a classroom is typically the image that comes to mind when we talk about teaching and learning. Is that really the best we can do?

I was inspired recently by Daphne Koller’s TED Talk in which she discusses the emerging trend toward online education. She’s a co-founder of Coursera, which is one of the popular new platforms for MOOCs – massively open online courses. Coursera, edX, and other platforms are enabling a really interesting new way of learning. Instead of a few hundred students in a classroom, these online courses bring potentially hundreds of thousands of students together from all over the world. There’s still a professor and there are still lectures (delivered via video on-demand) and there are still readings, but there’s a lot that is different too. For starters, they’re free!

Here is Daphne’s talk:

I decided to take a course to experience first-hand what a MOOC is like. I signed up for the Introduction to Sustainability, taught by Jonathan Tomkin from the University of Illinois. There are lots of reasons that people might take this course – maybe they’re looking for academic credit, maybe they’re looking to advance their careers, or maybe like me they are just interested in the topic. I admit I haven’t been keeping up with the course as well as I should have, but already I have gotten a lot out of it. One of the most interesting things to me is the “How to Pass the Class” page, which states:

I recognize that this is no ordinary course. You may have different perspectives and different goals for this course than some of your peers or than I could have anticipated. Therefore, I want to empower you to customize this course to meet your needs. To this end, I have designed multiple “badges” you can earn through participation in this course.

Here’s a look at those badges:

coursera pass the course

This is great! If you want to take the “traditional” approach, you can simply do all the quizzes. But there are other options now. I like the idea of doing a project, because it provides an opportunity to really apply what you’ve learned. Most interesting of all are the forum badges – you can pass the class simply by interacting with your peers. I say simply but that’s probably not the right word because I think there’s an incredible amount of learning that can happen through that interaction. Some students have even formed in-the-flesh study groups in their cities!

I don’t know if MOOCs are the future of learning, but so far I like what I see.

City of Learners

As you may know, Edmonton has been declared a City of Learners. Through the Edmonton Learning Initiative, the City is trying to make lifelong learning a core value of our community. The initiative has adopted UNESCO’s four pillars of education:

  1. Leaning to know – understanding how we learn
  2. Learning to do – emphasis on the knowledge component of tasks
  3. Learning to live together – educate to avoid conflict or peacefully resolve it
  4. Learning to be – the complete development of the mind body, intelligence and sensitivity

These are quite broad of course, but so is learning!

Thinking about the education system more specifically, we can see from the 2012 Municipal Census that roughly 24% of Edmontonians were identified as students. Here’s the breakdown by level:

edmonton students

Edmonton has long been recognized as a leader in public education, and Edmonton Public Schools has been singled out as a model district. It’s encouraging to see achievement results that show the continued success of EPSB’s approach. I’m also a big fan of initiatives like City Hall School, which provides Grade 1-9 students with the opportunity to learn more about how the city works. It has been a big success, so perhaps we should consider expanding it to other levels? Fieldston’s City Semester in New York sounds like the kind of course I could only have dreamed about in high school.

The University of Alberta has a publicly stated goal to become one of the top 20 universities in the world by 2020, and while that sounds audacious it also seems attainable. Edmonton is fortunate to have a number of great post-secondary institutions, and we should not take that for granted. Here’s just one post on why universities matter so much:

Universities appear to function as an important social leveler. Nations with larger numbers of great universities have lower income inequality (with a negative correlation of -.475 between the two). And universities are part of the mix of institutions that lead to higher levels of happiness and well-being across societies.

There are all kinds of reasons that having strong educational institutions here in Edmonton will make our community stronger, but is education also something we could be exporting to other places? This post by Avnish on Alberta’s labour shortage proposes a really interesting idea:

In an era where governments are scaling back funding to post-secondary education, India presents itself as a lucrative opportunity. Alberta’s colleges and universities can make up funding shortfalls by expanding into India, with its large market, significant growth potential, and cheaper start-up and operating costs.

The argument is that we could tap into India’s labour pool with this approach.

One of the biggest reasons to think about education in relation to cities is the economy. Edmonton enjoys one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, hence the labour shortage referenced above. We need trained, skilled workers not only to fill the jobs we currently have available, but to create new ones too. We’re in a resource-based economy, but attracting and inventing new industries will be important for our long-term viability. It can be tempting to equate the “creative class” with education, but Richard Florida cautions against that:

The creative class is not just a proxy measure for college graduates. Roughly three-quarters of college grads in America work in creative class jobs, but four in ten members of the creative class—16.6 million workers—do not have college degrees.

They may never have been college students, but they’re absolutely learners.

There are just so many aspects of education in relation to the city that could be explored! I’ll leave you with part of Council’s declaration:

As a City of Learners, we celebrate the excellence our community has already achieved in learning, and we set our sights on even greater success for individuals, institutions, industry and our city as a whole. The challenges of a complex and competitive world demand nothing less than conceiving of learning as an organizing principle in our community.

TEDxEdmonton Education

I can’t wait to hear about all of the interesting ideas and conversations that come out of TEDxEdmonton Education this weekend! Tickets are $99 and that includes a full day pass plus lunch and snacks. The official after party is Edmonton’s fourth Timeraiser, a unique art auction where you bid in volunteer hours.

Why do we still teach cursive handwriting?

Post ImageI’m generally pretty happy whenever I get the opportunity to show off my Tablet PC, especially when my audience has never seen one before. It happened again Friday afternoon, and the expected “oohs” and “ahhs” filled the room. Usually I fold up my tablet so that the keyboard is hidden, and then I encourage onlookers to try writing in OneNote. Most people very quickly write “hello” or their name in block letters. On Friday however, someone wrote a sentence in cursive handwriting. I remarked that I simply can’t do cursive handwriting anymore, which led to a pretty interesting discussion.

Essentially we wondered aloud why cursive handwriting is still taught in elementary school. I remember learning it in grade three or so, but I simply can’t do it now. If I try, I really have to concentrate, and I just don’t remember what some of the letters are supposed to look like. The only thing I write in cursive these days is my name. The rest of the time I am either on the computer, or scribbling in my messy “print-writing” (where it’s mostly printing with a few letters connected). Why would anyone use cursive handwriting in this digital age? And if the answer to that is “pretty much no one,” then why do we still teach it?

The entry on Wikipedia provides just two reasons:

  • Cursive is easier and faster once mastered. There is no need to constantly pick up the pencil point and put it down again.
  • Cursive may be especially useful for certain students with learning disabilities such as dysgraphia because it has fewer letters that are mirror images of one another, such as the printed b and d, and so may be easier for students who are prone to mixing them up. In some schools, students with such learning challenges are taught cursive before print.

I think the first point is pretty much negated by typing, and the second point is only relevant for a relatively small number of individuals. I suppose another reason not mentioned on Wikipedia would be that cursive handwriting looks nice. My Mom’s handwriting, for example, is quite simply beautiful.

When you think about it, teaching cursive handwriting is really stupid. You generally can’t submit any assignments in junior high, high school, or post-secondary unless they are typed on a computer. What’s the point of learning it then?

Furthermore, I seem to recall that handwriting lessons took quite a bit of class time. Isn’t there something more useful we could be teaching children in place of handwriting?

Education is about grading – and that sucks

Post ImageIt is no secret that I have a lot of issues with our education system. I think there are lots of things that could be done better, especially fixing this:

“All through school, from kindergarten up, you were taught that mistakes are a bad thing. You were downgraded for the mistakes that you made.

It is perfectly apparent from what [schools] do in examinations where errors are identified, [that] education is not about learning. It is about grading. Because if they were interested in learning, they would give you the same examination back a week later, to see if you had corrected your mistakes. But they’re not interested in that, they’re interested in giving you a grade.

So it is impressed on you, mistakes are a bad thing. [Ed: And learning by making mistakes is a bad thing.]”

Russell Ackoff Talk, ISSS Cancun 2005, 49th Meeting

Experience should confirm that some of the most important lessons you learn in life come after making a mistake. Too bad the education system doesn’t feel the same way.

Note that in the above quote he doesn’t mention teachers, just schools. I know there are a lot of teachers who would rather help students learn than simply assign them a grade, but their jobs depend on assigning marks. And unfortunately, I think too many teachers put this fact (that they need to produce good test scores) ahead of the educational well-being of their students. For more on this, you should definitely read the first chapter of the wonderful Freakonomics.

Read: Nivi

A Lesson From 2006

Post ImageLooking back I’d say I learned a lot in the last year. I guess that’s not surprising, as the saying “you learn something new every day” is usually pretty accurate. With business plan competitions, conferences, and of course school, I had lots of opportunities to learn new things this year. Instead of making a big list of the things I learned however, I’m going to share with you just one lesson:

I learned that running a business requires balance.

Of course you have to balance the business with friends, family, etc. That’s not what I am talking about though. When you are starting a business, you wear a lot of different hats. Sometimes you wear the programmer hat, sometimes the accountant hat, and other times the salesman hat. What I learned this year is that you need to find a balance between all the different hats! It sounds like common sense, but when you’re in the middle of things, it doesn’t come naturally.

I don’t know why, but for the longest time I figured that if we got the code for Podcast Spot done, everything else would fall into place. I focused only on the programmer hat, and ignored the rest. VenturePrize was the turning point for me. Before the competition, I pretty much focused on the programmer hat. During the competition, I ignored the programmer hat altogether. And now, I am doing my best to find balance.

It was an important lesson for me to learn, that’s for sure. To see what other people learned this year, check out Ben Yoskovitz’s excellent group writing project.

Read: Instigator Blog

Boring podcasts are not the answer!

Post ImageAnother day, another educator fighting podcasting because she fears students will not attend class. Liz Dreesen is a general surgeon lecturing at the University of North Carolina, and her students have asked her to podcast her anatomy lectures. She doesn’t want to do it:

I want the medical students also to learn the importance of presence, to attend our anatomy lectures, to see us in the flesh and not podcast, so they can begin to be doctors, not just technicians and knowers-of-facts.

She makes a really good argument about medicine being a “contact sport” that requires physical presence. So what to do about the attendance problem?

Podcasting consultant Leesa Barnes says the answer is to make the podcasts “boring as heck”:

In other words, make the video podcast so boring that students will use it as a backup and not as a replacement. That’s the way to provide convenience for students without sacrificing class attendance.

Sorry Leesa, but I think that advice is just plain dumb. Lectures are boring enough as it is.

I don’t know about you, but when I shell out hundreds of dollars to attend a technology conference, I do so because of the people I will meet, not the content being discussed. Sometimes the content is boring, sometimes it’s interesting, but the interaction with other people is always worth paying for.

Sadly, the same cannot be said of shelling out hundreds of dollars for a university lecture. I do it because I am required to in order to get that piece of paper that says I graduated. Things could be different though. In my six years of post secondary experience, I have learned that more often than not, lectures are simply boring and don’t allow for much interaction. This needs to change.

The answer to the attendance problem then, is to provide for interaction in the lectures. I don’t mean reading lecture notes and then allowing students to ask questions at the end, but real interaction. The same kind of interaction I pay for at the technology conferences. And of course, podcast it all. Make the podcasts as interesting as possible, so that students who watch them later can’t help but wish they were there.

With all that interaction going on, there will be less time to get the boring but required information across. So record it ahead of time, and make the podcasts (boring information + class interaction) an integral part of the course. If they are considered required material, they won’t be seen as replacements for class. Tell students to watch the podcast and then come to class and discuss it.

For the most part I think the way our education system works is, for lack of a better adjective, crappy. Podcasts and other emerging technologies might enable us to make some positive changes, but only if we use them correctly.

Read: Podonomics

Podcasting University Lectures

Post ImageBlogMatrix has a post up today about podcasting university lectures – particularly appropriate since I start classes again for the Fall semester bright and early tomorrow morning. While I fully intend to go to at least the first week of classes, all bets are off after that. And no, it’s not because I am lazy, or going shopping or anything like that, I simply have a business to run. Sometimes business and school conflict, and you need to make a decision – which is more important, this meeting, or a lecture? Most times, for better or for worse, I choose the meeting.

I wouldn’t miss anything though if the lecture was being recorded and made available as a podcast.

While the BlogMatrix post is more a point-form plan for how to implement such a thing, and how it would work, it touches on a few important points that deserve to be highlighted.

Podcasting a lecture is for the students in attendance too!
Of course there will be people like me who skip the lecture to do something else and simply want to listen to the podcast later. More importantly though, podcasting a lecture is useful for the students in attendance, as BlogMatrix points out: “students, instead of taking notes (or only notes), would record the time of a particular interesting or salient comment”. That would be incredibly useful. This point needs to be made very clear to the decision makers in a University, as they will most certainly protest the idea initially, citing fears that no one will go to class. I think such fears are baseless – there is value in attending the lecture, such as being able to participate in the conversation.

(As an aside, if the lecture contains no interaction and is just the professor standing at the front talking, then I’d be GLAD if podcasting it made attendance drop to zero. It’s ridiculous that students pay $500 for something like that, because you know most of the fees go to paying the professor anyway. It’s examples like this that show just how antiquated and bureaucratic the university system can be.)

The Wisdom of Crowds
Or in this case, the wisdom of students in the class. Let’s assume students can bookmark parts of the lecture – perhaps the most important or interesting parts. As noted in the BlogMatrix post, this is powerful stuff: “Collecting all these bookmarks across all students (and potentially across time) will provide collective intelligence/data mining/insight into what is really import in the lecture”. The ability to tag lectures and specific segments would further this collective wisdom.

Is security really an issue?
I don’t think so. The University doesn’t want people getting the lectures for free – I understand that. But how is making an MP3 file available any different than having some random person walk in off the street, sit in the class for an hour with a recorder, and put it online later? Especially in a lecture with 400+ students, I am surprised this doesn’t happen more actually. As long as sensitive or personal information is not included in the podcast, I don’t see security being much of an issue. I do agree with BlogMatrix though: “I don’t believe it’s the place of the vendor (i.e. me) to dictate requirements to a client”. If a university really wanted to integrate security, it shouldn’t be that difficult, as all universities have pretty extensive systems in place already.

Now, let’s look at this from the perspective of Podcast Spot (if you want a test account, email me). Could our technology support such a thing? With a few tweaks here and there, I believe so. We’ve got all the basics covered (like tags and comments), as well as a few of the more interesting requirements (such as random access). And there’s a bunch more features on the way too (such as improved methods of working with segments). It’s not going to happen (because I better graduate in April) but it sure would be cool to see Podcast Spot being used in my school. Maybe I’ll see it as an alumni 😉

I think podcasting will catch on in schools and other similar institutions, but it will take time. People inside the education world need to grok the benefits of podcasting, and still more have to lose their fear of the technology. When that happens, I think everyone will benefit.

Read: BlogMatrix

Gates on High School Education

Post ImageMany of my friends are in, or have graduated from, the Faculty of Education. I guess that means that whether or not they become teachers, they have some interest in education, and indeed a vested interest in seeing education move forward. Yet I have often said that I don’t think the way we do things is right. I have wondered aloud to these friends that perhaps a move back to the old “master and apprentice” way of learning would be more appropriate! Today I came across these remarks from Bill Gates made back in February:

When we looked at the millions of students that our high schools are not preparing for higher education – and we looked at the damaging impact that has on their lives – we came to a painful conclusion:

America’s high schools are obsolete.

By obsolete, I don’t just mean that our high schools are broken, flawed, and under-funded – though a case could be made for every one of those points.

By obsolete, I mean that our high schools – even when they’re working exactly as designed – cannot teach our kids what they need to know today.

I’d say that’s a fair assessment. Almost since day one of my University career, I have thought there must be a better way to do this. After the first two years of University, Grade 11 and Grade 12 largely seemed like a waste of time. Or maybe not a waste of time, but an inefficient use of time. Maybe I’m just cynical, I don’t know. I know there are teachers who care, but there’s often not enough resources. And some of the things that students need, they don’t have the opportunity to obtain.

I don’t really have a suggestion for alternatives though either – I simply haven’t given it enough thought. I do know however, that I want my kids to have the best education possible. There’s so much that we could be doing in high schools that we aren’t.

Read: Bill & Melinda Gates