Another dot in the blogosphere?

I occasionally conduct the necessary evil of keynotes and seminars using Google Slides (samples), so I was glad to hear about the new Audience Tool.

Video source

I wondered if it functioned like Pigeonhole or Dotstorming. The former is a passcode-accessed space for ranking questions from an audience. The latter is an open tool akin to online stickies.

I also wondered if the Q&A tool could act as a backchannel (like TodaysMeet) for audience members to become even more active participants of a talk.

The Google Slides update rolled out and I explored the features of the Audience Tool.

In the desktop version, the Audience Tool is activated via a dropdown menu under the “Present” button.

Google Slides: Audience Tool

In the mobile app version, the Audience Tool is counterintuitively activated via the “Present to a new video call” option.

Google Slides: Audience Tool (mobile app)

Here are my initial impressions on the Audience Tool:

  1. When you start the tool, an overlay with the URL to access the tool appears over the top of your current slide. The shortener to the Audience Tool is convenient, but I also like to provide a QR code to make it easy to access.
    Audience Tool URL as overlay.
  2. The tool works well on desktop or mobile. If you can type or SMS, you can use the tool.
  3. It can be used as a basic backchannel, but note the next point.
  4. The voting up of questions Q&A tool works efficiently and allows popular questions to rise to the top. This also changes the order of entries based on the popularity of statements.
  5. You cannot thumb up or thumb down your own question. This prevents some abuse.
  6. Participants are anonymous. If you are signed in to Google Drive, you have the option of being anonymous. You might not be sure who is asking a question.
  7. As the presenter, you have the option of displaying questions or comments via the Audience Tools panel. The questions or comments can be selected one at a time and replace the current slide. Clicking on the slide advances the deck to the next slide.
  8. If you accidentally close the Audience Tools panel, you need only resume the Presenter View and you have the option of starting a new session or resuming the previous one.
  9. The Q&A history appears in the mobile app (three dots menu) and desktop versions (Tools menu) of Google Slides.
  10. If you close the main Google Slides presentation, the Audience Tool stops working.

I cannot say for sure if Google Slide’s Audience Tool is a TodaysMeet or Twitter backchannel killer. At the moment, it:

  • does not highlight the users, questions, or comments with different colours;
  • provides no options to delete questions or comments;
  • has no options for exporting the text for archiving or showing a projector view;
  • is not a persistent feature unlike most backchannels tools.

I do not think that most presenters will miss these features. Google Slide’s Audience Tool is certainly a threat to other free Q&A and backchannelling tools.

Thanks to a tweet from TNW, I found this YouTube video.

Video source

The video should be used as a case study for instructor professional development on student response systems or backchannels because it:

  • revealed what can happen in an authentic classroom or lecture hall
  • can prompt “What if…?” questions and subsequent answers
  • provided examples of an instructor’s unflappable response

The video started with an instructor asking an open-ended question and providing students with an opportunity to share short answers. Without establishing any ground rules, chaos seemed to ensue right after the third response.

While some students tried to provide academic answers, the flow of mischievous answers encouraged others to escalate the playfulness.

I would wager that many instructors would shudder at the video. Some might even break out into a cold sweat.

But it is important to realise this: If you use technology to give student voice, you are going to get it. It might be unfiltered, uncensored, and honest. And that is not a bad thing.

The students were likely to appreciate the opportunity to be involved, and because of the emotions they experienced, are more likely to remember the learning opportunity.

The instructor did an excellent job of:

  • not immediately closing down the feedback system
  • taking the responses and laughter in his stride
  • skilfully steering the conversation back to the topic

Other instructors, be they novices or veterans, could learn from the video and share their thoughts. If they do, they could learn a thing or two on how to create more interactive sessions with students.

If they wish to open up their classrooms to student voice, there must be ongoing conversations, not monologues. Trying once and giving in to fear is shutting everyone up.

7 by andymag, on Flickr
7” (CC BY 2.0) by  andymag 

This Learning Solutions article tried to separate folly from fact about online instructional videos. In doing so, it might have offered a Viddler-sponsored bias and a few myths of its own.

I offer a simple blow-by-blow following each of the article’s main chunks.
Myth #1: Everything worth learning can (and should) be reduced to bite-sized, two-minute videos.

Reflection 1: Some things should not or cannot be on videos; optimal video duration.

Some things that cannot be on videos might include sensitive issues (what these are depends on context), sensitive people (e.g., those that need protection), and intrinsic knowledge of staff. Such issues are a matter of policy, mindset, timing, and much more. A push for videos is not going to budge these issues.

While the article made a good point that short videos are not effective in themselves, it ignores research from providers like edX that have suggested the optimal length of videos for motivated learners.
Myth #2: Video should be free; YouTube is all I need.

Reflection 2: YouTube could be all you need especially if are smart about it.

You would expect Viddler to declare “YouTube was designed as a social medium and a publishing and advertising platform, with a focus on generating ad revenue for Google. That’s not a bad thing, but using it for training is problematic.”

People conveniently forget that the ads and monetisation came later. The fact now is ads and your usage data are the price to pay for “free”. Once you get over that and realise that the learner who has grown up with YouTube takes no issue with that, you focus on more important things.

Might privacy be one such issue? From the article: “With effort, you can make your videos private, but the default state is public. Anyone can see and download your training videos—even your competitors.”

The article conveniently left out one important word: With LITTLE effort, you can make your videos private. It is a setting you see when you upload or record a video on YouTube.

As for “anyone can see and download your training videos”, see my reply to #5.
Myth #3: Video is expensive; our company is too small to use video for training.

Reflection 3: Video is expensive. And it is not.

Video for any organisation, big or small, is relatively easy and low cost today especially if you already have cameras, lights, microphones, computers, and a dedicated team. Simply go back in time by five-year bounds and compare the costs of manpower, equipment, and professional development.

The real cost is time and effort. If an organisation decides to jump on the online video or MOOC wagon, there will be a sudden need for many videos. This then leads to a sudden need for equipment, professional development, and/or new hires.

This problem is repeated time and again because very few organisations share their practices. If they do, other organisations do not take the advice until the issue becomes real.

Side note: What organisations typically do to deal with the huge demand for new instructional videos is to use templates, e.g., talking head formats. These are simple, self-recorded, and require minimal post-processing. These are also the most boring and ineffective because they layer old pedagogy over new technology.
Myth #4: Video files are too big for company intranets.

Reflection 4: Yes, that is why there is YouTube.

Enough said.
Myth #5: Online video is not secure.

Reflection 5: Anything online is not secure. If you think about it, anything offline is not that secure either.

If you are stupid enough to share a trade secret on YouTube or any open sharing platform, then you deserve what is coming to you.

Learn how to secure your videos if that is important to you. That said, if security is your primary concern, why are you thinking about videos? Go back to your cave instead.
Myth #6: People don’t pay attention to training videos.

Reflection 6: People do not pay attention to what is not meaningful or interesting.

The article hits the mark on a painfully true issue. The tips they offer focus on interactivity and they are all good.

I can only recommend two more: Make videos meaningful and provide them just-in-time.
Myth #7: Online video is not as effective as face-to-face training.

Reflection 7: My immediate response was: This old argument?

My delayed response was: This old argument?

The medium of teaching and learning is not the issue. The context is.

A key question to answer is: What circumstances or affordances favour one medium or the other or both? The point is to provide a meaningful and powerful learning experience, not reinforce an outdated mindset or blindly follow policy.

Closing thoughts
You can rely on technology to instruct the same way or to educate differently. The best integrations online video challenge the status quo. Instead on focusing on the instructor and delivery, there should be a focus on the learner and interaction. Doing the former might be more efficient; doing the latter is more effective.

I was at a conference last month when I tweeted this.

I was referring to a quote that caught the imagination of many a presenter. The person on stage was no exception.

This was the quote in question. It has been rendered in various forms to make the idea even more appealing.

Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate. Something interesting is happening.

Quote source:

Quote source:

Note: Images above link to sources. Original article with quote is here.

What I took issue with was a lack of attribution. The quote was bracketed up and down with the speaker’s company logo, name, and slogan. That made it seem as if he came up with the quote.

If the presentation was shared online, a link to the original quote could have allowed viewers to verify the source and authenticity of the quote.

I recalled reading the quote a while ago, so I Googled it. It was the opening paragraph of a TechCrunch article by Tom Goodwin.

I found it ironic that a speaker talking about 21st century competencies was not modelling a critical set of 21st century competencies (21CCs). It is easy to find anything on the Internet. It is harder to make sense of it, verify it, represent it, and give credit where credit is due.

You can talk 21CCs all you want, but can you walk them? Do you believe that 21CCs can only be taught or that they are also caught?

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Anyone who says X must be placed before technology needs to carefully consider whether this is always the case. In education, X is often pedagogy.

I have explained before why this dichotomous, cart-and-horse thinking is outdated. So to provoke refection, I share another example, this one closer to our hearts.

I am referring to our smartphones and how these wonders of technology change the way we talk and walk.

They change us so much that in 2014, the city of Chongqing, China, created pavements for smombie (smartphone zombie) pedestrians.

The same paper reported how Ausberg, Germany, is experimenting with traffic lights embedded in pavements for pedestrians who do not look up.

The casual reader might comment that these smartphone users are not being very smart. This does nothing to deflect the fact that such Darwin award-winning behaviours are increasingly common.

While local governments and schools will probably be involved in multi-pronged efforts to dissuade smombie walking, the fact remains that mobile phones have already shaped behaviours. The “technology effect” preceded other actions and reactions.

It is important to recognise that this happens and question what might become dogma like pedagogy-before-technology.

I am not saying that pedagogy is not important. I make a living off promoting progressive pedagogy in my workshops and seminars. I am saying that we should question our assumptions and work within different contexts.

To ignore that is to be dogmatic. That is just like being fixated on a mobile device while crossing the road instead of paying attention to environment.

If you listen to any major keynote or speech about educational leadership, you might hear the rhetoric on making decisions based on data.

This is definitely better than relying only on a feel-good factor, persuasive opinion, or charismatic sales pitch. But if we are going to make data-informed decisions, let us make the right ones.

According to this TechCrunch article, 98% of education funding in the USA is spent on learners after the age of 5. This is despite the diminishing returns of influencing learners after the age of 3.

Where did the latter figure come from?

Rate of return of human capital investment

According to research by the World Economic Forum, the return on investment drops rapidly after preschool. It rationalises that we should focus on preschool education more because it provides the foundation for adult cognition.

However, numbers alone do not tell the whole story. No sane decision makers would allow policy to dictate that the rest of schooling be deprioritised. They find other data to make those decisions. For example, they might use correlational data on the level of education of a population to economic wellbeing.

That said, numbers are seductive because they simplify complex phenomena. Take The Economist’s comparison of teacher salaries and work hours for example.

The Economist: Do shorter hours or higher wages make better teachers?

Without considering different contexts and quality of life, it relied solely on numbers to recommend which countries teachers could move to in order to get more money while working for fewer hours.

I do not know any real educator who would make that sort of data-informed decision. You would have to be a mercenary to do that. Or a bean-counting, number-only-crunching bureaucrat.

Numbers and graphs might help make sense of complex phenomena, but decisions cannot be based off spreadsheets alone. Most people understand that if they borrow from common sense. Even more might be terrified to learn how many decisions are actually made this way.

Those that prioritise by number-oriented data might argue they are doing things right. All of us need to remind them that it is far more important to do the right things.

I noticed my son writing an English comprehension sentence over and over again. He said that his teacher required it for correction work.

This reminded me of decontextualised practice when students repeatedly write Chinese characters.

While the writing of new Chinese characters by practice makes some sense, it is only for memorisation. There is no contextual need or use for the characters. The practice is not meaningful.

Likewise for the repetitive writing of sentences for English comprehension. Writing and rewriting a sentence repeatedly is pointless in the absence of feedback, an awareness of one or more answering strategies, and a lack of context.

Both are like pretending to ride a bicycle instead of actually riding a bicycle. It only looks ridiculous when you are not the one doing this and can see it from an outsider’s perspective.

When I asked my son if he knew why he was doing this, he simply replied, “No pain, no gain.”

Then he added, “The only thing that hurts is my hand.”

What is the point of pain if there is no gain in the brain?

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