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As I grapple with research trying to improve my instructional presentations, I have learned about Richard Mayer’s assertion that people learn better with words and graphics than just words alone. As a result, I have been investigating information about the role of graphics in learning. One natural extension of the reading that I have done thus far is Graphics for Learning by Clark and Lyons. Ruth Colvin Clark co-authored e-Learning with Richard Mayer.

The authors cite evidence that lessons with graphics that were appealing, yet did not support the learning objectives, hurt performance on tests. Graphics should be included with an eye to the instructional goal. In Graphics for Learning, the authors classify graphics by their communication functions:

  • Decorative
  • Representational
  • Mnemonic
  • Organizational
  • Relational
  • Transformational
  • Interpretive

Decorative graphics are, at best, tangentially related to the learning goals. At worst they have no relation. They may be added for aesthetic reasons or they may be intended to be humorous or motivating. The authors refer to decorative graphics as eye-candy and research shows that they can actually interfere with learning.

Eye candy does nothing to promote learning

Representative graphics are realistic depictions of something related to the learning objectives. Examples given by Clark and Lyons include screen captures or images of equipment.

Representative graphic of Ferdinand and Isabella

Mnemonic images can be used to help learners remember information. The authors regard these as powerful tools.

This depiction of a race car helps learning Morse Code for "R"

The next four types of graphics are referred to as explanatory graphics. They help learners construct mental models. They show relationships more effectively than words alone.

Organizational graphics show qualitative relations between content in a lesson. These would include most mind maps, organizational charts, tree diagrams, etc.

Organizational Graphic

Relational graphics illustrate quantitative relations between variables. Examples of relational graphics include line graphs, bar graphs, pie charts etc. Any graphic output from a spreadsheet program would be relational.

This graphic shows the relationship between 3 variables

Transformational graphics are used to show changes over time or space. These could include flow charts, step by step procedures, timelines, or animated graphics depicting changes. Arrows are a common characteristic in transformational graphics.

Illustration of process of photosynthesis (Credit Wikimedia Commons)

Interpretive Graphics show more abstract constructs such as a theory. They can also include cause and effect models.

Graphic illustrating impact of constant speed of light in Einstein's Theory of Relativity: If speed of light is constant, then time must slow down for the person on cart (Credit Wikimedia Commons)

Now that I have learned these distinctions among graphics, I examine those in my presentations and multimedia in a different way. It is not so important that we sort our graphics into neat categories, but it this serves as a way to think about our use of graphics. Clearly, the decorative graphics are best minimized. While representative graphics support learning, they do not help learners construct mental models as effectively as the four explanatory types.

In Multimedia Learning by Richard Mayer, the author surveyed the function of graphics in math and science texts and found that the overwhelming majority were either decorative or representational. Only a small percentage were explanatory.

We need to examine our work and consider the communication goal our graphics fulfill. I know that I need to find a way to integrate more explanatory graphics. These are more difficult to create than finding a CC licensed image and labeling it. I also wonder if some of the representational graphics that I use truly support my learning objectives. For example, does it matter what Ferdinand and Isabella looked like?

Clark and Lyons go further in exploring research regarding graphics for learning. They also explore the psychological function of graphics. This helps determine how to make our graphics more effective in meeting learning objectives. I plan to explore more of their ideas in future posts. Meanwhile, if you consider their ideas valuable, consider reading more work of their work:

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Jim Groom just got me fired up again. Groom, in conjunction with Brian Lamb, wrote an important article in Educause entitled Never Mind the Edupunks; or, The Great Web 2.0 Swindle. The article laments the corporatization of  Web 2.0 in education.  The authors acknowledge the appeal and power of free online services offered by Google and their ilk.

Without much effort, online teachers and learners can quickly assemble dynamic, networked personal learning environments simply by adopting the most popular tools in any particular domain. Having signed up for a Gmail account, a user can publish websites with Blogger, manage groups and mailing lists with Google Groups, videoconference with Google Talk, write collaboratively with Google Docs, track topics with Google Alerts, manage syndicated feeds with Google Reader, share video with YouTube, post images with Picassa, and do whatever it is that Google Wave is supposed to do.

They go further with the proposition:

It seems almost unfair to expect ed techs to compete with the awe-inspiring innovation of corporate Web 2.0. Indeed, in an era of economic austerity and the apparently futile race to meet the ever-changing needs of users, it is arguably inefficient and even irresponsible to spend resources providing inferior analogues.

They continue by making the case for eschewing the appealing free proprietary Web 2.0 tools in education citing a number of concerns.

The first concern is privacy. They cite Facebook’s “bait and switch tactics with users’ data.” They also mention the powerful data mining that Google employs every time we use one of their “free” services. I have always questioned whether we, particularly in the K12 domain, have the right to deliver our students, their content, and their data to these corporations.

Another obvious concern is advertising. They cite Steve Greenberg:

You are not Facebook’s customer. You are the product that they sell to their real customers—advertisers. Forget this at your peril.

Ultimately Facebook and Google are out to serve their real customers, not you. These free services will only continue if they meet the needs of the advertisers. If not, they may cease to exist or, in the case of Ning, cease to be free. Further, the presence of advertisers in student online experience is becoming yet more ubiquitous as we herd our them into free corporate services. We are teaching our students that this is the way it is on the Internet–just like TV.

Finally, they fear that cooperation between providers of free services and “cultural industries” will lead to corporate censorship. They cite several instances where YouTube by default has taken the side of the entertainment industry in taking down published content containing copyrighted materials even though they were within the domain of “fair use.”

They don’t make a blanket condemnation of the use of these services and they admit that use these services themselves. I must add that to decide to use these services for ourselves is not problematic as long as we understand the ramifications (which are almost always obscured). Again, to blithely hoist use of these services upon students is at best questionable. Groom and Lamb challenge Educational IT to “aspire to a vital mission: to being something more than consumers and cheerleaders for commercial products.” I fear that many in the educational technology area have indeed become unwitting shills for these services. How could Google get better advertising than it does in the #edtech and #edchat areas of Twitter?

Searching the footnotes in the article led me to another gem, Miguel Brieva’s poster in support of network neutrality.

This poster is hosted by the website Internet no será otra TV. There are larger copies of the poster that are easier to read, but only in Spanish.

The poster illustrates two humorous visions of the future of the Internet. The top depicts the Internet if corporate interests prevail in the battle over network neutrality. The bottom is a vision of an open Internet. Ultimately it may be something in between. In which direction would the widespread adoption  of free commercial online tools by education take us?

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My presentation design has been greatly influenced by Nancy Duarte’s book slide:ology and Garr Reynolds, the author of Presentation Zen. I have integrated their ideas in both my conferences and instructional presentations. Their advice has dramatically changed my practice from bullet points to slides that are more graphically oriented with much less text.

Both Duarte’ and Reynolds are focused on business presentations, whereas I am interested in instructional presentations. Reynolds talks about the importance of graphics as mnemonic devices that help retention of ideas. I wonder how these ideas would apply to an instructional presentation and how research should inform my practice. Having applied their ideas, I know my presentations look a lot better. I know the students enjoy them more, but I am not sure that the instruction is more effective.

In the first chapter of Presentation Zen, Reynolds quotes University of New South Wales Professor John Sweller saying, “The use of the PowerPoint presentation has been a disaster. It should be ditched.” He discusses this point in some detail in this blog post. He also quotes Professor Richard Mayer, author of Multimedia Learning. These have been the starting points of my inquiry.

I have found several papers authored or coauthored by Mayer. I have since purchased a copy of Mayer’s Multimedia Learning and Efficiency in Learning coauthored by Clark, Nguyen, and Sweller.

Mayer creates a cognitive model of the standard text bullet point presentation as shown below.

Illustration based upon Mayer’s Multimedia Learning p. 124

Mayer contends that using both spoken and written text in a presentation overloads the visual channel and interferes with the processing of the picture. My personal experience is that trying to listen to a speaker and read the printed word on a slide is very distracting. Mayer refers to this a the redundancy principle:

…eliminating redundancy is a useful way to reduce cognitive load. We refer to this result as a redundancy effect: Students understand a multimedia presentation better when words are presented as narration rather than as narration and on-screen text.  (Mayer & Moreno 2003)

Mayer asserts that the best approach is to use spoken words directed toward the auditory channel and pictures and animations for the visual channel.

Illustration based upon Mayer’s Multimedia Learning p. 124

This approach provides two sources of sensory processing without overloading either channel. Mayer refers the superiority of of simultaneously using words and pictures than just words as the multimedia principle (Mayer 2009 p. 223). More specifically, he speaks of a modality principle asserting that, “People learn more deeply from pictures and spoken words than from pictures and printed words” (Mayer 2009 p. 200). Using spoken words with pictures avoids the redundancy effect.

This is a rudimentary description of part of the theory behind some of the best selling books on presenting. I am reading Mayer’s Multimedia Learning and look forward to reflecting upon my instructional presentations. His book outlines eleven principles which, at first glance, are likely to help optimize my practice.

The work of Duarte and Reynolds have been a great starting point and have helped me hone my craft. I believe that classroom practitioners can benefit by digging deeper and exploring into this area of research. I plan to share my thoughts as I read more. I look forward to your thoughts.

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I recently created another BuddyPress test site and I am pleased with how much the procedure has been simplified. I blogged about the difficulty in the past, so it is only fair that I note vast improvements.

I never fully succeeded installing BP the first time I tried. It involved a long process of manually uploading a variety of files and opening them to edit the code in numerous places, then testing and adjusting. I was able to install BP itself, but I never quite got the forum component bbPress (then in Alpha) to work as it should. Trying again several months later (about a year ago), I succeeded and noted that it had been simplified to to a 13 step process still involving moving files and editing code.

Now BP can be installed entirely from WordPressMu and even plain WordPress entirely through the backend. There is no longer a need to use ftp at all or edit a single line of code. Simply install WP or WPMu then install BP through the plugin installer. One no longer must use ftp to manually move themes to the appropriate folder. Next activate one of the BP themes installed with the package through the Appearance menu. All that is left is activating bbPress by going to BuddyPress–>Forum Set up and basically turn it on.

BuddyPress is now installable to even those with few tech skills. Most shared hosting services with control panels have point and click WordPress installers. Now that WP and WPMu have merged, one could convert a standard installation to WPMu, but that still requires some mucking with code. If one needed the multi-blog functionality, it is probably easier to manually install WPMu than make the conversion. I’m sure that will change with time.

BuddyPress has joined Elgg as a viable replacement for proprietary solutions such as NING. I look forward to revisiting both and reporting my experiences.

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There are many resources on the Internet dedicated to open educational resources. Some are sites, for example Curriki, that provide online communities for sharing such resources. Others are search sites such as CC Search that provide links to open licensed resources throughout the Internet. The one variant that I have not yet found is a Torrent site dedicated to open educational resources.

A torrent, or more accurately a BitTorrent, is a decentralized peer to peer file sharing network protocol that is very effective for quickly moving large amounts of data across the Internet. A user, known as a seeder, who wishes to share a file must have a torrent client. Then they submit their information to a tracker, a site that coordinates the file sharing. Through the client and the tracker, a user makes the file available to others users to download. In turn, those who have downloaded the file share the file as well. The files are hosted on each individual’s hard drive rather than a central point. Once enough users have downloaded the file (and become seeders), data transmission can be very rapid.

Torrents tend to have a bad reputation because they are often used to share pirated software, music, and movies. Illegal sharing of textbooks is becoming more prevalent and has been blamed for falling textbook sales and even the closing of campus bookstores. In fact, there are those that call for the systematic scanning of textbooks for sharing as a means of countering the outrageous prices of college texts.

This is not what I am talking about. It seems to me that decentralized peer to peer sharing could be a powerful tool for sharing and distributing open licensed education resources. It employs distributed resources and storage rather than a central repository.

One potential problem would be users sharing materials that are not appropriately licensed. This problem exists on other platforms as well. While perusing Curriki for a curriculum project, I encountered a number of resources that were of questionable or even clearly commercial copyright terms. Such an undertaking would require a diligent community that polices the available content.

Another problem is the temporary nature of availability of the content. Over time those sharing the file (seeders) tend to dry up making downloads slow or just unavailable.

I am not necessarily advocating the use of torrents for sharing open educational resources, but I find the possibility interesting. I am interested in hearing other’s thoughts on the matter.

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