Podcasts are better than lectures

Students have been handed another excuse to skip class from an unusual quarter. New psychological research suggests that university students who download a podcast lecture achieve substantially higher exam results than those who attend the lecture in person. Podcasted lectures offer students the chance to replay difficult parts of a lecture and therefore take better notes, says Dani McKinney, a psychologist at the State University of New York in Fredonia, who led the study. “It isn’t so much that you have a podcast, it’s what you do with it,” she says. Launched less than two years ago, Apple’s iTunes university offers college lectures on everything from Proust to particle physics to students and the public. Some universities make their lectures available to all, while others restrict access to enrolled students. Some professors even limit downloads to encourage class attendance, McKinney says.
New Scientist 18 February 2009; tip from Georg Holzer

Hmmm… nice. Beats huge, overcrowded lecture halls, for sure. When I was studying in Berlin the professors there were so strange or difficult for me to relate to that I only managed to stay awake by eating candy bars and drinking coffee. How many times did I wish I could hear something again because I’d missed it, my mind off on a tangent. I wouldn’t want to replace all lessons with remote learning. Seminars and workshops are so much more effective face to face, where you can use all of the vibes that a group of interested people create. But it’s the mix of doing things on your own terms, alone and with others, and using those moments alone when your system says “go! now! I’m ready!” that feels so right.

You know, it’s a pity that the only real money is in face to face training. Or do you see things differently?


For over a year now my dear host Christian has put up with my Moodle platform. You’ll remember, I ran a few courses on it and did something for the LMU and for the VHS, and I was intending to run a train-the-trainer session for MELTA. But being hacked has come as a shock and is just really the last straw in a process that has turned me off to Moodle.

The problem with my Moodle is, frankly, that my business clients will always get in touch with me using their preferred means, their messaging systems, not following some unique rules that a Moodle course sets up for them. Moodle is good for schools and universities that need to manage complicated distance learning setups, because teachers need to impose discipline to manage the large number of people and tasks involved. That’s why Open University and the Fachhochschule für angewandtes Management use it successfully. But in adult education as a platform for blended learning providing space for projects? I think using other applications, such as a proper wiki, is probably better.

It’s been kind of cool to be able to show my Moodle site to people. It used to frustrate me at teachers’ conferences, when techie teachers talked about what they were doing and how they were doing it, to notice that they knew how, theoretically, but they weren’t really applying it because there wasn’t much demand, or because, frankly, it didn’t work all that well and the content and didactics were slave to the technology. I’m a very practical person, and the only way to find out whether something is good is to work with it, intensively and extensively, with different types of users or learners.  Since I’m not afraid to make a fool of myself, I was able to show my Moodle stuff for what it really was.

Right now there is other work to be done, so I don’t know how the saga will continue. Maybe this is the final curtain for my Moodle. Christian has offered to have a second look. So maybe not. But as far as my interest in online learning is concerned, this is most definitely not, as the Germans say, das Ende vom Lied :-) !

Cheap, cheap, cheap

The world’s cheapest computer, the Sakshat, which translates as “before your eyes”, is being developed in India. It’s supposed to cost 1000 Rupees (16 Euros) initially and to come down to 500 Rupees (8 Euros) through mass production. It’s a joint project of the Vellore Institute of Technology, the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, the Indian Institute of Technology in Madras and the state-controlled Semiconductor Complex, so time will tell if they can meet their launch date in 6 months. The prototype laptop has 2Gb of RAM and wireless connectivity. This machine will be a lot cheaper than the “$100 laptop”, the XO designed by scientists at MIT, which is having difficulties generating sales. (Guardian)

I stumbled upon this barrier-free education portal. Interesting. Nice for a bit of Indian English, too.


Wijng is an emerging online platform for learning English, and currently it’s free. I’ve looked at a few of the units, including one on skiffle, that nice music of the 50s, and here are a few thoughts:

  • The makers of this platform are taking existing videos, e.g. on YouTube. These are not skripted or specifically spoken and produced for language learners, so they contain “real” English. This is not “good” or “bad”, it all depends on how the media is taken apart to allow the learner to process the language. The makers then transcribe the spoken text. Some of the videos have subtitles in the video – a function allowed by YouTube.
  • Other lessons are made out of news articles that are simplified for the learner.
  • Still others present a tense or other grammar point with explanations in German
  • The makers provide vocabulary lists at the bottom of the transcript/text.
  • The explanations and questions/ responses are in German.
  • There are four kinds of exercises, content-based multiple choice and true/false/no information questions, plus vocabulary or grammar drag and drop or type in.
  • A very nice feature: Extra tips or hints are provided in the language exercises themselves to help the learner make his or her decision.
  • However, there are no explanations with the feedback to the exercises – just “right/wrong”. Not good.
  • There seem to be some bugs in the software compiling the results; the system told me I hadn’t completed the exercise.
  • They have introduced tracking and evaluation of the learner’s overall work and progress, perhaps similar to what Dalango, the Spotlight Verlag learning platform I introduced recently, does, but I haven’t seen how either works and what the user gets out of it.

Overall a nice and friendly approach. We all know how much time and money goes into producing a good video, so this is an attempt to keep it simple. The makers of the site could, however, improve it in the following ways without incurring any real costs:

  • provide simple questions and answers in English.
  • accompany the feedback with explanations.
  • add pictures and charts to the grammar lessons

A bigger problem is the didactic concept of placing “grammar lessons” in the basic level (A) and “comprehension lessons” in the section for more advanced learners (B). That’s quite oldfashioned, dear Wijngers! But yes, it is very hard to find videos with “simple” language for lower level learners. I personally don’t think that web-based training is suitable for the (A) level learner. I do include video extensively in my own lower-level classes. I show the same videos – the students and I just process them very differently!

A huge problem for any public media-based project such as Wijng is that they simply can’t compete for content and methodology with a fabulous platform such as the BBC Learning English, which has masses of good journalism and didactic expertise in-house, all available online for free. This is something that an established learners’ magazine such as Spotlight is up against, too. So Wijng needs to develop its own profile and personality to find its audience, just like any media product. I’m all for good free content on the internet (that’s a no-brainer) and am curious to see whether Wijng finds a way to make it work. Their project blog is here.

Nick Peachey on video

One of my favorite educators in the blogosphere has posted a series about online video and what it has to offer teachers and learners:


A star is born. Dalango is a brand-new web-based series of language courses (English, Business English, Spanish).


1/2 a year in the works, a major investment (so they say), Spotlight Verlag inside expertise and cool young dudes and gals bringing in new media ideas, some 300 minutes worth of good videos based on great scripts, subtitles, 6,000 interactive exercises (that’s per language), along with tracking and evaluation software. Aimed at the intermediate learner. Under 10 euros a month for a six-month package. Hope it finds lots of fans and gives us all, web-based teachers and learners alike, a shot in the arm.


Paying for Web 2.0, part 1

Steve Hargadon, the man who was the consultant to the social networking service Ning in Education, is out of his paid job due to the economic downturn. (See his blogpost Thanks, Ning.) I’m almost ashamed to admit that I have taken this great service for granted, to the extent that I didn’t use it nearly enough, thinking, “Oh, I’ll get around to that later.” But of course Web 2.0 is a product just like anything else, and if you don’t contribute, it will not survive. There are many ways to pay for a service, but not using it is not one of them. Use it or lose it.

Visit Classroom 2.0

His Classroom 2.0 is nominated for best educational use of a social networking service in the 2008 Edublog Awards (winner 2007).