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Dalibor Svoboda

Multimedia school books in education.

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The Knowledge Foundation and the project “A new generation of school books”.

Background.

The Knowledge Foundation was established in 1994. The starting financial base of The Foundation was 3,6 billions of Swedish crowns. In the first ten years, the foundation has invested almost five billion Swedish kronor in projects related to research, competence development in industry and ICT development in the schools.

The Knowledge Foundation can be found at: http://www.kks.se/templates/StandardPage.aspx?id=84

ICT in education

In order to promote growth in Sweden over the long term, the Knowledge Foundation supports development in Swedish schools. With investments at both the national and regional level, the Foundation wants to increase ICT use, develop the school’s different ways of working and stimulate children in their desire to learn. Around 1,2 billions of Swedish crowns was invested in projects related towards these goals.

In 1996 the Knowledge Foundation commenced two programs for ICT in schools:

1. One program where schools in 55 local government communes have participated in 28 larger and 65 smaller projects with the aim of stimulating ICT development within schools.

The projects have been carried out in co-operation with the local government communes, which have partly financed the projects.

For example the answer on the question Where to teach?, was searched with the help of not so few of the 65 smaller projects. Many of them were distance learning projects equipped with modern lap tops.

2. The Knowledge Foundation has also provided assistance to approximately 94 teaching materials projects with the aim of offering ICT based teaching materials to schools.

I did work with this second project during it’s whole length therefore I would like to give a first hand account of it. The other source of my information about the “A new generation of school textbooks” as the project was officially called is based at the evaluation report published 2002.

“A new generation of school textbook” started 1996 with the budget of 120 millions SEK. The main goal of the project was to deliver to the Swedish schools on the verge to enter ICT age, multimedia school books with a new kind of pedagogy. (The secondary goal was to create the stable ground for a creation of future multimedia industry in Sweden.) The project time was outstretched throughout three years with six applications rounds. During these publishers and publishing houses, ICT companies, universities and colleges, film and theater groups, different add hoc groups consisting of writers, ICT people and pedagogue, non governmental organizations (Save the children, Red Cross …), vocational teaching organizations and schoolteachers were supposed to seek funding for their own pedagogical project.

The first round of applications was dealt with during autumn 1996. Four more rounds of incoming application were subsequently organized with two rounds each year, one during springtime and the second in autumn. The Foundation received around 1000 applications which were evaluated by a small group of “experts”. 94 projects were chosen for funding. About 20 of these 94 were history projects. The last round of application never went on. The foundation made a judgment that there weren’t any new ideas for multimedia school books around.

1999 the Foundation expressed a wish to evaluate “A new generation of school books” project. The evaluation concentrate itself at the pedagogical and economical aspects of the projects and also how the Foundation should proceed in the light of what was done etc.

Some of the conclusions of evaluation report:

ICT in schools was at this time (around 1999-2000)believed to be necessary and important pedagogical tool to achieve a new way of learning as it was described in the Swedish Educational directives. Nevertheless there were only scattered amount of teachers who supported this vision. The ICT based pedagogy seldom made it into schools everyday pedagogy.

The pedagogical interaction between traditional school text books and the new multimedia school books was at the start seldom debated later neglected. The Foundation lacked strategy for the schools choice decision between the traditional text books and the multimedia textbooks.

The criteria for new multimedia school books and how they should be used in every day’s pedagogy was never discussed in an exhaustingly way.

The marketing of the new multimedia schools books were neglected mostly because the production groups put most of the energy into productions. In too many cases the producing group didn’t have any knowledge about dissemination of the product into the schools.

The market for the multimedia school books was worth of around 25 millions Swedish crowns a year. This market could not absorb additional 40 millions a year of new products. The publishing houses and other professional’s providers of educational material withdrew their support.

The Knowledge Foundation stimulated and funded individual actors striving to produce products without engaging itself in long-term strategy of developing knowledge and competence about how these products could be used in the future.

The quality of products funded by The Knowledge Foundation was not good enough when compared to similar products elsewhere around.

Should the teaching and learning be done altogether inside the computers (connected to internet)? Should multimedia school books with abundance of pictures, movie sequences, music, speeches and text plus supported by huge amount of interactivity be expected to do most of the pedagogy in the near future?

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Dalibor asks:

Should multimedia school books with abundance of pictures, movie sequences, music, speeches and text plus supported by huge amount of interactivity be expected to do most of the pedagogy in the near future?

The short answer is "no". As a teacher of modern languages, I have used different media for the whole of my career, dating back to the 1960s: tape recordings of authentic human voices speaking foreign languages, video recordings, overhead projectors for making presentations, TV and radio. All of these different media have proved very useful and they can now be combined in a computer connected to the Internet - which makes it more convenient, but this does not - and should not - remove the human being from the teaching process.

I tend to take the same view as Angela McFarlane, Professor of Education and Director of Learning Technology, Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol, who writes:

"What we do know, whether from personal experience as teacher or learner, or as the result of 20 years of research into the question, is that ICT has an impact on learning, for some learners, under some conditions, and that it cannot replace a teacher. We know that a key factor in impact at school level is and remains the teacher, whose role in managing and integrating the ICT-based experiences learners have with the rest of the curriculum and culture is vital and probably always will be."

Times Educational Supplement, ICT in Education Online, 26 April 2002, p. 17.

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Should the teaching and learning be done altogether inside the computers (connected to internet)? Should multimedia school books with abundance of pictures, movie sequences, music, speeches and text plus supported by huge amount of interactivity be expected to do most of the pedagogy in the near future?

On both counts, no. Wholly ICT-delivered courses have a chequered history. One prestigious American university in the 1960s/70s used computer-assisted learning to compensate for its difficulty in recruiting instructors in less commonly taught languages. The highly intelligent and motivated participating students dropped out one by one as their initial enthusiasm waned. Education involves social interaction with other human beings. Technology can't supply that.

Multimedia applications are a mixed blessing too. When the wonderful Broderbond talking books ("Granny and me" etc) first appeared in the 1990s, teachers and students at my school elbowed each other out of the way to get a better view of the screen. Two weeks later, the interest had all but evaporated. Why? Because there was no on- or off-computer follow up. This is where many educational software developers go wrong. They produce something with a high "wow!" factor, but omit to include in the package any teachers' notes suggesting how the program might be integrated into ordinary classroom practice and used to enrich the curriculum. They either don't know any better or they don't care.

There may well be a belief around that only the latest technology will do. I don't subscribe to that belief. A video may seem better than a picture because it's multisensory, but it can have the disadvantage of imparting a complex mass of messages too, many of them irrelevant to, and distracting from, the simple point that the teacher wants to make. When teaching languages, I prefer drawings to photographs, because once again, the visual complexity of a photograph can distract the student from the meaning the teacher wishes to convey. When choosing the delivery medium, it all comes down to fitness for purpose. Be aware that every medium has its constraints as well as its benefits.

David Wilson

http://www.specialeducationalneeds.com/

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David writes:

Multimedia applications are a mixed blessing too. When the wonderful Broderbond talking books ("Granny and me" etc) first appeared in the 1990s, teachers and students at my school elbowed each other out of the way to get a better view of the screen. Two weeks later, the interest had all but evaporated. Why? Because there was no on- or off-computer follow up.

"Just Grandma and Me" and various other publications in the same Talking Books series were beautifully produced, but on their own they had limited value. Interest quickly waned once the kids had clicked on every possible object on the screen. However, I once saw an interesting presentation given by a teacher of English in France, which centred on "The Tortoise and the Hare" CD-ROM in the Talking Books series. His approach was to use it for whole-class teaching, projected on a large screen. The pictures and the animations became stimuli for the learners to describe what was happening on the screen, what had happened, what might happen, etc...

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I think this posting from Dalibor is very useful for people in other countries. The background to the Knowledge Foundation is that Sweden introduced Employee Investment Funds in the mid-1980s. These involved the transfer of a percentage of company profits to a publicly-held fund, which was intended to be used to stimulate the Swedish economy.

The Funds were widely hated by the parties of the Right, and their abolition was carried out in haste in the dying days of the Conservative government of 1991-1994. The bodies which were set up to handle the money in the Employee Investment Funds were deliberately set up as trusts, with nominated board members (many of whom were politicians from the right), in a way which would prevent public accountability.

The Knowledge Foundation was one of these. Its first chairman was widely disliked in the IT and education sectors and it took a long time to get rid of him. As Dalibor has shown, huge amounts of public money were disbursed by the Foundation … with rather meagre results.

I'm one of the people who deliberately avoided applying to them for funds (as soon as I'd seen how they worked), since I couldn't really understand how they could be making the investment decisions they were making. The whole procedure looked like a way of spending budgets (and making sure they were spent on the right people) than a way of promoting IT in education in Sweden. I remember once standing on a square in Stockholm with one of the key decision-makers from the Fund, observing him disburse 15 million kronor to a mate of his who happened to come by on his bicycle! OK, the real story was a little more structured than that, but the basic problem was that you stood the best chance of success in being awarded funds if you lived in Stockholm … which people usually stood the least chance of success in actually achieving anything. IT is by its very nature a de-centralised, autonomous beast, and the people in the centre are often the ones who understand it least.

Good work has been done by the Knowledge Foundation … but hardly in a way which has been proportionate to the amount of money which has passed through its hands.

One of the recurring themes (which has been duplicated all over the world) is that content tends to come last in favour of heavy investment in hardware and flash-looking programming.

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I remember once standing on a square in Stockholm with one of the key decision-makers from the Fund, observing him disburse 15 million kronor to a mate of his who happened to come by on his bicycle!

Eureka!

Things must be pretty easy at that time according to you. I must have been awfully stupid. Working for the Knowledge Foundation and at the same time not discovering how easy I could make a fortune!!

Couldn’t I too go past this decision-makers at the square? Twice!!?? Just making twice as much?

I could be living on Bahamas with 30 millions on my hidden account now, couldn’t I?

With your casual and bantering posting you took in a couple of minute’s honour and decency of hard working and dedicated man and women who worked dutifully to achieve what they believed in, namely promotion of ICT based education in the schools.

Without actually saying a word about multimedia school books!

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I was making an aside comment, Dalibor. At the time, I was part of a project in St Petersburg which was being well and truly sabotaged by the Stockholm elite who also did so much to sabotage the work of the early years of the Knowledge Foundation …

For the record, I have a great deal of admiration for much of the specific stuff that came out of Knowledge Foundation projects. The only problem is that those specific projects weren't really what the Knowledge Foundation was all about. Their main brief was to find ways to promote ICT in general in Sweden … and my judgement is that we haven't really got very far since 1994, since schools still work more or less in the same way that they did then (despite the spending of so much money).

As usual, it was not the people that did the work that pocketed the money …

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Dalibor asks:
Should multimedia school books with abundance of pictures, movie sequences, music, speeches and text plus supported by huge amount of interactivity be expected to do most of the pedagogy in the near future?

The short answer is "no". As a teacher of modern languages, I have used different media for the whole of my career, dating back to the 1960s: tape recordings of authentic human voices speaking foreign languages, video recordings, overhead projectors for making presentations, TV and radio. All of these different media have proved very useful and they can now be combined in a computer connected to the Internet - which makes it more convenient, but this does not - and should not - remove the human being from the teaching process.

I tend to take the same view as Angela McFarlane, Professor of Education and Director of Learning Technology, Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol, who writes:

"What we do know, whether from personal experience as teacher or learner, or as the result of 20 years of research into the question, is that ICT has an impact on learning, for some learners, under some conditions, and that it cannot replace a teacher. We know that a key factor in impact at school level is and remains the teacher, whose role in managing and integrating the ICT-based experiences learners have with the rest of the curriculum and culture is vital and probably always will be."

Times Educational Supplement, ICT in Education Online, 26 April 2002, p. 17.

Just a thought ….. not in any way argument against your view which I accept and as a matter of fact always put forward in many discussion I did have with Swedish colleagues …..

Your postings are showing a sceptical approach towards multimedia school books.

I’m with you when you point out that a role played in schools by teachers couldn’t be underestimated.

Nevertheless distance learning or as in Sweden the Mobile Upper Secondary schools which practise distant learning are not depended on everyday interconnections between students and teachers.

Aren’t then multimedia school books helping curious students to achieve knowledge in a better way than traditional text books?

And what about “life long learning”? Wouldn’t it be helped much better by multimedia school books than by old-fashioned conventionally written traditional books?

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The Knowledge Foundation stimulated and funded  individual actors striving to produce products without engaging itself in long-term strategy of developing knowledge and competence about  how these products could be used in the future.

The quality of products funded by The Knowledge Foundation was not good enough when compared to similar products elsewhere around.

The idea of subsidizing commercial ICT products is unlikely to result in high quality teaching materials. The UK e-learning credits scheme is a good example of this. Unless you are very careful, money provided by governments or charitable foundations is used to reward inefficiency and incompetence. Governments should do one or two things: (1) Leave the market alone and allow those commercial companies producing ICT products that teachers do not want, to go bust: (2) Provide money to those teachers with a track record to produce online ICT materials that are free to use by all the world’s teachers and students. That is why I believe the Knowledge Foundation and the UK government got it wrong and the EU with its Socrates scheme got it right.

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Dalibor asks:

Aren’t then multimedia school books helping curious students to achieve knowledge in a better way than traditional text books?

The short answer is "yes". As a language teacher I have been using mixed media (books, tape recordings, video recordings, etc) for the whole of my career - which goes back to the mid-1960s. Multimedia is a tremendous advantage insofar as all the different media can be integrated and played back on a single piece of hardware. However, because language teaching is dependent so much on interpersonal communication, it would be unwise to think of multimedia as a substitute for face-to-face teaching and learning; rather it should be considered as a useful supplement. Bear in mind that we, as language teachers, are imparting four basic skills (listening, speaking, reading and writing) that require many, many hours of intensive practice (like musical skills) as well as knowledge (of grammar, culture, etc). Multimedia lends itself well to practising and assessing some aspects of the four basic skills - but not all of them. See the ICT4LT site: http://www.ict4lt.org (ICT for Language Teachers), where we discuss the pros and cons of multimedia in detail, especially in Module 2.2.

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I feel that the inability of governments and quasi-government bodies to be leaders in the field of ICT in education also has something to do with the nature of multi-media books. We're now living in a 'niche-based' world, where learning environments can be created very cheaply and easily, using fairly low-level technology. This means that individual teachers have an enormous amount of control over their learning environments, if they are able to - or choose to - exercise it. Ultimately the choice is between creating your own environments or using an environment which doesn't really fit what you're trying to do.

At the same time, creating multi-media books is a lot more expensive than creating conventional ones, so publishers need a high likelihood of making a killing in order to venture into the field at all. In addition to this, the copyright situation is extremely fuzzy. It's akin to educational videos: who's the ultimate copyright-holder, the director of the project, the programmers, the graphic artists, the teacher/s who thought of the original concept, the script writers, the actors?

It also takes a long time to produce multi-media books, compared with the time it takes to put an on-line lesson or course together, so the chances are that it'll be slightly out-of-date before it even reaches the pupil or student.

--------

If this is the case, have I painted a very black future for multi-media in education? Well … I think not. It's the current paradigm of the production process that's flawed, in my opinion. When we've got enough on-line courses and materials, then publishers will be able to see which of them lend themselves to further exploitation. However, if they're going to avoid suffocating the creative processes on which they're going to depend in order to keep the stream of potentially viable projects flowing, they're going to have to encourage the thousand flowers to bloom, which means supporting the free exchange of learning ideas between autonomous professionals.

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An example of the

'niche-based' world, where learning environments can be created very cheaply and easily, using fairly low-level technology
, to which David refers is the BBC Languages site. The BBC has taken the decision to create no more broadcast TV language programmes for adult learners. Why? Creating a website is cheaper (v. the excellent old Buorgiorno Italia, A Vous la France and Deutsch Direkt series of the 1980s, which must have been expensive to produce). The BBC Languages website is good, but it's nothing like as good as the TV broadcasts of yesteryear - and it's pretty boring by comparison.

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With all respect to the wisdom about multimedia school books I could take part of from all the postings after mine own I do have feelings that we in our debate somehow do miss a point. For example some debaters describe the pedagogical movement on internet which in itself is enough to create a pedagogical climate for learning. Others are against subsidising ……

My point was rather simple, namely; why are multimedia school books until today nonexistent in the schools when at the same time conventional school books are used in every subject in every classroom in every school throughout the world?

The Knowledge Foundation only subsidised the productions. The producers were in many cases rather professional groups with huge pedagogical and producing skills. The conventional schoolbooks publishers were a significant group within the chosen projects. So why didn’t they succeed?

Furthermore the multimedia school books integrated texts with sounds together with pictures and movies and on top of that offered interactivity. It seems to me that the teachers long standing hopes of dreamed school books were at hand. And yet these books seldom made into the Swedish schools. Why?

In this perspective one has to ask itself: Will our own multimedia school book “E - HELP” be more successful?

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why are multimedia school books until today nonexistent in the schools when at the same time conventional school books are used in every subject in every classroom in every school throughout the world?

Is the multimedia schoolbook not just another example of an ICT solution in search of an undefined educational problem? It's not good enough to develop an electronic application, however worthy, in isolation, just because the developers can. More effort has to be spent on devising ways of integrating it into a traditional school curriculum. Conventional schoolbooks are familiar resources, they're compact and portable. They don't need batteries. And they leave the pupil room for imagination, room to supply their own visual and auditory enhancements. What do they say about radio, where the sole medium is sound? The pictures are better!

David Wilson

http://www.specialeducationalneeds.com/

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I think we've seen it all before - technology hailed as the panacea:

In 1922 Thomas Edison predicted that 'the motion picture is destined to revolutionize our educational system and [...] in a few years it will supplant largely, if not entirely, the use of textbooks.' Twenty-three years later, in 1945, William Levenson, the director of the Cleveland public schools' radio station, claimed that 'the time may come when a portable radio receiver will be as common in the classroom as is the blackboard.' Forty years after that the noted psychologist B.F. Skinner, referring to the first days of his 'teaching machines,' in the late 1950s and early 1960s, wrote, 'I was soon saying that, with the help of teaching machines and programmed instruction, students could learn twice as much in the same time and with the same effort as in a standard classroom.'

[...]

The cycle began with big promises backed by the technology developers' research. In the classroom, however, teachers never really embraced the new tools, and no significant academic improvement occurred. (Oppenheimer 1997:45)

Source:

Oppenheimer T. (1997) "The Computer Delusion", The Atlantic Monthly 280, 1 (July 1997): 45-62:

http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/97jul/computer.htm

I guess that both David Wilson and I are sceptical because, as language teachers of a similar age, we experienced what happened following the introduction of the language lab in schools in the 1960s.

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