Online teaching takes many shapes and isn’t always conventional in form. One of the more compelling online pedagogical approaches is digital storytelling that combines audiovisual elements and focuses on a human interest story. A well-known medium for digital storytelling is the audio slideshow. Audio slideshows have been around for some time and have been used successfully by reporters and online issues of newspapers and journals.

I recently accompanied our department’s photographer on a story that seemed to be a solid fit for an audio slideshow. Our objective was to distill a “day in the life” of a group of laborers, referred to as “Hoedads,” who spend much of their day traversing difficult terrain in remote areas of Oregon in order to plant saplings. The “office” of the typical Oregonian Hoedad is expansive and oftentimes stunning–lending itself to the visual medium. Their work can be characterized as much by the sounds of their singing, banter and tools as it can by their weather-worn faces. We felt the audio slideshow format would help us highlight these compelling images and couple them with audio accompaniment. While a layer of narrative can be  added to provide context, some of most powerful stories are those that utilize the ambient sounds and highlight the most salient moments of the event with an appropriate photo. In the example below, the “Bagging Up” section is an example of story without narration.

Hoedad Audio Slideshow

The Basics

Audio slideshows combine high quality photographs with “on-the-ground” synchronized audio. The typical audio slideshows display photographs for 7  to 15 seconds (shorter or longer when needed) and often include audio narrative and ambient sounds that help the viewer identify locale and the slideshow character’s mood, activity, and circumstances. The rate of pacing and the integration of audiovisual elements draw the viewer’s attention to significant and discrete moments in the narrative. The overall quality of audio slideshows generally hinges on several elements: appropriate photographs, high-quality audio, a compelling and appropriate narrative, and accessibility, and usability of the end product.

This medium can be used to tell various types of stories, but as mentioned, is best suited for human interest stories. Examples of how audio slideshows have been used to tell such stories can be found in many different online versions of newspapers and journals. Some compelling examples come from the New York Times.

New York Times: One in eight million

New York Times: Choosing to Stay, Fighting to Rebuild (Rebuilding in Haiti)

Other current and potential Extension uses of this tool could include:

•    Oral history projects
•    Short autobiographies
•    Brief narratives about a significant location or occurrence
•    Stories of individuals overcoming hardship
•    Interesting and relatively unknown jobs or industries that highlight individuals (i.e. Hoedad story)

Software Used

For slideshow: Soundslides Plus, SoundForge or other audio editing tools
For website: Dreamweaver, Fireworks, CSS, HTML and some Flash

Hardware Used

SLR digital camera, high-end flash card microphone, shotgun microphone with windscreen for long-range audio, computer with sufficient speed to process editing tasks.

I’ve been waiting patiently, but couldn’t take it any longer as I’ve watched more and more friends whip out their iPhone 3G to get a GPS fix on our location or perform some other mundane task sliced, diced and served on the micro-mobile-super computer that is the iPhone 3G. I know, I’m late to the party, but from the perspective of a technophile, I have to admit I’ve felt very much like Batman’s understudy in these situations. Ultimately, I just couldn’t wait for Veriiphone5zon and Apple to make nice.  I honestly don’t know where to start and I’m not accustomed to blushing, so I’ll simply share where I see potential as it relates to learning apps on the iPhone in general.  But first things first: I’m now convinced that any dialog about the iPhone should begin with a mandatory effort to share one’s favorite iPhone apps.  In that vein, the list below highlights my top 10 learning or educational apps for the iPhone, and attempts to point out where innovation and learning potential inherent to each app might paint a picture of potential future approaches in the world of online learning experiences.

Chris’ Top 10 Eductional Apps for the iPhone

1. Touch Physics by Games 4 Touch

A glimpse of the future now: seamless, motivational learning that is fun, kinesthetic and fully accessible. Learn about friction, gravity, mass, angles and other principles of physics via a clever game that allows you to exercise agency on both the physical and mental level–suitable for just about any age over 4 years old. I’m completely intrigued by the category of “Doodle games” (games where you draw objects on the touch screen that instantiate themselves in the game). These games open up a world of possibilities for any subject and seem like the perfect convergence of device, content and user motivation.  I would be remiss if I also didn’t mention Geared by Bryan Mitchel–an extremely elegant interface that allows the user to manipulate spinning gears around variables of distance, proximity and speed.

2. Kindle for the iPhonekindle1
Of course you lose some ergonomics when compressing the Kindle into the iPhone shell, but the distribution system for e-books (especially those in the public domain) is wonderful. This app has a clever interface, lots of free books and access to the Amazon catalog via a “get book” button.

3. Abc Pocket Phonics

It’s not so much that my five year old adores this application (he does), but it’s what this type of application represents. For language acquisition, the approach is a highly compelling supplement and the touch screen features allow users to trace letters while listening to the sound or word.
Need to learn Chinese characters? Try eStroke Chinese Characters

4. iSeismometer


This application brought back memories of the first time I realized that the Wii controllers house an acceleramator and a gyrometer to measure motion and tilt. This application allows the iPhone to react to various types of external motion. This app provides a very innovative way to learn about how motion is translated into a digital representation.  You can submit your data directly to a website that associates your location with your seismograph data.  Can you think of some learning contexts for this technology?

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When I was a kid, the whole world was one giant “Learn-O-Rama.” For the most part (outside of the standard classroom), I picked what interested me and learned my way through it. It was a nonlinear process, much like a bloodhound follows its nose to sniff out new information.

Nonlinear learning suggests that how we work our way through information can itself contain information, and frame our learning. “It’s the road not the destination,” said Jared Bendis, a multimedia developer who works and teaches in the area of nonlinear multimedia storytelling at Case Western. This may seem like a new concept to many: the idea that the learner chooses the sequence in which they learn new material.

But the idea on nonlinear learning isn’t new. It’s been discussed in the literature for some time. It’s only in the past few years that tools have emerged to take advantage of a nonlinear approach and put it within reach of educators, not just programmers (remember Macromedia Director and Toolbook? Yikes.) One tool we’ve discussed here before is Pachyderm, a multimedia web-based authoring program that creates highly interactive flash presentations without having to be an Adobe Flash programmer. (See Chris’s Pachyderm post.)
Fractal Blues
Most online learning remains linear with learner choices limited to “next-page-previous-page.” What nonlinear learning offers is a model based on self-organization of ideas by the learner where, as Eleanor Duckworth points out in The Having of Wonderful Ideas, “the individual has done the work of putting [ideas] together for himself or herself, and they give rise to new ways to put them together.”

“Learning often takes jumps throwing new light on and affecting much that has been learned before,” says Dr. Uri Merry of the Institute of Organizational Consultation. “In learning sometimes a small input can have enormous reverberations. We learn with disorderly jumps between whole and parts, parts and whole.” (Nonlinear learning LO14329.) When you combine this nonlinearity with the power of these disorderly jumps in learning, you arrive at a place of wonderful chaos. The kind of chaos that made learning so effective and compelling to us as kids.

A nonlinear approach is not for every learner; there is evidence that learning styles can predispose a learner toward or against it. And some material is intrinsically linear, as in step-by-step procedural knowledge. But the potential for a nonlinear approach to impact e-learning is too good to pass up as another tool to add to the mix. It all boils down to the potential for nonlinear multimedia storytelling. But that’s a story we’ll take up at another time.

What did I learn about E-learning development when I worked at Netflix six months ago? Before I share some thoughts, let’s look at the numbers.  Just this year, Netflix sales have topped 910 million dollars with 414 full-time employees at the helm. Seem improbable? Welcome to the 21st century and the consumer side of information management as a service—as these numbers suggest, it can be extremely profitable. Sure, Netflix also pays workers who ship DVDs and answer customer service lines, but the main focus of the 414 full-time employees is ultimately to tame the customer-facing website that enables the latest movie titles to land in your mailbox or play on your computer.  netflix_logo_1

Is it possible to design viable E-learning courses at a company like Netflix where business moves at the speed of light? The quick answer is “yes,” and “no.”  Having an amazingly short development timeline constantly forced me to isolate the most important steps of the deliverable creation process and collapse as much of my process around these key areas.  Content review, prototype evaluation, user testing? Check, check, and check.  High-end aesthetic treatment, dynamic navigational scheme, lots of formative evaluation? Not so much. A lightning fast development model is usually the only option on the table for an environment that is adverse to process and time expenditure since its web-based “storefront” reorients itself as quickly as a desert landscape in a windstorm.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with this business model: Who doesn’t love the service that Netflix brought to the market?

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