Last night was an exceptional one in my college class. We were set to talk about evaluating software. As the students were looking at three pieces of software that we are fortunate enough to have on our computers and one on my laptop, I sent out a Tweet. I said that I was waiting for class to look at software so we could talk about evaluating. Lucky for me, my Cyber Angel, Sylvia Martinez was on Twitter at the same time and said she would have a lot to say on the topic.
So, proving that the world is truly flat, I asked Sylvia to Skype into my classroom and join the discussion. I should probably mention that I have had Skype on my computer for a year, but never used it for a phone call. This is the sort of fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants that either makes me look brilliant --- or a fool! Lucky for me, it was brilliant. I was lucky to have a brilliant guest!
For those who might not know her, Sylvia Martinez is the president of GenYes and has years of experience in software development. Her insight is phenomenal and was just what this rather quiet class needed. Before the call, we had a mini-conversation on the four vastly different pieces of software we had looked at. The students enjoyed the interactiveness of some and wondered about the breadth of others. When Sylvia was on the phone, she talked about the great promise of "blank page" software. She quoted my hero, Peter H. Reynolds, who is also a proponent of the blank page. Peter owns a bookstore and if anyone asks him what the best book in the store is, the international famous - New York Times best selling illustrator points to the blank books that they sell. So both of these marvelous mentors point to the wide range of implications of the blank page to curricula. Sylvia wowed the class and provided the impetus for a great conversation.
After the call, there was an excellent discussion about software and what to look for. When I went back to Twitter after class, I noticed that Dr. Gary Stager had asked me why we evaluate software. He questioned why we don't apply that same scrutiny to items such as textbooks. I replied with, " The reason I talk about software eval is because some people let software dictate curricula-instead of the other way around." I think my job, as an instructor, is to get students to evaluate all media. Whether it be a Web 2.0 application, a piece of software, a video used in class, a textbook, or any other media. I think most techie-people will agree to that.
Dr. Stager's point seems to include why we use a canned, out of the book type rubric to evaluate media. Do we use that same rigid and generic criteria to evaluate textbooks? Good and thought provoking question. Truth be told, I start the conversation with such a rubric. The rubric in our book asks students to look at things like content and navigation. The reason I extend the conversation is that there are a LOT of things that are not in the rubric. Many good pieces of software would NOT rate well on that rubric. An example would be the new software Animation-Ish. Blank page software does not fall neatly in the package of the rubric. The student doesn't receive feedback from the software and there isn't any teacher monitoring.
So, the question is, how do we start the conversation with future teachers about evaluating media. Seems to be a tender balancing act to help distinguish between the groundbreaking achievements in software development and the slick and/or shiny objects that people become enamored with. We must provide guidance in selection so that the objectives/education drives the media acquisition and not the other way around.
I sincerely want to thank Sylvia Martinez for her participation. I also want to thank Gary Stager for asking the tough questions. My favorite undergraduate teacher, Dr. Berg, quoted one of his instructors when he would say, "Anything worth believing is worth questioning." It is critical in this education/information explosion to question why we do what we do and how we choose what companies and materials get to be viewed and explored by our most valuable asset....our students!
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